How to choose an Iron Pan: Pros and Cons, Buying and Cleaning Tips

You know you want to get an iron pan. Now you need to know how to choose an iron pan. First, you need to know if you want a Cast, Wrought or a Carbon Steel Pan. And after that, you will be overwhelmed by the many companies out there. We are here to help!

We like to use iron pans and iron skillets in our kitchen because they are very durable. We prefer to use these models:

1. Place: Our Favourite Frying Pan

Forged Iron Pan
De Buyer Mineral B Element

The De Buyer Mineral B Element! The iron pan we’ve been frying with for years. Not too expensive, durable and beautiful to look at. This makes the De Buyer Mineral B Element the best iron pan for us. You can find out more about this iron pan in the detailed test report of De Buyer Mineral B.
Read our full review of the pan.

2. Place: The incredible Lodge Combo Cooker

Cast Iron Pan
Lodge Combo-Cooker

Read our full review of the Lodge Combo Cooker

The Lodge Cast Iron Combo-Cooker does it all. A deep skillet, a fryer, a Dutch oven in one, plus a lid that doubles as a shallow skillet or griddle. We like to use this pan-pot combination very much. Much heavier than De Buyer’s, the cast iron pan is perfect for grilling or making pizza. Together this set is suitable for baking bread, as a roaster or for casseroles. A great all-rounder for every kitchen. For the price, you get a lot of performance. In our test report on the Lodge combi-pot, you can find out more about the possible uses.
Made in the USA

3. Place Skeppshult Frying Pan

How to choose an Iron Pan: Pros and Cons, Buying and Cleaning Tips 1
Skeppshult Frying Pan

Beautiful but expensive: Skeppshult is known for producing extremely high-quality pans. However, these also have their price. Apart from that, this pan is very good to use in the kitchen. Thanks to the beautiful wooden handle, the pan can be used very well as a serving pan and makes a high-quality impression at the table. More in our Skeppshult iron pan review.

The Essentials in Brief

Iron pans are very robust and durable when handled correctly.

Very good iron pans can be purchased from 30 $ – 50 $.

Iron pans can develop a good non-stick effect.

Iron pans have been used in the kitchen for several hundred years. Compared to many other types of pans, they are very robust and inexpensive, real workhorses. When used correctly, iron pans become better and better: a patina forms in the pan, which acts like an anti-stick layer and even prevents fried eggs from sticking to it. In this article, we want to give you an idea of what iron pans are all about and what their advantages and disadvantages are.
If you are looking for a good iron pan, then you should read our iron pan recommendations

The different types of Iron Pans

There are currently three types of iron pans, which differ mainly in the way they are made:

Cast Iron Pans

Cast Iron Pan

Cast iron pans are made of iron which contains between 2.5 and 4 % carbon. The iron is heated and then poured into pan molds. It is relatively brittle, but hard and does not deform. Cast iron ladles are usually heavier than carbon steel or wrought iron ladles of comparable size. For one simple reason: cast iron is usually cast thicker than the other two types of pans. A good example of a cast iron pan is the Lodge Cast Iron Combo-Cooker set.

Wrought Iron Pans

Wrought Iron Pan

Wrought iron pans are forged into shape with hammers. The iron of wrought iron pans also contains less carbon than the iron of cast iron pans. The pans are thinner than cast iron pans and therefore also lighter. However, they can also curve if there are large differences in temperature (e.g. if the center is heated much more than the edge). Under the wrought-iron pans, we can recommend the Lodge iron pan. They are even Made in the USA!
We have more information about wrought iron pans on this page.

Carbon Steel Pans

How to choose an Iron Pan: Carbon Steel Pans

Carbon steel pans are also made of unalloyed iron, which contains more carbon than wrought iron but less than cast iron. When delivered, the pans are silver, but when used they turn black. They behave similar to forged iron pans and can warp. These pans are made by deep-drawing a piece of sheet steel, i.e. a steel plate is drawn into shape. Our favorite: the De Buyer Carbon Steel Frying Pan. We have also a full review of the pan!

Properties of Iron Pans: Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

  • can handle high temperatures
  • develop a non-stick coating
  • very durable and robust
  • usually relatively cheap

Disadvantages

  • poor thermal diffusivity (take a long time to heat up and give off an even heat)
  • susceptible to rust if not cared for
  • Strongly acidic dishes attack the patina

Thermal properties of Iron Pans

You find a lot of nonsense about the thermal properties of iron pans on the Internet. We explain here whether it is true that iron pans provide even heat and store the heat well.

Heat distribution in Iron Pans

If an iron pan is placed on a gas burner, hot spots are created where the burner flame touches the bottom of the pan. If the middle of the iron pan is heated with a burner, the heat only slowly moves outwards. This results in a large temperature difference between the center and edge of the pan. An iron pan, therefore, conducts heat relatively poorly.
This has to do with the thermal diffusivity of iron. (If you want to know more about the thermal properties of different pan materials, we recommend this article: Pan materials

Aluminum and copper ladles conduct heat much better, resulting in a more uniform temperature in all areas of the pan.

With electric and induction stoves, the difference is not as noticeable as on gas stoves, as the heat from gas flames is concentrated on a smaller area. With induction and electric cookers, the heat distributes more evenly. The prerequisite is, of course, that the diameter of the electric/induction fields used is greater than or equal to the diameter of the pan bottom.

