If you’re looking for the best carbon steel pans on the market – it speaks volumes about you as an individual. For example, it tells me that you know the difference between quality cookware and the run of the mill variety. It tells me that you take pride in the dishes you create.
You might be a chef by profession – or a skilled home cook. Maybe you are someone who simply enjoys preparing tasty meals for your family. At any rate – it’s pretty clear to us that you’re a serious foodie. And that’s a beautiful thing. You probably wouldn’t be shopping for the best carbon steel pans if you – or the person you’re shopping for – were anything less.
What Makes Carbon Steel Pans So Appealing?
A quality carbon steel pan can last for generations if properly used and cared for. It’s not the kind of kitchen cookware that somebody who is constantly in a rush would be interested in. That’s because it takes time to prepare and to create that rich patina in the bottom of the pan. And it’s this patina that gives your pan its nonstick quality while enhancing the flavors of the food inside.
Carbon steel pans are a favorite of professional chefs and restaurant kitchens everywhere. After all, they’re very durable and suit a wide variety of applications. They also contribute to the taste of restaurant quality food from a reputable establishment.
Table of Contents
- What Makes Carbon Steel Pans So Appealing?
- Similar To Cast Iron in Some Ways
- Multifunctional Pans
- Reasonable Price – Excellent Long Term Value
- It Takes Time and Effort
- Seasoning Makes The Difference
- Not For Everyone
- Quick To Heat Up
- How Are Carbon Steel Pans Made?
- Use On Any Stovetop
- How To Get the Most Out of Your Carbon Steel Pans
- Our Picks – the 4 Best Carbon Steel Pans Available Today
- The Verdict
Similar To Cast Iron in Some Ways
Both carbon steel cookware and cast-iron are generally affordable, durable and build up nonstick properties over time when they are effectively seasoned.
Carbon steel pans have some weight to them (cast iron is significantly heavier though) and you have to properly season them. That’s how you build up a rich patina. It also means that you need to handle them with a certain amount of care. If you do that – you should get many years of service out of your carbon steel cookware.
Since carbon steel pans weigh less than cast iron, they are easier to maneuver in the kitchen and are more heat responsive. These also require less strength to handle. They can be used with very little time required for preheating. And any cook can shake these pans to toss the ingredients with little effort. Carbon steel pans are the number one choice of restaurants due to their durability, versatility and functionality.
All in all, carbon steel cookware offers great value and a variety of applications. You can use them for making cooking processes – and on any type of stove. You can sear, sauté, and pan-fry. These pans can also be used inside the oven for dishes that can be baked, roasted or broiled.
The best carbon steel pans are durable and can become remarkably nonstick when you take the time to build up the layers of seasoning as you continue to use your cookware.
Reasonable Price – Excellent Long Term Value
It’s a little more expensive than buying Teflon or ceramic-coated nonstick pans. But those ones are basically disposable. They simply don’t have the longevity of a quality carbon steel pan. Carbon Steel cookware is a little more expensive than non-stick at the time of purchase. But when you factor in how much use you are likely to get from the best carbon steel pans on the market – they really become an indispensible kitchen tools. Over the long haul, the value of carbon steel far exceeds that of any nonstick pan.
Where carbon steel is different from cast-iron is that it’s quite a bit lighter – though it still has some heft to it – noticeably more than those lighter nonstick pans.
It Takes Time and Effort
The nonstick capability of your carbon steel pans can be impressive. But it usually does take time and work to get there. First, you must establish a multi-layered build up of oil that bonds to the steel when heated. That’s how you create a nice and slick patina. But it’s not a one-time thing. You need to maintain that smooth surface and that requires proper cleaning and regular seasoning. In fact, it can require consistent upkeep for the life of the pan.
When it’s done the right way, achieve a nonstick surface that contains no chemicals whatsoever. And your pan won’t need to be replaced regularly – as is typically the case with nonstick cookware.
Seasoning Makes The Difference
Before you use even the best carbon steel pans – you need to properly season them. There are certain steps that need to be taken. First you clean the pan and then you season it several times before cooking any food. Once you start using your pans, you’ll need to care for them properly, or they will develop rust spots. If that happens, you will need to scrub away the rust and restart the seasoning process all over again.
When you use your pan and care for it properly – you’ll get good results. But if you treat it like any old pan, you won’t likely be very happy with the results.
