Cast iron has a reputation in top culinary circles for lasting a lifetime. From its tough as nails durability to its effortless ability to maintain heat, these naturally nonstick pans only get better with age–literally.
Despite the fact that cast iron cookware sounds ideal, it too has its share of shortcomings. In addition to being heavy and at times cumbersome to deal with, cast iron pans can rust if not cleaned and cared for properly. They’re also not great for cooking acidic foods like pasta sauce, as the iron transferred to the dish may alter the flavor.
While many home cooks are familiar with cast iron cookware, not as many are familiar with carbon steel, a hassle-free alternative to cast iron. In fact, once you’ve made the switch from cast iron to carbon steel, you’ll never go back. Unless, of course, you genuinely enjoy that upper-body workout.
What’s The Difference Between Carbon Steel And Cast Iron?
Those who treasure grandma’s hand-me-down cast iron pan, don’t fret! For tradition’s sake, your faithful cast iron pan is fine for sizzling up a steak and the occasional homemade cornbread. Yet in terms of everyday cooking, carbon steel is the way to go. Carbon steel has all the benefits of cast iron, whilst improving on its flaws.
Carbon steel is significantly lighter than cast iron, but it is no less durable. Plus, it retains heat just as well. In fact, it is a more efficient heat conductor than cast iron as the warmth is distributed evenly and there are fewer hot spots.
Carbon steel pans also require seasoning, just like cast iron. Once seasoned, carbon steel offers a superior nonstick surface, making it great for delicate foods such as eggs and fish. As a bonus, its smooth surface aids in its nonstick properties.
Since carbon steel is less porous than cast iron, you do need to take care while cleaning not to be too abrasive. Otherwise, you risk scraping the seasoning right off. That said, the cleaning process is similar to cast iron–just some water, a drop of mild detergent, and a gentle scrubber. Plus, there’s no need to wipe down with fat once dry.
The versatility of carbon steel cookware makes it ideal for any culinary enthusiast. For those who enjoy cast iron skillets, carbon steel pans go above and beyond the capabilities of their cast iron counterparts. So, which carbon steel pan is right for your kitchen collection? Here is a peek at some of our favorites.
It’s hard to find a better skillet than the Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet. This heavy-duty 14 gauge carbon steel pan is pre-seasoned with natural soybean oil, so it’s ready for use straight out of the box.
Great for low and high-temperature cooking alike, the Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet heats up quickly and retains heat remarkably. The angle handled also allows for a more comfortable grip.
Despite once being a cast-iron snob, one reviewer was so taken with the Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet that she traded in her old cherished pan. “Being a cooking snob, I had my doubts,” they wrote. “It heats faster than cast iron and is distinctly lighter. It sears things beautifully and loves bacon and eggs too. The darker it gets, the better it works.”
As well as being the best-selling carbon steel pan on Amazon, the Merten & Storck Carbon Steel Skillet is also one of the most affordable options. As with the Lodge Skillet, the Merten & Storck comes pre-seasoned, which develops a nonstick patina with regular use. Also, similar to its cast iron counterparts, this carbon steel pan can withstand high heat. In fact, it’s oven safe up to 600°F, and can be used on the grill.
Many reviewers agree that the Merten & Storck pan is comparable to restaurant-style pans. “As a former chef in a well-known Seattle Restaurant, I cooked with cold-rolled steel (carbon steel) pans every day. I prepared thousands of dishes using pans just like the Merten & Storck Carbon Steel sauté pan,” they explained. “There is no better sauté pan.”
For a top-of-the-line option, the de Buyer Mineral B Frying Pan is the right choice. Designed with 1% carbon and 99% iron, the de Buyer carbon steel pans are 40% lighter than traditional cast iron pans. It’s coated with an all-natural beeswax finish to protect against oxidation and only gets better with use. In addition, its sloped sides make it simple to toss and sauté food.
According to a former restaurant owner, “Once it’s seasoned, you cannot cook a better pan-fried steak. One of the best pans I’ve used thus far, and I’ve owned a restaurant.”