However, if you only use the middle of the pan, e.g. when preparing a steak, you can rather neglect the poor heat distribution. If you want to use the whole surface, however, it becomes problematic: if your food protrudes above the center, it will cook slower in the places outside the center than in the center. This leads to unevenly fried pieces of meat.

Heat Capacity of Iron Pans

Iron pans have high specific heat capacity. Therefore, it takes a relatively long time for the cast iron pans to get really warm. Aluminum, in contrast, has a much higher specific heat capacity but has a much lower density. Heating a block of aluminum and a block of cast iron of the same volume to the same temperature will keep the block of cast iron much longer warm. Since in most cases, aluminum pans are similar or the same thickness as cast iron pans, cast iron pans stay hotter longer than aluminum pans. More about the heat capacity and specific values can be found here: Heat capacity of pan materials.

In summary, this means:

  • Iron pans usually take longer to heat up
  • The temperature at the bottom of the pan is less uniform than, for example, with aluminum pans
  • Iron pans store heat longer

Seasoning Iron Ians: Rust protection and Non-Stick effect

The food sticks in the iron pan? Then your iron pan is probably not properly seasoned. New iron pans are usually not burned in and the food sticks quite to them.
Seasoning is a process in which oil, which is added to the pan and heated, creates a layer (the so-called “patina”) on the iron pan.
This burnt-in oil layer forms the basic building block for the non-stick effect. After baking, the pan should be boiled more often with a relatively large amount of fat, as the patina improves as the pan is used. Later on, less oil or fat can be used.
Unfortunately, there is no way to accelerate this process significantly.
But it is not only for the non-stick properties that baking is good: the layer forms a protection against rust.
We have summarised detailed information on seasoning and instructions in our article Seasoning an iron pan for you. There we also explain what exactly happens during the seasoning process.

What is an Iron Pan suitable for?

An iron pan is suitable for almost any dish if it is well seasoned. In the beginning, when the pan does not have a really good patina, more oil should be used.
Acidic sauce, which cooks for a long time in the iron pan, can replace the patina. Bolognese or tomato sauce is better cooked in a stainless steel pot or pan.
Iron pans are always recommended for steaks, but you can also make them in another pan. The only important thing is that it leads to a Maillard reaction, i.e. a browning of the outside of the meat. This works just as well in a Teflon pan as in an iron pan.
Iron pans can also replace a pizza stone in the oven: Iron pans store a lot of heat and can, therefore, release a lot. This leads to a much better crust.

How to clean an Iron Pan

Ideally, it is sufficient to simply wipe the pan with a paper towel. Any germs will be destroyed during the next frying process. (From 70° Celsius bacteria die off, frying is normally done at a higher temperature).
If there is still food left in the pan, you can remove it with a sponge and hot water.
Contrary to popular belief, a well-grown patina does not make much of a difference (the emphasis is on a “good” patina). If you’ve just burnt your pan and haven’t used it often, don’t use detergent). This is also confirmed by the manufacturer of cast iron pans, Lodge.

What you should not do under any circumstances:

  • Use steel wool or other very rough, hard cleaning utensils: parts of the patina can be removed by mechanical friction.
  • Dishwasher: Dishwasher cleaner is more aggressive than hand washing detergent and can damage the patina. Burnt iron pans do not belong in the dishwasher!
  • Strong detergents (oven cleaner, sodium hydroxide): these detergents dissolve baked-on oil. This is good for the oven but bad for the patina. After all, we want the patina for a good non-stick effect.
  • Soak the pan for a longer period of time: this leads to strong rust formation.

After cleaning, you should take care of your iron pan:

How to take Care of Iron Pans

Iron pans like to rust. Therefore you should rub them thinly with oil after each use. This also strengthens the non-stick effect and helps to build up the patina. Iron pans do not require any further care. Should rust form, you can simply rub it off. Either with a rough sponge or if worse with some steel wool or emery paper. The pan will then have lost some of its patina where you rubbed it. If the areas are not too large, you can simply continue to use the pan. In the case of very large areas, you should burn the pan in again afterward.

How to Choose a Iron Pan

First of all the wall thickness is important: it should be 4mm or more. Unfortunately, very few manufacturers specify the thickness of the pan bottom. If the pan bottom is too thin, the pan will quickly warp.

Another quality feature is the handle:

Riveted HandleWelded HandleCast Handle
Riveted Handle PanWelded Handle PanCast Handle Pan
Usually found on carbon steel pans (e.g. De Buyer)Usually found on forged pans, sometimes on cheap carbon steel pans.The pan is cast as a whole, the handle is part of the pan body.

With free-form hot-forged iron pans, the pan including handle is forged from one piece, i.e. the handle is connected to the pan from the beginning.

With welded pans, you should make sure that the welding points are large enough. This is often the weak point of cheap iron pans.

Also, check whether the pan can be held well. Cast iron pans are often very heavy.

How much is a good Iron Pan

Since the production of iron pans is relatively simple and the raw material is much cheaper than copper or aluminum, for example, there are usable iron pans already for around 25$. Iron pans of some manufacturers cost also over 180 $.

Iron Pans: Brands we can recommend

  • Cast Iron Pans: Lodge and Skeppshult. Lodge is much better value for money, but Skeppshult makes the nicer looking pans
  • Carbon steel pans: we have had very good experiences with De Buyer
  • Wrought iron pans: SOLIDTEKNICS and Petromax are two brands that we like to recommend.

You will find our favorite pans at the beginning of this article.

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