If you love cast iron pans, then you need to turn the page and learn about carbon steel cookware. The cooking quality that you would expect from cast iron can also be found in carbon steel.
There’s a good chance you might not have heard too much about them unless you’re a chef or somehow work in the restaurant industry. Carbon steel pans are typical in most commercial kitchens.
Simply put, if you love quality cookware, then you’re going to want to know how to recognize the best carbon steel pan out on the market and learn how to use it yourself.
Cast Iron vs. Carbon Steel Pans
Do you know what the difference is between cast iron and carbon steel? Looking at the base materials that make up these pans, cast iron is pure iron, while carbon steel is a combination of iron and carbon.
Carbon steel pans are a little lighter than cast iron because carbon steel is more durable in smaller quantities than cast iron pans.
There is also a difference in thickness. Cast iron tends to be thicker than carbon steel, and so it heats more evenly. At the same time, carbon steel heats up quicker than cast iron.
The appearance between the two is also markedly different. Cast iron is generally pretty chunky and heavy. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is smooth and may remind you of what cast iron looked like fifty or more years ago.
Something else to consider is the shape of cast iron compared to carbon steel pans. Cast iron pans tend to have perfectly vertical sides. The shape makes it perfect for baking things like cornbread.
Carbon steel pans have sides that sit at an angle or a slope, which make them an excellent choice when sauteeing something. After all, if you want to flip food, you’ll have better luck sliding it off an angled side as opposed to a vertical side.
Seasoning Carbon Steel Pans
Cast iron needs to be seasoned so that it doesn’t stick when you cook. Carbon steel is much the same way. You will need to take the time to season a carbon steel pan so that it will retain a nonstick surface.
When you get your carbon steel pan, it will likely have a factory coating that protected it during transit. You’ll want to use water that is very hot along with dish soap and a stiff brush.
Once you’ve scrubbed the coating off, dry the pan thoroughly. You can do this by putting it on a low heat to evaporate any residual moisture or by towel-drying it until there is nothing left.
Add about a third cup of oil and half a cup of salt to your pan. According to Cook’s Illustrated, you’ll want potato peels for absorbing any remaining coating, too.
Cook the mixture for about 10 minutes, making sure you coat the sides as you go. Expect your pan to become a shade of brown.
Once the time is up, empty the contents, let the pan cool completely, and then wipe it out with some paper towels to absorb any leftover oil.
At this point, you can consider your carbon steel pan to be fully seasoned. If your food sticks at all, you may need to do this one more time, but it shouldn’t be more than that.
Maintaining and Re-seasoning Your Carbon Steel Pan
Just like with cast iron, you don’t want to use soap or steel wool to clean your pans. What you need to do is simply rinse the pan with water and scrub it gently, only this time, you want a soft-bristled brush or soft sponge only if absolutely necessary.
Dry it the same way as before – over low heat or with a towel. If your pans are somewhere that can get fairly humid, then you’ll want to protect your pans with a light coating of oil. This prevents rust from forming.
You will have to re-season your carbon steel pan from time to time, too. If it happens to feel uneven when you touch it, or it feels sticky, then you’ll need to use some elbow grease, a sponge, and possibly a little soap.
You want to scrub the pan until it is no longer sticky and feels smooth when you touch it. Once you’ve done that, add a couple teaspoons of oil to the surface. Proceed to wipe away as much as you can with a paper towel, but don’t throw the paper towel away.
Next, you’ll heat the skillet over a low to medium heat. The oil will start to bead as a result of being exposed to the heat. As it beads, use the paper towel to continue to wipe away the oil.
Continue to wipe away oil until you see your pan start to smoke. The smoking is a good thing – it means that the oil is breaking down and will reach the point it needs to in order to create the nonstick coating.
You’ll want to allow the pan to smoke for approximately two minutes. At that point, you are done. You just need to let the skillet cool down so you can put it away.
What You Need to Look For When Buying a Carbon Steel Pan
You don’t need to spend a ton of money to get the best carbon steel pan out there. In fact, many quality pans aren’t even all that expensive.
Instead of focusing on price, focus on key benefits and perks of each individual pan. You’re going to want to know whether or not the pan is pre-seasoned. If it’s not, you’ve already read about how quickly you can do it yourself, so that may not be a deal-breaker for you.
You’ll also want to check on the best size that suits your needs. The last thing you want is to order or select a pan that is too small once you get it home and try it out.
Think about the length of the handle, too. It’s possible that you might end up getting a pan that may or may not need a longer handle for your comfort.
Don’t forget to look at the thickness of the pan, too. The best carbon steel pans are going to be comparable in thickness to cast iron pans. Thinner pans will react to heat faster and may be more challenging to work with if you are unaccustomed to using carbon steel pans.
