Cast iron cookware sets that deserve your attention
Cast iron used to be very popular in the past due to its outstanding properties. However, it can be tricky to someone who hasn’t used it before. Many people have tried it and ended up with a burnt mess. Cast iron isn’t as easy to handle as stainless steel or nonstick, but you can master the cooking technique by familiarizing yourself with the basics. Don’t be scared to try this amazing material!
When you take care of the cast iron cookware properly, it will serve you for many years. You can cook flavorful, healthy foods when mastered the cookware. In order to make the right choice, you will find the best cast iron cookware sets and how to use them.
The main benefits of cast iron cookware sets
Cast iron means that it’s made from molten metals – usually a combination of varying quantities of pig iron, recycled scrap iron and steel, limestone and carbon. The molten metal is poured into molds (often made out of sand), and frequently in one piece, with the handle an integral part of the pan, so that it can be placed into a hot oven or over a fire.
But where do you start when choosing a pan? What does ‘pre-seasoned’ even mean? Is it a good thing? What difference does enameling make? Is cast iron hard to cook with?
The relatively new development of enameling cast iron cookware with a vitreous glaze means that seasoning the pan isn’t strictly necessary. Additionally, cleaning is made easier and the vibrant enamel colors are usually very attractive. However, the downside of these benefits is the cost. Enameled cast iron is much more expensive than a plain cast iron skillet, sometimes prohibitively so.
New technology produces new advances in cookware but it’s still true that nothing conducts heat as reliably as cast iron. Versatile and essential when it comes to either high heat searing or long slow cooking, cast iron has been in our kitchens ever since there were kitchens.
But there are advanced, light-weight, non-stick pans coming on to the market all the time. With so many to choose from, why would you cook with cast iron? Let’s take a look and find out more about its enduring appeal.
Cast iron versus non-stick
Despite all of the well-publicized benefits of cast iron, many people will still be attracted to a modern, lightweight, low cost, non-stick surface.
That’s fine, as long as you’re making an informed choice. There has been some controversy building around the ingestion of some of the chemicals used in the manufacture of non-stick pans.
Teflon is the most popular type of nonstick surfaces. However, it is not a substance, but an easy name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is classified as a manmade chemical. Teflon is made using a special acid (PFOA), another manmade substance. Most people have low levels of PFOA in their bloodstream, but at a level that is not widely thought to cause harm.
For years, there have been concerns about people experiencing elevated levels of PFOA, thought to be from contaminated water or industrial exposure. The chemical stays present in the body for long periods of time, and although the long-term effects are not really known, there has been enough concern from the medical establishment for the World Health Organization, via the International Agency for Research on Cancer, to say that PFOA is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
At this point, it’s important to remember that almost all of the PFOA present in Teflon is burned off during the manufacturing process, and is not thought to occur in any significant amounts in the finished product.
Despite that, many people remain concerned over pans with non-stick surfaces, particularly because of the fear the act of heating up the Teflon surface will mean that harmful elements will be more easily available.
The cons of nonstick
If a Teflon pan is overheated, for example, anyone breathing in the fumes may experience flu-like symptoms. This is a transient effect and apparently harmless in the long term, but something that most people would probably want to avoid.
But isn’t it true that cast iron isn’t quite guilt-free here either? Trace minerals can be transferred from the pan into the food that’s being cooked. Is that dangerous? It isn’t, but it’s something that definitely bears a closer look.
Cooking with a cast iron cookware
Cooking with cast iron is about as far from new-fangled as you can get. Chefs across the world wouldn’t consider cooking with anything else. Our ancestors knew what they were doing when it came to a cast iron frying pan.
Fans say that one of the greatest things to cook in a cast iron skillet is a steak.
How to cook the perfect steak on the nonstick surface
Get your steak to room temperature, then oil and season the steak on both sides. Get your pan smoking hot, then cook the steak without moving or pressing it until it’s cooked to your liking. There are too many variables to suggest cooking times here (thickness of steak, how rare you like your meat), but what’s key is letting that wonderful caramelizing heat sear your steak to perfection.
You might be able to slip a pile of scrambled eggs out of a Teflon pan with one hand while stirring your morning coffee with the other, but really, Teflon can’t hold a candle to a cast iron skillet when it comes to flavor.
