A carbon steel pan is a must-have piece of equipment in any home cook’s kitchen. Learn what carbon steel pans are and what they can do for you with our guide below.
8 Reasons Why Having a Carbon Steel Pan Is Essential for the Clever Cook
What Is a Carbon Steel Pans?
In many ways, carbon steel cookware is a lot similar to cast iron. Rather than being twins, however, you may consider these two as cousins. Carbon steel pans look like your typical cast iron skillets.
Unlike its cousin, the former is lighter, thinner, and more maneuverable. Even so, the two share a similar component that helps determine their strength and hardness: carbon.
Cast iron cookware is generally made of 98% iron and 2% carbon. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is basically an alloy composed of 1% carbon and 99% iron. Carbon is what makes the material harder and stronger, but also less malleable and more brittle.
As such, cast iron pans are often manufactured with thick and heavy walls to increase their durability. On the flip side, carbon steel is relatively more malleable but a lot thinner and lighter.
Some common examples of carbon steel cookware include woks, skillets, roasters, pots, and a lot of other kinds of pans. They are often used for a wide range of ingredients, recipes, and cooking methods.
While these kinds of cookware are more commonly found among professional chefs, home cooks can also benefit from having a carbon steel pan in their arsenal. Here are some of the advantages of adding these gems to your collection.
1. Carbon Steel Pans Are Lightweight and Easy to Handle
Cast iron pans and other cookware are already common sights in the kitchens of most American households. They do, however, come with an unquestionable downside: the weight.
These items usually weigh somewhere between 4 to 12 pounds. With that much weight, removing it from the cupboard, using it on the stove, and even cleaning it after would all require two hands and a lot of muscle.
This is exactly where carbon steel cookware scores its first point. They are much lighter and easier to maneuver and use, with weights averaging somewhere around 3-6 pounds.
Because carbon steel pieces are a lot more malleable, manufacturers are able to roll them into thin sheets and make the walls of the cookware lighter and thinner without losing their strength.
The Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan is one example of this. Being highly maneuverable, It is one of the best constructed carbon steel pans on the list.
2. They Are Durable
And yes, we mean really durable. Its 99% iron and 1% carbon composition allows carbon steel pans to last for a very long time. This composition makes it strong but malleable, meaning manufacturers can layer and press it into cookware without the material cracking.
This means that if you drop it on the floor, overheat it, or bang it against that old cast iron skillet, the chances of it breaking, warping, or scratching are pretty much zero. Of course, you also have to do your part to help ensure that your carbon steel pan lasts for a long time.
This essentially entails having to season your pan. A seasoned carbon steel pan is protected from rust and wear and tear, something that carbon steel, unlike stainless steel cookware, is known to be prone to. It also preserves your pan’s non-stick ability.
Complicated as it may seem, the process of seasoning your carbon steel pan is actually quite simple. Just follow the steps outlined below:
- Place the carbon steel product directly over medium-high heat until hot. As it reaches this point, the pan should begin to smoke and change to a slightly-brownish color.
- Add some lard or vegetable shortening to the pan and spread it around using a pair of tongs and some clean cloth.
- Next, turn the heat up to high until the fat becomes liquid. Once this is done, remove the pan from the heat, and wipe away any excess oil as you allow the carbon steel cookware to cool.
- Once cooled, wipe it down with a paper towel and repeat for another two or three times for a quality season.
There you have it. Once you see that food starts sticking to the surface again or the pan becomes discolored, simply re-season your pan and it is already good to go.
If seasoning still sounds like a lot of work, then consider getting the Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet so you get all that durability without the extra work needed.
3. Carbon Steel Pans Are Versatile
If your cupboard space is enough only for a few pots and pans, you want to make sure that those few pots and pans will be able to cover all your cooking requirements. Fortunately, carbon steel cookwares give you that much-needed versatility.
Whether you are grilling steak, stir-frying some vegetables, scrambling eggs, or roasting chicken, carbon steel should be more than enough to do the job. In fact, it should be compatible with almost every cooking method there is including sauteing, searing, browning, frying, braising, broiling, and even baking!
Carbon steel cookware is extremely versatile because it is safe to use not just on the stove, but also under the broiler, in the oven, and on the grill. Its versatility, however, does have some limitations.
Perhaps most significantly is that it reacts with acidic food. This means that you have to avoid using it to cook wine sauces, tomatoes, dishes that require tons of lemon juice, and other similar acidic foods.
An occasional squeeze of lemon and maybe a splash of vinegar here and there will not ruin the pan. Prolonged exposure to these highly acidic foods, however, can cause your carbon steel pan to age quickly as the seasoning is removed and the nonstick surface is degraded.
Additionally, using dish soap on cookware of this material also has the same effect. It can ruin the pan, forcing it to lose its seasoning and to begin rusting and losing its non-stick properties.
