Cast iron skillets are fantastic for cooking a huge range of different foods and meals, but if you're looking to pick the perfect cast iron skillet for your kitchen, you're going to need to start thinking about size!
Cast iron skillets are manufactured in a wide variety of sizes, and the size of your pan can really affect your cooking. You might want a small cast iron skillet for tossing vegetables, but if you're searing a couple of large steaks, you're going to need a large skillet to cook in.
A cast iron skillet set will give you all the sizes you'll need in the kitchen, but knowing the important differences between different sized cast iron skillets will always help with your cooking.
Okay, so if you're reading this article, you're probably wondering how to measure a skillet. Cast iron skillets are molded in a wide range of sizes, from small personal sized skillets, through to huge commercial restaurant-sized pans.
Deciphering the different sizes, and the different ways used to measure the size will help you pick the right skillet for the job. The easiest way to determine what size cast iron skillet you have is to look at the diameter of the skillet.
This is usually given in inches and measures the size of the cooking surface, or the size of the total diameter of the pan from edge to edge. This can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
For instance, a company might label their pans 10 inches, but the actual cooking surface might only be 8 inches. 10 inches is a reference to the total diameter edge to edge, in this case. It's always best to check this detail, but obviously, the larger the diameter in inches, the larger the cooking surface of the skillet!
While measurements and labeling still aren't universal, things have come a long way. Cast iron can last a long time, and if you have old cast iron pans in your home, then they might have a totally different labeling system.
You might see random numbers or letters engraved on the handles or the bottom of the pan. It can be difficult to decipher what these actually mean, so for really old skillets, you'll just have to judge the actual size by look or by taking out a tape measure! (To find out more about those numbers check out our post Cookware: How Can You Tell How Old a Cast Iron Skillet Is?)
For home cooking, there are three major diameters that you will want to consider for your cast iron skillets. Deciding which size is best for you will depend on how many people you are cooking for and what you are actually cooking.
A large steak will take up much more space than a few chicken wings, for example. If you need to flip pancakes or toss vegetables around as you fry them, then the heaviest cast iron skillet might not be the best option!
The best diameters for home cooking are as follows:
This is the smallest size that we'd recommend using, although the reality is that for a lot of home cooking, 8 inches is still rather small!
This is more of a personal-sized pan, which can be good for cooking up a few fried eggs in the morning or sauteeing a few sides of vegetables to accompany the main meal. They are light, easy to handle, and very easy to store.
Cast iron skillets aren't often molded with a diameter of fewer than 8 inches. Smaller than this and there isn't really much you can actually cook with them at any one time.
10 inches is more of a standard size for cast iron skillets, offering a larger cooking surface than your 8 inches pan. It's a very versatile diameter of pan to have in your kitchen, and you could easily sear one or two large steaks and a few vegetable sides at the same time.
This is the best size for two people, and the pan remains light and easy to handle compared to anything larger. Most importantly, a 10 inches skillet is still practical to use and practical to keep stored in your kitchen.
The next size up is a 12 inches skillet, which is a great addition to any kitchen. In fact, for most households, we'd highly recommend having both 10 inches and 12 inches cast iron skillets in the cupboard. That way, you can cover a fantastic range of cooking options.
A 12 inches cast iron pan is large enough for around 2 to 4 people, and you can easily fit in a few steaks or a few large chicken breasts and vegetables to cook on the bottom.
We would recommend a 12-inch skillet if you've got a lot of food to cook for your family. If you're cooking a full meal for two or more people, 12 inches is a perfect size. Otherwise, a 10 inches pan will work best if you are just cooking solo. An 8 inches pan can be too small, in many cases.
You can find cast iron skillets which are a larger size than 12 inches, but these are quite rare. In most cases, larger than 12 inches will be much too big for the home kitchen. These are pans that are generally designed for commercial kitchen use when large quantities of food need to be cooked up in batches. For starters, they are incredibly heavy. They aren't easy to store, and they aren't easy to look after, either.
Cast iron skillets come in a wide range of sizes, with 10 and 12-inch pans being the most popular for home cooking. We recommend stocking up on both sizes to meet all your cooking needs. Be sure to bookmark this article for future reference!
After you have decided on which size will fit your needs, check out our post 14 Cast Iron Cooking Tips, so you will be sure to start off on the right foot with your new cookware!