Every seasoned cook knows cast-iron cookware is a must-have. And every budding novice cook should make it a point to discover the wonders of preparing food with cast-iron skillets, grill pans and other cast-iron kitchenware.
Cast-iron cookware is versatile, long-lasting and user friendly—once you get used to its cleaning and care requirements, at least. Sure, it takes a little longer to preheat than other materials, but once it does, it holds and distributes that heat exceptionally well. You can get a beautiful sear on the stove (even with induction cooktops), an even roast in the oven, a smoky dish made right on your campfire and so much more.
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There are plenty of cast-iron cookware sets to choose from these days, and just about all come conveniently pre-seasoned. Look for one that checks the right boxes for your cooking needs and preferences.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Cast-Iron Cookware Set
Bare or Enameled: You have two options when choosing a cast-iron cookware set: bare cast-iron or enameled cast-iron. The latter refers to cast-iron pieces with an enamel coating. Each has its pros and cons, of course.
Unlike bare cast-iron, enameled cast-iron is protected against rust, so you can wash it with water (and usually even in the dishwasher, though hand-washing is still advisable to avoid potential damage). This makes it a lot easier to clean and care for. It also doesn't require seasoning; even pre-seasoned cast-iron cookware tends to need further seasoning for well-developed nonstick qualities. Only enameled cast-iron cookware is non-reactive, so you can prepare acidic foods in it. Plus, it comes in more colors than just black if that's important to you.
But these advantages come with some trade-offs. You'll probably spend more on enameled cast-iron cookware. And it's susceptible to cracks and chips, while bare cast-iron is basically indestructible. Enameled cast-iron also can't always heat quite as high as bare cast-iron, though it certainly gets hot enough for any practical home uses. Also, while the enamel coating is nonstick, the nonstickiness diminishes over time (while bare cast-iron only becomes more nonstick with additional use).
Pieces: Consider the pieces that come in any cast-iron cookware set. Cast-iron skillets are a classic, so it's nice to get at least one smaller one around 8 inches and one larger one of about 10 to 12 inches. Skillets with higher sides and larger pour spouts are preferable if you intend to do any shallow frying. Some sets have lids for one or more skillets, as well (often made of glass). Many sets include a cast-iron griddle pan and/or grill pan, so consider whether you'll use either and what size you need. As for pots, see if the set contains any covered saucepans, stockpots, or a Dutch oven (multicooker)—and their respective sizes—and determine which of these you'd like. And then there are miscellaneous pieces like roasting (casserole) dishes, sauté pans, corn stick pans, pizza pans, woks and more that you can find if you want them. Some sets also have handle covers to help with handling hot cookware.
Handling: In addition to those aforementioned hot-handle covers, other characteristics affect how easy it'll be to move and maneuver your cast-iron cookware. There's the weight, of course. Cast-iron cookware is relatively heavy; larger pieces can weigh in at over 10 pounds before food or liquids are added. Broad, shorter handles and spacious, U-shaped helper handles are useful for managing potentially cumbersome loads in items like skillets and sauté pans, while two roomy U-shaped handles on items like pots, large griddle pans and elongated grill pans are helpful (can you get your hands in them if you're wearing oven mitts?). Lighter-weight cast-iron is out there if you're concerned about your ability to handle the heavier stuff, though. And if you like to cook over an open flame, items like cast-iron Dutch ovens sometimes have a high U-shaped handle that facilitates removing the pot from a campfire.
These factors—along with your budget considerations—will help you settle on a cast-iron cookware set that you'll be happy with.
The Best Overall Cast-Iron Cookware Set
Cuisinel 11-Piece Cast-Iron Cookware Set
It's hard to pass up this pre-seasoned cast-iron cookware set just based on everything you get for the price. It includes three deep cast-iron skillets (8, 10 and 12 inches) with tempered glass lids for the larger two, a good-sized grill pan, a spacious Dutch oven (multicooker), a 10.5-inch round griddle and a 13.5-inch pizza pan. There's very little you can't do with all these options. But wait, there's more! You also get a pan storage rack, five silicone nonslip hot handle covers, and a silicone pan scraper that facilitates cleanup. This cookware is high-quality with a smooth finish to promote even heat distribution and cooking.
