A grill pan is great to have on hand when the weather turns wet and cold and you don’t want to fire up your backyard bbq.
They’re also excellent companion pans to go along with your trusty frying pan and sauce pot. Charred veggies and bread are an easy way to add more flavor and dimension to any meal.
Through my personal and professional restaurant experience, I’ve explored all the options available. And, I’ve picked the three best grill pans for every use and cooking style.
Best Overall: Lodge 10.5-Inch Cast Iron Grill Pan
Lodge makes some of the best and also least expensive cast iron cookware around. So, It’s no surprise that they landed at the top of my list for the best grill pan.
This pan is made entirely from thick, heavy cast iron. It weighs a hefty 6.5-pounds and is built to last.
This heavy cast iron grill pan can handle very high heat, so it can be used on the stove, over a grill, or even directly over a campfire.
The pan also distributes and retains heat incredibly well. This is an important factor for a grill pan that has tall ridges in the bottom of the pan. Those raised ridges will get very hot and heat very evenly, resulting in consistent grill marks and even cooking.
The excellent heat distribution also means that heat is going to travel into the cast iron handles. So, be sure to have an oven mitt or towel handy when you lift or move the pan while cooking.
Since this grill pan is constructed from raw cast iron, it will require some ongoing maintenance for the best performance.
Lodge ships their cast iron grill pan pre-seasoned so you’re ready to cook straight out of the box. But, taking a little extra time to add an additional layer of seasoning will go a long way in protecting the pan from rust and developing a better “nonstick” cooking surface.
Once these grill pans are seasoned it’s also a good idea to avoid cleaning them with soap, as this can damage and wash away your hard-earned seasoning. Adding one of these inexpensive grill scrapers is a game-changer for fast and easy cleanup.
For a pan that’s ready to put in a lifetime of hard work and only gets better with age, the Lodge cast iron grill pan is almost a no-brainer. And did I mention, it costs less than $20.
What we like
- Very inexpensive
- Can handle heavy use and will last multiple lifetimes
- Excellent heat distribution
What We don’t
- Requires some ongoing maintenance
Best Upgrade: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan
If the Lodge grill pan sounded good, but you don’t want to deal with the ongoing maintenance, Le Creuset has the pan for you.
The Le Creuset grill pan takes the durability and heat distribution of raw cast iron and wraps it in a protective, low-maintenance enamel coating.
Le Creuset’s satin black enamel finish is built for high heat applications and is strong enough to last for generations. And, best of all, it will never rust and doesn’t require any seasoning.
That makes the Le Creuset grill pan easy to use and care for. This option can be soaked and scrubbed with soapy water and is even dishwasher safe.
Just like raw cast iron, this enamel-coated grill pan can be used on any cooktop, including induction, or even over an open fire.
The square shape is similar to my other top picks, but this one also features pour spouts on each side. This is a useful touch when it comes to getting rid of excess fat, during or after cooking.
So far it sounds like the perfect pan, so what’s the catch? The price. If you’re working with a big budget, no problem. But, this pan costs almost 10 times as much as the Lodge grill pan.
If you can afford it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This is a beautiful, high-performing option, that can be handed down from generation to generation. And, it’s easy to use and care for.
What we like
- Excellent heat distribution and retention
- Wide selection of colors available
- No seasoning or other maintenance required
What We don’t
- Very expensive
Best Nonstick: All-Clad HA1 11-Inch Nonstick Grill Pan
If you’re looking for an option that’s incredibly easy to use and clean, the All-Clad nonstick grill pan is the one to consider.
This grill pan is constructed from hard-anodized aluminum, with a durable nonstick cooking surface.
The anodized aluminum is much lighter than cast iron, so it’s very easy to move around the kitchen. And, it’s much stronger than raw aluminum, so you don’t have to worry about the pan warping or denting during regular use.
Hard anodized aluminum is also an excellent heat conductor. That means this pan heat’s up quickly and evenly, so you can get cooking faster, with consistent results.
Unfortunately, if you use an induction cooktop you’ll have to cross this grill pan off your last. As the aluminum base is not compatible.
The cooking surface has raised ridges that are covered in All-Clad’s three-layer nonstick coating. This provides incredible food release and makes cleanup a cinch. The pan is also dishwasher safe, but handwashing will go a long way in increasing the life of the nonstick coating.
