A popular choice among fans of cast-iron cookware who want a lighter alternative to this beloved yet bulky cookware staple, carbon steel undergoes a similar production process to cast iron. Both materials are alloys created from carbon and steel, but different proportions of these ingredients make carbon steel less cumbersome and give pans made from this material a smoother finish than their cast-iron counterparts.
Since cast iron and carbon steel are made with similar materials, the resulting cookware does need to be maintained the same way. Carbon steel pans often arrive with a rust-preventing finish that should be rinsed off before use. You will also need to regularly season your pan to maintain its nonstick surface, never use dish soap, and dry thoroughly after each use.
We did put a few of our top carbon steel pans to the test, sending them into our home kitchens. They assessed what arrived and cooked up pancakes, fried eggs, and seared steaks, all in the name of science. During these tests, each editor noted whether it was easy to maneuver the pan, how the surface behaved, and if the lighter weight really made these better to use than a cast iron.
If you’re ready to give them a try, here are the best carbon steel pans that will serve you well.
De Buyer Mineral B Fry Pan
Our top recommendation for carbon steel pans delivers serious versatility. The 12.5-inch de Buyer Mineral B fry pan provides ample surface area for a wide range of cooking endeavors, and its clever design allows it to excel equally at sauteing and frying. This French-made pan features a long ergonomic handle that enables smooth tossing and easy hanging on a storage rack, though it isn't oven-safe due to its epoxy finish. "The de Buyer Mineral B fry pan provides sleek sophistication," says Nik Fields, the chef behind Chic Chef. "It's visually appealing and simple to clean with a long handle that’s great for the advanced chef and beginners alike. The design offers versatility so you can fry or saute a variety of foods."
De Buyer coats its pans with beeswax, which serves as an all-natural layer of protection to keep the pan in perfect condition as it ships from France to your home. You will need to season the pan before using it, though. When we sent this to our tester's home kitchen, that proved to be its major issue. It took the cleanser Bon Ami to get the coating off. (You'll know it's off when it's hard to swipe your finger along the surface.) The seasoning was also a little hairy since you have to apply the lightest layer of oil that you can, and then let the pan get hot enough to smoke.
Once the pan is set up, it's a great addition to any cook's collection. The carbon steel construction achieves high cooking temperatures and ensures even heat distribution, preventing food from sticking and ingredients from burning. When testing how an egg fries, the whole egg slid around the pan nicely, with only a small bit of the white sticking to a "not as well-seasoned" side of the pan. When it came to searing a sous vide tri-tip steak, the crust formed within a few minutes on either side, though the bottom of the pan did get hot enough to burn the garlic. The cool-to-the-touch handle and sloped sides made it easy to baste the steak with butter during cooking.
This does need to be hand-washed and quickly dried to avoid rust. If you’re concerned about the longevity of your cookware, de Buyer's hand-riveted carbon steel collection should last decades, and it offers a two-year guarantee on all purchases.
"I can definitely see why serious cooks love carbon steel and prefer this over heavier cast iron. The pan performs better than my 12-inch cast iron, but the tradeoffs of size (the handle is huge) and maintenance are definite considerations." — Siobhan Wallace, Commerce Editor
Best Overall, Runner-Up
Matfer Bourgeat Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan
Another much-beloved French carbon steel pan, the Matfer Bourgeat Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan delivers many of the same benefits as the de Buyer Mineral B. A pro at conducting heat, this pan is naturally nonstick and can be effectively used for countless kitchen pursuits.
This fry pan's consistent heat distribution comes from 3 millimeters of carbon steel, and it can be used at high temperatures for the perfect sear. The steel handle is welded in place, which eliminates any risk of coming loose and gives users plenty of free rein to toss and saute. It also means being able to properly clean their pan since a welded handle won’t trap bacteria.
Like the de Buyer, this pan comes with a beeswax coating and will need seasoning before use.
Lodge 12-Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet
It makes perfect sense that a top purveyor of cast-iron cookware would also make excellent carbon steel pieces. Lodge, an iconic force in the world of cast iron, makes good on that assumption. Its 12-inch carbon steel skillet will offer you the most versatility in the kitchen, though smaller models can be found.
