The Pros & Cons of Carbon Steel Kitchen Equipment

Researched & Written by Craig

There are so many types of kitchen equipment that it’s hard to sort out the good from the bad. Deciding on the best material for you can be confusing.

Carbon steel kitchen equipment uses a special type of steel that’s harder than stainless. This steel can handle very high heat and lots of pressure without changing shape.

Need to know more? Here’s what this article will teach you:

  • How carbon steel works
  • How it’s different from stainless steel
  • Carbon steel pros and cons
  • What kinds of cooking carbon steel is best with

Ready? Then let’s get going.

What’s the Big Deal about Carbon Steel?

Carbon steel is iron with a significant amount of carbon in it. This carbon changes the properties of iron, making it harder. Carbon steel has similar properties to cast iron in many ways. 

Carbon is a very hard mineral because of its crystal lattice structure. Adding carbon to iron results in steel that can handle very high temperatures and a lot of pressure without bending or changing. 

This makes carbon steel invaluable in high-volume professional kitchens. Restaurants want to cook food quickly without burning it. Carbon steel heats more evenly than cast iron but stays hot better than aluminum, so it’s great for cooking a lot of food fast.

Similarly, carbon steel knives don’t have to be sharpened as often because they are resistant to being bent.

Today, carbon steel pans can be found in the kitchens of 3 star Michelin restaurants – that’s how much professional chefs love them. They also receive rave reviews from plenty of home cooks. The question you should ask is: will carbon steel work for me?

Carbon Steel: Pros and Cons

Carbon steel is a great cooking tool, but it’s not completely perfect. Like all cooking tools, it has its pros and cons. Here’s a breakdown of the great and not-so-great parts of carbon steel cookware.

Pros of Carbon Steel

Heat retention. Carbon steel is similar to cast iron in a lot of ways. Iron and steel are great at retaining heat. When you’re trying to get food crispy, that’s important. Once your carbon steel pan gets hot, it will stay hot for a long time.

Oven safe. Carbon steel pans are completely oven safe. The carbon in the steel helps it handle extremely high temperatures without warping. As a result, most carbon steel pans can go right from your stove to your over, or vice versa.

Lightweight. Cast iron is heavy. A lot of modern cast iron pans are made by pouring iron into a mold. The result tends to be bulky and not easy to move around on the stove. On the other hand, carbon steel pans are lighter. They are stamped out of a sheet of steel, leading to a thinner and lighter design. If you’re interested in sautéing or moving your pan around, carbon steel is a lot more maneuverable.

Durable. Many nonstick and aluminum pans dent, scorch, and burn. As a result, they wear out and become less effective over time. That’s not a problem with carbon steel. As long as you take care of your carbon steel pans, they will last for decades – or longer.

Versatile. Carbon steel cookware can go in the oven. It can be safely used on glass-top stoves, electric burners, and gas ranges. The result is that carbon steel is one of the most versatile materials you could add to your kitchen.

Affordable. Carbon steel pans are easy to make – the sheet of steel just goes through a press and then a simple handle is bolted on. As a result, carbon steel pans are often less expensive than aluminum or even high-end non-stick pans.

Cons of Carbon Steel

Maintenance. The biggest potential downside to carbon steel is that it can corrode if you don’t care for it properly. Carbon steel is not rust-proof like stainless steel or aluminum. To keep your carbon steel cookware in good working order, you need to keep it seasoned the same way you season cast iron. You can’t put carbon steel in the dishwasher or use dish soap on it, either. That cuts through the seasoning and ruins its finish.

Hot handles. Carbon steel cookware handles can conduct heat just as well as the rest of the pan can. When you’re cooking with carbon steel, you might find that the handle gets quite hot as a result. Some people use dry kitchen cloths or a baking mitt in order to move their carbon steel pans around.

Potentially sticky. When properly cared for, carbon steel pans are some of the best nonstick cookware around. However, if their seasoning is damaged, food will start to stick. If your food is clinging to carbon steel cookware, you probably need to clean it and reseason it before it’s ready to go again. 

Carbon Steel Do’s & Dont’s

When you’re making your choice about cookware, you should decide based on what you actually need. If you’re constantly making stir-fry, for example, a carbon steel wok is probably a great choice! On the other hand, if you fry an egg maybe once a week, then you might not need one. Here are some ideas of what carbon steel handles best – and worst.

Best Uses for Carbon Steel Cookware

Carbon steel is great for crisping foods. Since it can handle high temperatures without scorching, you can get that thick and crispy sear on your steak, or a nice brown bottom on skillet cookies.

Carbon steel is also the perfect choice for anything that you might want to roast and then sear since you can move it from oven to stove and back again. You can get chicken breast golden on the outside, then move it to the oven to finish it and keep it juicy. Similarly, carbon steel let you broil lamb chops and then make a gravy with the drippings all in the same pan.

If you like to stir fry or saute, carbon steel is a great choice. The way it maintains heat evenly will help your vegetables cook quickly and evenly on all sides. The light weight slanted edges of the pan also allow you to toss the contents of a pan easily and quickly

When Not to Use Carbon Steel

Carbon steel shouldn’t be used for cooking tomato-heavy dishes or other acidic food. The seasoning on the pan is broken down by acid, so cooking these foods in carbon steel can damage your cookware.

Carbon steel also takes a little longer to heat up than aluminum pans. If you’re just looking to fry a single egg, you might be better off using aluminum.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve helped you learn about the basics of carbon steel cookware.

These versatile, sturdy pans are used in famous restaurants around the world.

They are relatively inexpensive, they last forever, and they’re trusted to cook food for the rich and famous.

If you’re considering getting a carbon steel pan, consider getting yours from Made In. This brand’s pans are found in Michelin Star restaurants, and you can get your own online without a retail markup.

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Have a great day, and thanks for reading.

-Craig