Seasoning (that protective layer of baked on oil that forms on bottom of the pan) is the key to getting the most out of your carbon steel pans. Not only does it protect against rust, but it builds up at coating that gives your kitchen cookware virtual “nonstick” properties. As you continue cooking on it, that layer gets thicker and more durable. So the protective coating is even more effective over time.
As your carbon steel pans develop a rich patina, you’ll find that the nonstick properties and enhanced flavor it contributes to whatever you’re cooking, makes the time and effort worth your while.
Not For Everyone
Some people steer clear of carbon steel pans simply because they quickly look used and well-warn – even after cooking with them once or twice. You don’t buy these pans to show them off to others – the way you might some of colorful cookware you can buy today. Truth is, the surface inside cannot be scrubbed and polished to a sparkly clean finish like you can with stainless steel pots and pans.
These are not for super-busy people who simply want to prepare quick and easy meals. And they’re not for anyone unwilling to routinely clean and properly season the pan.
When shopping for carbon steel cookware, you’ll notice at the top brands contain 99% pure iron and 1% carbon. This is the combination that has long proven to work and it’s the composition you’ll find in today’s best carbon steel pans.
Quick To Heat Up
Since carbon steel is thinner than cast iron, it’s not quite as good at evenly distributing and maintaining that heat – although these pans do heat up much faster. Since they’re thinner material, they are more responsive to temperature changes – so you don’t have to wait for them to preheat.
How Are Carbon Steel Pans Made?
Carbon steel pans are generally made from metal that is 2 to 3 mm in thickness. A pan is formed by pressing or hammering a thick sheet of steel into a pan-like shape to create a smooth one piece surface. But this alone will not give you nonstick cookware. You need to season these pans over time.
Carbon steel pans can get banged up quite a bit too. If the heat gets too high too fast, they can warp. But you can also reshape them using a solid block of wood of adequate thickness to fit the inside of the pan and beyond the sides. Give it a good whack with a solid rubber mallet and then check it again. Maintaining its shape is not difficult.
Use On Any Stovetop
Since it’s made of iron you can use it on any stove top – including induction. You have to be careful with these pans on glass and ceramic stoves. But they work really well on electric, gas,
When cleaning the best quality carbon steel pan pans, it’s important to avoid using soap. That’s because soap will break down the seasoning layer. When that happens, you’re back to square one and you have to start all over again. Use hot water and a stiff bristle brush only. A bamboo wok brush can be effective for this purpose.
Some people recommend using coarse salt and a towel to clean away stuck on food. But we recommend using salt as a last resort because it can seriously impact the patina you’ve been developing. It’s important after cleaning to always dry the pan thoroughly – not just with a towel – but by placing it on the stove on low heat for 5 minutes or so until it is completely dry.
How To Get the Most Out of Your Carbon Steel Pans
Season using mild-tasting oil – like canola – but use that oil only sparingly. A few drops on a paper towel evenly applied on the entire pan makes up one layer. Then place it on the stove top until it begins to smoke. Repeat multiple times to get a nice dark patina. Stir-fry veggies and onions initially and continue to build up the surface before you try to cook eggs on it. Gradually the surface will become more and more smooth and slick as you use it.
Lots of people steer clear of carbon steel pans because they require regular maintenance and cleaning by hand. But true foodies appreciate how these pans perform on a daily basis and the exceptional lifespan and value they provide. It’s like gaining a versatile tool that will serve you forever. And it’s something you won’t want to part with.
Our Picks – the 4 Best Carbon Steel Pans Available Today
#1: De Buyer Mineral B 12.5 inch Carbon Steel Fry Pan
Our mission was to uncover the best of the best carbon pots and pans and this 12.5 De Buyer pan is at the top of our list. De Buyer offers a quality product that is a good size, sturdy and comfortable to handle. It’s also a stylish classic design that has stood the test of time and works well on all cook-tops.
De Buyer has been manufacturing cookware since 1830. So they have nearly 200 years of experience. All of their pans are made in France which is known for its culinary excellence and quality products.
Not surprisingly – and with more than 10,000 actual customers reporting – this very pan scores a stellar 4.6 out of 5 possible stars. This indicates a remarkable level of customer satisfaction – and this is something that should not be overlooked.
If you want a quality pan that’s great for grilling, searing, and browning – this is it. It’s got a comfortable handle that is riveted on securely. We’re confident that it would work great in any kitchen.
It’s heavy duty and durable and not too expensive given that it’s a quality carbon steel pan that should last a lifetime – and beyond.