Its reasonable price affords you a pre-seasoned carbon steel pan with a long handle that's perfect for tossing and a weight far lighter than that of Lodge’s cast iron pans. Ariel Knutson, our associate editorial director, stepped up to bat when it came to testing this. First, it arrives as just the pan, no other information. When testing a batch of buttermilk pancakes, Knutson noticed clear hot spots, specifically in the middle of the pan. "It didn't matter if I played with the temperature or the time of the pancakes, the middle part of the pancakes always got darker at a faster rate," she says. Fried eggs stuck a little bit, so you will need to use a decent amount of butter.
When it came to testing the pan by searing a skirt steak, Knutson noticed again that the center of the pan got hot enough for a great sear, and it was easy to baste with butter. Through all the testing, the handle stayed cool enough to use with a bare hand and was comfortable maneuvering. Similar to other carbon steel pans, this one cooled down fairly quickly (20 minutes) after being in a hot oven.
"Overall, I really enjoyed using this pan, although it definitely took some getting used to. It's lighter than my cast iron pan, which I appreciate, and very easy to clean. It also cools down very fast. The downsides are that you have to really be aware of your heat source and how it works with the pan—the pan felt, at times, like it had an uneven heat distribution, but that might have just been because of my burners or not paying close enough attention to what's going on." — Ariel Knutson, Associate Editorial Director
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Marquette Castings 10.75-Inch Carbon Steel Skillet
If you’re in the market for a professional-grade carbon steel pan and price isn’t an object, then the 10.75-inch skillet from Marquette Castings might be the perfect choice for you. An artisanal brand based in Michigan, Marquette’s pans are all hand-fashioned with an eye toward longevity, and the company offers a lifetime warranty.
To test out whether this will replace all your pans or not, we sent one home to our editor Myo Quinn for testing. Unlike other costly carbon steel pans, this is only pre-seasoned with flaxseed oil, so you don't have to spend any time removing a coating. One flaw was that the package didn't come with any instructions on how carbon steel behaves differently than other cookware, leaving Quinn will a lot of unanswered questions as a first-time carbon steel user.
Quinn put the pan to the test with a morning batch of sunny side up fried eggs. The pan easily fits four large eggs. The pan heated up quicker than regular nonstick pans, which did mean the edges began crisping before the whites were cooked through, and the final eggs slid out nicely. All it needed after was a quick wipe down. She then tested it by searing a bone-in rib steak, with about a 9-inch bone. It seared nicely, without any out-of-the-pan mess, and since the pan has sloped sides, it was easy to tilt to spoon out some of the grease. But since the bottom of the pan only measures 7.5 inches in diameter, she had to place it in the oven to make sure the meat was cooked thoroughly. Getting it in and out of the hot oven went smoothly, with the handle cooling down fairly quickly afterward.
Best Frying Pan
Mauviel 1830 M'Steel Round Frying Pan, 12.5 Inches
When adding a new frying pan to your kitchen, you’ll want to seek out a model with nicely sloped edges to easily transfer food from the pan to the plate. You should also look for even heat distribution to prevent burnt spots on the food and scorching on the pan. Mauviel achieves both in spades with its M'Steel pans.
Mauviel 1830, a heritage cookware brand from France, has a long and esteemed history with carbon steel pans, so it has no problem offering a lifetime warranty on its equipment. The Mauviel M’Steel fry pan works equally well with all types of cooktops as well as in the oven, and Mauviel points out that M’Steel pans are ideal for searing.
Related: The Best Nonstick Pans
Best Saute Pan
BK Cookware 12-Inch Black Carbon Steel Skillet
To avoid splatter during the cooking process, saute pans require steeper sides than the typical skillet. Luckily, this 12-inch carbon steel pan from Dutch brand BK Cookware features sides with a suitably vertical slope for even your most ambitious sauteing projects.
The BK Cookware black carbon steel skillet boasts 2 millimeters of thickness for excellent heat conduction and its ergonomic cast-iron handles are riveted to the pan. This ships with a silicone coating that’s easy to remove, so you won’t need to wait before diving into your favorite recipes. Plus, it comes pre-seasoned, cutting out any risk of food stickiness.
Best Grill Pan
Lodge 13 x 12 Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Grilling Pan
Any grilling enthusiast can attest to the incredible value of a reliable grill pan. A great one will allow food to come in contact with your cooking flame, but the notches on the pan bed keep you from losing any errant pieces of veg or protein. It comes in handy anytime you don't want to cook directly on your grates.