This nonstick coating is one of the better options around, but it’s nowhere near as durable as raw or enameled cast iron. In order to help protect the cooking surface, you should always avoid high heat and the use of metal utensils.
You can still get decent grill marks with this nonstick option. But, you’ll likely have to cook items longer since you’ll want to stick to lower temperatures in order to protect the nonstick surface.
The stay-cool stainless steel handle has All-Clad’s signature deep grooved design, which provides a very secure grip.
If you plan on abusing your grill pan with high-heat steak searing or cooking directly over a fire, you might want to look elsewhere. But, for grilled sandwiches and delicate fish and seafood, this is a great option that’s incredibly easy to care for.
What we like
- Very fast and easy cleanup
- Fast and even heat distribution
- Much lighter than cast iron
What We don’t
- Not as durable as cast iron
- Shouldn’t be used over high heat
Runners Up: An Awesome Fit For Some Cooks
Obviously, not every grill pan could make it into my top 3 picks. With that in mind, there is one more model I’d like to cover here (more briefly, this time) that is going to be a better fit for a smaller group of readers:
For Feeding Large Groups: Lodge 16.75-Inch Reversible Grill Griddle
The Lodge reversible grill griddle is basically an extra-large version of my best overall pick. It’s also constructed entirely from cast iron, and is what you want if you’re cooking for a crowd or grilling large cuts of meat or even whole fish.
As a bonus, when you flip this pan over, you have a flat cast iron griddle. Perfect for making your pancake and cheesesteak dreams come true. The large surface area does mean it has to be used across two burners. And, since it’s not completely flat on either side, it’s not ideal for electric or induction stovetops.
The value and durability are incredible and what you would expect from Lodge cast iron cookware. But, for daily use, it can be a bit large and difficult to maneuver.
Buyers Guide: Choosing The Best Grill Pan
Size: Luckily, You Don’t Have Too Many Choices
I’m not sure if there’s a grill pan committee, but somehow it was decided that the best size for a grill pan is between 10 and 11-inches. And that’s where most single-burner options fall. You can find some models that go up to 12-inches, but those options are slim.
Luckily, a 10 or 11-inch grill pan is in fact a perfect size. It fits nicely on almost any stovetop and is easy to maneuver, even if you’re dealing with a heavy cast iron model. It’s great for two good-sized steaks or three to four chicken breasts.
If you need anything larger, your best bet is to jump up to a two-burner grill pan. These offer a huge cooking surface that can accommodate a large amount of food.
Material: Choosing Between High-Heat, Durability, And Convenience
In general, you have two choices when picking out grill pans. Cast iron or nonstick. Let’s see what each option brings to the table.
Cast iron grill pans are thick, heavy, and durable. When it comes to cooking, that means you’ll get even, long-lasting heat, and you’ll be able to cook using high temperatures, even directly over a campfire.
Raw cast iron is very affordable.
The tradeoff is that it has to be seasoned and requires special steps to clean and care for. These methods aren’t difficult to learn, but they may feel intimidating if you’re not sure where to begin. If this sounds like you, check out our beginner’s guide for a quick start.
Enameled cast iron on the other hand solves the need for seasoning and special maintenance. But, it can be incredibly expensive.
Either option is going to be quite heavy, with a single burner pan weighing between 6 and 8-pounds.
These grill pans are easy to use, easy to clean, and are much lighter than cast iron. The base of most nonstick grill pans is constructed from aluminum. This provides excellent heat conductivity so it heats up quickly, and weighs less.
The downside to nonstick grill pans is that they are less durable and can’t handle high heat cooking. That can be a problem if you want aggressive charred grill marks, but for more delicate items like fish and seafood, it’s not a big issue.
Type Of Stove: Where Will You Be Cooking
If you’re cooking over a gas or electric stove, then your options are open and you can choose just about any grill pan you’d like.
For induction cooktops, your best bet is going to be cast iron. Some nonstick options will have an induction-compatible plate attached to the base, but be sure to double-check before making any final decisions.
If you’ll be taking your pan into the woods, definitely go with cast iron. While a good enameled cast iron one will work, I would recommend going with raw cast iron. Why? For starters, they don’t cost $200 and you probably won’t mind them getting a few bumps and bruises.
