If you own a home or like to cook, you likely already know the benefits of having just a few trusty pieces of high-end cookware. They offer exceptional culinary use, and are lovely to look at.
Old-fashioned cast iron can be that cookware, and so much more. They are versatile, durable, naturally non-stick and can cover nearly all of your daily uses in the kitchen.
Even better, it can last for generations. Your successors will fight over it when you are gone.
An old-fashioned cast iron pan is one such tool. They are versatile, offering a number of uses in the kitchen, and last for generations.
Today, we are bringing you a list of essential cast iron cookware that any self-respecting home cook would be thrilled to own.
For baking, frying, grilling, searing and more, these pieces will do it all. We will also include a list of essential accessories that will make it easier to use and to take care of. Now, let’s get on to the lists!
What Kind of Cast Iron Pan Should I Get?
A good cast-iron skillet will quickly become your favorite piece of kitchen equipment, meaning that you should consider spending a little bit more money on this product than you might on others.
Consider a cast-iron pan with user-friendly features, like a silicone handle cover, as well as those that are pre-seasoned so that you can use it right away.
Many people swear by antique cast iron pans, and for good reason. A quality cast iron pan can last for many years, and it’s a pretty cool experience to be able to cook with a pan from another century.
Whichever type you chose, consider investing in additional equipment to help make taking care of your cast iron a little bit easier.
For example, a chainmail scrubber will help clear away food and rust more easily, without having to worry about scratching the seasoning of your pan.
There are also good cleaning liquids that you can use to clean your pan between seasonings without causing rust.
Essential Cast Iron Cookware
As far as I am concerned, a collection of cast iron cookware consisting of the following pieces will handle 99.99% of the cooking tasks that the average person will conceivably undertake.
And, like all cast iron, it is just as at home at the campsite and over the campfire as it is in your kitchen, so remember you can get double duty out of each and every one of the pieces on this list.
10” or 12” Skillet
This is it, your mainstay. A 10” or 12” cast iron skillet is your go-to for meal prep, and can handle everything from making a hot sandwich to searing a steak, broiling fish or whipping up a batch of delicious sauce or gravy.
Cooking for one or two people you’ll find that there should be plenty of room for most dishes, and even if you are cooking for a crowd it works wonderfully for side dishes and other tasks.
Considering how much use this skillet is likely to get, it is worth investing in a good one, and you should also take pains to properly season it.
Once any cast iron skillet can handle anything you can throw at it without fear of damaging the seasoning.
That can make a skillet of this size your go-to for more “caustic” ingredients like tomato sauce, citrus and dairy, things that will normally rough up a pan.
Sometimes you just need more room, and that’s where this big 15” skillet comes in handy. For multiple cuts of meat or multiple servings of casserole or other ingredients, this is the pan to reach for.
The size is also ideal for searing or roasting larger cuts of meat like roasts, whole fish, a chicken or multiple smaller filets.
Like all cast iron, it can go from the stove top into the oven and back again with absolutely no issues, and this will afford you maximum control for starting and finishing larger or delicate dishes.
One word of warning though: Skillets in this size category are starting to get genuinely hefty, and they can be tricky to handle with just one hand unless you are in good shape.
Make sure any skillet you buy has an assist handle opposite the main handle for safety. It will be useful especially when you are putting it into the oven or pulling it back out again.
Assist handles are also compatible with hooks and hangers for use over a campfire or if you just need a little extra purchase when moving them around. I’ll talk about those further down on our list.
10” Griddle Pan
When you really need to turn up the heat or just toast a quick bite, reach for a griddle pan instead of the more traditional skillet.
Although they look similar, a griddle is much thinner, meaning it heats up faster and will transfer more heat to your food quicker.
For making paninis, producing a wicked crust on pan fried chicken or just cranking out a superb grilled cheese, a griddle pan is what you want.
They’re also lighter and easier to handle compared to a traditional skillet which makes them a boon on a crowded stove top or when you are putting some small bites in the oven.
As always, you can naturally use it right alongside your larger skillets when preparing multiple dishes or cooking for a party.
Don’t forget that it will also do fine over a campfire when called upon! When you need high heat, fast, grab the griddle.
One of my most loved pieces of cast iron in my own collection is the combo cooker.
A combo cooker is very much like a Dutch oven, another iconic piece of cast iron cookware, only instead of having smaller assist handles on either side it relies upon two full size handles, one for lid (which is a skillet!) and one for the pot.
