Whether you fancy yourself as a MasterChef finalist in waiting or are something of a novice when it comes to whipping up dinner in your kitchen, having the right tools makes all the difference. And while some kitchen equipment might be best reserved for particularly chef-y home cooks (like a pasta roller or a piecrust mat), a cast-iron dish is one of the hardest working items you’re likely to own. “Cast iron is a really great and versatile material to cook with,” explains Kristin Lohse, a purchasing and buying assistant at Sous Chef. “Cast iron heats up slowly and is great at retaining heat. The thickness of the pans allows food to heat evenly. And the more you use it, the better it will become.”
When it comes to finding the best version of anything for your kitchen, no one is more familiar with the intricacies of different cookware than people who cook with them all day, every day for a living. So we asked nine experts, including chefs, restaurateurs, and home cooks, to tell us about the best cast-iron cookware, and though their picks might not be too surprising (let’s just say a well-known brand was the best-rated by a country mile), we also asked experts for alternative options, too. We’ve also combed through the Strategist archives for some select picks (including a dish that is so popular it consistently sells out.)
“When choosing a cast-iron casserole dish, prices will vary a lot,” says Jorjon Colazo, head chef at Aquavit London. “Big brands come in at a higher price, but more affordable ones are usually as effective.”
Best overall cast-iron pot
Six of our experts said Le Creuset was their first choice when it came to choosing the best cast-iron casserole dish. “It’s a market leader for a reason,” said James Cochran, owner and head chef at 12:51. Paul Leonard, head chef at Michelin-starred Forest Side in Cumbria, agreed. “The range is just so consistent — you know exactly the quality you’re going to get, every time.”
The Le Creuset (which also featured heavily in our look at the best-rated cast irons on Amazon) is certainly an expensive option — Cochran called it “an investment piece” — but our experts said the features more than justify the cost. “They work on any heat source (including induction) and have the best heat distribution and retention,” said Leonard, “which is essential for me when making some of the delicate sauces in our restaurant.” Andrew Woodford, executive chef at Dirty Bones, said “the weight of them alone justifies the quality. There is no better pan for sealing off large cuts of meat or searing a steak.”
“If you’re slow-cooking, you’re willing to invest time, so investing in a bit of dollar makes sense, too. You reap what you sow,” says Cochran. Alan Rosenthal, author of Foolproof One-Pot, praised Le Creuset for its “super versatility,” saying he liked to use it for both oven-baked braises and quick suppers on the stove top.
Michelin-star chef Adam Byatt also recommended it, while warning against heating it up too quickly. “If you heat the pan too high, with no fat in the pan, the ceramic will chip,” he says. “But I do love cooking with them.” Cochran also said it was crucial to season the pan every time you use it.
Leonard also noted the company’s lifetime guarantee as a selling point. “Yes, they are not cheap, but they are super durable. Case in point: We have had one of their cast-iron casserole dishes in our family for over 20 years.”
Best overall cast-iron pot (runner-up)
Though it only had two recommendations compared to the Le Creuset’s six, we would be remiss not to mention Staub. Though less well-known than Le Creuset, it’s still a popular option — it was the best-reviewed overall cast iron when we looked at the most popular models on Amazon. Rosenthal noted that, as well as being considered a “more stylish” alternative to the Le Creuset, it has a tighter-fitting lid than both Le Creuset and many other cheaper models. “This makes them perfect for a pilaf or grain dish cooked in the oven.”
Another distinguishing feature of the Staub is the self-basting spikes (or “picots”) on the roof of the lid, which gather moisture from steam and drip back into the food, preventing it from getting dry. Marwa Alkhalaf, chef patron at Nutshell, also told us this was her preferred model. “I am always making traditional Iranian food at home, which is mainly slow-cooked stews and rice,” she said. “The dark interior of the Staub means I don’t have to worry about staining the interior with spices. And the tight lid helps to retain moisture and heat better, which helps to intensify the flavor of the stews and reduce cooking time. Also, a well-seasoned Staub casserole is perfect for making tahdig (crispy bottom rice).”
Best (less expensive) cast-iron casserole pot
Ioannis Grammenos, executive chef at Heliot Steak House, told us about Chasseur, a French cookware brand that makes one of his favourite cast-iron casserole dishes. “The likes of Staub and Le Creuset get a lot of airtime, but I also really like how wide and deep the Chasseur ones are,” he said, adding that they were adept at making roasts and stews, as well as dishes cooked on the hob, like risotto. “The nonstick coating is second to none, which is essential for cooking traditional slow-roasted Greek vegetable dishes.”
