If you find yourself in the kitchen of nearly any high-end restaurant in the world you are bound to find two things, angry European chefs and carbon steel pans.
Cooking on carbon steel has been taking the world by storm in recent years.
This is primarily because carbon steel pans take the best qualities from both cast iron and stainless steel and seamlessly implement the two in a beautiful combination ideal for any kitchen in almost any circumstance!
That sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? A pan that is durable retains heat, and sears like cast iron yet is lightweight and easy to maneuver.
Maybe you’re thinking: that must be too good to be true…
Well, do we have good news for you! It actually isn’t too good to be true, and here in this article, we want to shed some light on the top 5 reasons why carbon steel pans are a MUST in your kitchen as well as reveal a few nuances about these pans that you will want to know!
Let’s get started!
You may or may not be aware but your nonstick pan might not be as safe as you thought.
If you have had your nonstick pan since before 2015, there is a good chance that the nonstick coating contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
PFOA has been shown to cause cancer, low birth weight, and a suppressed immune system in laboratory animals exposed to high doses of PFOA.
The PFOA chemical among other chemicals can be ingested when the nonstick coating on your pan either chips and is mixed in with the food or is heated to high temperatures.
If the pan is chipped, not only will this cause the nonstick coating to not function properly, but the chemical can mix in with the food potentially causing harm.
In addition, if you use your nonstick pan at a high heat (500 degrees or above) the chemical compound can begin to break down and be released into the air!
While none of this is meant to scare you, it is important to know of the potential risks. These dangers aren’t particularly common, but they are real, and exercising caution is always important!
The good news is carbon steel cookware can develop those same nonstick qualities without any chemical nonstick coating through the technique of seasoning.
Seasoning is the process of treating your pan with heat and oil which will develop a natural and safe nonstick finish.
Rubbing oil on your pan creates a stick-resistant coating formed from polymerized oil which fills the small pores of the pan’s surface.
SEASONING CARBON STEEL
With use and seasoning, carbon steel pans can develop a nonstick surface as good as those that come standard in a nonstick pan but without the potential dangers.
This means that the more you use your carbon steel pan, the more “nonstick” the surface will become making this a safer alternative to chemically treated pans!
What do the Eiffel Tower, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Empire State Building all have in common?
They are all made of steel, they are all nearly 100 years old or older and no one would be surprised if they survived another several hundred years or more!
And why is this? This is because the alloy they are made of, steel, is among the strongest and most durable substances that we have on this planet.
Steel, which is iron and carbon that has been treated to remove impurities, is specifically manufactured to endure and withstand the test of time.
According to Sciencing.com, “carbon steel has a yield strength of 260 megapascals (Mpa) and a tensile strength of 580 Mpa. It scores about 6.0 on the Mohs scale and is highly impact resistant.”
All of this is just to say that a carbon steel pan will most likely, barring some extreme mistreatment, outlive you and be passed down to your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.
That’s a pretty good investment if you ask me!
3. HEAT RETENTION AND TOLERANCE
Have you ever heard the phrase: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?
Another benefit of carbon steel cookware is that it can in fact stand the heat.
In other words, it can handle extremely high temperatures for long periods of time.
This superior heat tolerance is why most high-end restaurants keep several carbon steel pans on hand. Chefs can leave them on their burners for extended periods without worry.
How much heat can carbon steel cookware tolerate?
Most carbon steel pans can handle up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, but some can go even higher.
The high heat tolerance of carbon steel is especially useful when cooking burgers and steaks and other meats that require intense heat to get a good sear.
You can crank the heat up on the stove, oven, broiler, or grill without damaging your pan!
Compare this to your nonstick pan and there really isn’t any more to discuss!
Bottom line is that these pans can handle the heat and won’t be damaged by delayed exposure to higher temperatures.
Now for a quick and shameless plug for our very own carbon steel pan: The CrepePro!
The CrepePro which is made of the same durable, heat tolerant, and versatile material that we have been talking about is a fantastic, fairly large, and entirely flat pan ranging in size from 12”-14” in diameter.
This pan was designed specifically for making large French-style crepes but like other carbon steel pans, is extremely versatile and also works very well for a number of other favorites such as French toast, tortillas, pancakes, grilled cheese, etc.
Thanks to its high heat tolerance it can even be safely put into the oven to be used as a pizza stone or baking steel!
What are you waiting for? Snag your one-of-a-kind carbon steel CrepePro and use the code CARBONSTEEL15 to get 15% off of your order!
Now back to the article…
Everyone has had that annoying moment of trying to get out a specific pan that is buried under a mountain of other pots and pans.