They nest together to function like a Dutch oven, or they can be separated and used independently.
This is one piece of cookware that can truly do it all. You can grill in the thin lid much like you could with a griddle, while baking fresh bread or biscuits or making stew in the deep pot.
You can put them together and use them exactly like you would a Dutch oven on a campfire, complete with hot coals heaped upon the top, or bake a wonderfully fluffy cake with it in your oven at home.
In essence, you are getting a ton of versatility and also economy out of this one piece of cookware.
It is entirely possible to whip up a complete three course meal using nothing else, or you can haul it out when preparing specialty dishes or stews. It is a must-have for any cast iron collection, buy it!
Reversible Grill-Griddle Pan
The combo cooker definitely has a piece of my heart, but the reversible grill-griddle pan is my absolute favorite.
This is a long, rectangular pan that has two surfaces, one on each side. One side is smooth like a griddle, while the other has a wavy surface, the grill side.
At first glance, this seems to be the piece you would choose for baking or for use on an outdoor grill because of its shape.
The good news is you can use it for both- but it can do so much more than that!
You can set it across two burners on your stove top when frying up eggs and bacon for a crowd or just an extra large portion of any of the dishes you would usually make in a skillet.
It also allows you to use two zone heating for better control when trying to time completion perfectly.
In the oven, the grill side is wonderful for roasting vegetables, and everything from carrots to asparagus and peppers will come out with those delicious, crispy char marks indicative of caramelization.
Trust me, I could go on about this thing but I’ll stop here since we have more to go yet.
If this massive multi-purpose pan has one shortcoming, it is this: it will be far and away the heaviest piece of cookware you have and will likely ever own. I call mine “The Beast” and with good reason.
Most versions weigh about 12 pounds and can easily weigh more. Getting this thing in and out of the oven is a proper workout, and you’ll need to be careful lest you drop it!
Double-Handle Deep Pan
For baking cakes, dump cobblers, whipping up a pot of stew or a big, fluffy batch of biscuits to go with breakfast, you’ll need a pant with a big belly, and that is where this double handle deep pan comes in handy.
The lack of a traditional handle makes it a little more at home over a campfire or in the oven than on the stove top, but you can still use it on the stove for simmering, roasting and more.
Basically, think of this like a deep cake pan that can do a lot more than just cakes and you are right on the money.
And before you ask, yes, this is slightly redundant if you have an extra large skillet and the combo cooker above, but sometimes when you are putting together a proper meal with multiple courses, or you just want dessert to be ready when you are done with dinner, you’ll need more cookware.
Essential Cast Iron Accessories
As always in the kitchen you’ll need more than just pots and pans.
Particularly when you are using cast iron, there are a few specialist accessories that can make your life easy and make handling these beastly heavy things a little bit easier.
Consider all of the following mandatory for the well-equipped cast iron kitchen.
Pot holders are a necessity for use with cast iron skillets. Contrary to what anybody might tell you, a real cast iron skillet is going to get screaming hot during use. And I mean the whole thing!
Since a cast iron skillet is really just a single piece of iron, the handle can often get nearly as hot as the cooking surface once it has been heated for a little while.
Touch it and pay the price. Believe me; you’ll only make that mistake one time if other cookware with insulated handles has made you lazy.
For my money, the best kind I have ever used are not cloth, but instead silicone. They snug tightly over the handles, don’t slip or skid and are virtually impervious to heat.
The best part is that they don’t catch fire if they get a little bit too close to a burner, and they can go right in the oven most of the time.
They are also a cinch to clean and I don’t have to put them in the washing machine, so there’s that.
Sometimes pot holders aren’t enough, and for handling large or awkward cast iron cookware, like my beloved and beastly grill-griddle pan you’ll need extra protection from heat while maintaining control.
This is where a proper set of oven mitts comes in handy.
Now, compared to all of the other pots and pans you are likely to use in your kitchen cast iron is far and away going to be the heaviest.
That means you’re going to need a better grip to safely control it. Compared to the mitten-style oven mitts that are so typical, I prefer one that is like an actual glove.
I use standard, leather welding gloves for this purpose.
They have a gauntlet that helps protect my wrist and forearms from an incidental touch by a hot pan and are more than tough enough to stand up to prolonged contact with hot metal.
