What’s the Difference Between Carbon Steel and Stainless Clad Cookware?

Here are the key differences between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel Cookware.

By Emily Borst
Mar 18, 2022
carbon steel frying pan with food
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If you’ve spent time in a professional kitchen or a well-stocked home, chances are you’ve seen both Carbon Steel and Stainless Clad Cookware. Adored by chefs around the world these Pans can be used to cook just about anything.

And although you may be under the impression that they're similar, their materials and uses are actually quite different. Here we break down the major differences between Carbon Steel and Stainless Clad Cookware.

What Is Carbon Steel Cookware?

First used in French kitchens, Carbon Steel Cookware is a hybrid between Cast Iron and Stainless Steel. It has the same makeup as Cast Iron (that is, carbon and iron) without the weight commonly associated with Cast Iron skillets. Our Carbon Steel is composed of 99% iron and 1% carbon.

Much like Cast Iron, most Carbon Steel Cookware needs to be seasoned prior to its first use. A non-stick coating, or patina, must be built up over time as this pan is not non stick out of the box.

Why Should I Use Carbon Steel?

Carbon Steel is beloved in kitchens around the world for a variety of reasons.

  • Durability: Since our Carbon Steel Cookware is made from a heavy-duty blend of carbon and iron, it can withstand high temperatures, making it the perfect pan for open-flame, outdoor cooking as well as indoor. This construction also means with the proper care, a Carbon Steel pan can last for generations.

  • Lightweight: Unlike its Cast Iron cousin, Carbon Steel weighs much less (by almost half). This allows for more maneuverability and comfort while cooking.

  • Temperature Response: One reason professional chefs love Carbon Steel is how quickly it responds to changes in heat. Unlike Cast Iron, you can seamlessly shift from searing a steak to lightly browning butter without worrying about anything burning.

  • Versatility: Whether you’re cooking on the stove, in the oven, or a little bit of both, Carbon Steel is up for the job as it’s oven-safe up to 1200F and is induction-compatible. You can cook just about anything in Carbon Steel once it’s been properly seasoned, but like with Cast Iron, avoid super acidic things like tomatoes as they  can strip the seasoning.  If you’re just starting out with new Carbon Steel Cookware, we recommend cooking something fatty to begin building up a non-stick coating, like bacon or fried chicken.

Carbon Steel Considerations

Much like any Cookware, there are a few considerations to keep in mind while using Carbon Steel.

  • Avoid Certain Foods: Some acidic foods, such as citrus, tomatoes, vinegar, and wine, can strip the seasoning of your Carbon Steel Cookware. This doesn’t damage your pan and just means you need to re-season or cook with fattier foods to build the seasoning back up, but it’s something to keep in mind if you regularly cook with acidic ingredients.

  • Hand Wash: Like the rest of our Cookware, we don’t recommend putting Carbon Steel in the dishwasher. Since Carbon Steel is not corrosion resistant, we recommend cleaning with water and drying completely on the stove to avoid rust. For tougher messes, check out this cleaning guide.

  • Needs Seasoning: Good things take time, like building up a slick coating on Carbon Steel Cookware. This means that you may want to wait to scramble eggs or cook flaky fish on your Carbon Steel until after it's been seasoned and has had a chance to build up a patina, although some things are just best left to Non-Stick Cookware.

What Is Stainless Clad Cookware?

Stainless Cookware, or Stainless Clad, is highly regarded for its ability to cook at high temperatures, achieve an excellent sear and sauté, and look good while doing it. Our 5-ply Stainless Clad has outstanding heat control that allows you to cook practically anything to perfection.

5-ply Cookware consists of (you guessed it) five different layers of four different metals throughout the body of the pan. This helps with even, consistent heating throughout the pan, while still responding quickly to changes in temperature. Our Stainless Clad consists of outer layers of Stainless Steel to be induction-compatible, with inner layers of aluminum to help conduct and distribute  heat.

Pros of Stainless Clad

Stainless Clad is trusted by home and professional cooks alike for many reasons.

  • Durability: Since the outer layers are made of Stainless Steel, this Cookware is extremely durable and will generally be resistant to scratches, dents, rust, and other damage you may incur while cooking.

  • Design: Our Stainless Clad Cookware features many design characteristics that make it comfortable and easy to use, including a Stay-Cool handle and lightweight construction. Our Stainless Clad is also induction-compatible.

  • Temperature Control: Stainless Steel offers incredible heat responsiveness and retention. This means that it reacts to temperature changes quickly without burning any ingredients, while temperature remains consistent across the pan (no surprise hot spots here).

  • Versatility: Our Stainless Clad is oven-safe up to 800F, meaning you can seamlessly transition from cooking on the stovetop to finishing in the oven. Stainless Clad Cookware can be used to cook just about anything, from perfectly-seared steaks to risotto.

Considerations of Stainless Clad

While Stainless Clad has more than its fair share of reasons to use it in the kitchen, there are a few things to keep in mind when you reach for Stainless Clad Cookware.

  • Care: Since Stainless Clad Cookware doesn’t have a coating or patina to create a slick surface, it requires a certain technique to get and keep it clean. Soap and water, Barkeepers Friend, or our Make It New Cleaner are all recommended techniques to get your Stainless Clad sparkling after use—just be sure to keep it out of the dishwasher. You can also use distilled vinegar and baking soda for tough messes. While corrosion resistant, Stainless Clad can rust when cleaned with especially abrasive cleaners, like bleach, so be sure to use gentle cleansers only.

  • Surface: Stainless Clad Cookware does not have a non-stick coating , which can prove to be tricky when cooking more delicate foods, like eggs. You can do it, but you’re going to need a lot of oil or butter.

  • Weight:  Stainless Clad Cookware can tend to lean on the heavier side, especially when it has a 5-ply construction. While this doesn’t prevent it from performing well in the kitchen, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re used to lighter aluminum cookware.

Should I Buy Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel Cookware?

If you’re deciding between Carbon Steel or Stainless Clad Cookware, we recommend thinking of them not as competitors but as complements. They both retain heat and respond to temperature well, can be used on the stovetop or in the oven, are induction-compatible, and have versatile uses.

We recommend treating these two types of Cookware as building blocks of your Cookware collection and not interchangeably. With both Carbon Steel and Stainless Clad at your disposal in your professional or home kitchen, you’ll be unstoppable.