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A buyers guide to the best Carbon Steel Pans for your kitchen

Buying Guide to the Best Carbon Steel Pans for your Kitchen

When it comes to nonstick pans, people tend to gravitate towards either the old-fashioned cast iron or to more high-tech nonstick coated cookware. But did you know there’s also a third option? carbon steel. Even though you may not have heard of it, you would have most likely eaten a meal cooked in one – in a restaurant.

The smoother, lighter-weight cousin of cast iron, carbon steel pans have been around for years. In fact, if you take a sneak peek inside the kitchen of just about any half decent restaurant, you ’ll see that carbon steel is these are the chef’s favorite and for good reason too.

Matfer Bourgeat 62005 frying pan, 11 7/8-Inch, Gray
Mauviel 3651.28 M'Steel Carbon Steel, nonstick Fry pan, 11 Inch, Black
World Cuisine 10 1/4 Inch Heavy Duty Carbon Steel Frying Pan
De Buyer MINERAL B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan 12.5-Inch - 5610.32
Lodge 12 Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet. Large Steel Skillet for Family Size Cooking.
Matfer Bourgeat 62005 frying pan, 11 7/8-Inch, Gray
Mauviel 3651.28 M'Steel Carbon Steel, nonstick Fry pan, 11 Inch, Black
World Cuisine 10 1/4 Inch Heavy Duty Carbon Steel Frying Pan
De Buyer MINERAL B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan 12.5-Inch - 5610.32
Lodge 12 Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet. Large Steel Skillet for Family Size Cooking.
from $30.00
$79.95
from $27.90
from $41.90
$35.44
Matfer Bourgeat 62005 frying pan, 11 7/8-Inch, Gray
Matfer Bourgeat 62005 frying pan, 11 7/8-Inch, Gray
from $30.00
Mauviel 3651.28 M'Steel Carbon Steel, nonstick Fry pan, 11 Inch, Black
Mauviel 3651.28 M'Steel Carbon Steel, nonstick Fry pan, 11 Inch, Black
$79.95
World Cuisine 10 1/4 Inch Heavy Duty Carbon Steel Frying Pan
World Cuisine 10 1/4 Inch Heavy Duty Carbon Steel Frying Pan
from $27.90
De Buyer MINERAL B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan 12.5-Inch - 5610.32
De Buyer MINERAL B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan 12.5-Inch - 5610.32
from $41.90
Lodge 12 Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet. Large Steel Skillet for Family Size Cooking.
Lodge 12 Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet. Large Steel Skillet for Family Size Cooking.
$35.44

Why would You Need a Carbon Steel Pan?

Pan seared Salmon using a carbon steel pan

Carbon steel pans not only outclasses the non-stick qualities of cast iron but also retains heat much better than its traditional counterpart. Other than searing your food well, it is light enough to lift without effort; it’s easy to clean, and oven-safe, and it works perfectly well with induction stoves. And there are even more benefits:

  • Sears and browns like cast iron: carbon steel sears food just as evenly and deeply as cast iron, with the two advantages, that it heats up faster, and is lighter in weight, making it easier to use.
  • Works like a tri-ply stainless steel: while carbon steel heats almost as evenly as tri-ply stainless-steel (an aluminum insert between stainless steel), it can brown meat more deeply. In addition, it costs around just one-third of the price of the best tri-ply stainless steel skillets.
  • As slick as non-stick skillet: although carbon steel is just as slippery as the brand-new nonstick, it sears much better, doesn’t come with a synthetic coating, has no oven-safe temperature limits, and is more durable.

What’s the Science behind the Carbon Steel Skillet?

 

Well, the secret lies within the chemical make up of carbon steel. This which is an alloy made of about 99% iron and 1% carbon, making it an exceptionally functional material for cookware. And because it contains lesser carbon content as compared to cast-iron, it is relatively lightweight yet very durable.

One of the issues that you have with cast iron because of the higher levels of carbon is the fact that it more brittle then other types of cookware – it is extremely tough but will easily shatter under the right circumstances. Carbon steel is more resistant to shattering.
Unlike cast iron that requires numerous rounds of seasoning to turn into truly nonstick, the smoother surface of the carbon steel makes it easier to attain a greasy layer of polymerized oil during seasoning.

What makes Carbon Steel Pans different from other types of steel cookware?

Weight – Cast Iron cookware is heavy, It is a simple fact that because cast iron is more brittle you need to have more of it there to counter this, making it thicker helps make it more durable. Of course, there are some Carbon steel pans that are thicker and so will be heavier. You will need to take weight into consideration if you are thinking about buying cast iron.