These are available cheaply enough pretty much everywhere.
One surprise that new cast iron owners sometimes run into is the fact that cast iron skillets and pans typically don’t come with lids unless purchased as a special set.
You might use a lid regularly in the course of your usual cooking or you might not, but regardless lids are handy to have around to prevent messes and also for safety.
If you have a fire start in one of your skillets, you can put a lid on it to smother it instead of panicking or looking for the fire extinguisher.
And, of course, a lid will help you lock in both heat and moisture when called for for specific dishes.
As anyone who has ever gone through the agony of trying to locate a replacement lid for a broken or lost one will tell you, getting a lid that is just right via aftermarket purchase is a nightmare.
Make it a point to get them from the manufacturer when you purchase your cookware and avoid this problem.
Cast iron cookware is tough, no doubt about it, but it’s not invincible.
Sure, it’ll really take some hardcore abuse to crack or dent one of your pants, but it is the seasoning that is particularly vulnerable to abrasion, chipping and other damage.
And because cast iron cookware is particularly suitable for being stacked together, nested if you will, that means that the seasoning on the surface of your pans can be subjected to harm even while stored.
The solution is simple, and it does not involve giving up even more cabinet space. Felt or thin plastic pot dividers provide a buffer between each pan that you stack in or on another.
It sounds like a small thing, and maybe it is, but you’ll notice the difference when it comes to how quickly your seasoning will last, and how much more easily it is established when building it up.
You’ve probably heard your grandma talk about trivets at one point or another, maybe because she had a collection or maybe because she liked to knit or crochet them herself.
I’m not trying to talk you into doing the same thing as a hobby, but if you have cast iron then you need equally heavy duty trivets.
Trivets are basically pads or stands that you can put under a pan to protect the underlying surface that is resting on.
Trivets provide a standoff to surfaces that are vulnerable to heat and abrasion, two things that heavy cast iron pans fresh off of the stove top will usually inflict.
Most cast iron trivets have a low, tripod kind of arrangement, with a metal disc, often embellished, propped up a few inches by spherical or peg style feet.
They are just the ticket when you need to get a skillet off of the stove top and out of the way while it is still hot, or if you just want a dramatic presentation at the table.
When cleaning cast iron, there is a lot of lore and even more opinion out here on the internet. Lots of do’s and don’ts, always’s and nevers.
I can tell you this much for sure: The vast majority of your cast iron care and cleaning can be accomplished with a good, simple natural bristle brush.
Combined with just a dash of hot water while the pan is still warm, but not scalding hot, a stiff brush can dislodge all but the worst stuck on food and residue.
I don’t like to use plastic for this purpose since if I mess up and use it when the pan is a little too warm it is more likely to melt and leave behind toxic chemicals on my cooking surface.
I prefer a round brush that allows me to use a little more force when required, but if you want something with a longer handle that’s fine too.
Yes, your cast iron cookware has handles already, either the longer, typical handles of a skillet or the short, stubby, slotted assist handles.
The handles I’m referring to are separate, made of wire, and feature hooks that will slip through those aforementioned slots to let you lift heavy or awkward cast iron off of your fire or barbecue pit.
Although not strictly necessary if you were just going to use your cast iron in the kitchen, they nonetheless do come in handy if you want to move your pots and pans around safely without the benefit of pot holders or oven mitts.
They are cheap, so I recommend you get a set.
Last and certainly not least, get yourself a good seasoning spray, or else a small tub or block of seasoning “butter.”
Yes, used properly your cast iron will season just fine in the course of normal use.
Yes, you can always use a variety of oils or lard to season your cast iron. No, you need not routinely season your cast iron if you’re taking care of it even a little bit.
But if you do want to save yourself time and grief, seasoning spray or paste that has been formulated by the manufacturer is usually the ideal substance for restoring a battered or used pan, or forgiving your brand new cookware and extra boost before you start it in the rotation.
I know that the diehards in the audience probably think it is sacrilege to use anything but bacon grease, but I love the ease, convenience and lack of mess that this stuff provides.
Get a Cast Iron Today
The bottom line? Cooking with cast iron is a fantastic way to improve the flavor and nutrition of your food, and to streamline most of your kitchen equipment into one handy but heavy type.
Consider investing in a cast-iron collection today, and these essentials will form the core of a collection you will use long into the future.
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.