De Buyer has put their years of skill and expertise into the products they create and it shows. This one is ideal for grilling fish, a variety of vegetables, steaks and more. It’s easily able to withstand a variety of temperatures due to its thick base that is ridged for extra strength.
Given hits 3 mm thickness, we think it’s fair to say this one is built to last. The handle is virtually unbreakable and it has a hole in it that makes it easy to hang the pan when not in use – which is what a lot of restaurant kitchens do.
The build quality here is among the best we’ve seen. It’s made from 100% natural materials without any chemical coating. And this pan remains stable and sits flat on the burner. The sidewall is slightly higher than many competing brands – which allows for a little extra volume inside. That means you can cook more food in this one then you can in other pans of a similar diameter.
Long, comfortably-shaped handles makes these pans easy to maneuver, while giving you a secure grip. These handles are coated with an epoxy finish that makes it a little easier and more comfortable to handle. But the drawback is that this coating limits the oven-safe temperature to 400° for 20 minutes. If you go any hotter – or leave this pan in the oven too long – it can damage the finish on the handle.
The handle is hand-riveted to the pan and the rivets are made from the same quality carbon steel as the pan. This is an important detail. The rivets will expand and contract at the same rate as the pan, so you won’t get that separation that occurs when different materials are used.
That means it is PFAO and PTFE free. It ships with a protective beeswax finish which you need to remove (by washing in boiling hot water) before cooking in the pan.
– Oven safe up to 400°F for up to 20 minutes
– Ergonomic handle helps provide a stable grip and good balance
– Great pan for flipping
– Good on any stove top including induction
– Eco-friendly cookware (100% natural ingredients)
– Smooth cooking surface from the start
– Works on all cook-tops
– Produces perfect crepes and pancakes
– May be the only sauté and searing pan you ever need
– Distributes heat evenly and retains heat as well as cast-iron
– Easy to clean and re-season
– Heavier than cheaper cookware without being excessively weighty
– Solid design and construction (Feels high-quality)
– Can provide a natural nonstick surface that’s completely safe
– Relatively easy to clean
– Can use knives and metal utensils directly on the pan
– Base seems thicker and more stable than competing brands
– Pan can rust if not consistently cared for and properly prepped (definitely requires maintenance)
– Handle coating feels comfortable to hold – but it limits the oven time and temperature
– Pan can seem heavy to some
– Handle can flake or chip off
– Since the pan is smooth the seasoning seems to come off a little more easily – especially with acidic ingredients like tomato sauce
– A little more expensive than run-of-the-mill cookware
– Some have had their pans warp (though this may have been from improper use)
#2: Mauviel M’Steel 12 Inch Carbon Steel Nonstick Fry Pan
If you prefer a stove top pan with rounded sides – you’ll love the Mauviel M’Steel. It’s perfectly curved sides make tossing ingredients in the pan that much more natural and easier. So it’s perfect for cooking a vast array of dishes
Like the previously featured pan from De Buyer – this one is also made in France. Coincidently, this company has also been around since the 1830’s. One thing is for certain – Mauviel M’Steel makes a quality and durable product that is up to the task of daily kitchen use in even the busiest of settings.
Thanks to a track record of performance, Mauviel M’Steel has become a well-known brand of carbon steel pans in the restaurant industry. But they’re affordable and accessible to anyone. So why not use one of the best at home?
This 12 inch pan is the perfect size since you can cook almost anything in it. It offers superb heat conductivity and durability. And it’s a pan that is able to withstand considerable heat over long periods of time. It’s a solid choice for sautéing and stir frying. It’s terrific for searing foods like steak, scallops, delicate fish fillets and tofu too. In fact, it’s a versatile pan that’s useful for a variety of foods and cooking methods.
The body of the pan is made of thick carbon steel with solid iron handles firmly riveted into place. This Mauviel pan was essentially designed for commercial use, hence its exceptional durability and longevity. Of course you will need to season it and maintain the pan to make it naturally “nonstick”.
Like any good quality carbon steel pan, this one will darken as the nonstick properties improve over time. And this pan can be used on gas, electric, halogen and induction stove tops – as well as in the oven. Just be sure not to overdo it in terms of time – or temperature.
The key to getting great results with this and other carbon steel pans is to always get the pan nice and hot before adding your food.
