Carbon steel pans are the perfect kitchen companions for both professional chefs and home cooks. Known for their versatility, durability, and natural nonstick surface, these pans are rapidly gaining popularity in the culinary world.
Unlike cast iron pans, carbon steel pans are lighter and more responsive to temperature changes, making them an ideal choice for baking, searing, and much more.
With its many advantages, a carbon steel pan is a safer and cleaner alternative to nonstick-coated pans and a favorite of many professional chefs.
In our search for the best carbon steel pans, we tested various top brands to bring you the best options for your kitchen.
What Is a Carbon Steel Pan?
A carbon steel pan is a type of cookware made from a metal alloy of 99% iron and 1% carbon. It is similar to cast iron but lighter and smoother, stamped from a sheet of carbon steel instead of being made from a mold.
Carbon steel pans are versatile and durable, offering a naturally nonstick surface for baking, searing, and more. They can be used on various heat sources, from campfires to glass or induction cooktops. For Camping, Carbon Steel Wok is a good option.
Best Carbon Steel Pans
Lodge carbon steel skillet is an excellent option for home cooks who don’t have the experience to season their pan or want a skillet that’s ready to use right out of the box.
Lodge was the first company to offer pre-seasoned iron cookware, and its factory-ready coating makes the company a famous American brand. In addition, this carbon steel skillet is affordable, durable, and has heat tolerance like the best brands.
The skillet features a straight handle, which fits in ovens on higher racks but can be difficult to maneuver around stove back burners. In addition, the pre-seasoning by Lodge results in a slightly textured cook surface, which may not suit everyone.
However, the pan is suitable for all cooktops and camping. The long handle and sturdy design make it balanced for any shaking. The carbon steel skillet is shipped with vegetable oil seasoning, so it may not have a smooth surface, but it is ready to use.
The de Buyer Mineral B Fry Pan is our top pick for carbon steel cookware. This French-made pan has a 12.5-inch surface area, making it versatile for various cooking techniques.
The pan is made of carbon steel and has a protective beeswax finish, creating a natural nonstick effect. It has two handles for easy handling and can be used for stir-fries, fried chicken, and other dishes.
However, it is not oven-safe due to its epoxy finish and can only be used for up to 10 minutes at 375°F. In addition, the pan requires proper seasoning and cleaning before use.
The Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan is popular among professional chefs. It’s made of 3mm thick carbon steel, providing consistent heat distribution and capable of high-temperature cooking.
The steel handle is welded to the pan, making cleaning easy and preventing bacteria buildup. However, the lack of a second handle and its heavy weight can make it challenging to handle.
The pan requires seasoning with a mixture of potato peels, oil, and salt before use. Despite some limitations, it’s a durable pan that can handle various kitchen tasks and is significantly less expensive than other high-end options.
Reviews suggest that it performs well in tests and is a favorite among cooking sites like Cook’s Illustrated and Serious Eats.
The Mauviel M’Steel 12.5-inch Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan is a top choice for cooking. This French-made pan is similar to the de Buyer Mineral B and nearly as deep (2 inches) and wide (12.5 inches) but lighter (just over 3 pounds).
It has a smooth, long handle design with three rivets attached to the pan, similar to the de Buyer. This pan offers great performance and versatility for cooking but lacks a second handle for oven use.
The pan is coated with beeswax upon arrival and needs to be scrubbed before use. However, it easily passes cooking tests and has evenly heated surfaces and angled edges for easy food transfer and grease retention.
Mauviel offers a lifetime warranty and is a well-respected brand of cookware. The pan is easy to handle and comes in five sizes, from 8 to 14 inches.
The Made In 12-inch Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan is not our top pick, but it has some notable features. The pan is lightweight at just over 4 pounds, making it easy to handle when tossing food.
The sloped handle has rounded edges for a comfortable grip, and the bowl-shaped edges provide ample cooking surface.
However, it is too large and can be awkward to pour sauces, and eggs stick easily due to the lack of nonstick coating. Despite being touted as having the benefits of both cast iron and stainless steel, it still struggles with cooking eggs.
