Cast iron cookware has been used for centuries. It’s celebrated for its affordability, durability, and heat retention.
But, cast iron is also heavy, prone to rust, and reactive to acidic foods.
In this guide, I break down the pros and cons of cast iron cookware in more detail. You’ll learn how it’s made, how it performs, how to cook with it, how to maintain it, how much it costs, and more.
Read on to determine whether cast iron cookware is right for your kitchen.
Use the links below to navigate the guide:
- What Is Cast Iron Cookware?
- Pro: Durable
- Pro: Long Lasting
- Pro: Versatile
- Pro: Affordable
- Pro: High Heat Tolerance
- Pro: Excellent Heat Retention
- Pro: Compatible With All Cooktops
- Con: Needs to Be Seasoned
- Con: Prone to Rust
- Con: Heavy
- Con: Rough Bottom
- Con: Reactive
- Con: Food Sticks
- Con: Can’t Use It to Boil
- Con: Difficult to Clean
- Con: Heats Slowly
- Con: Uneven Heating
- Con: Hot Handles
- Bottom Line: Should You Buy Cast Iron Cookware?
Cast iron cookware is made from a single piece of metal. It’s a heavy-duty material made from an alloy of 98% iron and 2% carbon.
The carbon content makes cast iron less pliable and more brittle. That’s why it’s made with thick and heavy walls. The thickness reinforces the cookware’s durability and makes up for its brittleness.
A cast iron pan begins its journey in a 2,800°F furnace as molten metal from a mixture of pig iron, steel, and metal scraps. Skilled workers guide equipment during the process.
Next, they pour the molten metal into a mold, usually made of sand, to give it shape.
Once the iron has cooled and solidified, workers break the molds, trim excess metal away, clean it, and season it for use.
Cast iron cookware offers a seamless construction. Its one-piece design eliminates the need for rivets or screws that can loosen.
The cookware features a thick bottom and walls that make the cookware heavy and nearly impossible to damage.
Cast iron pans can last a lifetime if handled and cared for properly.
As long as you wash it by hand and don’t shock it with drastic temperature changes, such as taking it off of a hot stove and rinsing it with cold water, it will be a great cooking companion for many years.
Even rusted cast iron cookware can be revived. Just soak heavily rusted cookware in white vinegar and periodically remove the loosened rust with a buffing attachment on an electric drill. For light rust, you can use a handheld scrubber.
Due to its high heat tolerance and natural non-stick seasoning, you can use cast iron for cooking just about anything. From searing a steak to frying eggs, it’s a versatile choice.
The seasoning mimics a non-stick surface. While it’s not as slick and food-repellent as PTFE-based non-stick (like Teflon), it still offers an oil-based coating with decent food release.
You can transfer cast iron between a stovetop and oven (or broiler). You can also use cast iron cookware on a grill or over an open flame (like a campfire).
It’s an excellent material for searing, sauteing, frying, broiling, baking, roasting, etc.
It also doubles as a rustic tabletop serving vessel (that will also keep food warm because of its remarkable heat retention).
Are you looking for one of the most affordable pieces of cookware? Consider a cast iron skillet. The construction process and materials are cost-effective, passing the savings on to consumers.
The simple process removes the bells and whistles to streamline manufacturing and reduce costs.
While the exact price will depend on the brand, cast iron cookware is historically one of the most economical choices.
Below are the current prices on Amazon for the most popular cast iron skillets. I’ve also included a few stainless steel and non-stick skillets in the chart as a comparison.
|Cast Iron Cookware||Price||View Details|
|Lodge 10.25-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|Utopia Kitchen 12.5-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|Cuisinel 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|Backcountry 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|Victoria 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|Lodge 5-Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set||Amazon|
|Amazon Basics 15-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|Calphalon 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet||Amazon|
|All-Clad 12-Inch Stainless Steel Fry Pan||Amazon|
|HexClad 12-Inch Hybrid Stainless Steel Frying Pan||Amazon|
|Scanpan 12.5-Inch Non-Stick Fry Pan||Amazon|
Quality cast iron cookware can withstand high temperatures. There are no heat-sensitive coatings (like non-stick cookware) or plastic handles to limit heat tolerance.
Because cast iron can withstand high temperatures, many brands like Lodge and Calphalon don’t advertise a temperature limit. However, Lodge states that its cookware is safe to use over an open fire, making it ideal for camping.
The cast iron cookware brand Uno Casa asserts that cast iron can handle temperatures as high as 1500°F, but seasoning burns off at 800°F. Remember, you can always re-season a pan.
So, cast iron can handle high heat on cooktops and in ovens, broilers, and campfires. It’s designed to perform well for high-heat cooking methods such as searing, broiling, and stir-frying.
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Heat retention is essential when cooking. A pan with good heat retention won’t cool down when you add cold ingredients, which results in more even cooking.
