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Are you in the market for a new set of cookware? If so, you might want to keep reading to learn a little about an option with which you might not yet be familiar. I’m talking about carbon or “black” steel cookware.
Similar to cast iron, carbon steel is comprised of both iron and carbon. It has similar qualities to cast but with enough minor differences that it might be a more appealing option to you if you are looking for something a bit lighter and faster reacting to differences in temperature.
The most obvious difference between carbon steel and cast iron is weight. If you have ever had to pick up a cast iron Dutch oven, you know just how heavy this material is. The skillets are not too much lighter, for that matter.
The reason for the heavy weight is that iron is pretty brittle, so they have to use more of it to make it durable. Carbon doesn’t have that issue, though, so most pans made from this metal are significantly lighter.
There are a couple of different weights available, though. Carbon steel cookware is available in 2mm or 3mm. 3mm is heavier and closer to the weight of iron.
The thickness also makes a difference in a couple of other areas. The thickness is what helps cast iron to have such even cooking, so carbon steel is not quite as good in that department.
On the flip side, the thinner material of the carbon steel means it heats up faster.
Additionally, due to this same reason, steel is much more responsive to changes in temperature. If you’re cooking in a iron pan and realize you have the heat a little high, it will take a good bit of time, relatively speaking, for the skillet itself to cool down to the temperature you need.
This is not an issue with a thinner product with less mass that will retain heat. Also, both of these types of material work very well on the newer induction stoves that have recently became very popular.
The final really noticeable difference is in appearance. Everyone is familiar with the chunky, rough look of cast. Carbon steel is on the opposite end of the scale, being sleek and smooth and, at least when you first get it, nice and shiny.
With use, it with blacken, especially on the inside where you layer of seasoning builds up.
Both types of frying pan need to be seasoned before the first use. With appropriate seasoning, both these types of cookware become as nonstick as any Teflon coated pan out there and are safer to boot.
I have heard that it takes longer to build up the right level of seasoning on a cast vessel than on carbon, but, not having witnessed this firsthand myself, I can’t really verify the veracity of that.
Some cooking forums I frequent also led me to some reviews of both these products that argue that, while it may take a little longer to get the cast as nonstick as a carbon product, the seasoning lasts better in the iron.
So, there are pros and cons to using carbon steel, but, overall, it’s a pretty good option that you may not even have considered.
It’s especially good for woks and crepe pans, since you really need the better temperature control that carbon steel affords, and, if the heftiness of cast is an issue for you, it’s the best for a skillet that you’ll be using for higher temperatures.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that neither iron nor steel should be used to cook with anything acidic, like tomato sauce or wine, as these will react with the pan and give your food a metallic taste.
Who are the Makers?
If you think you might be in the market for some carbon steel to add to your kitchen, you may be wondering which manufacturer is the best for you.
Well, the answer may surprise you.
Unlike some other types of cookware (I’m thinking here of stainless steel, where the difference in quality, as well in price, in the options is pretty substantial), carbon steel is carbon steel. They are all made the exact same way.
It’s going to come down to reputation or price point.
It seems like all the top-quality gastronomic paraphernalia always comes from France. I guess that’s appropriate for a country known for its food. The French love affair with food goes back centuries, so it’s no surprise that they would make some of the best cookware in the world.
This holds true if you’re looking to invest in some really nice, made to last for life carbon steel cooking vessels, and there are a few different brands that really hit the mark for me.
For reputation, you really can’t beat the de Buyer brand. This world-renowned French manufacturer has been making top-notch cookware since 1830 and is a staple in many professional kitchens.
It seems like every serious cook I know has at least one de Buyer pan in their kitchen, and for good reason.
They cook eggs like a dream, make amazing grilled cheeses, sear steaks to perfection, and even make a copper pan that can be used on induction (a feat previously unheard of); I could go on and on! You see, de Buyer found out a little secret that is the reason I think they make the best carbon steel products out there.
They started coating their cookware with beeswax, which not only helps to protect against oxidization but also helps to assist in seasoning. Amazing, huh?
So, if I was going to insist that you pick a certain pan to go buy right now, I would say buy a de Buyer Mineral B 12.6” frying pan. It won’t break the bank, and you’ll be well on your way to having a set of cookware that you can be proud of. As of the last update to this article, it has over 330 reviews on Amazon.com with consistently high marks in regards to its quality and heavy duty construction.
However, just because I am a little biased when it comes to de Buyer, there are actually a couple of other French brands that are (almost) as good. Mauviel, who has also been around since 1830, is a renowned copper cookware manufacturer who recently started producing a carbon steel line that’s getting rave reviews.
You can find a Mauviel M’steel 12.5” frying pan on Amazon for a price that’s comparable to the de Buyer.
Lastly, we have Matfer Bourgeat, who has been in the business since 1814. Their carbon steel line is also impressive, and you can get their 11” frying pan through Amazon.
These French-made examples are all comparable in price. Though you can get a slightly larger pan from de Buyer for this amount, any of these is a great option.
To be fair, I want to list two other brands on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to price. My beloved Lodge, maker of my two cast iron skillets and my huge Dutch oven, also has a carbon steel line now that comes pre-seasoned.
It’s a little more budget-friendly, and positive reviews from customers on Amazon.com, this may put this pan into serious contention if you want to try out this type of cookware without overspending.
I do know that their carbon steel is more similar to cast iron in appearance than any of the other products I’ve ever seen, so I guess that would account for the pretty substantial price difference. The fact that it is made in the USA is another plus.
Another lower-end option comes from Paderno, which I only include because it’s manufactured on Prince Edward Island, home of Anne of Green Gables. (The book-lover in me insisted upon it!) Canada’s only cookware manufacturer, Paderno has been crafting excellently-rated products since 1979 (everything in North America is always so much younger than its European counterparts!), and I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.
Their 11” frying pan is also affordable, and with many positive reviews from verified customers on Amazon.com, the Paderno closely matches the Lodge offering. These are also available in smaller sizes and one bigger size at 12.5″.
And there you have it. Carbon steel really is a great option for the kitchen, and it may not have even been on your radar before now.
About Ashley Martell
Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.