Chasseur’s cast iron features the same dark interior as the Staub, and each piece is handcrafted from an individual mould. They are also made from up to 80 percent recycled materials, and come with a limited lifetime guarantee (covering material and manufacturing defects only).
Best cast-iron casserole pots under £50
When we spoke to set designer Sophie Robinson (who art-directs food shows including MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off), she told us that, while many shows such as Junior Bake Off always request Le Creuset casserole dishes due to their myriad colour options, sometimes she works jobs where the budget won’t stretch. Her affordable dupe is from Sainsbury’s, who make a volcanic-orange cast-iron casserole dish that could pass for a more expensive model. “It’s lighter duty, and they cost a fraction. But whereas a Le Creuset might last 50 years, this one would likely last about 5 — that’s the trade-off.” Impressively, for a £35 cast iron, this one is enamelled. I bought one of these myself over a year ago on Sophie’s recommendation, and it’s held up superbly given that I use it at least once a week. While it has been stained slightly from toasting spices, the enamelled surface is excellent at redistributing heat evenly. Notably, unlike expensive models, this does not have nonstick coating, so seasoning the pan with oil is essential.
When we first spoke to our panel of experts, Colazo told us that Ikea’s non-enamelled cast iron was an excellent starter option. The original Vardagen model has since been discontinued and replaced by this enamelled version. “It’s a good price, and is perfect to use as a Dutch oven for baking bread, preparing stews, and braising meats,” said Colazo. The dish is safe for induction, glass ceramic, and gas hobs, and due to the dark interior, it will avoid staining.
Best non-enamelled cast-iron pot
Strategist contributor Zhenya Tsenzharyk was working her way up to a Le Creuset when she spied this option on Amazon by a brand called Vivo. “I’m not much of a dupe hunter — I believe that quality is something worth paying for,” she wrote. “But sometimes I’ll opt for a ‘starter’ version of the thing I really want first to see if I’ll actually use it. And so I began the hunt for a starter cast-iron pot that I could test drive on my road to Le Creuset ownership.”
She was so impressed with this option by Vivo — which she later discovered is a diffusion of Villeroy & Boch, a ceramics company known for fancy tableware — that she ended up not investing in a Le Creuset at all. One key difference (and a reason for the lower price) is that this cast iron has a non-enamelled interior. But, adds Zhenya, “In theory, an enameled pot is easier to care for, though I’ve had no issues whatsoever, even after slow cooking and baking at very high temperatures.”
Best cast-iron casserole pot with skillet lid
Two experts told us about Danish cookware brand Morsø, who do a two-in-one cast-iron casserole dish with a skillet lid. Colazo said it was “good for simmering dishes, roasting a whole chicken, joints of meat, or baking bread” and said it was compatible with induction hobs. Rosenthal also recommended it: “I developed a recipe for Boston baked beans using the skillet as a lid,” he says. “But the skillet can also go in the oven on its own, so you can bake dishes, such as my baked pears with chocolate, orange, and almond streusel.”
“I may be a touch biased, as I’m Swedish, but I love Skeppshult [pronounced hep-salt], an all-natural cast-iron brand I grew up with,” says Lohse. “It’s easy to maintain, virtually indestructible — truly, a piece for life.”
Lohse specifically mentioned the brand’s dish and skillet set, which features a slightly domed lid that can double as a skillet. “So you can fry something off in the pan, then tip into the casserole dish, put the frying pan lid back on, and let it simmer. Or, simply cook multiple things at the same time.” She also said it’s an excellent cast iron for baking. “It makes the best sourdough, because it retains the heat really well. I love a multipurpose product.”
Best (less expensive) cast-iron casserole pot and skillet set
We first heard about Kichly, an inexpensive cookware brand, from Nyasha Sakutukwa, who runs the Instagram account Munch Club. He bought the brand’s cast-iron skillet and told us “it transformed the way I cooked steak” since he picked it up on a whim a couple of years ago.
We were impressed by the affordability of the brand, so we did some snooping and found they actually sell a cast iron and skillet set for just under £60. This is similar in design to the Skeppshult and Morsø pans, in that the skillet doubles as a casserole dish lid, but there is one difference — both the dish and skillet have a longer-style handle. The model has 600 reviews on Amazon, too — 78 percent of which are five stars.
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