To deglaze, use hot running water – instead of scraping or scrubbing the pan. Be careful with any scrubbing (even with a soft cloth) because you could remove the patina. Remember, you’re not trying to create an attractive looking pan. You’re trying to build and maintain that rich patina and smooth surface that makes cooking with these pans a whole lot of fun!
To season the pan, cover the bottom with flavorless oil such as canola or avocado. Heat the pan for five minutes then let it cool before draining any excess oil and wiping it clean with a dry paper towel. Repeat this process as necessary in the beginning (before using) and after cooking and cleaning.
The secret is to only use a slight amount of oil each time – so you get a strong bonding to the pan. Just like paint, it’s better to use a little less than ideal – and give it another coat – instead of applying a bit too much oil at once and creating a sticky mess that attracts dust.
You can wash this Mauviel M’Steel pan in hot water. Use only a smooth sponge or soft cloth. Do not use dish soap of any kind and do not try to remove the dark and layer that accumulates on the inside of the pan. This is what allows your pan to develop a nice nonstick surface.
It’s also important to use your carbon steel pan on a regular basis. The more you use it – the better results you’ll get. These pans are designed to be kitchen workhorses. And that’s exactly how they should be used.
The key to success with this pan is to apply dry heat it until it smokes – before putting it away. In fact, the number one mistake people make with carbon steel pans in general is drying them with only a tea towel and not giving the pan a thorough dry on the stove. When that happens, your pan will likely rust and then you have to start the seasoning process all over again.
– Good quality pan with a significant weight to it
– Used by professional chefs everywhere
– Traditional manufacturing method makes this a simple and durable one piece pan
– Solid handle is secured with rivets
– Well designed and well made cookware
– As the pan ages – the nonstick seal tends to get better and better
– Great for frying eggs and virtually any other food
– Some customers have been using this pan for 30 years or more and continue to get good results with omelets, eggs, crepes, and so on
– Good heat distribution around the edges and the middle
– Lasts for many years (when cared for)
– Wax coating this pan ships with can be a pain to remove (use freshly boiled water and fill the pan completely)
– These carbon steel pans will rust if you neglect them
– Not quite as good with eggs as a regular Teflon or ceramic-coated nonstick pan
– When seasoning the house can get quite smoky
– The handle on the pan is long making it difficult to place in an oven that isn’t large
– A little bit heavier than other pans
– Can warp and lose its shape (start on low and gradually increase heat)
– Seasoning takes more time and patience than some people can spare
#3: Lodge Manufacturing Company 12 Inch Carbon Steel Skillet
Lodge provides a quality, American-made seasoned carbon steel skillet. That means that you can use it right away – without the need to extensively season it yourself – since it ships pre-seasoned at their factory in Tennessee.
Since there’s less prep work and generally lower maintenance involved – it’s an option for people that are always crammed for time in the kitchen.
But just because it arrives pre-seasoned does not mean that you will not need to add additional seasoning. You should always do so anyway. But it means that once you prepare the pan by cleaning it gently – you should be able to cook some things on it right away.
Another thing that’s different about this Lodge pre-seasoned carbon steel pan is that the handle is quite straight whereas most of the other handles on carbon pans are angled slightly upwards. It takes a little adjustment to get used to this kind of handle. But there’s a good reason for it. This lower profile handle allows you to fit the pan on a higher rack in the oven – so broiling is a breeze – because you can get your food right up close to the broiler element.
It’s yet another 12 inch carbon steel pan that we believe is worthy of your consideration. This one scores a 4.5 out of 5 potential stars – from nearly 1300 actual buyers. It’s a good size pan to use for a large family. You can cook multiple steaks, fish fillets, or chops at once. And you can toss a large amount of pasta and vegetables together to create a delish pasta primavera.
If you plan on regularly finishing dishes such as casseroles or deep pan pizza – where you want a nice golden brown coating on top – this is the pan for you. Lodge has been making carbon steel and cast iron pans for generations and there’s no question – they produce good quality stuff.
Lodge uses heavy duty (12-gauge) carbon steel and riveted handles. You can fry, sauté sear, grill or roast in these pans – and they make an excellent option for induction stoves too. If you’re looking for a durable carbon steel pan that’s reasonably priced and arrives preseason this is a stellar choice.
According to Lodge, the silicone handle provided allows for better comfort and yet can withstand heat up to 500°F in the oven. That’s notable since it’s the maximum temperature most home ovens can reach.