The BK Cookware 12-inch Black Carbon Steel Skillet is a great choice for those looking for an affordable, pre-seasoned carbon steel pan. It has a smooth black coating and is lighter than most 12-inch pans.
Its sides have a vertical slope for efficient sauteing. With a 2mm thickness, the pan provides good heat conduction and has riveted cast-iron handles for easy gripping.
This pan is easy to clean and heats up quickly, with a large interior cooking surface area. The tall edges make it versatile for cooking different dishes.
The Misen 10-inch Carbon Steel Pan has a flat base with short rounded sides, making it feel like a standard nonstick or stainless steel frying pan. It has a removable silicone handle cover for comfort and to keep it cool on the stovetop.
It’s suitable for gas, electric, and induction burners and can be used for baking, searing, sautéing, and frying. The handle is made of stainless steel and is flat, but it may be difficult to grip if on a back burner.
This pan conducts heat quickly and evenly and is durable but may require seasoning before use. A lifetime guarantee backs its nonstick functionality.
The Misen pan has been compared favorably with Matfer Bourgeat and was our top pick in a carbon-steel pan review. It has slightly sloped sides to avoid splatter, is nicely balanced, has a long handle with a removable silicone sleeve, and is thicker than other pans tested, giving an even brown color.
The OXO Carbon Steel Pan is a budget-friendly option that delivers on performance. It is lightweight and has a pre-seasoned nonstick surface, making cooking and cleaning a breeze.
The silicone handle sleeve provides a secure grip and adds a thoughtful touch. The pan has a large cooking surface and deeply angled sides, ideal for cooking large batches.
Although it was not as slick as some of the other pans in testing, it still performed well and was the most affordable option.
The pan is part of OXO’s Carbon Steel Obsidian Series, which includes other skillets, a wok, a crepe pan, and a roaster, all suitable for use on the grill. However, removing the handle cover before washing is important to prevent water buildup and rust.
Unlike many other carbon steel pans, this German-made pan didn’t need seasoning, it was ready to use right after a wash. Its moderate slope sides offer ample cooking area, and chicken thighs are browned perfectly.
The newer model with a stainless steel handle is worth the extra cost, it feels comfortable in the hand and stays cool on a hot burner.
This pan is also one of the lightest, which may require a change in perspective if you equate weight with quality. But it’s convenient to lift a whole roast chicken in and out of the oven with one hand. You’ll love cooking with this pan.
What to Look for When Buying Carbon Steel Skillet
Carbon steel and cast iron cookware share similarities being made of iron and carbon. However, cast iron comprises pure iron with over 2% carbon, while carbon steel has less than 2% carbon content.
This difference makes carbon steel lighter and faster to heat up than cast iron. In addition, with proper seasoning, a carbon steel skillet becomes as nonstick as Teflon, making it a great alternative for tasks normally done with nonstick cookware.
Consider the weight of the carbon steel skillet when shopping, especially if buying online. A pan that’s too heavy can limit its versatility.
Opt for a pan that’s around 3 pounds or less. Check product specifications for the weight if you can’t physically lift and feel the pan.
Consider pre-seasoning if you’re new to seasoning cookware. Pre-seasoned pans need a minor rinse, then they are ready to use and may feel like nonstick. However, maintenance of the seasoning is required over the pan’s lifetime.
On the other hand, non-pre-seasoned pans require removing the beeswax coating and seasoning with oil layers, but the process is not complex, just time-consuming.
In our testing, we found two types of carbon steel pans: lightweight single-layer pans and heavier-duty pans.
Both heated up quickly and adjusted to temperature changes well, but the lightweight pans became too hot during our test and burnt the chicken thighs.
The heavier pans distributed heat more evenly, resulting in a more uniform color on the chicken.
Ease of cleaning
Cleaning carbon steel pans are similar to cast iron- no soap or dishwasher. For well-seasoned pans, warm/hot water and a gentle sponge with an abrasive side will do the job.
How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan?
Seasoning a carbon steel pan requires removing any wax coating with soapy water. Then, heat the pan on high to open its pores.
