What’s the Difference Between Carbon Steel and Cast Iron?

Cast Iron is tried and true cookware but how does it compare to Carbon Steel?

  • Izzy Johnson
  • Feb 15, 2022
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At first glance, Cast Iron and Carbon Steel look fairly similar. Both are made of dark, heavy-duty metal blends that are great at conducting heat. The major differences between the two are how they are made, their cooking surface, and their weight.

Here, we will explore the similarities and differences between Cast Iron and Carbon Steel so that you have a better understanding of each pan’s strengths and weaknesses, along with what tasks they are best suited for in your kitchen.

What Is Carbon Steel?

Carbon Steel is an alloy (meaning that it is composed of two or more metallic elements) of carbon and iron. Most Carbon Steel Cookware, including ours, is composed of 99% iron and 1% carbon.

Carbon Steel has a matte, dark finish. Our Blue Carbon Steel earns its name from the annealing process that protects the pans from corrosion in transit, which both darkens the metal and lends it a blue tint.

The lightness and durability of Carbon Steel means that it’s perfect to cook with both in and outside of the kitchen.

Advantages of Carbon Steel

Carbon Steel has been used in French kitchens for generations, and is just beginning to catch on elsewhere. Here are a few reasons why Carbon Steel may be a better choice for you than Cast Iron:

  • Carbon Steel heats up significantly faster than Cast Iron.
  • Once seasoned, a smooth, non stick surface makes Carbon Steel easy to cook with.
  • Carbon Steel is more lightweight than Cast Iron, with the 12-inch Frying Pan weighing in at 4.5 pounds. A Lodge Cast Iron Skillet of the same size weighs almost 8 pounds.
  • Due to its composition, Carbon Steel is very durable and will last for years with proper care.
  • The long, stainless steel handles of our Carbon Steel Frying Pans stay cool for a longer period of time.

Considerations of Carbon Steel

There are a few things to consider when it comes to cooking with Carbon Steel, especially if you're using this cookware material for the first time.

  • Carbon Steel is susceptible to corrosion and rust, especially if exposed to water or kept in a humid environment. This won't ruin your Pan, but will require re-seasoning.
  • Because of its surface, it is not recommended that you use Carbon Steel to cook large quantities of acidic ingredients. Because the pores are shallower than Cast Iron, the seasoning is much less dense and acidic foods can strip this more easily.

What Is Cast Iron?

Contrary to its name, Cast Iron is not pure iron but is another alloy of iron and carbon. Cast Iron also contains more carbon than Carbon Steel, usually 2–3.5%. The elevated carbon content is what gives Cast Iron its signature bumpy textured surface. It also makes it more brittle—the reason that it's so thick is so it won’t break, and it is still susceptible to cracks if dropped.

Cast Iron is forged from a single piece of metal, which starts out as a liquid before being poured into a mold and fired. This means that when a Cast Iron pan heats up, all of it, including the handle, gets very hot.

Often used in traditional American cooking, you are likely to see Cast Iron skillets and griddles, as well as some specialty shapes for baking. Because of its heat retention, it's well-suited for cooking on an open fire but its weight limits its portability.

Pros of Cast Iron

As a staple of American frontier cooking, Cast Iron is a popular cookware choice for many reasons.

  • Cast Iron has high heat retention properties, meaning it can get and stay very hot for an extended period of time.
  • Cast Iron skillets can last for generations with the proper cleaning and care.

Cons of Cast Iron

There are several factors to consider when using Cast Iron pans.

  • Like Carbon Steel, Cast Iron needs to be thoroughly dried as it can easily rust.
  • A typical Cast Iron skillet weighs almost twice as much as a Carbon Steel one.
  • While it does hold heat longer than Carbon Steel, Cast Iron is slower to heat up.
  • Cast Iron skillets have shorter handles, which also hold a lot of heat.
  • It is harder to control the temperature of a Cast Iron pan, and they can be prone to hot spots or uneven cooking.
  • Despite being heavier, Cast Iron is also more brittle due to its fabrication and can break if dropped.

Which One Should I Buy?

Carbon Steel and Cast Iron Cookware can both be useful to have in your kitchen. In terms of care, they are similar—both require seasoning before their first use and neither surfaces react well to acidic ingredients. They both can be used to cook a variety of ingredients, and will last for years with proper care.

Our pick between the two is Carbon Steel. Although both can withstand high heat and can be used in or outdoors, the relative lightness of Carbon Steel gives it a significant advantage (and has long been the cookware choice for professional chefs).

There is no denying that Cast Iron is a tried and true material that many home and professional cooks have been using for generations, but when it comes to Frying Pans, Carbon Steel is the better choice based on its lightness, durability and heat conduction.

If you have room in your kitchen, there’s no reason why you can’t have some Cast Iron cookware as well, but if you’re looking for a versatile and chef-trusted Frying Pan, Carbon Steel is the way to go.

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