What is carbon steel cookware?

Have you eaten at one of those trendy restaurants where you can see into the kitchen? Chances are, you’ve seen a stack of carbon steel pans.

I like to think of carbon steel as the love child between cast iron and stainless steel. They aren’t as heavy as cast iron and they have a handle that stays cooler than the cooking surface. (The handles can still get pretty hot though, so be careful.) But like cast iron, you need to season them.

carbon steel pans

Why carbon steel?

Carbon steel is thinner than cast iron so it heats up and cools down quicker. This quick heating makes them great for searing meats, stir-frying, making sauces and making quick pancakes for your weekend brunch.

A properly cared for seasoning gets better over time and helps the pan become less sticky. (Note: I’m not saying “non-stick” because even though a really well seasoned pan boasts the easy release of food, it is not a non-stick surface product.)

Check out my post on seasoning care for tips on cleaning and maintaining your seasoning. TL:DR? Avoid tomatoes, don’t use soap and keep it dry.

Carbon fry CU

Cooking with carbon steel

In addition to being widely used in restaurants, carbon steel is the choice material for woks and crepe pans. If you like to stir-fry or make crepes, definitely go for a carbon steel pan. You might think, “But I love the idea of a non-stick wok.” Non-stick isn’t meant to be used on higher heats. For a true stir-fry, you want to get the pan hot and cook fast while stirring.

Just like with cast iron, you want to avoid using high heat (let’s say 9 out of 10 or MAX on your stove). Because these pans have built-up layers of oil (seasoning), the high heat will make the seasoning smoke and possibly even ignite.

The idea of seasoning intimidates some people. It’s not scary, just different. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite convenient.

If you live in a “dishwasher only” household, these probably aren’t the pans for you.

Light-weight carbon steel, with its added benefit of seasoning, is definitely worth a fry. I mean, “try.”

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