Response time for heating – If we take conductivity of metals aside, the principles are quite simple, the metal in the pan( the heavier it is) the longer it will take to heat up and cool down. Carbon pans are more responsive because they are thinner. This is important because there are a lot of dishes where temp control is fundamental to a perfect outcome, making carbon steel a front-runner.

Even heating of the pan – There is a myth that Cast iron heats evenly, this is not quite true, stainless steel has the upper edge on this but this is often because the decent stainless steel cookware has a 3ply of 5 ply bottom that is sandwiched with Aluminum which conducts heat way faster.

Appearance – I am guessing that this one is a little more subjective and will come down to personal taste in what you buy. There are a number of things that you will need to be aware of. While both carbon steel and cast iron steel both need to be seasoned, because of the smoother surface finish on carbon steel this is a lot easier.

It is for all of the above reasons that you will see restaurants using carbon steel woks and crepe pans as this chefs typically need a greater control of heat there.

It is also important to point out that what you are going to cook will make a difference, if for example, you love cooking sauces that are acidic (like cooking with tomatoes) this will strip off the non stick coating you add when you season it and so you would be better off having stainless steel pans for this.

I an not saying one is better than the other, but rather trying to get you to think about what you want to be cooking and how you cook, these make a huge difference to the the final choices you make.

What Can I Cook With My Carbon Steel Pan?

A carbon steel pan can literally do it all: you can broil, bake, stir-fry and sear in it; and above all, you can also cook delicate foods like eggs and fish with no fear of sticking. It’s no wonder that these pans are used by professional chefs in world-class restaurants and kitchens all across the world.

P.S. Cooking with acidic ingredients may remove some of the seasonings, but you can rest assured that it can be easily restored.

Cooking steak in a carbon steel pan

Things to Look For While Buying Carbon Steel Pans:

There are a number of features that play a big factor in your decision making when selecting the right carbon steel pan for you:

Pre-Seasoning – just like cast iron pans, carbon steel also rusts when it’s bare. Therefore it requires seasoning, a procedure that sticks oil to the pan to provide a protective layer against rusting, and transform it into non-stick. So, a pre-seasoned pan may end up being a deal breaker for you.

Manufacturer – one of the biggest considerations is not only finding a carbon steel pan that not only suits your preferences but that also comes from a reputed manufacturer. Remember that unlike stainless steel cookware where the difference in quality can be pretty substantial, carbon steel pans are all made in the exact same way, narrowing it down to the reputation or price point. For instance, some of the best carbon steel cookware comes from French brands like ‘de Buyer’.

Thickness matters – carbon steel pans are available in a couple of thicknesses: 2mm or 3mm. The latter is heavier and closer to the weight of iron, and it paves the way for faster heating and facilitates more even cooking. On the flip side, personal preference and your stove type will also affect the size of the pan you choose.

The length and comfort of the handle – choosing a carbon steel pan with a comfortable handle will make your life much easier. While an unusually short handle will force you to grab your pan at awkward angles, longer handles may not fit inside the oven. So, purchasing a pan with a comfy handle will make cooking food an absolute delight.

Quality of the Carbon steel – Just like cast iron and stainless steel there is a variance in the performance of these types of cookware depending on how they have been made, I often speak of this, cheaper cookware will never perform better than the more expensive versions. Having said this more expensive does not always equal more value and quality – that is why I am here to help you better understand your choices.

We reviewed five carbon-steel skillets, all around 12 inches in diameter, rating them on all the above parameters. Read on to discover which carbon steel pan is going to best suit you:

De Buyer Mineral B 12.6” Frying Pan

This large, beautifully constructed pan is from De Buyer, the world-renowned French manufacturer is truly multifunctional! From cooking scrambled eggs to searing steaks to making grilled cheese, it’s a great budget-friendly option to have in your arsenal of cookware.
We like its natural beeswax coating which not only protects against rusting but also assists in seasoning the pan. What’s more, the manufacturer’s instructions for seasoning are easy to follow and require users to coat the cooking surface with oil, leaving the sides to fend for them. After cooking for a while, the sides will also develop their own non-stick coating.

What we like:

  • This pan boasts a beeswax finish that prevents rusting while helping season the pan.
  • The finish allows for easy and fast clean-up
  • 100 percent natural with no PTFE, PFOA or any other chemicals.
  • High quality 99% pure iron construction which makes it durable to use.
  • Rounded design to enable the food to slide easily onto a dish; ideal for grilling, browning, and searing.

What we didn’t like:

  • The pan comes with an epoxy coated handle which restricts its use in ovens.

 

Lodge CRS 12” Carbon Steel Skillet

This relatively light carbon steel pan from Lodge is very comfortable to lift and handle. With its factory pre-seasoning of soybean vegetable oil, one can start cooking as soon as it’s unpacked. The CRS 12” works on a majority of heat sources including outdoor grills and open fire, heats up quickly, and cooks food evenly.