We want to help you understand exactly what to look for when investing in a new cast iron pan, and how to make the right choice for you.
We’ve taken a look at some of the very best cast iron skillets on the market and flagged up their selling points. Whether you’ve got $300 or less than $20 to spend; there’s a cast iron skillet to suit you. Take a look at our recommendations, starting with our top three picks, with something for every budget.
Le Creuset Signature Skillet
This deep-sided pan with a very useful helper handle (these things are heavy, it really does help), is unmistakably part of the well-established and feted Le Creuset brand.
The main pros and features:
- Le Creuaet is a reliable brand that provides handcrafted sets with a lifetime guarantee. If you’re ready to pay for a quality skillet, this is the best you can get. However, you’re not paying for the brand name only. Every piece in this set is crafted individually and then mold broken. No two pieces are the same.
- Double Coat. A team of specialist craftsmen then fettle each piece, cleaning and smoothing the surface before the skillet is enameled twice and air dried.
- Robust High-Temperature Handling. This manufacturer is one of the few who commits to this long process to make their sets even more hardwearing. Every piece cooks beautifully. It will go from cooktop to oven with no problem, and the Le Creuset Signature Skillet is capable of handling high temperatures that might compromise some lesser pans.
- Goodbye Seasoning! – The enameled finish means that no seasoning is required (the pan that is, not the food you cook in it!), and this skillet will take pretty much anything in it is brightly enameled stride. Only repeatedly letting the pan sit empty over a heat source can affect that artisan enameling, so don’t let the skillet boil dry!
While the initial outlay might make you recoil, you won’t ever need to buy another skillet. Many people hand on well-loved Le Creuset to their children, which is testament to the brand’s desirability and performance. If you’re in the market for a high-end, kitchen-pretty lifetime investment skillet in a fabulous color, then Le Creuset are pretty hard to beat.
Calphalon Pre-seasoned 12 inch Skillet
Finally, and firmly at the ‘reasonable’ end of the financial bracket, is the Calphalon Pre-Seasoned 12″ Skillet.
The main benefits and features:
- Well Rounded. A great all-rounder, we have lots of good things to say about our final contender for a spot in the top five.
- Functional Appeal. Traditional old-country charm and a very functional appeal means that most first-time cast iron skillet users will be pleased with their purchase.
- Sturdy Handle. Benefiting from a sturdy integral handle and that all-important second grip, this 12-inch pan is ideal for a smaller family.
- Fans love it! It garners very favorable reviews as well, with an impressive 86% per cent of reviewers giving it a 4 or 5-star review.
What’s clear is that whatever your budget, this is a cast iron pan for you. Once you’ve chosen your skillet, let’s take a look at a couple of basic pointers when it comes to taking care of it.
Staub Cast Iron 10-inch Fry Pan
Staub cookware, along with Le Creuset, also began in France, and over the years the name has become synonymous with high quality and aesthetically pleasing cast iron cookware.
Key Features and Benefits:
- Lower Price. There are different price points for Staub products generally, and their cast iron range is undeniably at the top of most people’s pockets; but Staub can usually be found a little cheaper than Le Creuset. Additionally, there are sometimes pretty tempting deductions on their website, which means that you might get to snap up a bargain (something that’s arguably less likely with Le Creuset).
- Matte Enamel Coating. Like the rest of the cast iron range, the cast iron fry pan has a matte enamel coating. Where it seems to distinguish itself from its nearest competitors, is that many reviewers believe the non-stick quality of Staub cast iron becomes better over time.
- Look and Feel. In terms of how attractive they are, Staub products look as though they’ve just been on display in a pretty fancy restaurant in rural France. Indeed, that’s exactly where many of them are probably found! They look great, with a range of bright and more somber colors, and appealing, heritage styling.
This skillet is a smallish size, but probably ideal for a couple, small family or simply someone without too much storage space! You will like the double pouring spout that saves a lot of time and the ergonomic handle is a must-have feature of any cast-iron skillet.
Universal Housewares 3 Piece Skillet Set
We all want the best value for our money, and this set is one of the best deals you can get. It features 3 cast iron skillets. If you often use a skillet and wish you could have them in different sizes, this one set has everything you need. With 3 skillets, you will have a perfect one for every dish you want to make.
