Carbon Steel vs. Non Stick Cookware: 8 Differences

Here are the 8 key differences between Carbon Steel and Non Stick Cookware.

  • Emily Borst
  • Mar 17, 2022
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Carbon Steel is beloved in professional kitchens in France and has recently made its way into home kitchens in the USA, while Non Stick Cookware is a popular choice of cookware for home cooks all around the world. Together, these two types of cookware are the perfect duo for any home cook.

Let’s start by saying upfront, we’re firm believers that both of these materials should be in your kitchen. If you need help making this decision, don’t worry. Here’s everything you need to know about how Carbon Steel and Non Stick Cookware are similar and how they’re different.

1. Material

Carbon Steel Cookware is made from 99% iron and 1% carbon and is thought of as a hybrid between Stainless Steel and Cast Iron Cookware. Non Stick Cookware is usually constructed from Stainless Steel, and features either a ceramic or PTFE coating on the pan’s surface that keeps food from sticking.

The best Non Stick Cookware features a 5-Ply body and a PTFE coating. The 5-Ply body aids in retaining heat and responding to temperature changes, while the PTFE coating provides a longest-lasting non stick surface that is safe to cook with.

2. Cooking Surface

Both Carbon Steel and Non Stick Cookware have a layer on their surfaces that make for a smoother cooking experience.

Carbon Steel’s layer is its seasoning, which must be applied to every new Pan. This seasoning provides a smooth surface for your food and builds up a slick layer, or patina, over time. This layer of protection on the Pan also helps keep moisture from penetrating the metal, which may cause it to rust.

Non Stick Cookware comes out of the box with its coating intact. The best coating for Non Stick is PTFE. It lasts 70x longer than Ceramic Cookware, is entirely non-toxic, and is the longest-lasting surface Non Stick has to offer. You can even use it to cook without oil.

3. Price

Pricing for both of these pieces can vary depending on the quality, but generally, Non Stick Cookware is more expensive than Carbon Steel Cookware due to the extra material required to make the Pan. Both Carbon Steel and Non Stick Cookware feature an alloy, or blend, of metals, but Non Stick Cookware’s coating is an extra cost to manufacture the Pan.

Our Carbon Steel Frying Pans range from $69 for an 8-Inch Frying Pan to $95 for a 12-Inch Frying Pan. Our Non Stick Frying Pans  range from $89 for an 8-Inch Frying to $119 for a 12-Inch Frying Pan.

4. Care

It’s quite easy to clean and care for both of these Pans. We do not recommend putting any of our Cookware in the dishwasher. Harsh cleaners can damage their surfaces and it’s also easy for them to get scratched or dented by other things. Before you attempt to clean either Pan, make sure it is fully cooled and you have removed as much food as possible.

There are three steps to cleaning your Carbon Steel Cookware, according to the level of mess left in your Pan. If you can, simply wipe out the Pan with a paper towel. If  stuck on food bits remain, sprinkle a tablespoon each of neutral oil and kosher salt and scrub at the residue with a paper towel.

If all else fails, get water involved—somewhat of a last resort for Carbon Steel. Fill your Pan with water so the bottom is covered. Place over medium heat and bring the water to a boil, then scrape at the stuck-on food bits with a Wooden Spoon. Once released, dump the water, dry it very well first with a towel, then on the stove at low heat, and rub the surface with a thin layer of neutral oil.

If you have high-quality Non Stick Cookware, all you need is some non -abrasive cleaner and the soft side of the sponge, which will clean your pan in a matter of seconds.

5. Durability

Carbon Steel Cookware is nearly indestructible, regardless of how you beat it up. No matter if you rust it by accident, put a nick on the surface, or make your best attempt at cooking an omelet, there’s almost always a way to fix it. You can clean the rust off of a pan with some vinegar and water, a nick on the surface of the pan will fill in with seasoning, and you can clean even the biggest of messes fairly easily too.

The idea that Non Stick Cookware only lasts for a few months is a myth. While Non Stick Cookware is not as durable as Carbon Steel, it can definitely last for years, provided you care for it properly. You should wash it by hand, avoid cooking with metal utensils,  and remember that it’s only oven safe up to 500F. If you’re looking for the ideal stove-to-oven braising vessel, our Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven is your best bet.

6. What You Can Cook

Carbon Steel Cookware is a wonderful tool for searing proteins and charring vegetables at high temperatures. It is safe to use up to 1200F and is just as impactful on a gas stovetop as it is over an open fire, plus it’s induction-compatible as well.

Non Stick Cookware is perfect for cooking delicate foods such as fish and eggs, as well as sautéeing vegetables. While it can sear proteins, such as steak or salmon, Carbon Steel is better suited to this task.

7. Versatility

Both Carbon Steel and Non Stick Cookware are versatile, yet have some restrictions on what to cook in them.

Acidic foods like citrus, wine, vinegar, and tomatoes can strip the seasoning on your Carbon Steel Cookware, but you can always re-season your pan if this happens.

You can cook anything on Non Stick Cookware, just be sure to always preheat your Non Stick Pots or Pans with food or oil in them. The only restriction with Non Stick Cookware is the cooking temperature, as Non Stick Cookware is not safe above 500F.

8. Heat Conductivity

Carbon Steel is a great conductor of heat, can get extremely hot, and responds to changes in temperature very quickly. While it can handle high heat,  it is by no means necessary to cook that aggressively all the time. In fact, you’ll achieve perfect sears and chars over medium heat.

The heat conductivity of Non Stick Cookware depends on its construction. If it is made of aluminum, it’ll conduct heat well, but will not be durable. The best Non Stick Pan for heat conduction is one with a 5-Ply construction, as it can respond to changes in temperature quickly and efficiently.

Which One Should I Buy?

Carbon Steel and Non Stick Cookware are the perfect complement to one another. Both deserve to be in your kitchen, especially since they excel at different tasks.

For high-heat cooking such as searing steak and charring vegetables, turn to Carbon Steel Cookware. It’s nearly indestructible and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes like a Wok, Pizza Steel, and Roasting Pan.

For delicate cooking such as scrambling eggs or searing fish, turn to Non Stick Cookware. The PTFE coating is extremely durable and long-lasting, and features the best non-stick surface on the market.

Both of these Pans have a place in your kitchen, and can help you build up an arsenal of Cookware perfect for crafting any meal.

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