Are carbon steel pans better than stainless steel?
Updated on April 2023
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Summary: Carbon Steel Pans Vs Stainless Steel
Carbon steel pans are better than stainless steel when you want to do stir frying, sauteing, searing and deep-frying, while stainless steel is better for foods that take longer time to cook or acidic in nature.
The main difference to note is that stainless steel is dishwasher-safe and rust-proof but carbon steel pans need serious upkeep like frequent seasoning, proper cleaning and drying to avoid rusting.
Both pans can release chemical on high heat, so it is important to use them in moderation and not regularly.
Reasons Chefs Prefer Carbon Steel Pans
Carbon steel pans are made of a combination of iron and carbon. The exact composition of the steel can vary depending on the manufacturer, but typically carbon steel pans are made of approximately 99% iron and 1% carbon. This small amount of carbon gives the steel added strength and durability, while still allowing it to be relatively lightweight and easy to handle.
Carbon Steel Works at God's Speed:
When cooking time needs to be shortened and customers are waiting, the superior heat conductivity level of carbon steel comes in handy. The durable and lightweight nature of the metal are added bonus. Clearly, for these reasons, you see chefs using carbon steel pans for searing, stir-frying, and deep frying rather than stainless steel.
A carbon steel pan is the best friend of the fire source or gas range. According to the changes in the heat source, it adapts well. So, if you want to cook stir fry on a gas range with medium heat output, a carbon steel pan is the best choice because a stainless steel pan will take a lot of time to heat up.
Reasons Home Cooks Love Carbon Steel Pans
Carbon steel pans are affordable than stainless steel pans
For a stainless steel pan that is good at heating (which it is usually not), manufacturers use an aluminum sheet sandwiched between two stainless steel sheets, give the pan a tri-ply stainless steel construction, and price them at around $90.
Whereas you can get a good quality 14-inch carbon steel pan for around $60. Some carbon steel pans even come at $40. So there is definitely a huge pricing gap.
Carbon Steel Pans can last for generations
Carbon steel pans are made to tolerate high-heat, so they are far more durable than stainless steel. The sturdiness and toughness of a carbon steel pan are primarily due to the iron and carbon content. In addition, a thick carbon steel pan will not warp or crack when heated to high temperatures. That's why buying a good carbon steel pan from a trusted brand is necessary.
Also, proper care and maintenance can help prolong the life of a carbon steel pan. This includes seasoning the pan regularly, avoiding the use of harsh detergents or abrasive sponges, and storing the pan in a dry location. With proper care, a carbon steel pan can last for many years and provide reliable and consistent cooking performance.
Carbon steel pans almost cover every cooking technique and a vast array of recipes that home cooks need on a daily basis and even for special occasions.
Versatility of the carbon steel pan is a big reason to invest in it
Here is a list of all the cooking techniques a carbon steel pan can accomplish in your kitchen.
Stir-fries: Carbon steel pans are great for stir-frying, as they heat up quickly and evenly. Also the lightweight helps you to toss and turn the stir fry.
Sear steaks and other meats: The high heat retention of carbon steel pans makes them perfect for searing meat and achieving a nice crust.
Omelets and frittatas: Carbon steel pans are excellent for cooking eggs, as they provide a non-stick surface and even heat distribution.
Roasted vegetables: You can use a carbon steel pan to roast vegetables in the oven, as the steel can handle high oven temperatures.
Pan-fried fish: Carbon steel pans are perfect for cooking fish fillets, as they can maintain the right temperature for a crispy skin and moist flesh.
Crispy potatoes: Carbon steel pans can create perfectly crispy potatoes, whether you're making hash browns, home fries, or french fries.
Flatbreads and tortillas: Carbon steel pans are ideal for making flatbreads and tortillas, as they provide an even cooking surface that promotes browning.
The Biggest Downfall of a Carbon Steel Pan: Seasoning
Seasoning a carbon steel pan is the process of adding a layer of oil to the surface of the pan and heating it to create a non-stick coating. This helps prevent food from sticking to the pan and makes it easier to clean.
To keep a carbon steel pan in good shape, seasoning is mandatory. You need to keep seasoning the pan with oil to fill the pores on your carbon steel pan and create a smooth patina so that your food glides and takes little oil. Otherwise, the carbon steel will rust over time and the food will stick, not to mention getting leached with iron.
This is the only downfall of a carbon steel pan. If you are busy and hardly want to spend time maintaining your pans, then dishwasher-safe stainless steel is your answer.
Since seasoning is hard for people who are just starting out, manufacturers have made carbon steel pans that are already seasoned. You can cook in these pans for 4-5 days until the seasoning goes away. In the meantime, you can prepare yourself for seasoning by watching some YouTube videos or reading guides online.
- reacts with heat changes fast
- highly durable
- versatile cooking experience
- need constant care
- will rust if not seasoned
- food will stick if not seasoned
Stainless Steel Pans Are Suited For these Cooks...
Stainless steel pans are a sophisticated kitchen tool that add beauty to your cooking space. But other than being beautiful, it does a lot. If you want to have a pan that is dishwasher-safe, oven-safe, and corrosion-safe, and needs less maintenance or serious upkeep, then a stainless steel pan is best suited for you.
Stainless steel is the ideal material for busy cooks who hardly have time to prepare meals, much less clean and maintain a pan. A stainless steel pan is the best choice for keeping food warm on the stove because it takes a while for it to heat up and won't cool down quickly either.
Because of their easy-to-clean bodies and highly glossy finishes, stainless steel pans are the best choice for making your kitchen look elegant. Over both high and medium heat, they perform admirably. Use medium heat more often, though, to keep them sturdy.
Downfalls of Stainless Steel Pans
Stainless steel is a type of steel alloy that has at least 10.5% chromium and varying amounts of other metals like nickel, molybdenum, and titanium.
The chromium content in stainless steel pan is what gives it its unique properties. When exposed to oxygen, the chromium forms a thin, invisible layer of chromium oxide on the surface of the steel, which helps protect it from rust, corrosion, and staining. This makes stainless steel pans highly resistant to corrosion and staining, even when exposed to acidic or salty food items.
However, one disadvantage of stainless steel is its low heating capacity. The time a stainless steel pan takes to heat up is huge, and if you simmer the heat source, then the change in temperature does not get executed fast because stainless steel is not well adjusted to temperature changes. So food will get overcooked or burned even when you don't intend it to.
Also, stainless steel pans without a nonstick coating require a lot of oil to give you a stick-free cooking experience, which is not healthy. Additionally, to make the stainless steel pans better at heat conduction, manufacturers add an aluminum sheet between two stainless sheets (tri-ply stainless steel pans) because aluminum is good at heat conduction.
But this addition makes the construction bulky and the stainless steel pan costly.
- Looks aesthetic
- PFOA free non-toxic nonstick surface
- oven safe to 400°F.
- Easy food release surface
- Easy to clean
- Dishwasher safe
- a bit heavy
- sticky without nonstick coating
- not good for stir frying, searing, or roasting
Editor at Wokware
She is an expert in the niche of kitchenware for 10 years now. She has given readers fact based, well researched, to the point answers of their valuable questions. Her goal is to simplify kitchen products and their utilities.