The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Carbon Steel Cookware

Learn how to preserve your Carbon Steel Pans for years to come.

By Emily Borst
Apr 29, 2022
carbon steel frying pan on stove
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Carbon Steel is one of our favorite Cookware materials. It is a staple in professional kitchens, beloved by French chefs, and rapidly becoming more popular in home kitchens around the world. It isn’t hard to see why—Carbon Steel provides the best of both worlds of Cast Iron and Stainless Steel.

Once you learn how to cook with and care for it, we’re sure it’ll be your new favorite piece of Cookware. We have created this in depth care guide to walk you through how to properly care for and maintain your Carbon Steel Cookware for years to come.

Why Did My Pan Arrive Scratched?

If your Pan arrives with a scratch mark or a few scuffs on the surface of your pan, don’t worry. The vegetable oil on the surface of the Pan, which serves as a pre-seasoning for transport, can often show marks from the manufacturing and shipping process. These are purely cosmetic and will actually help with the seasoning process by allowing fats and oils to set in easier.

To remove this layer of oil, wash your Pan with soap and water (this and removing rust are the only times you should use soap) after unboxing and before beginning your seasoning efforts. This will get rid of the layer of vegetable oil and help your seasoning soak in.

Have an Induction or Glass Stovetop?

Avoid: Heating your Pan up too quickly can lead to thermal shock, which is when you rapidly change a pan's temperature. This can warp the cooking surface of your Pan.

Solution: Heat up your Pan slowly. Start your induction or glass stovetop on a low setting and leave it heating for a minute, and then slowly increase the temperature. It’s very important to follow this process each time you use your Pan. While Carbon Steel is built to withstand high heat, it doesn’t always need it.

How Do I Season My Pan?

Seasoning is the process of treating your Pan with oil to create a seal on your Pan’s surface. Heating a cooking oil with a high smoke-point creates a polymerization—when the oil and heat react together to form a solid layer that fills in the metal’s small pores. This helps prevent rust and keeps food from sticking during cooking.

The Oven Method

1. Preheat Your Oven

You’re going to want your oven to be as hot as the smoke point of your oil. Resident seasoning expert Steve Barnett prefers grapeseed oil, which has a smoke point of around 420F, but when in doubt, check the label to make sure.

Next, line a Sheet Pan with aluminum foil and place it on the bottom rack of your oven.

2. Wash Your Pan
Give your Pan a good wash with warm water and a mild soap. This removes the initial layer of vegetable oil applied at the factory to protect your Pan during transit. Try to get as much of this oil off as possible.

Steve recommends washing it for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you wash the entire thing inside and out.

3. Dry Completely

Before placing your Pan in the oven, make sure it’s bone dry. Start by drying with a paper towel, being sure no bits of fluff are left behind, then set it over low heat to make sure no dampness remains.

4. Apply Oil

Pour a few tablespoons of your high smoke-point oil into a small bowl. Increase the heat under your Pan slightly to medium-low and begin to apply a thin layer of oil to the inside of your Pan using a paper towel. Make sure you fully cover the surface of the Pan as well as its walls, but don’t overdo it—you only need a thin layer.

Steve recommends also oiling the outside of your Cookware as well, especially if you plan to cook with it outside or live in a particularly humid environment. Be careful with this part, as the Pan will be warm.

5. Heat It Up

Give your Pan one final wipe to remove any excess oil before placing it upside down in the preheated oven. The Sheet Pan will catch any drips so you don’t start a grease fire. Leave the Pan in the oven for an hour.

6. Cool It Down

After an hour, turn off your oven and let the Pan cool inside. Once it is cool to the touch, you’re ready to start cooking.

The Stovetop Method

Start by repeating steps 1–2 of the Oven Method.

3. Apply Oil

Pour a few tablespoons of your high smoke-point oil into a small bowl. Increase the heat under your Pan slightly to medium-low and begin to apply a thin layer of a high-smoke point oil, like grapeseed, to the inside of your Pan using a paper towel. Make sure you fully cover the surface of the Pan as well as its walls but don’t overdo it—you only need a thin layer.

4. Turn Up the Heat

Gradually increase the stovetop temperature to medium-high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Let the pan sit on the burner for around 5 minutes, making sure to rotate as needed to ensure the pan is heated evenly.

5. Let it Cool

Let the pan cool and you should be good to go. To make it even slicker, cook with fattier foods or repeat this process. Avoid cooking delicate items such as fish, vegetables, and eggs until you have developed a well-formed patina (after 3-5 applications).

Visual FAQ and Things to Avoid

We see these questions the most when it comes to Carbon Steel. One thing we want to stress is that these Pans are almost indestructible. Carbon Steel will often look “ugly” and change colors to black, blue, brown, and even orange. This is completely normal and part of the process.

The best thing to do with this Cookware material is to continue to cook with and season your Pans. The more love you give it, the more it will love you back.

The Blue Layer Is "Coming Off"

Carbon Steel Cookware starts as a silver-hued alloy of 99% iron and 1% carbon. Before this is shaped into Cookware, we apply a thin layer of vegetable oil and then put these sheets through a high-heat baking process known as annealing. The annealing process darkens the metal into the blue you can expect our Carbon Steel Pans to arrive with, and works to protect from corrosion in transit and aids in the initial seasoning.

This blue color will change drastically over the first month of cooking. The blue will disappear or fade as the oil and fat from your cooking incorporates into your seasoning. It can also be scrubbed off or removed with acidic foods like tomatoes, wine, or citrus. This is normal and is a good reminder to re-season your pan if you start to see the silver metal of your Carbon Steel Pan.

