Are you in the market for a new pan to add to your kitchen? Simply looking for the best carbon steel pan to complete your collection? Read more on how to choose one and which ones are my favorites.
- Why You Should Trust My Opinion on Carbon Steel Cookware
- What is Carbon Steel Anyway?
- What Should I Know About Other Cookware Before I Choose Carbon Steel?
- How Does Carbon Steel Differ from Other Cookware?
- I’m Sold. What Should I Look for While Shopping for a Carbon Steel Pan?
- 1. De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan
- 2. Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet
- 3. Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan
- 4. Sky Light Wok Pan
- 5. De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Steak Fry Pan
- Would I Buy This?: Final Thoughts
Why You Should Trust My Opinion on Carbon Steel Cookware
- Cookbook Author: I've written 5 Instant Pot Cookbooks and 2 Air Fryer Cookbooks so I've spent more than my fair share of time in the kitchen.
- Efficient: That's the only way I know how to do things in the kitchen. Who has time to waste when you're trying to get food on the table? I'm known for my ruthless efficiency and use the pot in pot cooking method every chance I get.
- Gadget geek!: I'm a self-proclaimed food tech enthusiast and have been known to purchase (and review) just about any kitchen appliance I can get my hands on.
Whether you are a professional chef at the top of your sauté game or simply a foodie-type at home who loves to salivate over all of the gourmet content flowing through the channels of social media, you have no doubt seen cooks of all ages and backgrounds bragging about their cast-iron skillet collections.
This tried-and-true cookware that seems to have been around since the dawn of time is not only a useful tool for producing the tastiest dishes; it simply looks “on brand” for the kind of cooking content that food influencers seek to bombard us with at every turn.
But while you’re busy trying to figure out how to properly season your very first cast-iron skillet, which size cast-iron pan you should buy, or how to make that magazine-cover-worthy fruit cobbler in your own kitchen, you may be missing out on one of the most important trends in cookware that has changed the game for chefs all over the world. Move over cast iron skillets and make room for your new best friend in the kitchen: the carbon steel pan.
What is Carbon Steel Anyway?
At first glance, “Carbon Steel” might sound like a film in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator series or a term you would only hear from your garage mechanic. The name alone conjures up an image of something indestructible. After all, when we refer to someone as “steely,” we typically mean someone hard and unbending. And while these characteristics may seem unattractive in a mate, they are highly desirable and coveted when it comes to cookware!
To understand what carbon steel is, you have to start with steel itself. Think of it as iron that has been hardened. Iron is the earth’s most common element, and when it is mixed with other elements such as carbon, it becomes less “bendy.” For those who want to sound a little smarter when discussing the merits of carbon steel, go ahead and throw in the term “alloys” (which simply means a combination of metals.)
So, you take iron, throw a little carbon, and some other ingredients in, and now you have got carbon steel. And you may be wondering, where is carbon steel used besides cookware? The answer is…just about everywhere! Carbon steel can be found in everything from tall buildings and sweeping bridges to your washing machine and your refrigerator.
What Should I Know About Other Cookware Before I Choose Carbon Steel?
Because carbon steel is so durable, it was only a matter of time before it made its way into the kitchen and on to our cooktops. Carbon steel cookware has a number of advantages that many chefs swear by; however, this does not mean they rule out the use of all other cookware.
A well-equipped chef’s kitchen will often include a wide range of cookware and tools, in varying designs and surfaces (and price points!), and we will give you a quick rundown of some of the other popular materials used in cookware before we return to the advantages of carbon steel.
As mentioned previously, cast iron cookware is not only a longstanding favorite among professional chefs but has also seen a recent resurgence among home cooks everywhere. While it is unfortunately slow to heat (and, as you might guess, also slow to cool), cast iron can produce a delicious end result with many favorite dishes, for those who have the patience to use it!
Cast iron is an incredibly durable material—and also quite heavy. This can be a “con” for some, but if you want to mix in some calorie burn while you cook, cast iron just might be the weightlifting/workout/cooking routine you are looking for. (This is the part where we say “consult your doctor before beginning any new workout routine.”)
Short on time and patience? Stainless steel has you covered: this cookware is dishwasher safe and heats quickly. It may not produce the same seasoned flavors we enjoy in cast-iron cooking, but it is also as easy as throwing the pot back on the rack after it comes out of the dishwasher sparkling clean. Because it is aesthetically pleasing (no rust to worry about) and widely available, stainless steel cookware is commonly used in many kitchens today.
For those who can stomach the hefty price tag, copper cookware ticks two boxes easily: visually attractive and conducts heat quickly. Copper is great for those who are short on patience and long on cash! The pan may heat quickly, but it will set you back a pretty penny. Copper will also need to be polished over time, which is a con for those who prefer low maintenance kitchen tools.
Cookware with an aluminum core is certainly much more affordable than copper, and it is even cheaper than stainless steel. Most pieces are dishwasher safe and it conducts heat well. But ask anyone who has used a dark aluminum pan and gotten distracted by something outside of the kitchen: over-browning can happen quickly!
