The type of pan that actually makes food taste better

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The best cast iron cookware (Photo: Getty)

A cast iron pan is a kitchen necessity—it checks all the boxes. Cast iron just makes your food taste better—even if you’re a so-so cook. Why? It heats up slowly but evenly and retains heat well—so you get an amazing sear on meat, and veggies cook fast without constant tending-to. The material is virtually indestructible, so you can bang it around and even cook outside. And the more you use your hardy pan, the better it gets, while infusing your food with nutritional iron.

Cast iron needs to be seasoned (which means using a thin layer of fat to seal the iron) to get its telltale non-stick coating. You can either season it yourself (coat with cooking oil and bake at 350 degrees for an hour) or buy a pan pre-seasoned (many are). When seasoned well, cast-iron pans are naturally non-stick, which makes them easy to cook with and easy to clean.

That being said, you’ll want to clean cast iron right after cooking by rinsing with hot water and a bit of mild dish soap if necessary. To get off any stuck-on food, use a stiff non-metal brush. To prevent rust, immediately dry and rub in a light layer of vegetable oil when still warm. If you do see rust, it’s an easy fix: Scrub with steel wool and re-season the pan.

So which one should you get? Read on for a ribbed pan that makes pro-looking sear marks, a set that includes three different sizes and more.

Calphalon Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware, Skillet, 12-inch

With a roomy 12-inch diameter, this skillet is great when cooking for a group. Some reviewers commented that it’s a bit thinner than other cast-iron pans, making it a little lighter. It’s also deep, with rounded corners for easily manipulating food. Full lifetime warranty.

Shop it: Calphalon Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware, Skillet, 12-inch, $26 (was $50), amazon.com

Lodge 10.5-inch Cast Iron Griddle

Low and lean, this pre-seasoned griddle is ideal for pancakes, quesadillas and pizza. Reviewers have even used it for dosas, crepes, chapati (Indian flat bread), and fried eggs.

Shop it: Lodge 10.5-inch Cast Iron Griddle, $15, amazon.com

Norpro Cast Iron Plett Pancake Pan – Seven 2-inch Pancake Cavities

Perfect mini pancakes can now be your claim to fame thanks to this cast-iron beauty with seven 2-inch cavities. Includes recipes for filling pancakes with cheese, jam and other goodies. Also nice for cornbread.

Shop it: Norpro Cast Iron Plett Pancake Pan – Seven 2-inch Pancake Cavities, $24; free shipping, walmart.com

12.5-inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Silicone Handle – Utopia Kitchen

Pre-seasoned with soy-based oil, this cutie comes with a removable silicone handle to protect your hands. It also comes with a strong fan base: “It cooks everything better. When I got up this past Saturday, I said to myself, ‘gee, I wonder what it would be like to make the world’s best pancake?’ and then I cooked pancakes on this cast iron skillet, and said to myself, ‘this REALLY IS the world’s best pancake.’ Does not get better than that!”

Shop it: 12.5-inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Silicone Handle – Utopia Kitchen, $19, amazon.com

The Pioneer Woman Timeless Cast Iron Set, 3-Piece

Now you’ll always have the right sized skillet! This 3-piece set includes 6-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch pre-seasoned pans, all with a rust-resistant coating. Reviewers loved the even cooking; the easy-care aspect; and the butterfly imprinted in the largest handle.

Shop it: The Pioneer Woman Timeless Cast Iron Set, 3-Piece, $44, free shipping, walmart.com

Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Flanged Lid Iron Cover

Use it for cooking over an open flame, whether a campfire or in the fireplace. The heavy lid will lock in flavor on that famous chili, pot roast or stew.

Shop it: Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Flanged Lid Iron Cover, 6-quart, $37, amazon.com

Lodge 10.25-inch Cast Iron Skillet

Made in the good ole USA (South Pittsburgh, Tennessee to be exact), this skillet is Amazon’s #1 bestselling pan with almost 15,000 reviews. And for good reason: pre-seasoned with vegetable oil, it’s heavy, durable, offers great heat retention and features an assist handle to keep things steady. Plus, it’s made by a family-run company founded in 1896. People are enamored of this pan: “Holy crap this thing rocks. I cook everything in this baby. You ever reheat pizza on a cast iron skillet? You ever get cold in the winter so you just heat up the skillet and let it sit in bed with you? Well I have, and I have the burn marks to prove it.”

Shop it: Lodge L8SK3 10.25-inch Cast Iron Skillet, $15 (was $27), amazon.com

Camp Chef Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Single Square Cooking Iron

This two-sided tool is awesome for cooking omelettes, toasty sandwiches, pies, pizza and—hello, s’mores—over a bonfire or even a backyard fire pit. The 30-foot handle stays cool.

Shop it: Camp Chef Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Single Square Cooking Iron, $46; free shipping, walmart.com

Lodge 12-Inch Square Cast Iron Grill Pan

This 12-inch square pan features a ribbed bottom for amazing grill marks on chicken, fish, veggies—actually anything you’d throw on it. And reviewers can’t get enough: “I once cooked a steak for a girl, and SHE MARRIED ME. While I cannot post my recipe here, as it’s a 7+ page dissertation, I can tell you that I make the best steak in the world and I make it on this grill. My steaks have a slight salty crunch on the outside; soft, tender and so juicy and flavorful you’d think a geyser exploded in your mouth. There are very few items that you can purchase for less than $50 that will be with you for the rest of your life. This however, is one of those items.”

Shop it: Lodge 12-inch Square Cast Iron Grill Pan, $39 (was $42), amazon.com

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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