In addition to its carbon steel skillets, Lodge makes a fantastic 12-inch carbon steel grilling pan. It's made with 12-gauge carbon steel with steel side handles for easy maneuvering and can also be used over a campfire. This grilling pan is pre-seasoned for your convenience, though it should be regularly seasoned while still warm.
Related: The Best Grills
Best Paella Pan
Garcima 16-Inch Pata Negra Restaurant Grade Paella Pan
Paella, a seafood and rice dish native to the Valencia region of Spain, is a massively beloved entree that’s also notoriously tricky to make in a home kitchen. To create the signature golden crust that makes paella so iconic, you’ll need a pan with abundant surface area and the capacity for even and thorough heat-conducting.
Carbon steel is uniquely suited to the heat distribution needed for paella, and carbon steel pans have been used for paella for generations. Made in Spain, the Garcima Pata Negra Paella Pan offers authenticity and prime construction for its purpose. The 18-inch pan can easily feed a small dinner party, and Garcima's especially heavy-duty version of carbon steel safeguards the paella against overheating. If you have paella-making ambitions, then this particular pan is a very worthy (and not too spendy!) investment.
De Buyer's carbon steel fry pan (view at Amazon) is a great tool to have in your kitchen that will provide years, if not decades, of cooking enjoyment. Those just beginning to experiment with carbon steel before making a bigger investment can't go wrong with Lodge's 12-inch skillet (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Carbon Steel Pan
Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron
Carbon steel pans are lighter and smoother alternatives to the classic cast-iron cookware that is a staple in almost every household. While both are made from alloys of carbon and steel, they contain different amounts, which explains their different properties.
Texturally, cast iron contains more carbon than carbon steel, making it bumpier and heavier. It’s also a poor conductor of heat, which is why it takes a long time to warm up and cool down. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is a better heat conductor and is even suitable for sauteing. It will heat up quickly and evenly, creating fewer hot spots than cast iron. Since it has a smoother surface, it’s slippery enough for cooking eggs and other foods that are notorious for sticking to cast iron.
Carbon steel has its limitations, though. You should avoid cooking acidic foods on it, and some carbon steel pans shouldn’t be used at high temperatures.
Carbon steel requires slightly more maintenance than cast iron. Both require seasoning, but cast iron pans are usually pre-seasoned. You’ll likely have to season a carbon steel pan yourself. Additionally, you should apply a thin layer of oil to carbon steel pans after each wash to preserve the layer of seasoning.
Both are durable and versatile options to have in any kitchen. Carbon steel is lighter, smoother, and a better conductor of heat. It’s also more suitable for foods prone to sticking. However, cast iron is more affordable.
Unlike most cast iron pans that are pre-seasoned, you’ll likely have to season your new carbon steel pan yourself. While this isn’t difficult, it’s an extra step.
New carbon steel pans usually come with a protective coating that will need to be removed, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Then wash the pan thoroughly and dry it quickly to prevent rust. Heat the pan over the stove and lightly grease an old kitchen towel with a thin layer of neutral oil, such as canola oil. Lightly coat the pan with the oil, buffing it in until the pan looks dry. Turn up the heat, and the oil will form a polymer. The oil will set into a solid brown coating—and that is your seasoning!
To wash your carbon steel pan, rinse with warm water and soap, and dry immediately. Then rub a thin layer of oil onto the pan and place over heat to prevent rust and preserve the seasoning.
How do you get the coating off a new carbon steel pan?
Removing the layer of coating from a new carbon steel pan is simple. It can vary per manufacturer, though, so check the instructions that came with the pan. Typically, rubbing alcohol removes the coating easily. We've also found that gently cleaning the pan with Bon Ami or Bar Keepers Friend works to remove beeswax.
How do you get rust off a carbon steel pan?
To remove surface-level rust from a carbon steel pan, scrub at the rust with a steel scrubbing pad, avoiding other parts of the pan's surface. You can also try boiling a mixture of vinegar and water to break down the rust.
Can you use carbon steel on an induction stove?
Yes, carbon steel is an induction-friendly type of cookware. Carbon steel pans are safe to use on many types of cooking surfaces.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Taylor Tobin is a freelance journalist who specializes in recipe testing and deep dives into popular dishes and ingredients. She regularly uses a wide range of cookware to try out new recipes and to execute old favorites, and while she’s a devoted fan of her vintage Lodge cast iron skillet, she’s ready to add a lightweight carbon steel skillet to her kitchen equipment rotation.
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