I was on Amazon the other day, looking at frying pans.
Hey, it's what I like to do. I spend lots of time looking at pots and pans.
I was checking out Lodge cast iron pans when I noticed an ad for an Amazon Basics cast iron skillet. It looked pretty darn similar to the Lodge. And it had the exact same price: $14.88.
I've always been a Lodge devotee, and have had several of their skillets and dutch ovens for well over a decade.
But at $14.88, the Amazon Basics pan didn't seem like too much of a risk, so I thought maybe I'd try one out and see how it stacks up against the Lodge.
The Lodge handle is pretty flat with the top rim of the pan, whereas the handle on the Amazon Basics is longer and has a more noticeable curvature and sticks up higher than the rim of the pan. Although I don't normally flip any eggs in my Lodge cast iron, the handle on the Amazon Basics seems like it would better be able to handle such a task if one were so inclined.
With a little longer handle, the Amazon Basics is about .5 to 1" longer than the Lodge.
Even though it's a little shorter overall, the Lodge weighs more, about .5 to 1 pound more. You can tell when you pick it up.
The Amazon Basics pan comes "seasoned." As I found with the Fried Egg Test, this factory seasoning leaves something to be desired.
The pans are about the exact same height at the rim.
Each pan has two pour spouts. The ones on the Amazon Basics are larger and extend farther down into the pan.
Here is where the most striking difference occurs. The Lodge pan has a little texture, but is nonetheless smooth. The Amazon Basics pan has a very, very rough texture. As we will see later in the Fried Egg Test, this is where the pan has its biggest problems.
The instruction book that comes with the Amazon Basics pan says that it is broiler safe, but then in another section it says that the pan can only be used in a 400 degree oven. If it can only go in a 400 degree oven, this temperature is too low and negates the high-temp sear capabilities of cast iron pans.
We put the pan through its paces in this Youtube video.
The video shows cooking tests with fried eggs (the Proverbial Fried Egg Test), fried zucchini, and then making cornbread.
I cooked eggs in the Amazon Basics pan five times, and they never slid around completely correctly. At least, not the way they do in my Lodge cast iron and my De Buyer carbon steel pans. I think the reason for this is that the surface of the pan is too rough. There are so many little peaks sticking up that I think they grab the egg and prevent it from sliding.
The pan did well with fried zucchini. The zucchini seemed to brown evenly and cook at a uniform rate. I didn't note any major hotspots or cold spots.
The pan also did well with cornbread, releasing the bread with no sticking or tearing.
I'm going to call this an "OK" pan. It isn't great, and it isn't as good as the Lodge I have been using for years. I seem to remember a concept from business school that says that a new entrant into an established marketplace needs to be three times better and three times cheaper to unseat an established leader. If we view Lodge as the established leader and Amazon Basics as the new entrant, the Amazon pan is the exact same price as the Lodge, so there is no price advantage. And it is not three times better. In fact, when it comes to cooking eggs and high-temp searing, the pan isn't nearly as good.
So with that in mind, I wouldn't recommend the new Amazon Basics cast iron pan over the Lodge. For $15 or so, it's not a huge gamble if you want to try one, but I think it would be better to take that money and apply it to a pan with a little higher quality, better surface and seasoning, and capability for higher temperatures in the oven. I'd set Lodge as my baseline pan, and then move up from there if you have more money to spend.