While the word “Teflon” immediately comes to mind for many, that is just one type of nonstick cookware and one that had its fair share of controversy over safety issues. A specific compound in the earliest nonstick cookware raised concern for health experts, but since 2013 that compound has been removed. (If you are still using your late great aunt’s old nonstick pans, it might be best to chuck those in the garbage bin now.) Today’s nonstick cookware is safe, affordable, and easy to use—you just want to clean it gently and avoid scratching the surface with scouring pads.
How Does Carbon Steel Differ from Other Cookware?
Now that you have a general overview of some of the most popular types of cookware on the market, we can dive into what sets carbon steel apart from the rest.
Professional chefs love carbon steel cookware for its reliability, but now it is also accessible and affordable for most home cooks, too. It is no secret anymore that this kitchen workhorse is a comparable and, dare we say it, even better alternative to your beloved cast iron.
Carbon steel is only going to grow in popularity, thanks to the many ways in which it outperforms other cookware types in the kitchen. Here are some of the main reasons why chefs love working with carbon steel cookware:
Carbon steel cookware is basically indestructible. This is why it is prized in busy restaurant kitchens where pots and pans take a daily beating. Carbon steel can stand up to that beating and then some!
Other types of cookware may be prone to more damage than the incredibly durable carbon steel. For those who want to invest in a pan that comes with lasting power, carbon steel is your best bet.
Even though cast iron is also comprised of carbon and iron--just like carbon steel--the variation in proportions means that carbon steel is less brittle and susceptible to breakage. Carbon steel wins the durability contest over cast iron every time (no matter what the hardcore cast iron enthusiasts tell you! The science is on the side of carbon steel.).
While it does not come directly out of the box with a nonstick surface, a carbon steel pan can be transformed into a nonstick pan quickly and easily if you follow the manufacturer’s directions. Seasoning your carbon steel pan – or adding fat to its surface to make it nonstick – is easy enough for even a novice chef. Those familiar with this process from cooking in cast iron should have no trouble adapting to carbon steel cookware.
Seasoning is an ongoing process, and the nonstick surface will not last indefinitely. To get the best results from your carbon steel pan, you will need to season it periodically.
All cookware is not the same for heat distribution, which is paramount to success in the kitchen. There is a fine line between undercooking and overcooking your dish (both of which could be considered disastrous culinary results).
The distribution of heat in your cookware plays a critical role. Carbon steel pans heat and cools much faster than cast iron and some other types of cookware.
When you change your stove settings, you want the cookware to adapt quickly, and carbon steel does just that. This can mean time saved in terms of waiting for high heat, or a dish saved as you quickly adjust to simmer and avoid charring your dish to an unwanted crisp.
Let’s face it: at-home cooks like to shake pans and “flip” food and toss items in a skillet while narrating their very own cooking show (even if the audience is made up of one house cat). And cast-iron pans are simply too heavy for most folks to maneuver in this way. But carbon steel weighs less than cast iron and is easier on the hands and wrists, making it possible for your kitchen to turn into a cooking show set on any given Taco Tuesday.
I’m Sold. What Should I Look for While Shopping for a Carbon Steel Pan?
This is the part where we say, “we told you so.” We knew it would be easy to convince you, dear reader, and now you are certainly ready to take the carbon steel plunge. We are sure this is a decision you will not regret, and your kitchen table will soon be graced by a carbon steel bounty of culinary delights.
We have also done most of the work for you, with five outstanding carbon steel pan choices below. Keep in mind when shopping:
Size of the Crowd Dictates the Size of the Pan
Think about the number of mouths you typically feed, whether it’s 1 to 2 people or a small army. Smaller pans will do the job for smaller crowds.
Versatility Versus Specific Needs
Are you a “general purpose” chef, or do you need something specific like a crepe pan? Whether you want a carbon steel pan that can do a little bit of everything, or if your diet consists solely of crepes, pancakes, and other brunchtime treats, you should choose a pan that best suits your everyday cooking style.
While carbon steel pans are mostly accessible and affordable, some of the larger pans can take you into three-digit price tags, which may be overwhelming for those who are already clipping coupons before the weekly trip to the neighborhood grocery store. Thrifty chefs should not despair; however: there are many good carbon steel pans under $50. Even those with a modest budget can find a carbon steel pan to suit their needs.
Also, bear in mind that a carbon steel pan is a long-term investment if taken care of properly. So, what may seem like a “splurge” could end up being quite a bargain when you calculate the number of delicious meals your carbon steel pan turns out over the years.
1. De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan
A fantastic choice for its versatility and durability, the De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan comes in seven different sizes, from 7.9 inches up to 14.2 inches, depending on the number of hungry mouths you need to feed. Whether you are frying two eggs or the whole dozen, there is a De Buyer pan fit for the job.
De Buyer pans have been handcrafted in France for nearly 200 years and are beloved by chefs for their efficient heat distribution; these pans are ideal for searing food.
The Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan boasts two handles, is protected against oxidation by bee wax, and has no added chemicals. When you quickly sear food in a De Buyer carbon steel pan, you can preserve nutrients and vitamins -- not to mention turn out a delicious finished product.