Heat retention is especially important for browning and searing meats. You want the pan to stay hot when you place the meat on it so the exterior can develop a crust and lock in juices.
Because cast iron has a thick and sturdy construction, it heats slowly. But when it gets hot, it stays hot.
In fact, cast iron cookware retains heat better than every other cookware material, including stainless steel, carbon steel, and aluminum.
I conducted a simple test to prove this point. I poured two cups of water into two different cast iron skillets as well as several other aluminum and stainless steel pans. I placed each pan on the stove until the water boiled.
Once the water began boiling, I took the pans off the heat and set them aside to cool. After five minutes, I measured the water temperature in each pan. After another five minutes, I measured the water temperature again.
As you can see in the results below, the two cast iron skillets retained the most heat by far.
|Pan||Temperature After 5 Minutes||Temperature After 10 Minutes|
|Lodge cast iron skillet||128.1°F||114.1°F|
|Calphalon cast iron skillet||123.5°F||113.6°F|
|Made In stainless steel fry pan||121.1°F||106.6°F|
|Misen non-stick fry pan||118.6°F||103.4°F|
|Rachael Ray non-stick fry pan||126.3°F||102.7°F|
|Circulon non-stick fry pan||133.3°F||102.0°F|
|Calphalon non-stick fry pan||112.8°F||101.1°F|
|All-Clad stainless steel skillet||111.6°F||100.9°F|
|Ballarini non-stick fry pan||120°F||99.9°F|
|Hestan stainless steel fry pan||114°F||98°F|
|GreenLife non-stick fry pan||119°F||95°F|
|Gotham Steel non-stick fry pan||113°F||95°F|
|Anolon non-stick fry pan||112.7°F||90.9°F|
|T-fal non-stick fry pan||108.7°F||88.0°F|
If you see the phrase cooktop agnostic on cookware, it means that it works on any cooktop. Cast iron has this quality. And since it’s magnetic, it’s naturally compatible with induction cooking.
While you can use it on smooth top glass stoves, you’ll need to be extra careful. A rough bottom can easily scratch the glass if you handle it roughly.
Bare cast iron also works well in uncontrolled, open flame cooking, such as with a campfire or hearth.
Con: Needs to Be Seasoned
Even though many cast iron cookware brands, like Lodge, provide pre-seasoned cookware, you’ll still need to re-season it periodically.
Harsh detergents and acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, can break down the seasoning.
Even if you avoid acidic foods and hand wash your cookware with just water, re-seasoning once or twice per year is necessary.
Here’s how to season cast iron cookware:
- Choose a high smoke point oil such as soybean, coconut, grapeseed, vegetable, or avocado oil. These oils won’t burn at a high temperature.
- Thoroughly scrub your pan in warm water with a drop of mild dish soap. Using soap is fine when you are about to re-season a pan. Otherwise, skip the soap for everyday cleaning.
- Rinse the cookware thoroughly to remove all soap residue.
- Dry the cookware with a lint-free cloth. Make sure it’s completely dry before adding oil.
- Apply a thin layer of oil and spread it out evenly. Start with a tablespoon. You can use a paper towel to wipe the oil around the cookware, inside and out. Too much oil will make the pan sticky, so be stingy with it.
- Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your oven.
- Place the cookware upside down on the top rack and bake at 450-500°F for one hour.
- Turn the oven off and let the cookware cool down gradually (in the oven)
For maintenance, rub a light film of oil on it after cleaning.
Cast iron cookware can develop rust, so don’t let water sit in your pots and pans. Thankfully, rust is easy to remove.
Scrub the affected areas of the pan with steel wool. Then, hand wash and dry the pan thoroughly. Finally, re-season the pan using steps 5-7 in the previous section.
These pots and pans have considerable heft, and they get heavier when you add food. The construction — a thick, heavy bottom and sidewalls — makes it difficult to pick up and move it around with ease.
If you have issues lifting heavy objects, you might find cast iron cumbersome.
Cast iron skillets can weigh between 4 and 12 pounds, depending on the size. The average 12-inch skillet weighs about 8 pounds. By comparison, a 12-inch All-Clad stainless steel fry pan is 4.5 pounds, and a 12-inch Tramontina aluminum non-stick pan weighs 2.9 pounds.
Cast iron cookware has a rough bottom. If you have a glass cooktop, you’ll need to carefully place it down and pick it up to avoid scratching or cracking the glass.
Acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, citrus fruit, wine, and vinegar, can strip away the seasoning and react with the cast iron surface. Cooking with these ingredients can alter the flavor of your food or change the color.
So, even though you can cook most meals with cast iron, it’s best to find an alternative like stainless steel or non-stick cookware when you want to make tomato-based dishes like pasta sauce or chili.