Fortunately, carbon steel is very easy to wash. Its non-stick properties also mean that food easily comes loose with some warm water and a bit of persistent scraping.
The BelleVie Heavy-duty Carbon Steel Frying Pan is the perfect example of this. It is designed with relatively low sides that makes it ideal for searing, rapid-drying and sauteing.
Like most carbon steel pans, this one is also oven-proof and induction-ready. It does, however, still need initial seasoning for it to have those non-stick properties.
4. They Have a High Tolerance for Heat
A carbon steel pan can withstand extremely high temperatures even for prolonged periods of time. This is exactly why many restaurants have an array of carbon steel pans in their kitchens. Chefs are able to leave them on the burner without having to worry about burnt food or cookware.
Majority of carbon steel pans can easily handle temperatures of around 600 degrees Fahrenheit. For some, this temperature can even go up to as high as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
This high heat tolerance is extremely useful when cooking steaks and other meats that call for a good sear. Just remember that though your pan may not get damaged, your food can still burn, so be careful.
Be sure to choose a carbon steel pan that is up to the task like the EOE Carbon Steel Black Skillet. This highly-versatile piece of kitchen equipment is compatible with pretty much any surface and is oven-safe up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Carbon Steel Pans Are Extremely Responsive
Carbon steel pans don’t just have a high heat tolerance, they are also very responsive and adaptable. This essentially means that they heat up fast and cool down just as quickly, giving you more control over your cooking.
The thin design of carbon steel cookware is what gives it this property. This means that when you turn the heat from low to high and vice versa, you don’t have to wait minutes for the pan’s temperature to change.
This is an extremely useful characteristic as it helps you avoid undercooking or overcooking your meals. It is also a favorite of those who love one-pot recipes as they are able to adjust the temperature quickly while they add and remove certain ingredients.
As a bonus, it also means that you do not need to wait a long time before it is ready for cleaning.
Be careful, though. This responsiveness of carbon steel also has some possible downsides.
For one, this might entail an uneven heat distribution. If you are cooking over a small burner, the part of the pan closest to it may be hotter than the rest of the pan. Keep this in mind before you leave what you are cooking unattended.
Another possible downside is that most carbon steel pans typically have a flat steel handle that is connected directly to the pan’s base. This means that the handle can also get hot fast because the design does not allow it to disperse heat well.
Before touching the handle, it is always best to exercise caution to avoid getting burnt. As an alternative, you can also go for the Yosukata Coating-Free Carbon Steel Pan. It comes with a removable wooden handle so you never run the risk of getting burnt.
6. They Are Compatible with All Cooktops and Heat Sources
Stoves, broilers, ovens, grills – You name it, carbon steel can handle it. This type of cookware, as we mentioned earlier, is extremely versatile and is compatible with almost any source of heat.
It works with pretty much any kind of cooktop as well, including electric, gas, and induction. Induction cooktops produce heat only when they come in contact with magnetic metals. Carbon steel is an example of that.
This is a huge advantage as you can switch it between a variety of heat sources depending on the recipe and the need. If you are going camping, for example, bringing a carbon steel pan is a good choice as you can place it over the campfire to cook food that you have gathered.
The BALLARINI Professionale 3000 Carbon Steel Fry Pan is the perfect example of this. Users praise this carbon steel pan not only for its versatility, but also for its equally flexible design that allows for real ease of use.
7. Carbon Steel Pans are Safe to Use
Yes, carbon steel pans are safe to use.
It is made completely of carbon and iron, both of which are non-toxic materials. Moreover, the non-stick properties are created manually when the pan is seasoned with vegetable oil or lard, both of which are also natural and non-toxic substances.
If you truly want safety, make sure you’re buying from a renowned manufacturer in the industry like de Buyer.
The de Buyer Mineral B Frying Pan is one of the safest carbon steel pans on this list. The France-manufactured pan was engineered and made following some of the most stringent quality requirements only this company is capable of.
8. They are Affordable
Finally, one of the biggest reasons why any professional chef would recommend having one of these at home is their price. Despite all the advantages you get when using them, you can still get one that will last for a lifetime without breaking the bank.
If you are on a budget but you still want restaurant-level cooking equipment, a carbon steel pan and other carbon steel cookware are some of the best products you could go for.
In fact, the BK Black Steel Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet is one of the options out there that will truly give you a lot of bang for your buck. This 12-inch pan is worth your money especially since it already comes pre-seasoned and is ready for use as soon as you get it.
A carbon steel pan is a must-have piece of cookware not just for Michelin-star restaurants, but even for the everyday home cook who is enthusiastic about making food. Its durability, flexibility, and affordability are only some of the reasons why every clever kitchen must have a carbon steel pan in their pantry.
Still have some questions about why you should get a carbon steel pan? Ask them in the comments section below!