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Pros and Cons of Cast Iron Cookware: What to Know Before Buying

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?

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.

Lodge cast iron skillet design
Cast iron skillet

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.

Pro: Durable

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.

Some brands have a thicker construction than others. For example, the Lodge cast iron skillet’s walls are 5mm thick, while Calphalon’s cast iron skillet has 3mm thick walls.  

Lodge versus Calphalon cast iron skillet thickness
Lodge cast iron (left), Calphalon (right)

Pro: Long Lasting

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.

Pro: Versatile

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.

Roasting chicken thighs in a cast iron skillet
Roasting chicken thighs in a cast iron skillet

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.

Cooking turkey meatballs in a cast iron skillet
Cooking turkey meatballs in a cast iron skillet

It also doubles as a rustic tabletop serving vessel (that will also keep food warm because of its remarkable heat retention).

Pro: Affordable

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.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Pro: High Heat Tolerance

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.

Pro: Excellent Heat Retention

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.

PanTemperature After 5 MinutesTemperature After 10 Minutes
Lodge cast iron skillet128.1°F114.1°F
Calphalon cast iron skillet123.5°F113.6°F
Made In stainless steel fry pan121.1°F106.6°F
Misen non-stick fry pan118.6°F103.4°F
Rachael Ray non-stick fry pan126.3°F102.7°F
Circulon non-stick fry pan133.3°F102.0°F
Calphalon non-stick fry pan112.8°F101.1°F
All-Clad stainless steel skillet111.6°F100.9°F
Ballarini non-stick fry pan120°F99.9°F
Hestan stainless steel fry pan114°F98°F
GreenLife non-stick fry pan119°F95°F
Gotham Steel non-stick fry pan113°F95°F
Anolon non-stick fry pan112.7°F90.9°F
T-fal non-stick fry pan108.7°F88.0°F

Pro: Compatible With All Cooktops

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:

  1. Choose a high smoke point oil such as soybean, coconut, grapeseed, vegetable, or avocado oil. These oils won’t burn at a high temperature.
  2. 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.
  3. Rinse the cookware thoroughly to remove all soap residue.
  4. Dry the cookware with a lint-free cloth. Make sure it’s completely dry before adding oil.
  5. 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.
  6. Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your oven.
  7. Place the cookware upside down on the top rack and bake at 450-500°F for one hour.
  8. 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.

Con: Prone to Rust

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.

Con: Heavy

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.

how much does a cast iron skillet weigh

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.

Con: Rough Bottom

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.

Logo on the bottom of a Calphalon cast iron skillet
Bottom of a cast iron skillet

Con: Reactive

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.

Seasoning wearing off Stargazer skillet
Seasoning wearing off Stargazer skillet

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.

Con: Food Sticks

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.

Con: Can’t Use It to Boil

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.

Dirty cast iron skillet
Dirty cast iron skillet

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.

Cleaning a cast iron skillet with The Ringer
Cleaning a cast iron skillet with The Ringer

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.

Con: Heats Slowly

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.

PanTime to First BubblesTime to Boil
Lodge cast iron skillet3 minutes and 15 seconds3 minutes and 58 seconds
Calphalon cast iron skillet3 minutes and 7 seconds3 minutes and 41 seconds
Made In stainless steel fry pan1 minute and 40 seconds2 minutes and 21 seconds
Misen non-stick fry pan1 minute and 50 seconds2 minutes and 25 seconds
Anolon non-stick fry pan1 minute and 55 seconds2 minutes and 27 seconds
T-fal non-stick fry pan1 minute and 50 seconds2 minutes and 32 seconds
Gotham Steel non-stick fry pan1 minute and 58 seconds2 minutes and 32 seconds
Rachael Ray non-stick fry pan1 minute and 47 seconds2 minutes and 36 seconds
Calphalon non-stick fry pan1 minute and 45 seconds2 minutes and 40 seconds
Hestan stainless steel fry pan1 minute and 52 seconds2 minutes and 47 seconds
GreenLife non-stick pan2 minutes and 11 seconds2 minutes and 47 seconds
Circulon non-stick fry pan2 minutes and 7 seconds2 minutes and 55 seconds
All-Clad stainless steel skillet1 minute and 55 seconds2 minutes and 55 seconds
Ballarini non-stick fry pan2 minutes and 15 seconds3 minutes and 12 seconds

Con: Uneven Heating

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.

Water bubbling in the center of a Stargazer skillet
Water bubbling in the center of a Stargazer skillet

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.

Cast iron skillet heating unevenly
Cast iron skillet heating unevenly

Con: Hot Handles

Since cast iron pans are one piece, there’s no way to prevent the handles from getting hot.

Lodge cast iron skillet handle

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.

Bottom Line: Should You Buy Cast Iron Cookware?

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 Lodgesee 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.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He began his career in marketing, managing campaigns for dozens of Fortune 500 brands. In 2018, Andrew founded Prudent Reviews and has since reviewed 600+ products. When he’s not testing the latest cookware, kitchen knives, and appliances, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew via emailLinkedIn, or the Prudent Reviews YouTube channel.

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