With cast iron, you must ensure that it stays properly seasoned and oiled between uses. The seasoning prevents stuck-on food, but it wears off over time.
Even with proper seasoning, cast iron doesn’t have the same level of food release as non-stick cookware. So, you’ll deal with stuck-on food from time to time.
Still, cast iron is hard to beat if you want a completely natural alternative to non-stick.
As versatile as cast iron is, there is one task it’s not up to: boiling liquids.
Find alternative cookware to boil your pasta, beans, or make soup. Boiling is the fastest way to remove the seasoning from your cast iron cookware.
Once the seasoning is gone, the cast iron can react with your food. It can change the flavor and darken the color of whatever you are making.
Con: Difficult to Clean
You can’t toss cast iron cookware in the dishwasher, and soaking it in water can strip the seasoning and lead to rust.
You’ll always have to wash and dry cast iron by hand. After it’s dry, you’ll need to lightly oil it before storing it away.
For tough messes, you’ll have to use some elbow grease to get it clean. I recommend using a chainmail scrubber. It loosens grime and removes it without damaging your cookware.
Although a little dish soap won’t ruin the seasoning, I recommend cleaning cast iron cookware with just hot water and a sponge (or chainmail scrubber). Too much soap (especially harsh detergents) will degrade the seasoning.
Need to prepare a quick meal? Cast iron is not your best bet. Iron is a poor heat conductor and, combined with its thick construction, the cookware takes a while to reach its cooking temperature.
When I tested the heat conduction between Lodge and Calphalon cast iron skillets, I found that both took nearly four minutes to boil 2 cups of cold water. Stainless steel and aluminum skillets can boil water in about half the time.
Here are the results of a test I conducted to see how different cookware types and brands took to boil two cups of cold water.
|Pan||Time to First Bubbles||Time to Boil|
|Lodge cast iron skillet||3 minutes and 15 seconds||3 minutes and 58 seconds|
|Calphalon cast iron skillet||3 minutes and 7 seconds||3 minutes and 41 seconds|
|Made In stainless steel fry pan||1 minute and 40 seconds||2 minutes and 21 seconds|
|Misen non-stick fry pan||1 minute and 50 seconds||2 minutes and 25 seconds|
|Anolon non-stick fry pan||1 minute and 55 seconds||2 minutes and 27 seconds|
|T-fal non-stick fry pan||1 minute and 50 seconds||2 minutes and 32 seconds|
|Gotham Steel non-stick fry pan||1 minute and 58 seconds||2 minutes and 32 seconds|
|Rachael Ray non-stick fry pan||1 minute and 47 seconds||2 minutes and 36 seconds|
|Calphalon non-stick fry pan||1 minute and 45 seconds||2 minutes and 40 seconds|
|Hestan stainless steel fry pan||1 minute and 52 seconds||2 minutes and 47 seconds|
|GreenLife non-stick pan||2 minutes and 11 seconds||2 minutes and 47 seconds|
|Circulon non-stick fry pan||2 minutes and 7 seconds||2 minutes and 55 seconds|
|All-Clad stainless steel skillet||1 minute and 55 seconds||2 minutes and 55 seconds|
|Ballarini non-stick fry pan||2 minutes and 15 seconds||3 minutes and 12 seconds|
Unfortunately, cast iron doesn’t heat as evenly as other cookware materials like fully-clad stainless steel and hard-anodized aluminum. Cast iron has hot spots; while heating up, some areas will cook food faster than others.
Once the skillet is completely pre-heated (which can take 4 minutes or more), it will cook evenly. For best results, wait until cast iron cookware is fully heated before placing food in the pan.
Since cast iron pans are one piece, there’s no way to prevent the handles from getting hot.
In fact, it can get so hot in a broiler or on a campfire that regular oven mitts can’t handle the heat. Even silicone handle covers can slip out of place.
You’ll want to purchase oven gloves with a heat rating of 600°F or higher such as Grill Armor Extreme Heat Resistant Oven Gloves.
Now that you know the pros and cons of cast iron cookware, it’s time to decide if it’s right for you.
One thing is for sure, it won’t break the bank to give it a try.
It’s one of the most affordable types of cookware. Plus, it’s durable, versatile, retains heat well, and can last a lifetime with proper care.
However, cast iron cookware is heavy, slow to heat, requires seasoning, is prone to rust, and doesn’t heat evenly. It also requires extra care when cleaning and seasoning it.
Bottom line — cast iron is ideal for searing and other high-heat cooking methods. Since it’s so affordable, durable, and versatile, every kitchen should have at least one cast iron skillet (I recommend Lodge – see my review).
If cast iron is too heavy or you need a pan that heats faster and provides better temperature control, consider carbon steel. It offers all the benefits of cast iron but is thinner, lighter, and heats faster. Check out my comparison of cast iron vs. carbon steel to learn more.
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