Why Top Chefs Like Gordon Ramsay, Ming Tsai, and Alton Brown Swear by Cast-Iron Pans

We have ancient China to thank for cast-iron pans. In fact, the earliest cast-iron pieces were found in a cemetery in Shanxi, northern China, dating all the way back to the 8th century BC. At first, the iron was likely used for weaponry and farming tools, but over the centuries it became a go-to cookware material. And it still is today.

According to Statista, the global cast-iron cookware market was valued at $2.5 billion in 2017. Many of the pans sold today are made just like they were in ancient China—molten metal is poured into a sand mold, which allows the entire pan to form in one go in one piece. The result is one of the most durable, long-lasting, versatile pieces of cookware that you can invest in. It even has the nod of approval from some of the world’s most renowned chefs.

“For the rest of my life, cast iron,” Ramsay once wrote in a Reddit AMA. He is joined by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Alton Brown, David Chang, and Ming Tsai, all of whom have raved about the benefits of cooking with cast iron in the past. To find out more about which brands they recommend, check out our list below. But first: what is really so special about cast-iron pans?

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What’s so special about cast-iron pans?

If you care for it properly, a cast-iron pan will be your trusty kitchen companion for a lifetime and then some. Seriously—a good quality, well-cared-for cast-iron pan is durable enough to be passed down from generation to generation.

In 2021, The Washington Post interviewed people to find out their cast-iron pan stories. “In 1922, my grandfather went to Italy to bring home the bride his father arranged for him. She got her first pan then,” one individual told the publication. “After my grandmother, my mother used them, and now they are mine.” Another said: “The cast iron comes to me by way of my late paternal grandmother … I like to think that it’s a Depression-era pan, and has gotten my family through some hard times—just as the quesadillas I make in it now are doing for me.”

But they’re not just long-lasting, cast-iron pans also offer a superior cooking experience. When properly seasoned, they’re also naturally non-stick, which reduces the need for chemicals, meaning they’re also naturally non-toxic. “One of my favorite pans is my cast iron—I’ve had it for over 20 years. Once it’s well-seasoned, you don’t need any fat to cook in it and it’s so versatile,” Tsai told Katie Couric Media.

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They also retain heat extremely well, which means your ingredients cook evenly, regardless of whether you’re frying, searing, or baking (yep, they can go in the oven, too, that’s another plus). This efficiency means that food just tastes better when it’s been cooked in a cast-iron pan. “The longer you continue cooking in those, the more depth of flavor there is,” explained Ramsay, before praising the caramelization that takes place in cast iron.

This cooking method might even be good for your health, too. We recently spoke with experts to find out whether cooking in iron can increase your iron levels, and we were pleasantly surprised by the answer. “When using these skillets, some of the iron from the cookware gets absorbed into the food and is subsequently ingested—helping to enhance iron intake,” Derek Lipton MS RD CSSD CSCC explained. “While this isn’t a large amount of iron, it can still be beneficial to those struggling to hit their iron needs.”

3 top chef-recommended cast-iron pots and pans

Find three top chef-approved cast-iron pans below, and for more recommendations, you can also check out some of our top cast-iron skillet picks here.

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1 Lodge 10.25 Inch Cast Iron Pre-Seasoned Skillet

In 2021, Tsai, a nationally acclaimed restaurateur, Iron Chef, and proponent of vegan cooking, told Katie Couric Media that a cast-iron skillet from Lodge (aka one of America’s oldest remaining cast-iron cookware brands) is one of his go-to kitchen tools. Brown is another big fan of these skillets. “I collect cast iron, so I got a lot of really old stuff, stuff that isn’t made anymore,” the top celebrity chef told SFGate in 2022. “If I had to swear what my favorite was, it’d probably be a Griswold from the 1940s—but like I said, they’re not made anymore. From a metallurgical standpoint, Lodge is probably the best around.”
Find it here

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2 Tefal Cast Iron 24cm Stewpot

Oliver and Tefal have been working together for more than 20 years. The renowned British chef’s collection with the popular kitchen and appliance brand includes a range of stainless steel pans, aluminum pans, and, of course, cast-iron pans, like this super sleek matte black enamel stewpot option.
Find it here

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3 Smithey Ironware Co. 3.5 QT Dutch Oven

Lodge is a favorite for most top chefs because it’s one of the oldest cast-iron pan brands on the block, but for Chang, it’s all about the newcomers. The restaurateur, chef, and food writer loves cookware from Smithey Ironware Co., a South Carolina brand that first hit the market in 2015. He’s been spotted cooking with the brand’s Dutch ovens on his Instagram account more than once.
Find it here

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