Handles: Don’t Forget Your Oven Mitt
The handles for your grill pan should be sturdy and heatproof. This is especially important if you’ll be using yours directly over a fire.
Almost all cast iron grill pans also have a cast-iron handle. That’s a good, sturdy choice. But, you’ll have to remember that heat will transfer into the handle and become very hot. So, it’s important to use a towel or oven mitt during cooking, or you can add a handle cover so you don’t forget and accidentally burn your hand.
Care: Some Maintenance May Be Required
If you go with a nonstick grill pan, you’re in luck and you can pretty much skip the section entirely. Those options are easy to hand wash with soapy water and a soft cloth or sponge. Just remember not to use metal utensils and avoid cooking over high heat.
Raw Cast Iron
Raw cast iron grill pans, like my best overall pick, do require a little special attention. Lodge ships their model pre-seasoned. That means it already has a protective coating that will help prevent rust and get you on your way to a more “nonstick” surface.
Since the seasoning layer is made from oil, washing this type of pan with soap can damage and remove that protective layer. Using a stiff-bristled brush and hot water will take care of most cleanups. But, adding a ridged plastic scraper is an inexpensive and helpful tool to make cleaning even easier.
After washing, it’s also important to make sure that your pan is completely dry before storing. Excess water can lead to rust, especially if your seasoning layer isn’t quite developed yet.
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron grill pans are another easy-to-care-for option. Since these pans have a permanent and non-porous coating, they are fine to use with soap and can be submerged and soaked to loosen any stuck-on food.
What You Can Expect To Spend
Grill pans cover a wide range of prices depending on the material and brand that you choose.
Raw cast iron grill pans are generally going to be the least expensive option. Most cost between $20 and $50, but there are some boutique options that can get very expensive.
Enameled cast iron options are almost always more expensive than raw cast iron. There are some budget-friendly models in the $40 range, but they quickly go up to well over $100.
Nonstick options are available at several different price points. Budget options can be had for around $20 but these tend to be made from thinner material and less durable nonstick surfaces.
I find that the $50 range offers the best balance of value and performance. Pans over $100 may have slightly more durable cooking surfaces, but in my opinion, they’re often not significantly better than the $50 options.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Grill Pan Good For?
Grill pans are great for searing food and getting grill marks, all in the comfort of your home kitchen. No need to battle a snowstorm in order to make a nicely grilled steak.
The raised ridges don’t only give you marks like you would get from a grill outside. They work to keep food elevated from the bottom of the pan. This stops liquid from getting trapped under the food and steaming rather than searing and browning.
What Is The Difference Between A Grill Pan And A Frying Pan?
Grill pans have raised ridges and provide a similar effect that you would get from an outdoor grill. Frying pans, on the other hand, have a smooth and flat cooking surface. This is better suited for stirring and tossing ingredients directly in the pan, or for things like eggs and pancakes.
Do I Really Need A Grill Pan?
I wouldn’t call a grill pan an essential piece of cookware. But it can definitely be a useful tool, with features that no other pan inside your kitchen has.
When it’s too cold or wet to grill outside, a grill pan is a nice alternative to have in your back pocket. A cast iron grill pan is also a great piece of gear to haul along on your next camping trip. They’re indestructible and work beautifully over an open fire or bed of coals.
What Grill Pan Recipes Should I Try At Home?
Steaks, chops, and chicken are obvious candidates for grilling, whether outdoors or in your home kitchen. But, I love using a grill pan for making panini-style sandwiches.
You can use another pan or even a foil-wrapped brick to press the sandwich down in the pan. Or, you can get a cast iron grill press and heat it up along with your grill pan. Then place it on top of the sandwich so you’re cooking from the top and bottom, while getting grill marks on both sides.
The affordable and value-packed grill pan from Lodge is really hard to beat. It’s durable, versatile, and costs less than a tank of gas. If you’re willing to put in a small amount of work, this is the best option for most scenarios.
The Le Creuset pan is another great and durable pan. You’ll just have to decide if the high price is worth the low maintenance.
Finally, the All-Clad nonstick grill pan can be a useful tool in specific cases. But, in general it’s not as versatile and won’t last as long as my other picks.