A cast iron pan or skillet is guaranteed to last you for a lifetime. It prepares meals tirelessly and serves cooks for years, eventually becoming an invaluable hand-me-down. This heavy-duty cookware surpasses our humble collection of aluminium pots and pans at home, not only because cast iron stays hot for longer but it’s also safer. If you’re looking forward to hosting friends or family, stock the kitchen with the kind of cookware pros prefer.
Are cast iron pans better than non-stick pans?
Chef Silvena Rowe only dabbles in the highest quality of cast iron tools for her kitchen. The Dubai-based wellness chef and nutrigenomics expert tells Gulf News that our pots and pans are as important as the organic meals we cook in them. “Even the best of ingredients can be ruined by the chemicals hiding in our pots and utensils – non-stick cookware being one of the biggest offenders,” she said.
Once thoroughly seasoned with oil, cast iron cookware makes for a fantastic non-stick surface, as opposed to synthetically coated pans. “Go for cast iron, stainless steel and ceramic tools, with everything else, make sure it’s completely non-toxic and free of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are linked to serious health risks,” advised Chef Rowe, pointing out the dangers of coating chemicals that can slip into our food.
Compared to other cookware, cast iron is definitely a pricier option and somewhat high maintenance for the casual cook. Yet, Chef Rowe calls it a lifetime investment: “It’s the best carrier for heat, does not leak dubious substances and caramelises food better than other common cookware. But, the most beautiful thing about a cast iron skillet, is that you can start on the stove and move to the oven”.
Cast iron is best known for searing, grilling and caramelising juicy meat dishes. However, its cooking range easily extends to eggs, pasta in sauce, sautéed vegetables, baking and so much more.
Which cast iron cookware is best for you?
An unseasoned cast iron pot will rust, since the iron-carbon alloys react quickly to residual moisture. Breaking into raw cast iron requires “oiling every corner of the cookware with a brush and baking it in the oven at 180°C for 30 minutes to an hour”; the oil will, then, polymerise to form a hard plastic-like coating. Chef Rowe suggests seasoning once a month, and drying the cookware thoroughly after every hand wash.
If it sounds like too much work, fret not. You can opt for pre-seasoned or enamelled cast iron skillets, instead. Chef Rowe’s ready-to-use personal favourites are manufactured by Le Creuset and Lodge. For a more budget-friendly price tag, she also recommends Staub and Cuisinart products. We’ve picked out various cookware items made of cast iron below, to help you narrow down your options.
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1. Best Overall: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Iron Handle Skillet, 9-inch
- Doesn’t need to be seasoned regularly
- Cooks steadily on low heat once hot
- Goes in the oven up to 260°C
- Easy to clean, per reviews
- Takes some trial and error to achieve a non-stick surface
Le Creuset’s Signature Skillet is a ready-to-use cast iron cookware, created for searing, sautéing and stir-frying. Unlike raw cast iron, this porcelain enamelled skillet doesn’t require seasoning, and food sticks less to the cooking surface over time. Whip up crispy smashed potatoes, roast vegetables or bake pizza and pies in this nine-inch cookware. You can finish the cooking process in the oven, as it can withstand temperatures of up to 260°C. Though the skillet is dishwasher-safe, the manufacturer recommends hand washing to preserve the protective cooking film, patina. Reviews say it holds and distributes heat exceptionally well, so it saves you from turning the stove high and low to find the ‘perfect’ temperature.
Bonus: Buy with zero per cent instalments and pay Dh58.60 for 12 months with select banks.
2. Best Cast Iron Set: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker, 3 Litre
- Value for money
- Comes pre-seasoned
- Includes a large skillet and a Dutch oven
- Works great outdoors
- Quite heavy to handle
Larger than our Le Creuset pick in diameter, this Lodge cooker combo comes pre-seasoned, including a three-litre Dutch oven and a 10.25-inch skillet. Get super savings at an affordable price with the set – suitable for indoors and outdoors over the campfire. The skillet doubles as a lid for the deep Dutch oven, too. Buyers leave five-star reviews of their experience with the combo, having made bread, curry over charcoals and steak. Consistent heat distribution is as stated, but they do note that it needs re-seasoning with oil after washing, to prevent rusting.
3. Best Cast Iron Wok: Cuisinart Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Grilling Wok, 10-inch
- Comes pre-seasoned
- A decently sized wok for a small meal
- Designed for grill tops but works over stove, too
- Deep enough for frying, per reviews
- Needs re-seasoning after cleaning
Prepare your best stir-fry yet in this seasoned cast iron wok by Cuisinart. Its 10-inch cooking surface comes with a non-stick surface, so you can get to grilling or cooking right away. A cast iron wok is perfect for cooking the food in its sauces and juices, since it can retain heat at lower temperatures. Reviews mention making dal (pulses), biryani, spiced scrambled eggs and more in this wok, even over a gas stove. Some have tested out deep frying in it and report back with positive ratings. Always remember to season after cleaning, which the manufacturer recommends doing with coarse salt and warm water, instead of soap.
4. Best Cast Iron Grill Pan: STAUB Cast Iron Square Grill Pan, Black, 23 cm
- Enamelled surface makes it easier to clean
- All-rounder barbeque essential
- Goes over all hobs
- Doesn’t require seasoning
- No long assist handle
A trusty grill pan to take with you on BBQ nights - the STAUB cast iron grill pan is enamelled, so it doesn’t require seasoning. While it’s suitable on all tops, it serves better over the charcoal and inside the oven, cooking steak, burgers, corn, fish and other barbeque essentials. There are grill grooves on the surface that collect excess fat from your food. Reviewers note how it’s just the right size, too, at 23cm, without being too large to manoeuvre and making enough food for two people. And, when the food is served, the pan helps keep the BBQ hot.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty for domestic use against defects in manufacture and materials.
5. Best Value Cast Iron Skillet: Lodge Cast Iron Skillet With Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 10.25-inch
- Value for money
- Comes pre-seasoned
- Includes a protective silicone handle cover
- Versatile cooking surface, from baking to grilling
- Perfectly sized for a small family
- Requires seasoning after every wash
If you’re not ready to splurge on steeper brands, start your cast iron journey with a versatile skillet by Lodge. It’s pre-seasoned with vegetable oil, measures 10.25 inches in diameter and takes on any type of cooking in the kitchen. Whether you’re searing, sautéing, baking, frying or broiling – this is going to be your go-to pan. Unlike the rest of our picks in the list, this Lodge skillet comes with a silicone handle holder to protect your hand from burns. Reviews say the size makes food for up to four people, and it performs well enough to replace their non-stick pans.
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