You have to pull out each of the pans on top, one of them somehow always falls and wakes up your sleeping baby, then you have to grab the pan you want and try to put all of the other pans back in.
That may be a little over-exaggerated but you know exactly what we are talking about and it is so inconvenient!
Carbon steel pans can help reduce the clutter in your kitchen by eliminating the need for so many other pans.
These versatile pans can just about do it all!
Whether you’re scrambling eggs, grilling steaks, stir-frying vegetables, roasted chicken, or even making crepes ? you can get it done with carbon steel.
You can use it for nearly every cooking method, including searing, browning, sautéing, broiling, braising, and even baking.
The versatility of these pans comes from being able to heat up quickly, retain and tolerate heat well, as well as the natural nonstick finish.
If that scenario we described above about having too many pots and pans cluttering your kitchen sounds a little too much like you, then it might just be time for an upgrade to a do-it-all carbon steel pan.
5. COMPATIBLE WITH ALL HEAT SOURCES
In addition to being extremely versatile with the foods that you can cook on carbon steel, it is also versatile with the different heating sources that you can use with a carbon steel pan.
No matter what kind of heat source you’re using—stove, grill, broiler, oven, or even a campfire—carbon steel cookware is adaptable.
Also, carbon steel cookware is compatible with every type of cooktop, including gas, electric, and induction.
Induction cooktops only produce heat when they come in contact with magnetic metals.
Fortunately, carbon steel is a ferromagnetic material, which makes it compatible with induction cooktops.
We also love that these pans can be transitioned and used in the oven.
Unlike a nonstick pan which you would never want to use in an oven, these pans thrive in the oven making them ideal for pot pies, oven-roasted meats, and veggies, and for baking bread or other pastries!
You can even use these pans right over a fire or on a portable burner to enjoy your meal out in nature.
So whether you enjoy cooking on an induction or gas stovetop, over an open flame or in the oven, a carbon steel pan will work great for you!
NUANCES OF CARBON STEEL
As the saying goes, “all good things require work” and it is the same with carbon steel cookware.
These workhorse pans might be the only pan you need but they do require some tender love and care to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
Here are a few things to note about maintaining these pans.
1. SUSCEPTIBLE TO RUST AND DISCOLORATION
Many times you will receive your carbon steel pans in a beautiful silver color, but don’t fall in love with that color because it likely will not last.
As these pans are seasoned through heat and oil creating that nonstick surface the pans will begin to discolor and darken.
It is not uncommon to see a rainbow of blue, black, brown, and even yellow on your pan but over time, the pan will develop the black patina that you see in professional kitchens.
This isn’t a bad thing and you didn’t do anything wrong… in fact the darker the pan usually the better nonstick the surface will be.
Carbon steel, like cast iron, is also susceptible to rust with prolonged exposure to water.
When washing these pans you will need to make sure to hand wash only and thoroughly dry afterward. It is even recommended to apply a coat of oil with a paper towel following washing with water.
These pans are not dishwasher safe for this reason and must be hand washed and dried. It is generally not recommended to clean these pans with soap as well, as that can damage the seasoning.
Unlike some pans, carbon steel may not win any beauty contests but that isn’t their purpose.
Carbon steel pans are meant to be the do-it-all workhorse pan in your kitchen so some bumps and bruises along the way are to be expected.
Despite this, their functionality and versatility make them essential in any kitchen!
2. CARBON STEEL PANS REQUIRE SEASONING
As we have talked about, carbon steel cookware doesn’t come right out of the box ready to cook. They first need to be seasoned to develop that nice nonstick surface that we have been talking about.
Luckily seasoning a pan isn’t too difficult and only needs to be done once! Just follow these steps.
- Put your carbon steel product over medium-high heat until it gets hot.
- Add a little bit of vegetable oil or lard to the pan. Spread it around with tongs and a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Once coated, turn the heat to high and continue to rub the pan with the oil and the rag, adding more oil as needed.
- Continue this process for at least 3-5 minutes, understanding that the longer and more thorough you are the better results you will have with your pan right away.
- Remove the pan from the heat, wipe away excess oil and let the carbon steel cookware cool.
- Once cooled, wipe with a dry paper towel and begin to cook!
3. CARBON STEEL PANS CAN HAVE HOT HANDLES
Be careful! Carbon steel pans are prone to have hot handles.
The best way to avoid a nasty burn is to wear oven mitts while cooking or using some other type of potholder if you are planning to hold the handle or move and adjust the pan.
Carbon steel pans will make a great addition to your kitchen!
These are durable, safe pans that will outlast all others and can be used in virtually any situation.
They may require some additional love and care to make sure they are properly maintained but they will prove to be a treasure for you and the generations after you for years and years to come!