Cast iron rocks—it's durable enough to last over generations, and it's one of the few things you can buy for your home that improves with age. When you're shopping for cast iron, prices can vary widely and there are a few key issues to consider. Here's our guide to help you figure out what type is right for you.
New or Vintage?
Because cast iron lasts so long, it's possible to find vintage pieces for less than you might pay new. Advantages of shopping vintage (besides price) include the chance to find discontinued colors and product lines. However, some people find it strange to use cookware that's been seasoned in someone else's kitchen, so if you'd like to control the seasoning of your cast iron skillet from day one, we recommend buying new.
Enameled or Bare?
Cast iron cookware comes in two main types: bare (uncoated) and enameled (coated). Bare cast iron needs to be seasoned and reacts with ingredients. Enameled cast iron is non-reactive, can be prone to chipping if not properly cared for, and is better for cooking ingredients like tomatoes that are particularly acidic and can take on strange colors and flavors when cooked in raw cast iron. Doctors sometimes recommend that people with iron deficiency try cooking with bare cast iron, since it can increase the amount of iron in your food.
High or Low?
Raw cast iron cookware is inexpensive, and it's easy to find a large skillet for $20 - $40. Enameled cast iron generally costs more, but prices can vary widely. Expect to pay between $40 and $200 for a good cast iron Dutch oven. When shopping for enameled cast iron, the quality of the coating matters. It should be thick enough that it won't easily chip and it should distribute heat evenly. It should feel heavy, and all sides should be of equal thickness. It should have heat-resistant handles and knobs so that it can easily go from oven to table.
• Cast Iron Cookware: Store Guide
• Strong and Sturdy: What Makes Cast Iron So Great?
• How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
Photo: Staub cast iron plates by Maxwell Gillingham Ryan