This induction-ready pan is 2.5 to 3 millimeters thick and oven-safe for up to 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. De Buyer pans are hand riveted so that the rivets expand and contract along with the pan. Simply put, these pans are carefully and painstakingly designed and crafted to last a lifetime, and they have the consumer accolades to prove it.
2. Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet
While Lodge has been known for making cast-iron cookware in the USA for more than a century, the company has now introduced carbon steel pans to its output, and fans of their cast-iron products will love Lodge’s take on a durable carbon steel pan.
The Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet comes in four different sizes, from 8 to 15 inches. Most of the skillets are under $50 price range, making Lodge a popular choice for budget-conscious cooks.
Another feature of Lodge skillets that chefs love is they come preseasoned and ready to use. Rub a little oil on it, and you are off to the races! Or off to the cooking range, at least. And buyers with nut allergies have no reason to worry: the products are preseasoned with soybean oil at the foundry. No peanut oils (or animal fats) are used.
Made of heavy-duty twelve-gauge and carbon steel, these Lodge pans will stand up to a lifetime of wear and tear. The only places they should NOT go in the kitchen are in the dishwasher or the microwave. They should be handwashed with a mild soap (or plain water), dried immediately, and rubbed lightly with oil before they are returned to storage. This simple process will keep a Lodge carbon steel frying pan in excellent shape.
3. Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan
This carbon steel pan from French company Matfer Bourgeat offers an impressive eight different sizes, making it a popular choice in professional kitchens, as well as a great pick for any aspiring home chef. Whether you need a pan as petite as 8 5/8 inches, or as wide as 14 ¾ inches, Matfer Bourgeat has a carbon steel option for everyone.
Chefs have trusted Matfer Bourgeat for more than two centuries, and their carbon steel pans are ideal for everything from the perfectly seared steak to a perfectly folded omelet. These pans can go straight from the cooktop into the oven: they are oven-safe at any temperature.
The pan’s steel handle is welded to its body for security, and the pan will need to be seasoned before using it. The reviews are mixed on the manufacturer’s directions for seasoning, and it is worth checking out recommendations from other users who have successfully seasoned a Matfer Bourgeat pan. Just as is the case with cast iron cookware, seasoning in carbon steel may take some tinkering to achieve the desired result.
4. Sky Light Wok Pan
For those in the market specifically for a wok, the Sky Light Wok Pan is made of carbon steel and can be used on electric, gas, and induction stoves. At 12.5 inches in diameter, this carbon steel wok is safe for oven temperatures up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, with one caveat: you must remove the wooden handle before placing the wok in the oven.
There is no coating on the wok or toxic chemicals, which means it will require seasoning before use to create a desired nonstick surface. Once properly seasoned, this wok will help home chefs turn out delicious Asian dishes with incredible versatility. One pan can be used to fry, to steam, and to boil. A wok really is a dream tool for a chef, and its spout design is a clever feature for pouring out broth and liquids with no spills.
Once you have properly seasoned the wok, you will want to always hand wash it and immediately dry it before storing it. A wok may not come with the convenience of being dishwasher safe, but that time is more than made up with an array of easy one-pan meals.
5. De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Steak Fry Pan
Fans of perfectly cooked steaks may say we have saved the best for last, with this carbon steel pan specifically designed for your favorite cut of beef. The Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Steak Fry Pan is made with the same quality, and attention to detail chefs expect from all De Buyer pans, but it goes a step further with lines cut into the pan that will mimic the sear marks from a grill.
When it comes to cooking the perfect steak indoors, there is some amount of debate between cast iron and carbon steel pans. In both cases, ensuring the pan is properly seasoned will play heavily into the ultimate result, and this pan should always be cleaned and dried immediately after use to avoid rust.
At 11 inches in diameter, the Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Steak Fry Pan is warp-resistant and can withstand up to 20 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. It weighs in at 3.5 pounds, making it easier to handle than a cast-iron skillet of the same width, which would weight twice as much. While the pan's design was intended for steaks, this is no one-trick pony: chefs will reach for this pan as a multi-purpose skillet as well.
|De Buyer Mineral B Round||- Seven Sizes|
- 7.9-14.2 inch Options
- Induction Ready
- Oven Safe to 400 Degrees
|Lodge Carbon ||- Four Sizes|
- 8-15 inch Options
- Induction Ready
- Grill Safe
- Easy to Clean
|Mafter Bourgeat ||- Eight Sizes|
- 8 5/8-14 3/4 inch Options
- Oven Safe at Any Temp
- Welded Handle
|Sky Light Wok||- 12.5 inch Size|
- Induction Ready
- Oven Safe to 550 Degrees
- Dishwasher Safe
|De Buyer Mineral B Round Steak||- 11 inch size|
- Induction Ready
- Oven Safe to 400 Degrees
- Designed for Perfect Steaks
Would I Buy This?: Final Thoughts
When it comes to your kitchen tools, the proof is always in the pudding (or maybe the pancake). The only way to know whether carbon steel is right for you is to take the plunge, purchase a pan, and then let your taste buds be the ultimate judge. Whether your culinary quest is to perfect the art of the omelet, master a delicate crepe, or sear a steak that will impress a first date, carbon steel pans can help you get there.