Rust Has Developed

Problem: Not drying your pan thoroughly on the stovetop or leaving it wet after use will cause rust to develop. This can also happen naturally if you live in a more humid climate. If you notice rust, don’t worry — it can easily be fixed, since it’s a byproduct of the high iron content.

Solution: Check out the below video on removing rust or follow these steps. First, try to scrub it away with soap and water. If you find that this isn’t working, steel wool can easily remove any remaining rust.

Afterward, you’ll need to thoroughly dry and re-season your Pan. Please refer to the above-mentioned stovetop or oven seasoning methods to proceed.

The Surface Is Dried Out

A dried out surface can occur if you haven’t used your Carbon Steel Pan for an extended period of time. If you know you aren’t going to be using your Cookware, make sure to apply a thin layer of oil to the surface every now and again to keep it from drying out.

If you notice that your Cookware is dried out, refer back to either of the two seasoning methods mentioned above. You can also choose to cook naturally fattier foods, like bacon or steak, to help add some grease to the Pan. This acts as a win-win, seasoning your Pan while also providing you with delicious food.

Your Pan Is Too Oily

Too much oil in the seasoning process can cause the surface of your Pan to become sticky and splotchy. The best way to avoid this is to make sure you use a very thin layer of oil or Made In Seasoning Wax for seasoning.

After each time you cook, be sure to use a paper or kitchen towel to wipe out any excess oil or grease that has accumulated. If your Pan is too sticky, add coarse salt to the surface of your pan and use a towel to scrub it in. This will smooth out the Pan and get rid of any residue.

Your Seasoning Was Stripped by Acidic Foods

Acidic items like citrus, wine, tomatoes, and vinegar can strip away the patina that you’ve built up in your Pan. We suggest using our wide variety of Stainless Clad Cookware if what you’re cooking calls for these ingredients.

However, using acidic foods in your Carbon Steel Pan won’t ruin it beyond repair. If you do end up cooking with acidic foods and notice the seasoning strip away, don’t worry, as your Pan is still perfectly healthy and safe. You’ll just need to re-season your pan using the stovetop or oven method.

Your Pan Isn’t Ugly. It’s Beautiful.

Carbon Steel will take on a variety of colors and patterns as you begin to season and cook with your Pan. As you continue to use the Pan, these patterns can change, darken, and begin to even out.

If you feel like your Pan is “ugly”, know that this is a normal part of the process. It is important to remember that your Carbon Steel should be defined by how it cooks, rather than its appearance. If you want your pan to adopt a more uniform appearance, it would be best to cook with fattier foods to build up an even patina.

How to Clean Carbon Steel Cookware

Another frequent question we get about this Cookware material is how to clean it. Similarly to Cast Iron skillets, these Pans don’t get cleaned with soap, water, and a sponge like you may be used to. Check out our video on cleaning Carbon Steel or follow along with our steps below.

Method One: Wipe Your Pan Out

If your Carbon Steel Pan has been seasoned and used properly, then it’s actually this easy to clean your Pan. Use a paper towel or a kitchen towel to wipe out any excess oil from your Pan, and thanks to the patina it has developed, it should look as good as new in practically no time.

However, for more stubborn messes, progress to the following step.

Method Two: Coarse Salt and Oil

Add 2 tablespoons of coarse salt and 2 tablespoons of a neutral oil, like canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil, to your Pan. Using a paper or kitchen towel, rub the salt and oil around its surface.

The friction of the salt rubbing against the Pan will free up any stubborn food bits. Dump the salt, oil, and leftover food from the Pan into the sink, and wipe up any leftover residue with a clean paper or kitchen towel.

Method Three: Bring Water to a Boil

This trick is best used for any really stubborn stuck-on or burnt food that won’t come off the surface of your Pan.  Add a small amount of warm water, just enough water to cover the bottom of your Pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat.

Once the Pan has reached a boil, use a Wooden Spoon or rubber spatula to scrape at the food bits. Once all the food is free from the surface, dump the water in the sink. Return your Pan to the burner over medium heat to completely dry your pan in order to prevent rusting.

Then, apply a thin layer of canola or grapeseed oil to the surface of the pan. Let the Pan sit on the burner for one minute. Your Pan is now clean, re-seasoned, and ready for use.

Method Four: Use Steel Wool

If none of these methods have worked so far, then it’s time to break out the steel wool. We recommend gently scrubbing the areas of your Pan containing stuck food bits with steel wool to remove them.

While this can cause superficial scratches on the surface, they will fill in thanks to the patina that develops the more you season and use your Pan. Remember to re-season your Pan after this, as the steel wool will strip the seasoning.

How to Cook With Carbon Steel

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cooking with Carbon Steel.

  1. Before you even put your Pan on the stove, you should make sure your food is tempered, and as close to room temperature as possible. Putting cold food in a hot Pan may shock it and cause it to warp.
  2. Preheat your pan over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes before cooking. After your Pan has been preheated, add your oil or butter, and let that heat in the pan for 1-2 minutes. After that, you should add your food. Remember not to overcrowd the Pan, as this can lead to steaming, which will stop your food from achieving a Maillard reaction.
  3. While Carbon Steel can take heat up to 1200F, it is not necessary. Most often, you should cook over medium heat, as this will still allow you to achieve amazing sears on your steaks and other proteins.
  4. You’ll want to avoid delicate foods like fish or eggs with a freshly seasoned Carbon Steel Pan. With each use, the oil and fat from the food you cook will incorporate into your existing seasoning and help develop a slick patina. Start with proteins and food high in fat, like bacon, for the best possible stick-resistant surface.

Now you’re fully primed and ready to start cooking with, and caring for, your Carbon Steel Cookware.