The large carbon steel pan is suitable for all types of cook-top’s and is relatively easy to maintain – as are all carbon steel pans – once they’ve had time to develop a thick, non-stick finish.
– Comes pre-seasoned so you don’t have to spend an afternoon in the kitchen just getting your pan ready to use
– Easier to maintain since it’s pre-oiled at the factory
– Foods tend to slide right off the pan
– You get many of the benefits of cast iron without the excessive weight
– Good alternative to nonstick pans that can disperse toxic chemicals
– Beautiful looking pan that is a versatile kitchen tool to have
– Durable pan that holds up well
– Can place in the oven – or use it directly on a barbeque, camp stove, or campfire
– Reasonably priced
– Soft, heat resistant handle is comfortable to hold
– Great for searing fish and various meats
– Shallow enough to fit on the top rack for broiling
– Heats quickly
– Feels nearly indestructible (seems to be well-made)
– Easy to handle once you get used to it
– Some consider using this pan to involve a slight learning curve
– Handle is long and can be awkward (could be shorter)
– Rough factory seasoning is not necessarily an advantage (if you’ve used carbon steel pans before)
– Like other carbon steel pans, if you heat it up too fast it will warp
– Pretty heavy for a carbon steel pan
– Inside the pan has a slight texture to it and it’s not that smooth
#4: BK Black Steel 12 Inch Carbon Steel Skillet
The BK carbon steel pan is a newer marketplace entry and therefore doesn’t have the buyer history that some of the other ones do. Still, it manages a decent 4.4 out of 5stars from almost 650 verified buyers.
This is another marketplace option that ships out as a pre-seasoned pan. But it’s not just seasoning. It also has a protective coat of wax on top that needs to be removed before cooking. You can remove that waxy coating by giving your pan a wash in boiling-hot water. Although it is suggested you can use dish soap – we strongly recommend you don’t – and instead, simply wash your pan with a soft cloth and hot water. If some of the wax remains, repeat the process.
Continue to season your pans as you use them. After using and while your pan is still hot- wipe it down with a dry paper towel. After it cools, wash and dry your BK pan on the stove on medium heat. With the pan still hot, add a thin layer of canola or avocado oil and spread it thoroughly. Heat until the oil generates smoke. Then turn the stove off and let the pan cool down. Wipe away any excess oil. It sounds long, drawn out and complicated. But it really isn’t and it will help protect your pain for years to come.
Although the BK Black Steel 12 inch pan is pre-seasoned – it will develop a thicker and more durable nonstick patina – the more you use it. This one delivers quick and efficient stove top heating – so you can cook anything with this pan.
It’s great for searing as well as sautéing. It works well when frying delicate fish, making an omelet, or creating that perfect sear on pork-chops or steaks. It does a wonderful job on omelets and frittatas too.
Since carbon steel is free of all toxic chemicals, you can rest assured that it’s as safe a cooking method as you can get. Like all carbon steel pans, you should use a little bit of oil or butter in the pan when you’re cooking.
– Used by professional chefs everywhere
– Great for a variety of dishes and applications
– A safe, nontoxic and nonstick surface can be established (which is as safe as it gets)
– Good size cooking surface – ideal for cooking for up to four people at once
– Preheating is quick and efficient
– Good bang for the buck
– Heavy, though not as heavy as cast-iron
– Works beautifully and nothing sticks (including steak, vegetables, eggs, and even dishes with sauce added)
– Perfect for searing meats
– Easy to maintain (simply rinse the pan with hot water and wipe it with a clean sponge or paper towel)
– Having the pan arrive with a nice base seasoning makes life a little easier
– Good balance and a nice size with a comfortable handle
– Food slides out of the pan with very little effort
– Some consider it to be a heavy pan
– It can be difficult to know for sure if the silicone wax has been removed completely
– Cleanup can be a chore (as it can with any cookware)
– It’s not exactly “nonstick” – you have to keep working at it
– Pre-seasoning tends to come off quite easily
– Customer support seems unresponsive
If you want a great everyday pan to use as your go-to cookware – you could opt for any of the best carbon steel pans we’ve covered here – and you’d be quite happy. But if you’re having trouble settling on one – go with our top recommendation – the De Buyer 12.5 Inch Carbon Steel Pan. You really can’t go wrong here.
A close runner up is the Mauviel M’Steel 12 Inch Carbon Steel Nonstick Fry Pan. Both companies have been around for nearly 200 years and have developed some of the best cookware you can find anywhere.