The company has been around for over a century and I couldn’t find dark spots on its past. It has experience in producing cookware. Every skillet is pre-seasoned with vegetable oil, then bakes at high heat. It forms an additional layer that protects the skillet and makes the surface almost nonstick.
The different skillet sizes will have you covered for anything you make. You can make several dishes at a time to satisfy a big crowd. Basically, you can just get this set and you have all pans you need. They are made of quality material suitable for daily use, and a quick cleanup is possible while skillets are hot.
Most reviews I have read gave the skillets a thumbs-up for large meals. The smaller one is perfect for quick breakfasts, scrambles and pancakes.
I think that you get what you pay for with this set. They are perfect for everyone thinking about cast iron but doesn’t want to pay a fortune for a small set. This is also a great choice for your RV, cabin or smaller kitchens.
Of course, you shouldn’t forget that this is not high-end cookware and it has its weak sides. You should always season the skillets with oil or foods will stick. I’ve also found people complaining about cracks in the biggest skillet.
Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned 12.5-inch Cast Iron Skillet
If you’re searching something affordable but of high-quality, this skillet is a good choice. You can use it in the oven, stovetop or campfire and it will always keep your food nice and warm. The skillet is pre-seasoned at a factory. The company applies vegetable oils and then heat the skillet up on high heat. This creates a nonstick finish.
This is a perfect choice for beginners because the skillet comes with a set of instructions. Cleaning and seasoning is very easy. Thanks to the directions, you don’t have a chance to fail. Your skillet will stay functional and beautiful for longer. You also get instructions about rust on the skillet, how you can avoid and treat it.
This skillet isn’t fancy, so maintenance is key. With the right cleaning and storing it will serve you for years. You can use it on electric, induction, gas and ceramic stovetops. However, be sure not to drag the skillet on the top. It’s very heavy and can scratch the surface. And yes, since it’s not lightweight, moving a skillet full of food can be a challenge.
I personally like the design of this skillet. The handle has a key hold that makes it lighter. You can conveniently hand the skillet up on the display.
Even though the pan is quite nice for the price, I’ve found some complaints. The main one was about the Chinese factory that makes the skillet. Even though the factory itself isn’t a concern, some people are wary of chemicals. If that’s bothering you, search for a skillet made in America or Europe.
Moreover, I mentioned that the surface of the skillet isn’t even and somehow rough. You can fix the issue by seasoning your pan with oil before cooking. However, some foods will stick to the skillet.
Basically, you pay for inconvenience but save in cash. It’s a good pan that’s versatile for many recipes. Cleanup requires more time than with other skillets. If you’ve never used cast iron skillets, this is a great start. Or you can use it as a backup skillet when the main one is taken.
The main rules of cleaning cast iron sets
This is something that either attracts people to, or repels people from cast iron cookware.
First of all, they’re not something to stick in the dishwasher. A seasoned pan; that is one that has been treated with oil to give it ‘non stick’ surface; needs only a stiff brush and a little hot water to clean it.
It’s a bit of a myth that soap will destroy your skillet’s seasoning though; a little soap probably won’t harm a properly seasoned pan at all. Soaking the pan for a long time in detergent might well affect that seasoning though, so that’s what you need to avoid doing.
An enameled cast iron pan will clean much more easily and some are allegedly dishwasher safe, but many people think that even enameled pans can be compromised by washing in this way. Basically, most cast iron skillets, enameled or not, can be cleaned with a bit of elbow grease and hot water. For any really stuck on bits, a paste of rock salt and water can help.
There are a few tips on how to season your pan once scrubbed; usually either coating the warm skillet with oil (flaxseed is often recommended) and then leaving to cool; or to rub shortening around the whole pan, and place into a hot oven, then turn the oven off and once again, allowing the skillet to completely cool before wiping out the excess oil.
Tips and tricks to cast iron cookware set
There are extra tips that you should learn before you buy your first cast iron cookware. Most of them are dishwasher safe, but I would recommend hand washing because you will preserve the surfaces. As a rule of thumb, heavier cast iron features better quality materials, so weight the pans and pots before buying them. Very light options can cause health hazards. All cookware materials have pros and cons and cast iron isn’t an exception. Some of them works better in some situations, and cast iron is perfect for professional chefs and everyone who is ready to a couple of fails before mastering the techniques.