November 28, 2022

meatatoneills

The Food Universe

The Best Grill Pans of 2022

Straight to the Point

The best grill pan was the Lodge Chef Collection 11-Inch Cast Iron Square Grill Pan—it hit the sweet spot in terms of grill grate depth: the grates were tall enough to keep high-fat foods (like burgers) elevated so they still got identifiable grill marks, but not too tall that they prevented the food from cooking evenly. We also liked the Staub Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan, which was easy to clean.

What’s better than a burger that’s hot off the grill? You know, one with crispy bits of char around the edges and those coveted grill lines running across it, a sure sign of caramelization and the Maillard reaction? But, sometimes, a charcoal or gas grill just isn’t an option—maybe you’re an apartment-dweller without a yard, or you live in a place with less-than-ideal grilling weather (hello, March blizzards). Or perhaps you’re like me and just don’t want to go through the whole process of setting up a grill for a few servings. For all that and more, grill pans come to the rescue.

Well, sort of. Before we get more into grill pans, we should mention that grill pans are great for grill marks, but they won’t ever impart the same smoky, flame-licked flavor that comes from an outdoor grill. As explained in Ask The Food Lab: a grill pan lacks the powerful radiant heat that emanates from hot coals (and, to a lesser extent, flames in a gas grill). Instead, heat is conducted from the stove burner to the pan and then straight to where the food touches the metal— which is why whatever’s in the pan browns primarily where it comes in direct contact with the pan’s raised slats.

That all being said, for people who want the option to easily grill a big handful of veggies or a few portions of protein for dinner without the setup or space a grill requires, you can replicate some of that char (sans smoky taste) inside your home. All you need is the right pan, plus a little patient preheating.

To find the best grill pan, we tested seven popular models. We looked at both uncoated (pre-seasoned) cast iron and enameled cast iron varieties to determine which was more versatile and easy to clean. The pans were all similarly sized, between 10 to 11.5 inches, and the most expensive model we tested was $200.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Best Overall Grill Pan: Lodge Chef Collection 11-Inch Cast Iron Square Grill Pan

Lodge Chef Collection 11-Inch Cast Iron Square Grill Pan

Also available at Lodge, Crate and Barrel, Kohls, and Walmart.

With moderately deep grill grates and just 0.2 inches between the grates, this pan created super distinct grill mark in all of our tests. It had low sides, which made it easy to maneuver food in the pan. 

The Best Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan: Staub Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan

Staub Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan

Also available at Sur la Table.

While enameled cast iron is not quite as versatile as standard cast iron (nor will it ever become more seasoned), this pan offered beautiful grill marks and was easy to clean. It was the second heaviest pan, at 7.3 pounds, but was still easy to maneuver with a mitted hand, and it heated more evenly than its lighter counterparts.

The Tests

Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger


  • Pressed Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: We cooked a grilled cheese sandwich in each pan (pressed down with a light weight) to evaluate how evenly each pan heated.
  • Chicken Breast Test: We grilled a butterflied chicken breast in each pan to see if the lean meat stuck to the grates and examined the quality of the final grill marks.
  • Burger Test: We grilled two 80/20 blend beef burgers in each pan to judge how the pans handled a higher-fat food cooked at a higher heat.
  • Usability and Cleanup Tests: Throughout testing, we evaluated how easy the grill pans were to use, maneuver during cooking, and clean according to their manufacturers’ instructions.

What We Learned

Better Grill Marks Come From Taller Grates

The best grill pans hit the sweet spot of grate height, cooking food evenly and lending grill marks.

Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger


A grill pan should have grates that are high enough to keep food elevated from the bottom surface of the pan; this helps create the signature browned grill marks and allows fat and moisture to channel away from the food, both of which can inhibit browning. The Tramontina Grill Pan had the lowest grate height of the bunch at 0.1 inches—food actually touched the bottom of the pan in between the grates during cooking. And in the case of burgers, these shallow grates trapped rendered fat around the burger, essentially frying the entire bottom of the patty in its own fat. A delicious result, but one that’s more effectively achieved using a smashed burger method in a standard flat cast iron pan, if that’s what you’re going for.

On the other hand, the FINEX Seasoned Cast Iron Grill Pan had the highest grates—a full quarter-inch deep. Because of this, the grill marks that resulted were bold and defined. However, the chicken took longer to cook through fully and grilled cheese was still too soft due to the lack of true radiant heat from the bottom of the pan. To balance height with heat, the sweet spot for grate height seemed to be around .2 inches (like that of our winner). 

Uncoated Cast Iron Was Best for Char

Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger


Enamel-coated cast iron offers plenty of perks: it can absorb and distribute heat just as well as regular cast iron, without you having to worry about ever seasoning it. And it’s a phenomenal material for a Dutch oven, but not all its pros translate when it comes to grill pans. While enameled pans can get hot (Staub’s are oven-safe up to 900°F), it’s recommended to preheat them over lower temperatures and cook at medium heat for best results (and to avoid damaging the coating).

Comparatively, cast iron had no issues getting—and staying—super hot. It performed well at smoking temperatures, which helped us attain the grill marks and char we were looking for. This is one reason we didn’t include nonstick grill pans in our tests: nonstick should never be used at high heat.

Flat, Broad Handles the Most Comfortable to Hold Onto

Easy-to-grip handles were vital—for making adjustments while cooking or holding the pan steady while washing. Handles that were rounded (like on the Tramontina pan) were hard to grip with an oven mitt; they were also slippery while cleaning. The FINEX pan, in particular, had a surprisingly efficient quick-cool handgrip, but it was nearly impossible to grasp comfortably due to the bulbous, spring-shaped design. Comparatively, our winning models had handles that were flatter, with rectangular angles that offered leverage for a secure hold.

