With cast iron, you definitely don't have to make tradeoffs between price and performance. In fact, the cast-iron pan that earns the best overall reviews from both professionals and home users is the Lodge Logic 12-Inch Skillet (*Est. $20) . This generously sized skillet comes from the factory already seasoned, meaning that vegetable oil has been sprayed onto the pan and baked on at a very high temperature. This eliminates the hassle and mess of seasoning the pan at home. In tests at one foodie magazine, the Lodge Logic easily outperforms unseasoned pans, turning out everything from scrambled eggs to cornbread. Its one drawback: The handle is a little small for the weight of the pan.
We found about 1,800 reviews for the Lodge Logic pan at Amazon.com and Walmart.com, with overall ratings exceeding 4.5 stars out of 5. Users praise this pan's versatility, saying it is great for searing, frying, scrambling eggs and baking upside-down cake. Most users say food doesn't stick to the pre-seasoned surface, although a few found that they had to season it a second time at home. Owners also stress the importance of caring properly for this pan: hand washing with little or no soap, hand drying and regular oiling.
Although most users praise this skillet's durability, we did read complaints about pans that either arrived damaged or cracked after a short period of use -- a serious issue because Lodge products have no written warranty. The Lodge website says the company "stands behind" its products and pledges to deal with problems, but this is an unofficial policy and not a formal guarantee.
Another inexpensive option is the Emerilware Cast Iron 12-Inch Skillet (*Est. $30) . Recommended by the editors of Food & Wine, it also earns high star ratings from more than 90 users at Macys.com and Cooking.com. Like the Lodge Logic, the Emerilware pan comes pre-seasoned and features pour spouts and a helper handle, but users seem to prefer its stouter handle. The Emerilware skillet gets the same praise for its even heating and nonstick properties. Another plus: the Emerilware pan has a written warranty. Its only downside, according to users, is that it's very heavy.
Made of enameled cast iron, the Le Creuset 11.75-Inch Iron Handle Skillet (*Est. $155) also performs well in tests. It's another of the top picks in Food & Wine, and its performance matches that of the Lodge Logic skillet in another test. However, the Amazon.com reviews we found for the Le Creuset pan weren't as prolific or enthusiastic as those for the Lodge pan. In about 80 reviews, it earns an overall rating of 4.1 stars from owners, who praise its solid build, large cooking surface and easy cleanup.
On the other hand, a few owners complain that food sticks to this pan, a problem we didn't see with the Lodge Logic. Owners do find the Le Creuset skillet durable, and it's backed by a lifetime warranty -- but the same is also true of the cheaper Emerilware.