I Tried Some of Those Expensive Cast Iron Skillets That Are 8 Times the Price of Lodge — Here’s What I Learned
No kitchen should be without a cast iron skillet. They’re absolute workhorses, able to cook just about anything on nearly any heat source — from a fancy induction cooktop to a smoky campfire. You can bake in them, fry in them, pan-roast in them, and make deep-dish pizzas in them. And if you cook with it long enough and take proper care of it, it’ll become virtually nonstick and last indefinitely.
All of this is nothing new, of course. These days everyone seems to understand the virtues of a good cast iron skillet. Once associated with grandmas and cowboys, they’re now hip enough to be displayed in the most urbane kitchens — especially the newer boutique brands. In the last 20 years or so, we’ve seen so many cast iron brands pop up to compete with Lodge (which is Kitchn’s favorite cast iron brand and has been around for more than 100 years). Some of these newer brands, though — like Smithey, Finex, and Field — cost about eight times more than Lodge (think: $160 versus $20).
That’s a huge price difference! Are these skillets different enough to justify the high price? I did a bunch of research and pitted three of those newer pans against my 10-year-old Lodge skillet. Here’s what I learned.
1. They’re all essentially the same.
No matter how high or low the price, all of these brands are made of the same thing: mainly molten iron and steel. And, like Lodge, many of these brands are made in the USA. For example, Smithey is manufactured in South Carolina and Field is made in Wisconsin and Indiana. Lodge actually bought Finex in 2019 and now casts the cookware at its foundry in Tennessee before shipping it to Oregon, for finishing.
Of course, there are little differences in the details. A Lodge skillet is the benchmark. It’s heavy and has pour spouts on either side, a gripper handle at one end, and a longer handle on the other. It can be hung from either end. From this basic design, the boutique brands all offer subtle variations that make them look a little more stylish than the standard.
Finex has an octagonal shape, so you can pour from many different angles, and an eye-catching spiral metal handle. It also has a matching lid.
Smithey has deeper spouts, a gripper handle with three holes for hanging, and a fetching little quail etched in the long handle. The brand now offers a flat, circular griddle that doubles smartly as a lid.
Field skillets forgo bells and whistles completely, opting for a minimalist look with no pour spouts and only one hole in the long handle for hanging.
2. The boutique brands seem to be a little smoother.
The boutique brands I tested were all machine polished to create a super-smooth cooking surface, which is more like the antique skillets of old. Griswold and Wagner are two highly sought-after antique skillets known for being super smooth, as well as comparatively lightweight. Getting one requires hitting antique stores or eBay. I have a Griswold and its smooth, nonstick surface and light construction does indeed make it a delight to cook with. Field, Smithey, and Finex all offer a surface that’s just as smooth.
3. Weight is another matter, though.
Field founder Chris Muscarella specifically modeled his skillets on the coveted antiques. “What we loved about the vintage skillets was they were smoother, lighter, and easier to handle,” he told me. “If you have a modern, rough cast iron pan, you’d always reach for the vintage first. We thought, ‘We should fix that and make a modern pan for those who can’t get an antique one.’” It’s true that a lighter cast iron skillet is a lot easier to use. Like my Griswold, the Field heats up faster and cleaning up doesn’t constitute an arm workout.
Still, there’s something to be said for having a heavier skillet. It retains heat better, which is great when you need to keep the temps steady for frying or searing. Both Finex and Smithey are noticeably heavier than the Lodge and have a very thick base. But in my experience using these pans, the difference in heat retention didn’t make a difference in performance. Meat seared beautifully in all of them, including my cheap Lodge.
4. Some heated more evenly than others.
To test how evenly the pans heated, I filled each with 2 cups of water and brought it to a boil over high heat, always using the same burner. With the Finex, Field, and my old Griswold, a ring of bubbles emerged around the pan at nearly the same time, whereas with Smithey and Lodge, the bubbles took longer to spread around the pan from an initial hot spot. Quickly enough, it all evened out though.
5. You’ll have to work for a great seasoning — no matter what.
All of these pans, including Lodge, come pre-seasoned with a coating of oil — such as vegetable, grapeseed, or flaxseed — that gets baked on. This means you can start cooking right away. But that doesn’t mean the seasoning is going to last. I remember struggling with the Lodge skillet when I first got it, and how the seasoning got blotchy and food would really get stuck. The surface was really rough too. Fast forward 10 years and that skillet is now coal black, almost as smooth as my vintage Griswold, and practically nonstick.
You’d think the pricey skillets would come with a tough-enough seasoning that you could skip all that, but no. The Finex hung onto its seasoning layer okay, but still had some blotchiness and was prone to sticking in the beginning. Now, I’ve had it for almost two years and it’s as nonstick as my oldest pans.
The Field skillet came with special instructions on how to break in the pan, which I followed to the letter — no cooking acidic foods, using moderate heat, being generous with the oil, and still the seasoning got alarmingly blotchy. However, I’ve been making a point to use it every day, whether I fry an egg or a veggie burger, and it’s very exciting to see the seasoning building up and evening out.
The Smithey was the most concerning. It came with the seasoned surface gorgeously copper in color, but the first thing I cooked — cubed chicken breast with just salt and pepper and plenty of oil — stripped the seasoning right off to shiny silver metal. It turns out, no matter how much you pay for a skillet, you will need to cook with it, consistently, to build up your own tough layer of seasoning that will last. I have no doubt I’ll get the Smithey’s seasoning built up in time.
Are These Expensive Cast Iron Skillets Worth the Price?
That’s up to you. In the end, all of these skillets essentially performed the same. They can all be used the same way, and they all need TLC when it comes to building up and maintaining the seasoning. The few defining features that set the pricey ones apart from Lodge — smoothness, weight, matching lids, pour spouts, attractive details, and pretty packaging — are not really going to make a big difference in the end. Why spend an extra $160 if you don’t have to? If you have the money and want a status symbol to leave on display, then by all means, go for it.
Do you have a favorite cast iron skillet? Tell us about it in the comments!