The Criteria: What To Look for in a Good Grill Pan

Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger / Grace Kelly


A great grill pan should heat evenly and get hot enough to create grill marks and a little char. Its grill grates should be tall enough so the food doesn’t touch the bottom or sit in its drippings, but not too tall as to prevent things from cooking evenly. Lastly, it should have flatter, broad handles that are easy to hold so you can maneuver the pan easily with oven mitts on.

The Best Overall Grill Pan: Lodge Chef Collection 11-Inch Cast Iron Square Grill Pan

Lodge Chef Collection 11-Inch Cast Iron Square Grill Pan

Also available at Lodge, Crate and Barrel, Kohls, and Walmart.

What we liked: The Lodge Chef Collection grill pan was a breeze to clean and heated evenly. The grill grates were high enough (but not too high) to keep the food off the bottom of the pan (and out of any rendered liquid), creating crispy textures and winning grill marks. The shallow sides made it easy to move food in the pan with tongs or a spatula. It’s sturdy and adaptable, just as suitable for a weekend camping trip as it is to sear steaks or toast a slice of crusty bread at home.

What we didn’t like: This pan has two short handles rather than one long one, so you need to use two oven-mitt-covered hands to move it while it’s hot. Its low walls also mean that this pan could create more splatters to clean up around your stove, although we didn’t find a significant difference between it and higher-walled pans in our tests.

Price at time of publish: $56.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 7.14 lbs
  • Materials: Pre-seasoned cast iron
  • Care instructions: Hand-wash only using a pan scraper, chainmail scrubber, brush or sponge (yes, using a little soap is okay); dry promptly, and rub with cooking oil to season.
  • Number of grates: 11
  • Depth of grill grates: 0.2 inches

Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger


The Best Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan: Staub Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan

Staub Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan

Also available at Sur la Table.

What we liked: This pan created nice caramelization and grill marks in all three tests. It required a little more time to preheat, but it held onto that heat and distributed it evenly over the entire cooking surface. It was also the easiest of the enameled cast iron pans to clean. 

What we didn’t like: Compared to the cast iron pans, it took a little longer to scrub off the stuck-on bits after cooking. This pan also experienced some very light sticking during the chicken test, but it released easily after an extra 30 seconds or so of browning. It’s also expensive, but if you’re set on an enameled cast iron model, we do think it’s worth paying for the craftsmanship of a heritage brand like Staub.

Price at time of publish: $190.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 7.3 lbs
  • Materials: Enameled cast iron
  • Care instructions: Let the pan cool before cleaning, then use warm water, dish soap, and a soft sponge or brush; dry completely.
  • Number of grates: 13
  • Depth of grill grates: 0.2 inches

Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger


The Competition

  • Lodge 10.5 Inch Cast Iron Grill Pan: This pan was easy to clean and heated evenly, but its grates only had a 0.13-inch depth, so the burgers cooked in their own juices after they were flipped, making the patties look steamed rather than grilled.
  • Le Creuset Square Skillet Grill Pan: While this pan yielded distinct grill marks and crisp texture on the grilled cheese, there was some sticking during the grilled chicken test (even with a brush of oil), and the shallower grates meant that the burgers weren’t elevated out of their drippings during cooking.
  • Backcountry Cast Iron 10” Medium Square Grill Pan: The Backcountry pan performed similarly to the other cast iron models, but seemed to heat less evenly, with hot and cool spots in all three of the cooking tests. Its out-of-the-box seasoning had a rough finish and needed a little more care when cleaning than the Lodge pans, but this improved slightly over the course of several uses.
  • Tramontina Grill Pan: The grill grates on this pan were the lowest of all the models we tested, causing the burgers to sit in their rendered fat and creating more browning between grill marks in other tests. While it wasn’t the winner for our objectives, this pan comes with its own 3.6 lb press, making it a good choice for paninis.
  • FINEX Seasoned Cast Iron Grill Pan: While taller grates are great for bold grill marks (and for channeling out drippings), the grill grates on the FINEX pan were so high, they prevented the food from cooking evenly. The large, bulbous handle and diamond-esque pan shape made it hard to hold and maneuver, while the deep grooves of the pan were tough to get in between while cleaning and seasoning.

FAQs

Do I need a grill pan?

While grill pans can’t replicate the smoke and char flavors of a standard outdoor grill, they tend to be easy to use and clean while providing the look and feel of a grilled meal. Grill pans are good options for people who live in an apartment or want to skip the hassle of an outdoor grill.

What is the best shape for a grill pan?

For nearly all uses, square and round grill pans work equally well. The base of your pan should be about the same size as your burner (especially if you have a gas stove) to prevent damage to the walls of your pan (flames should never go up around the sides). Pans that are 10 to 11.5 inches are ideal for most stoves.

How do I clean a grill pan?

For enameled cast iron grill pans, let the pan cool to the touch before cleaning with a non-abrasive sponge, soap, and warm water. For traditional cast iron, scrub with a cleaning brush or sponge and warm water. You can use a little dish soap, coarse salt, and/or a chain mail scrubber if needed for stubborn bits. Dry your cast iron pan completely, then rub it all over with a thin layer of unsaturated oil (like canola or vegetable oil) and heat on a stovetop until it lightly smokes—this adds another layer of seasoning for its next use.