After a minute, apply a thin layer of neutral oil with a high smoke point (e.g., canola) using a paper towel or cloth. The pan will smoke, so make sure ventilation is adequate.
When the shiny silver surface turns black, that’s the seasoning layer. Repeat on another side. Over time and with use, the seasoning improves and creates a nonstick surface comparable to ceramic or Teflon pans.
How to clean a carbon Steel Pan?
Carbon steel pans need special care as soap can strip the seasoning layer. Though pre-seasoned pans can withstand soap better, any pans seasoned by the user can lose their coating after a single wash.
To clean, use a scrub brush and then dry thoroughly, applying a thin layer of oil to preserve the seasoning. If the seasoning layer is accidentally removed, simply repeat the seasoning process.
Carbon Steel vs. Other Cookware Materials
Carbon steel cookware is compared to other popular cookware materials, focusing on its unique strengths and weaknesses.
Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron
Carbon steel and cast iron cookware share many similarities, such as durability, affordability, and the ability to develop nonstick surfaces when seasoned properly.
The main difference between the two lies in their weight and heat responsiveness. The differences in composition and cooking performance. Carbon steel has less carbon than cast iron, making it smoother and lighter.
Cast iron is thicker and heavier, ideal for heat distribution and retention, making it great for braising, stewing, and baking. Meanwhile, carbon steel is thin and lightweight, making it easier to handle in the kitchen and more responsive to temperature changes.
Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel offers corrosion resistance thanks to its chromium content. It’s easier to care for and won’t rust, but it is more expensive than carbon steel and can be more challenging to cook with.
On the other hand, carbon steel is more affordable and can achieve nonstick qualities through proper seasoning, a feature not found in stainless steel.
Carbon Steel vs. Nonstick Cookware
Nonstick pans are more convenient for immediate food release and are usually affordable.
However, carbon steel offers more value in the long run, as it can last more than a lifetime if well-maintained, while nonstick cookware typically needs replacement within 5 years.
Also, traditional nonstick cookware may have environmental concerns due to the chemicals used in its production.
If you’re new to carbon steel pans, there are many good and affordable options. You don’t need to spend a lot, such as hundreds of dollars on a Smithey pan.
De Buyer carbon steel and is my preferred choice for its performance and durability, but if you’re not sure if carbon steel is right for you, Misen is also a good option, with a familiar shape that’s easy to use. Whichever you choose, carbon steel will likely become your go-to pan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, carbon steel pans are safe for cooking. However, they should be seasoned properly to prevent rust and improve their nonstick properties. It’s also important to avoid exposing the pans to high heat without oil or food, as this can cause the pan to become damaged.
Carbon steel pans need to be seasoned to create a protective layer on the surface that prevents rust and helps create a nonstick surface.
The seasoning process involves applying a thin layer of oil to the pan’s surface and heating it until the oil polymerizes, forming a bond with the metal. This process should be repeated several times to build up a strong, nonstick coating.
Carbon steel pans can vary in weight, but many are heavier than other types of cookware, such as aluminum or nonstick pans. The weight of a carbon steel pan depends on its size and thickness. Heavier pans are typically more durable and have better heat retention properties but may be harder to handle for some users.
Carbon steel pans are not naturally nonstick, but with proper seasoning, they can develop a nonstick surface over time. Seasoning is the process of coating the pan with oil and heating it to create a polymerized layer that bonds with the metal and helps prevent food from sticking.
The more you use the pan, the more nonstick it will become. However, if not properly cared for (such as washed with soap), the seasoning can be removed and the pan will need to be re-seasoned.
A carbon steel skillet is a versatile and useful piece of cookware that can be used for many different cooking tasks. Its high heat tolerance makes it ideal for searing meat and fish, producing a delicious crust on steaks, chicken, and fish. The flat bottom and high heat tolerance also make it perfect for stir-frying vegetables and meats.
Yes, you can re-season a carbon steel skillet. Re-seasoning is necessary if the skillet has lost its nonstick properties or has become damaged from rust or discoloration.