Carbon steel is one of the most versatile materials of cookware you can have in the kitchen. Often described as a hybrid between cast iron and stainless steel, having carbon steel cookware in your kitchen will unlock so many meals. And while this description is accurate, carbon steel is truly unique. Known for its prevalence in professional kitchens and being born in France, carbon steel cookware is quickly becoming more and more popular in home kitchens. Continue reading to find out what makes carbon steel pans a must-have in your kitchen.
Why Carbon Steel?
If you’ve never cooked with carbon steel before, then you may be wondering why you need a new pan in your arsenal. In terms of carbon steel cookware pros and cons, carbon steel cookware can get up to 1200F, is lightweight, responds to changes in temperature extremely quickly, and is perfect for all types of outdoor cooking. But, is carbon steel safe? The answer is obviously yes! Carbon steel is one of the safest types of cooking surfaces and provides versatility in the kitchen.
So, what is carbon steel exactly? One of the main distinguishing features of carbon steel is its weight. Similar to cast iron cookware, carbon steel is made of carbon and iron, yet carbon steel’s percentage of iron to carbon makes it more durable and lighter than cast iron.
Our carbon steel cookware is made of 99% iron and 1% carbon, while cast iron usually has a 2-4% carbon composition. This difference makes carbon steel light and more indestructible. For reference, our 12” carbon steel frying pan weighs 4.5 pounds, while a Lodge cast iron frying pan weighs 7.89 pounds.
Similar to cast iron, plain carbon steel needs to be seasoned, as well. Finding the best oil for seasoning carbon steel will be vital in maintaining your pan. Seasoning is coating your pan with a thin layer of oil, which has various benefits. First, the seasoning will give your pan a smooth surface, which over time will lead to non stick characteristics. Second, the seasoning serves as a protective coating, helping your pan with rust and corrosion resistance.
To season a carbon steel skillet, you need to wash it when it arrives to get rid of any residue on your pan. The residue is a vegetable oil applied to prevent corrosion, so any left on the pan’s surface will contribute to the initial seasoning. After you wash it with soap and water, dry it over low heat, allowing excess moisture to evaporate off the pan. Next, increase the temperature to medium-low, and using a paper towel or dish towel, apply a very thin layer of a high-smoke point oil of Made In Seasoning Wax to the entire surface of the pan. If there is any excess oil, be sure to wipe it off the pan. Next, place the pan upside down in a 450°F oven with a sheet pan lined with foil on the bottom to catch any oil drippings. Bake your pan for an hour and then turn the oven off and let the pan cool in the oven until it is safe to handle.
This is the first step in ensuring your pan is well-seasoned. Your pan is not non stick! In order to build up more seasoning and make your pan slicker, you should continue to season it by using the above method or cooking fattier foods.
The seasoning capabilities of carbon steel combined with its lightweight and how indestructible make it such a unique piece of cookware.
Cooking with Carbon Steel
There’s a reason carbon steel is trusted in professional kitchens around the world. First, the structural steel can get extremely hot and has high strength, so you don’t have to worry about placing it in the oven, using it directly over a fire, or in a brick oven.
Second, it responds to changes in heat very quickly. Have you ever been cooking and needed to turn the pan from high to medium, but it took too long, and your food burned? No need to worry about that with carbon steel. Carbon steel cookware responds to changes in temperature exceptionally well, so you can go from searing a steak to just lightly browning your butter to baste.
Lastly, carbon steel’s smooth, slick surface makes it a delight to use in the kitchen. While it may take some time to achieve a non stick surface, once your pan reaches that level of smoothness, it is incredibly versatile. You can achieve perfect sears on your food, cook eggs or fish, or sauté vegetables with ease.
There are some things to note when cooking with carbon steel. The first thing to do is to be patient. You should not dive into scrambling eggs or cooking fish. Instead, start by cooking naturally fattier foods like steak, bacon, or even frying food like chicken cutlets, wings, or making french fries.
Acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar, wine, and citrus can strip the seasoning from your pan. If this happens, it is entirely okay! All you’d need to do is re-season your pan by cooking with fattier foods or following the steps outlined above.
Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel and Cast Iron
Carbon steel is most commonly compared to cast iron and stainless steel cookware. So let’s dive into the similarities and differences between these metal materials.
Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel
Carbon steel and stainless steel are perfect complements for one another. Stainless steel, or stainless clad cookware, is oven safe up to 800°F, while carbon steel can withstand temperatures up to 1200°F. Both respond to changes in temperature well, retain their heat extremely well, and are used in professional kitchens. If you’re beginning your collection, carbon steel and stainless clad are great building blocks.
Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron Pans
Carbon steel vs. cast iron is the most common comparison. Both require seasoning and are known for high heat cooking. A cast iron pan can get really hot, but you risk damaging the seasoning once it goes above 500°F. Carbon steel cookware is safe up to 1200°F and runs no risk of damaging the seasoning.
Carbon steel is also a lot lighter than cast iron. A 12” carbon steel skillet can weigh up to 3 pounds lighter than a 12” cast iron skillet. This means that it is a lot harder to regulate the temperature of cast iron than with carbon steel. Both cast iron pans and carbon steel can get super hot, but it is a lot harder to control cast iron’s temperature. On the other hand, carbon steel cookware responds to changes in heat incredibly quickly, making it a pleasure to cook with.
Cleaning Carbon Steel
Carbon steel cookware can often be cleaned with a swipe of a paper towel. However, sometimes food can stick and be a bit stubborn. In this case, you can either apply a layer of kosher salt and some oil to the pan and scrub or bring a small bit of water to a boil over medium heat and then scrape the stuck-on food bits until they’re loose. Next, dump the water out and return it to a burner on low heat to eliminate any excess moisture and apply a thin layer of oil onto the surface. That’s it!
When cooking with carbon steel, there are so many benefits and amazing opportunities to cook great food. Whether it’s a wok, pizza steel, frying pan, or roasting pan, carbon steel cookware is a must-have in your kitchen.