Cast iron skillets come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The good news is, it’s easy choosing the perfect one for your needs with just a little information. These skillets are the most versatile pans in the kitchen and they last forever, so buying the correct one to fit your needs is easy. Or, you could purchase a complete set which is recommended.
Cast iron skillets are available in sizes ranging from 3.5” to 17” and come in various depths. Having a deep skillet on hand is ideal for cooking larger quantities of liquid, like pasta sauce. For frying, baking, or other cooking needs, a shallower skillet will get the job done.
There are several factors that determine the size that is right for you. The size of your stove burners, the weight of the skillet, and the food items that will be cooked the most all go into what cast iron skillet you buy.
General, All-Purpose Cast Iron Skillets
Cast iron skillets are the kitchen’s workhorses. The size of the skillet is determined by measuring the skillet from outer rim to outer rim. An 8-inch skillet is the most versatile for one person while the 10-inch is the most versatile for two people. Skillets under 8 inches are for single-use desserts or eggs and are also great gift options. Any skillet larger than 12 inches is primarily used for large gatherings are family meals.
Larger skillets (larger than 12 inches) are heavy and not practical as general-purpose skillets. However, they can cook up to three steaks at a time, 5-6 pancakes, and 5-to 7 serving casseroles. Depending on the size of your stovetop burners, larger skillets are normally bigger than the burners and the heat distribution will be uneven.
The best general-purpose cast iron skillet is the 10 or 12–inch version. The 8-inch skillet is only practical for a single meal. The 10-inch skillet is not that heavy and covers the burners well and is perfect for two people. The 12-inch skillet is ideal for a family of four.
The 10-inch cast iron skillet can cook 1-2 steaks at a time, two servings of vegetables, cornbread, or a 12 oz. bottle of pasta sauce. The 12-inch skillet can easily hold two steaks, four biscuits, a four-serving casserole, or three large chicken breasts.
Any cast iron skillet above 12 inches is heavy and hard to handle. If the 12-inch skillet is a little unwieldy, there are versions with a longer handle and a helper handle on the opposite side that makes moving it from the stove to the counter a breeze.
Cooks and chefs that use cast iron as their go-to pans prefer the 10-inch skillet because of its lighter weight, even heat distribution, and its ability to cook a two-person meal at one time. The standard dimension of a large stove burner is 12 inches so a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet will provide the most uniform heating and the center of the skillet will not scorch.
Smaller Cast Iron Skillet Sizes
Cast iron pans smaller than 8 inches are used for single servings. They are also great gift ideas. The 3.5” and the 5” skillets are perfect for cooking a single egg. The 6.5” skillet can cook two eggs at a time and is used primarily to cook a small breakfast. But what can be cooked in the smallest versions? Quite a lot, in fact.
Mini frittatas, mini shrimp and grits, and baked eggs are just the beginning of the delicious, personalized meals that can be made using a min cast iron skillet. These smaller pans are ideal to toast nuts and spices in or for roasting minced garlic. The 6-inch skillet is perfect for frying eggs, meat, and vegetables and the pour spouts on the sides make it easy to drain off excess liquid. The smaller pans are great for blistering peppers and tomatoes as well.
All cast iron skillets are ideal for searing a steak but the oval-shaped skillet is also optimum for its searing qualities. In fact, chefs use the oval-shaped skillets for preparing specialty steaks such as the Pittsburgh steak. These are also ideal for serving fajitas or roasted vegetables at the table.
Complete Sets of Cast Iron
Although the 10-inch 12- inch cast iron skillets are the most versatile, purchasing a complete set of skillets is a great idea. That way, all the basics are covered. While the bigger skillets are preparing the main course, the smaller skillets can be used for roasting the vegetables, or blistering sun-dried tomatoes. The options are endless with cast iron skillets and the clean-up is easy.
It is also a good idea to purchase two 10 or 12-inch skillets. That way, if a large meal is being prepared, one skillet can be used in the oven while the other skillet is used on the stovetop. There are many complete sets to choose from. Many sets include a griddle and a dutch oven or other baking dishes. A lid is a great option as it adds even more versatility to any cast iron skillet.
My name is Jason Phillips and I cooked for many years, primarily aboard Merchant Marine vessels and in fast-paced commercial kitchens. My passion for culinary arts led me to attend a culinary arts academy in 2019 where the instructor piqued my interest in food and beverage writing.