Is Carbon Steel Cookware Right For You?

Used worldwide for centuries in professional kitchens and many homes, carbon steel cookware sets have been becoming popular in the US market in recent years.

These pans and pots are chefs and amateur cooks’ favorite kitchen items thanks to their cooking versatility, natural non-stick characteristics and light weight.

carbon steel pan 12 inches
Carbon Steel Frying Pan – 12”
If you ever wondered if this type of cookware is right for your cooking style and needs, we hope this article helps you answer your concerns. We’ll develop the following points in detail:

What is carbon steel cookware?

Carbon steel cookware is a steel  alloy containing  between 98 and 99% iron and less than 2% of carbon.

Like cast iron but much lighter and thinner, the pans built using this material are durable,naturally nonstick after seasoning, tolerate high temperatures without melting and they are prone to oxidation.

carbon steel material
carbon steel material

Can you safely put carbon steel cookware in the oven?

Yes, the material used to build these products is highly resistant to heat. It can tolerate temperatures between 600 and 1200 Fahrenheit (315 to 650 Celsius) without any problem. Just be careful when you take the pans or pots out of the oven, they can get extremely hot and burn your hands.

Does carbon steel cookware work on an induction burners?

Induction burners only work if the material placed on the stove top is magnetic. Carbon steel pans are made of carbon and iron, both magnetic elements.All you need to do it to place your cookware on your stove and the burners will begin running right away.

Can you put carbon steel pans on a glass stove without breaking it?

Yes, they are lightweight and have a smooth surface so as long as they are placed with care you have no risk of damaging your glass.

How to clean carbon steel pans and pots

These products need special care at the time of cleaning. They tend to get rusted and or lose their non-stick coats if the proper wash and dry process is not  followed.

These pans need to be hand washed

You need to hand wash your pans with hot water right after use. Be sure to use a sponge, brush or scrub brush but avoid metallic sponges. If after use you have burn-out food stuck on the surface you can get rid of it using salt and paper towels.

It is crucial to dry your cookware right away and never store it damp.It is also highly recommended to rub some oil with a paper towel before storage to keep the seasoning healthy.

clean carbon steel
Hand wash only. Do not soak

Carbon steel cookware is not dishwasher safe

No. You should never put your carbon steel utensils in the dish washing machine. They can lose the seasoning and your food will begin to stick. They can also rust if not dried fast and thoroughly.

Is carbon steel cookware non-stick?

It is important to note that it may take some time to get the proper seasoning, and for some following the seasoning process can be somewhat complicated. Some brands sell pre-seasoned products but they are not  perfect. 

Also, if for any reason the nonstick layer gets damaged or the pan gets rusted you will need to  season it again.

About pre-seasoned pans

There are a few brands such as Lodge and Merten & Storck that offer pre-seasoned products.

According to some of these manufacturers these pans come ready to use after washing out the manufacturer protective wax. 

From my experience testing these products I know that the preseasoning these pans have is a good start but not enough to be qualified as non-stick right out of the packaging. You still need to use oil, butter or other fats for a while until the seasoning becomes fully non-stick.

Can cooking on carbon steel cookware be toxic?

Yes, for most people using them does not present any health risk. However if you or your family are very sensitive to the consumption of iron you should take some precautions. If this is your case do not use them for cooking acidic food. This material is reactive to acids and foods such as wine sauces and tomatoes can leach small doses of iron in your meal.

How durable is carbon steel cookware?

Like cast iron pans, these pans are sturdy and almost indestructible. With proper care, they can last a lifetime.If your cookware gets rusted you do not need to get rid of it. Rusted pans can be recovered back to their original condition by scrubbing the rust off with vinegar and a brush.

carbon steel pan bottom
Bottom of a carbon steel pan

Advantages & disadvantages of carbon steel cookware

Pros of carbon steel

  • This material has excellent heat distribution and heat holding power. It heats up and cools down fast.
  • Most of the brands are very affordable.
  • It offers many of the great benefits that cast iron does, weighting much less.
  • These products can be used on all stovetops, ovens, and grills, and be placed straight on open flames.
  • Due to their versatility, lightweight and durability they are popular in professional kitchens
  • When seasoned right, the surface is smooth and non-stick
  • They are easy to clean with hot water.
  • You can use metal kitchen utensils to work on your food without damaging the pan.

Cons of carbon steel

  • They need to be seasoned correctly and seasoning may require some skill level. 
  • They are not dishwasher safe.
  • They react to acidic foods such as tomatoes, wine, and lemon.
  • The handles can get extremely hot; using silicone covers is recommended.
  • They can rust if they are not dried meticulously and right away.

What can carbon steel cookware be used for?

Carbon steel does wonders for high heat cooking. If you need to sear steaks or get those fried eggs crispy this may be the cookware you want to own. It is also commonly used to prepare paellas and stir-fries.  

However, you should not limit yourself to the examples above. Like cast iron cookware, these products are extremely versatile. Because they can be  used on almost any type of cooking surface and can handle high oven temperatures the list of meals you can prepare is lengthy. 

roasting veggies on the grill using carbon steel
Roasting veggies on the grill

It’s great for searing, grilling, browning, and broiling but, as mentioned earlier, it should be used with precaution when preparing acidic food. Ingredients such as wine, tomato and lemon can rust or destroy the seasoning.

What brands produce and sell carbon steel cookware?

Some of the most popular brands that carry these cookware products are Made in, De Buyer, Lodge, Merten & Storck, Misen, Mauviel, Matfer Bourgeat, and Tramontina.

What are the best brands?

It all depends on your budget and your experience with this material. Some brands like Lodge and Marten & Storck offer good quality products at very reasonable prices. Others like Made In, Mauviel, and De Buyer claim to build high-end products that are more costly, sometimes you are asked to pay twice or more than the previous brands mentioned.

If you are a new user, you may be better off buying brands that offer good value at the beginning. Get one pan, use it to cook your favorite meal. If you find out that you love this material then buying an expensive brand may be the next step.

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