The Best Carbon Steel Pans Your Money Can Buy
- Heavy-duty 12 gauge carbon steel with steel riveted handles
- Seasoned for a natural, easy-release finish that improves with use
- The right tool to sear, saute, grill, roast, fry; great for induction cooktops
Lodge is a brand that is known for its cast iron quality, but did you know they also make a carbon steel pan? If you didn’t know, they do, in fact, have a carbon steel pan that comes pre-seasoned.
You can use it on an outdoor grill or on your stove for just about any type of cooking you can imagine. The skillet works in true carbon steel form and heats quickly.
It’s also oven safe, making it easy for you to go from your stove to your oven when and if necessary. You will need to pay special attention to the bottom of the pan because it may not be entirely flat.
Just like all carbon steel pans, you will need to re-season it periodically, too. Seasoning does not last forever, so don’t expect that you’ll never need to do it again.
- MADE IN FRANCE. Made of extra thick black steel /carbon steel. Iron handles. Excellent heat conduction –ideal for...
- HIGH PERFORMANCE. Commercial grade durability withstands high temperature allowing for longer preheating and excellent...
- NATURAL NON-STICK. Before first use, season the pan per manufacture recommendations. The pan will build up a natural...
This pan from Mauviel is made in France and is of excellent quality. The carbon steel is thicker than most, and it can take high temperatures without any problems.
Because of the way it is constructed, you can use it on any cooking surface. With a perfectly flat bottom, it will even work on glass stove tops.
Like all of its counterparts, the Mauviel carbon steel pan also works in the oven. You do need to remember, though, that prior to its first use, you’ll need to season the pan as it does not come pre-seasoned.
The protective coating on this pan is beeswax, which can actually help with seasoning. Yes, you’ll want to scrub it off as previously discussed, but beeswax does provide an excellent starter to your seasoning.
Remember to protect it, too, by putting a light coating of oil after cleaning and drying if necessary to prevent rust from forming.
- Heavy quality iron frying pan ideal for searing, grilling and browning meat, fish, and eggs; lyonnaise skirt enables...
- Thick heavy quality iron heats up quickly, uniform heat distribution; reaches high temperatures--enables the Maillard...
- Natural non-stick properties--gradual seasoning of the pan--the more it is used the less the seasoning sticks to the...
DeBuyer is a household name among professional chefs. Their reputation is one that is known for producing top of the line cookware.
There’s a good reason for the reputation, though. Not only can they make cooking eggs easy as pie, but they can also be wiped clean with a paper towel once they are properly seasoned.
The construction of this pan is extremely durable, and it is much easier to maneuver than many of its peers. There is a helper handle opposite of the main handle to help you when you need it.
DeBuyer was also the first to discover how beeswax not only worked to protect the pans during transit, but it helps in seasoning, too.
- Takes high heat for best browning/searing
- 12 gauge carbon steel heats quickly and retains heat for even cooking
- Brutally tough for decades of cooking. Steel riveted handle
Here’s another one from Lodge because they just have good quality cookware. The griddle heats quickly and evenly.
If you take care of it, it will last for years. Plus, you can use it inside or out on an open fire, making this piece an incredibly versatile carbon steel pan.
It is pre-seasoned, but just like any carbon steel pan, you will need to re-season again from time to time to keep the surface nonstick.
- VARIETY OF USES: Brings top-notch heat distribution and temperature control, preserving the vitamins and nutrients in...
- NATURAL NON-STICK MATERIAL: Made of of black carbon steel, a natural mineral material promoting healthy cooking making...
- DURABLE CONSTRUCTION: The steel handle is welded to pan's body for extra strength and security, is free of rivets,...
This particular carbon steel pan is lighter than many of the others weighing in at four pounds for the 12-inch pan.
It does not come seasoned, so you will need to make an effort to get that done. Once you do, you will simply need to maintain and re-season as necessary.
Like all of the others, it is also oven friendly and is even something you can take camping with you if you wanted to.
A Final Few Words on Selecting the Best Carbon Steel Pan
Do keep in mind that unless the manufacturer states explicitly that their carbon steel cookware is dishwasher safe, the standard is generally known that carbon steel does not hold up in a dishwasher. You will need to handwash it.
There are also certain foods you’ll need to avoid to keep the nonstick patina in check and to prevent a metallic taste from leaching into your food. Prolonged exposure to acidic foods like tomatoes will cause this to happen, so you won’t want to cook a tomato sauce in them any time soon.
If the patina does begin to fade and the silver surface shows, you’ll need to re-season the pan to get it in working condition once again.
Either way, do your homework and read reviews to find the best carbon steel pan for your needs.
Last update on 2021-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API