The Best Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware Set
Chantal 5-Piece Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware Set
At only five pieces, this is a smaller cookware set, but don't be fooled; it's still endlessly useful. With a 10-inch skillet, a 4-quart covered sauté pan, and a 5-quart covered Dutch oven (multicooker) with a lid that also fits the skillet, you can handle an amazingly wide range of cooking methods and foods. And even though it's not all that many pieces, the price is fair for the material, quality, performance and versatility. The top-grade enamel coating is fade-resistant, and you can choose from a few colors, including a bold cobalt blue, a more muted gray, and an uncommon but fun marigold.
The Best Budget Cast-Iron Cookware Set
Amazon Basics Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron 5-Piece Kitchen Cookware Set
This is a great pre-seasoned starter set to acquire the basic cast-iron cookware at a relatively low price. It has two cast-iron skillets (8-inch and 10.25-inch), a 10.5-inch round griddle pan, and a roomy Dutch oven (multicooker) with a lid. This sets you up for cooking on the stovetop, in the oven, on the grill or over a fire, and offers the capacity to prepare meals for plenty of people. It may not come from one of the well-known names in kitchenware, but this budget-friendly cookware is well made and delivers everything you expect from cast-iron, like superior heat retention, even heating without hot spots and oven safety up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Best Budget Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware Set
Bruntmor Enameled 2-In-1 Cast-Iron Multicooker
If you're looking for relatively low-cost enameled cast-iron cookware, this small set fits the bill. It comes with a 10-inch skillet that doubles as the lid for the 5-quart Dutch oven (multicooker). It's also available with an 11-inch skillet and 7-quart Dutch oven if you tend to cook larger quantities—at a slightly higher price, of course, but both sets are affordably priced for the material. And, most importantly, you're not sacrificing quality or performance; this is evenly heating, durable cookware that's oven-safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, safe for use on the grill or a fire, and reliably nonstick.
The Best High-End Cast-Iron Cookware Set
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 10-Piece Cookware Set
For those willing to shell out top dollar for a high-end enameled cast-iron cookware set, there's no better name to turn to than Le Creuset. All around the world, this French brand is the go-to for elegant, high-performance cookware in this material. There's a lot in this set to handle any cooking technique and meal, including a 10.25-inch skillet, a 10.25-inch grill pan, a 1.75-quart covered saucepan, a 2.25-quart braising dish, a 4.5-quart covered Dutch oven (multicooker), a 5.25-quart roasting (casserole) dish and a 10-inch glass lid. The durable exterior resists chipping and cracking as well as any enamel can. Choose from some beautiful colors, and no matter which you pick, this is cookware you'll be proud to display in any luxury kitchen.
The Best Cast-Iron Cookware Set for Campers
Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned 7-Piece Heavy Duty Cast-Iron Camping Cooking Set
Camping and cast-iron cookware are a classic combination because this cookware can go right on the grill or fire. This pre-seasoned set focuses on maximizing usefulness while minimizing the number of pieces, and on facilitating cooking over an open fire or burning ash. One large, deep 12-inch skillet covers your frying, sautéing, searing and roasting needs—even for bigger quantities and cuts. The 2.5-quart saucepot with lid and 4.5-quart Dutch oven (multicooker) with lid covers you for just about everything else. The Dutch oven has a high U-shaped handle added for safer, easier use over a fire, and there's also a very handy Dutch oven lid lifter. But the most exciting item is probably the extra-large 20-inch-long-by-9-inch-wide cast-iron grill pan. Plus, you get a trivet and a wooden box with rope handles for convenient storage and transport.