There's pretty much only one name to consider when it comes to cast-iron cookware, and that name is Lodge. In every professional review, every forum discussion, and every consumer review website, Lodge is not only the top-rated cast iron cookware across the board, it's also highly affordable and you have the option of buying it pre-seasoned. In spite of that, you still have to let the seasoning become well-established before cooking some foods and to get the full nonstick benefits of a perfectly seasoned cast iron pan. The Lodge website has detailed, but simple, instructions for properly cleaning and seasoning your pans.
There are a few other drawbacks to cast iron, which is why there are other options, like stainless steel cookware and nonstick cookware. For one, it's very heavy. There are people who simply can't use cast iron pots and pans because they can't wrangle them in and out of their cupboards -- especially the larger pieces. It also requires a bit more patience as cast iron takes longer to heat up and much longer to cool down than other types of cookware. Also, when it get hot, the entire pot or pan heats up; there's no such thing as a stay cool handle. Heavy-duty oven mitts are an absolute must.
Still, most everyone has a piece or two of cast iron in their cupboard simply because there are some things that cook so much more superbly in cast iron. Cast iron cookware is also extremely versatile and can be used on any type of cooktop, in the oven or even on a grill or over a campfire. Very few other types of cookware can make that claim. Cast iron also lasts virtually forever. There are hundreds of forum posts from people discussing their cast iron pots that once belonged to their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents.
Experts say if you can only have two pieces of cast iron, choose a small skillet for making corn breads and desserts such as cobblers, and a grill pan to use on top of the stove for searing meats. However, if you want to go the full Monty and make cast iron your go-to cookware for everything, check out the Lodge L5HS3 5-Piece Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Cookware Set (Est. $65). It's the #1 Best Seller in Campfire Cookware on Amazon.com, where it gets a near-perfect rating in hundreds of reviews, but it's not just for campfire cooking. Many reviewers use them as everyday pans and say they are superb at evenly heating up and top cooking performance. They also say they're easy to clean, and that seasoning is very simple to do. Lodge also makes enameled cast iron cookware, but it's not sold in sets. Those products are also very highly rated on consumer review sites, and get particularly high praise for their attractive appearance. In addition to black, they come in red, green, blue, orange, brown and purple. Some colors have more than one shade.
Quite a few customers do use these pans for camping and for kitchen cooking, and there are a number of happy customers who rave about how they perform on the grill and in smokers. We did see a few complaints of items arriving damaged, with dings or with broken handles. A couple of reviewers speculated that they were getting factory seconds, but that's an issue with the distributor, not the manufacturer. Other than that, there are very, very few complaints.
While these get great reviews for performance, a number of wise cooks point out that it's still a good idea to have one quality nonstick pan around for things like eggs, which don't cook well in a cast iron pan until it's been seasoned for quite a while -- sometimes months or years. Still, if you have any interest in cast iron at all, as your primary cookware or as a supplement to nonstick or stainless steel, look no further than Lodge.
Elsewhere in this report:
The five best cookware sets
The best cookware sets you can buy today as identified in reviews and our editors' analysis.
Stainless steel cookware
A favorite of professional chefs and home cooks alike, they are top performers.
Nonstick cookware sets
The most popular type of cookware, makes cooking and clean up a breeze.
Don't go shopping for a cookware set without learning what you need to know first. Our Buying Guide explains what to look for the best cookware.
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top cookware sets, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.