In addition, the handle of this pan is suitable for oven and stovetop alike. It makes a good and affordable pan for both recreational and skilled cooks. But it’s worth bearing in mind that, we have heard of people talking about the seasoning on this one reducing and wearing off quite quickly making you reseason a little more often.

However, all in all, this pan from lodge is very effective and versatile in nature.

What we like:

  • Works fine on almost all heat sources.
  • Comes pre-seasoned for an easy and natural release finish.
  • Because the pan is manufactured from 12 gauge carbon steel which is a high-density metal, it doesn’t retain odors.
  • The thick cooking surface allows the pan heat up quickly and retains the heat needed for even cooking.

What we didn’t like:

  • The original seasoning wears off with time, requiring it to be seasoned more frequently.
  • The handle is roughly cut and quite long.
  • The tandle may become hot over time- so you are advised to use a handle cover or oven mitts.

Matfer Bourgeet Black Steel Round Frying Pan

This reasonably priced 11” carbon steel pan from Matfer has it all: thick, solid construction; a smooth interior with no handle rivets to bump the spatula; an ergonomically angled handle; and sides flared just the right amount for easy access.

Other than being very strong, it not only distributes heat evenly but is also made to last like every other carbon steel pan. We recommend that you season it properly to make it non-stick and prolong its lifespan. For first-time use, you need to remove the protective layer, which could be a bit fiddly, but there should be no problem if you follow the instruction manual.

What we like:

  • Solid heavy-duty construction makes it very durable for long time use.
  • It can withstand high temperatures, that not only make it suitable for a majority of hob types but also make it oven safe.
  • Even heat distribution ensures more delicious food.

What we didn’t like:

  • If exposed to high heat, it may become warped, so it is advisable to heat it slowly and gradually.
  • It’s quite tricky to remove the protective coating and season the pan.
  • Quite heavy for its size.

 

Mauviel M’steel 12.5” Frying Pan

Very sturdy and spacious, with low sides and a reliably slick surface, M’steel is made from extra thick black carbon steel and so is an excellent heat conductor. Master-crafted to withstand high temperatures, it is perfect for prolonged searing, sautéing, and baking.

What sets it apart from others in the list is the fact that it is safe to be used on all cooking surfaces: gas, stovetops, gas, induction, and even the oven. This pan is not pre-seasoned, so it’s necessary to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to season it and build up its natural nonstick properties.

Pro Tip: While it is extremely easy to clean the pan, we advise not using washing up liquid to clean the pan. Instead, simply wash it in the hot water and pat it dry with a paper towel or sponge.

What we like:

  • It can withstand high temperatures, making it suitable for use on all cooking surfaces.
  • Thick cooking surface lets the pan heat up quickly and retain the heat needed for even cooking.

What we didn’t like:

  • It requires multiple seasonings to become non-stick
  • Removing the protective beeswax is tricky.
  • If not seasoned immediately, it will rapidly rust.

Paderno World Cuisine Carbon Steel Frying Pan

A great budget-friendly option that comes from none other than Canada’s oldest cookware manufacturer, Paderno, this pan makes a handy addition to your cookware. With enough cooking space and the lower-angled handle that we prefer, it boasts excellent heat conduction that creates deeply crisp crusts and evenly cooked food.

What’s more, as it’s carved from solid Paderno heavy-duty carbon steel, this pan is not only well built but also thick enough to endure high temperatures, paving the way for prolonged searing, sautéing, and baking. As a result, it is safe to use at very high temperatures.
While the pan has some great selling points, it needs to be seasoned to become non-stick.

In addition, it has a slightly less slippery release than other pans, and its sides are a little too shallow. Added to this, its weight makes it hard for you to maneuver. However, overall, this pan makes a very good choice for a reasonable price.

What we like:

  • Solid heavy-duty construction that makes it very durable for long-time use.
  • It can withstand high-temperatures making it suitable for all stove types and to be used in the oven.

What we didn’t like:

  • Quite heavy for its size.
  • It needs to be seasoned repeatedly.
  • The rivets are not exactly even within the pan – as a result, liquids can seep out from time to time.

And The Winner Is:

While all of the above carbon steel pans are good quality, at the end of our testing, we’re left with two top choices. Our outright winner is De Buyer Mineral 12.6” which is a simple yet classic pan that cooks beautifully. It’s well-built, easy to manoeuver and – most importantly – quick to clean up and acquire slick seasoning. It’s all that you need.

But if you are looking for an affordable alternative, we also loved our second best, the Lodge CRS 12” Carbon Steel Skillet. While our initial cynicism was well deserved given its unusual handle,