Which carbon steel pans are best?
Many home cooks turn to stainless steel or nonstick pans when looking for new cookware, but they are overlooking one kitchen workhorse that professional chefs rely on in commercial kitchens across the world: carbon steel. When used properly, these pans are as slippery as the most expensive nonstick pans and are virtually indestructible.
If you are an experienced home cook who wants to level up their game, the best carbon steel pan for you is the de Buyer Mineral B Frying Pan. It offers unparalleled performance in the kitchen.
What to know before you buy a carbon steel pan
If you’ve ever seen a wok master flipping vegetables in a carbon steel wok over searing heat, you already know the potential these pans hold. Not every carbon steel pan will work for every cook. You’ll need to keep a few things in mind.
Size of the pan
As with every type of cookware, consider the size of the pan you need. If you are interested in starting with one pan, consider a 10-inch carbon steel pan. This will allow you to do most kitchen tasks without being too bulky. As you gain experience, you might extend your collection to include both larger and smaller pans.
The best way to season a carbon steel pan is by using it. Some of the best carbon steel pans need to be continually re-seasoned for the first many months of use. The more you cook with it, the better the seasoning and patina will be.
If you are the type of cook who wants to use the pan right out of the box, look for pre-seasoned carbon steel pans that require minimal additional seasoning.
Unlike carbon steel’s kin, cast iron, the sides of carbon steel pans are sloped. These sloped sides make it ideal for quick sautés. They are not as suited for deep frying or baking things like cornbread, but they are great for moving food around the pan with the flick of a wrist.
What to look for in a quality carbon steel pan
The handles of a carbon steel pan can be either welded or riveted on. Which you choose is a matter of preference, but the best carbon steel pan will have secure, sturdy handles either way.
Although you may have to season your carbon steel pan after many uses, if you prefer to use it right out of the box, look for a pre-seasoned pan. Pre-seasoned carbon steel pans are almost 100% nonstick with proper use.
No artificial seasoning
It is important that if you choose a pre-seasoned pan the seasoning is not a chemical. Look for carbon steel pans marked PTFE and PFOA-free.
Even though the walls of the carbon steel pan are generally sloped, make sure they are tall enough. This will help prevent grease from slopping over the sides, potentially causing a fire or making a mess.
How much you can expect to spend on a carbon steel pan
Carbon steel is a relatively affordable type of kitchen pan that will last a long time with proper care. Expect to spend between $40-$100.
Carbon steel pan FAQ
Is carbon steel the same thing as cast iron?
A. Carbon steel pans are very similar to cast iron pans. They both retain heat well, and they both sometimes experience uneven heating. Carbon steel pans are much lighter than cast iron, which makes them easier to use for many cooks.
Carbon steel and cast iron pans can go directly from the stove top into the oven, meaning you can put a great sear on a piece of meat and finish it off in the oven without switching pans.
Do you need to season carbon steel pans?
A. Your carbon steel pan does not come pre-seasoned, you will need to season it before your first use. The first thing you will need to do is remove the protective coating that comes on the pan. Each pan follows a different process for this, so look to your user’s manual to remove this coating. Keep your pan on the stove and use a paper towel to carefully apply a thin coating of oil to the entire pan. You can use canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil, but stay away from olive oil, shortening or flaxseed oil. Rub it in well, making sure to cover the entire pan in an even, barely perceptible layer. Remove any excessive oil.
Place your carbon steel pan in an oven preheated to the highest temperature your pan can take. Allow the oil to burn into the pan. You will know it’s working when the pan begins to smoke and you notice darker places on your pan. Repeat this process until the pan begins to darken. You will also need to re-season your pan as you notice that it begins to lose its non-stick quality.
What’s the best carbon steel pan to buy?
Top carbon steel pan
What you need to know: This is the carbon steel pan professionals reach for.
What you’ll love: It sears perfectly with no artificial ingredients or coatings. The natural beeswax finish will darken with age, creating a beautiful, natural nonstick pan. It’s available in six sizes.
What you should consider: It takes awhile to get the nonstick patina. You’ll need to cook with it frequently.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top carbon steel pan for the money
What you need to know: One of the most trusted names in cast iron is also one of the best makers of budget carbon steel pans.
What you’ll love: This carbon steel pan comes pre-seasoned in four sizes. The 12-gauge carbon steel heats evenly and retains heat better than some pans at twice the price. It can be hand-washed with soap and still keeps its non-stick properties.
What you should consider: As with cast iron, this is still pretty heavy.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: Professionals and those who love to care for their cookware will appreciate the serious results they can achieve with this pan.
What you’ll love: This pan is slightly larger at 11 inches, but it’s also available in five other sizes. It’s seasoned with natural mineral oil and free from PTFE and PFOA. It can handle serious heat.
What you should consider: Users report best results on gas ranges. It also requires more frequent re-seasoning than some other carbon steel pans.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them a lot of time and money.
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