A professional kitchen is a hectic place to be. With pans on all burners and dishes at various stages of completion, chefs need to know that their pans are reliable and fast-cooking. Their choice of material? Carbon steel. Carbon-steel pans are durable, nonstick and up to any cooking task.
What to know before you buy a carbon-steel pan
You might be familiar with the sizzling performance of a carbon-steel wok. If not, there are a few things to know before you purchase your first carbon-steel pan.
As with all other types of pans, carbon-steel pans are available in a variety of sizes. Which you choose depends on what you frequently cook and the size of pan you typically like to use. A 10-inch pan is the most manageable size for many home cooks to start with, but if you frequently cook for a large family, you might try a 12-inch pan instead.
Pre-seasoned vs. season-as-you-cook pans
Pre-seasoned pans come with an already-nonstick finish that is convenient for home cooks. The downside of this is that you don’t know exactly how nonstick it is or if the manufacturer has used chemicals to produce this nonstick finish. Professional chefs purchase raw carbon-steel pans and rely on frequent use to season them as they cook.
Welded vs. riveted handles on a pan
If you leave the spatula behind and rely on a quick flip of the wrist to move food around your pan, you’ll need a well-attached handle. Handles can be either welded or riveted to the pan. Some chefs prefer welded handles, but riveted handles are more common.
Carbon-steel pan features
Carbon-steel pans are durable
Even if you aren’t in a professional kitchen, you’ll want a high-quality carbon-steel pan that lasts. The pan should feel substantial, balanced and not too heavy. It should not have dents or easily scratch.
Carbon-steel pans with chemical-free seasoning
If you choose a pre-seasoned pan, make sure that the manufacturer uses no chemicals in the seasoning. Look for PTFE and PFOA-free carbon-steel pans.
Common types of natural pre-seasoning use beeswax or mineral oil. These are both safe and effective.
Carbon-steel pans are designed well
The walls of your carbon-steel pan will be sloped. This slope allows you to toss food in the pan without using a spatula or wooden spoon. The walls should be tall enough to accommodate this movement without allowing food to slop over the edge.
Carbon-steel pans are a moderately-priced tool that will last as long as you care for them properly. Prices for these pans range from $40 to $100.
Is carbon-steel better than cast iron?
A. Carbon steel and cast iron share some similar qualities. They are both sturdy and durable, and they are safe to go from the stove top directly into the oven. Both types of pan retain their heat well, which makes them good for both quick, hot cooking and long, slow braises.
The main advantage that carbon steel has over cast iron is the weight. Carbon-steel pans are lighter than cast-iron pans. This makes them easier to use for some cooks.
How do you use carbon-steel pans for best results?
A. Although carbon steel has nonstick properties, it takes time to learn how to best utilize these pans. If you are struggling with food sticking to your carbon-steel pan, here are a few tips.
- Make sure the pan is hot before you add food. The oil should begin to smoke slightly.
- Do not try to flip or move food until it releases easily by itself.
- Stir food less than you would in a regular pan.
- If you notice food sticking, add a little water or stock to help release it.
Do carbon-steel pans require special care?
A. Carbon-steel pans are easy to care for, with just a few considerations.
- Never wash carbon-steel pans in the dishwasher.
- Clean your carbon-steel pan while it’s hot. Add hot water and use a stiff-bristled plastic brush to scrub it.
- If food residue remains, add salt to cover the bottom of the pan and heat it. Scrub using paper towels or a dry sponge. Rinse and dry completely.
- Once the pan is clean, add a few drops of neutral oil to the pan and wipe to coat the entire inside of the pan. Once your pan forms a completely black patina, this step is no longer necessary.
Which carbon-steel pan should I get?
Best of the best carbon-steel pan
de Buyer Mineral B Frying Pan: available at Amazon
Our take: This is the perfect pan for home cooks with professional aspirations.
What we like: This pan is finished in natural beeswax, which darkens and produces a lovely nonstick finish the more that you cook with it. Try one (or all) of the six available sizes.
What we dislike: It’s definitely not nonstick right out of the box. There is a learning curve, but the more you use it, the better it gets.
Best bang for your buck carbon-steel pan
Lodge Carbon-Steel Skillet: available at Amazon
Our take: Lodge has the best budget-friendly version of a carbon-steel pan for beginning cooks.
What we like: This pan is made of 12-gauge carbon steel for even heating and good heat retention. It’s pre-seasoned and easy to clean — using soap does not diminish its nonstick properties. It’s available in four sizes, too.
What we dislike: Lodge has stayed true to its cast-iron roots — this pan is one of the heaviest options on the list.
Honorable mention carbon-steel pan
Matfer Bourgeat Black-Carbon Steel Fry Pan: available at Amazon
Our take: These sleek black-carbon steel pans are free of any chemical coatings, with a welded handle for a sturdy grip.
What we like: Natural mineral oil gives this carbon-steel pan its nonstick finish — it is PTFE and PFOA-free. It comes in five sizes and is capable of handling high temperatures and lots of use.
What we dislike: It’s pre-seasoned, but it seems to lose its nonstick capability frequently. It requires frequent re-seasoning.
Suzannah Kolbeck is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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