The right pan really does make all the difference. Whether you’re wanting to slow cook, grill fast, griddle to get that seared colour on your meats or sweat down some onions, a good pan should help you achieve the results you want without too much sticking or burning.
Cast iron pans and casseroles are solid and enduring - the kind of pans to use daily and keep for life. They’re good for stews, casseroles, chillies and curries, ideal both on the hob and in the oven, and many are stylish enough to go straight to the table too. All this means that they can also be especially expensive, so it’s definitely worth considering which style, size and price point suits you best. We have tried and tested a selection of some of the best on the market across the spectrum to help inform your decision.
Denby Cast Iron 28Cm Oval Casserole Dish
A real looker of a pan which comes in numerous shiny colour options including this vibrant red. It has a capacity of over 4 litres and can be used either on the hob or in the oven. Its shape is ideal for cuts of meat such as lamb shanks and large roasting joints as well as casseroles, stews and bakes. It has a great non-stick coating which really does work - perfect for jobs like browning onions - and its lid comes with built-in ‘basting rings’ to collect and recirculate moisture as it evaporates. A quality pan with a look to match, and a price point that is more reasonable than some of its equally high quality counterparts - a winner.
Available from:Amazon (£86.13)
Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron Round Casserole
You can’t think about cast iron pans without thinking of Le Creuset. The French brand dating back to 1925 is a chef’s favourite as well as the market leader when it comes to high-end kitchenware. The range comes in 14 colours, from meringue cream to deep cassis, and most classic bright orange ‘volcanic’ shade, and in sizes from 20cm to 28cm wide. From look to feel, to how it cooks, it exudes class and perfectionism. It comes with a slightly domed lid, which works like a mini tagine to recirculate moisture into your dishes as it evaporates. A decorative stainless steel knob does well to resist excess heat making it easy to remove the lid, while small handles on each side of the pan make lifting it easy despite its size and heavy build. Seriously hard to beat, but with a price tag that knows it.
Shadow Cast Iron Round Dutch Oven
One approach to competing with the tour de force that is Le Creuset is to offer a similar product for a lower price. And you’ve got to give it to them, this broadly similar casserole dish is far less expensive and still cooks well. Making use of the famous French brand’s trademark orange colour, it is a nice looking, versatile and sturdy piece of kit. Placed side-by-side with the original it looks less stylish, and it doesn’t benefit from as nice a non-stick surface, but depending on how much you’re looking to spend these could be sacrifices worth making.
Chasseur Cast Iron Casserole Dish
A high quality enamel finish and smooth cooking surface make this casserole dish a clearly premium offering - and it looks as good on the table as it does on the stove. Its wide and shallow design, though still with plenty of depth, makes it ideal for everything from stews, casseroles and curries to pastas, risottos and eggs. On testing we found that food tended to stick to the bottom a little more than with the Le Creuset and Denby alternatives, so despite an overall great cooking quality that’s a reason we have to mark it down.
Stellar Cast Iron Grill Pan
The true test of a grill pan is how it cooks steaks, and this one does them very well indeed. Of course, it’s useful for many more dishes than that, but getting a darkened, slightly crisped outer layer on your meat without it sticking and burning, and getting it quickly enough so that the centre of your steak isn’t overcooked, is pa-work at its most precise. To that end, this pan has a great non-stick coating, and sharp-edged ridges for that chargrill effect. Extra flourishes include a pouring lip for collecting your juices, and it’s made to withstand heat all around meaning you can even use it on the barbecue.
Skeppshult Traditional Cast Iron Frying Pan
This carefully engineered Swedish pan is a bit of a looker with a natural beech wood handle and gently curved edges. The sides of the pan slant outwards, which isn’t just for appearance but also makes it easy to slide pancakes or fried eggs onto your plate. Natural is the key theme, so it’s the most non-stick of pans, but it cooks evenly and conducts heat brilliantly - plus if anything does stick, you'll do no harm when scrubbing away at it. While the handle looks great - and doesn’t get remotely hot while cooking, it does mean the pan isn’t suitable for the oven, which is a shame.
Staub Universal Pan
This is a premium piece of kitchen kit from a brand synonymous with the best of cast iron pans. In our mind, if you’re going to invest in the top end then you want a pan that can be somewhat multifunctional so you get the most use out of it - which is where this so-called universal pan comes in. It works just as well for cooking on the hob as it does in the oven, and designed to fit joints of meat so it can be used as a roaster. It’s convex lid also helps retain both moisture and flavour with what it calls an ‘Aroma Rain’ feature which means condensation is evenly distributed onto the dish below. In essence, it does the same thing as a tagine. A pan that’s lovely to use, and gives you lots of opportunity to use it.
Netherton Foundry Iron Wok
Even though woks are traditionally made from iron, really good cast iron versions are not the easiest to come by. This version from Netherton Foundry in the Midlands changes that, offering a super-thin 1mm base for fast frying, along with a durable, comfortable oak handle. It comes pre-seasoned with a little flax oil to give a non-stick element, too. This is a classy, well-crafted pan that performs well and is made to last. Fantastic for its price, and given that many of the top-end of cast iron pans come from France and beyond, nice to have such a great offering made artisanally in the UK.
Judge Sizzle and Serve Platter
This unique pan-meets-platter is not the most versatile, but it’s a nifty piece of kit that you’ll probably end up using more than you think. It’s composed of an oval iron skillet, detachable handle and wooden base and allows you to cook up a dish on the hob and then serve it at the table, still sizzling, on its wooden plinth. The thick cast iron maintains its heat for a long time to keep steaks and dishes hot, and it brings a bit of restaurant-style dining to the home.
Morsø Griddle Cocotte
Morsø from Denmark is behind this cleverly designed flexible pan, which utilises typically cunning Scandi design. A deep 10.5cm high cocotte-style pan is topped with a lid that doubles as a griddle pan. What’s more, the ridged griddle, when used as a lid, becomes ‘self-basting’, adding moisture throughout cooking. As a griddle, it then becomes ideal for cooking steaks and other meat, with the large ridges and heavy duty iron creating plenty of smoky flavour. A clever combination.
If money was no object, we’d have to pick the Le Creuset range as our favourite. Not just because of the iconic look and great colours, but also the durable coating which prevents sticking and really does create a premium cooking experience. However, money usually is an object, and in that case the Denby Oval Casserole Dish is the winner for us. Almost as sleek looking, just as shiny and bright, and with a nice non-stick lining, it really delivers at a much more accessible price point.