Carbon Steel Pan vs. Stainless Steel Pan – Which One is Better?

stainless-steel-pan

You’re likely going to find either carbon steel pans or stainless steel pans when you walk into several kitchens. You may also be using either of these pans or even have plans to buy one. 

This post is all about carbon steel pan vs. stainless steel pan comparison. After reading, you should be able to decide which of them is better for you. 

But let’s set the record straight; carbon steel and stainless steel pans are top-quality pans. They are durable, non-reactive, lightweight, and can withstand heavy usage.  

However, many things separate both pan types, which we’re going to be visiting here. So keep reading from start to finish. 

What Are Carbon Steel Pans?

Our first focus would be to define each pan. So, the first on the list is carbon steel pans. 

What are carbon steel pans? Contrary to stainless steel pans, carbon steel pans come designed with iron and a little bit of carbon. 

Upon weighing carbon steel and stainless steel pans of the same size, you’ll discover that the former is heavier. 

So, carbon steel is a bit heavier than stainless steel pans. And this makes stainless steel pans a wise choice for people who prefer cooking with lightweight pans.  

However, there’s nothing terrible about carbon steel pans’ weight since the bakeware would be resting on the heat source all through. So, it’s not like one would have to carry the pan while cooking. 

Carbon steel pans heat up evenly, making whatever you’re cooking to cook properly from every angle. They also boast a naturally non-stick surface, considered toxin-free.  

Carbon steel pans are usually compared to cast iron because of their non-stick surface. But a big difference is that they respond better to temperature changes, are lighter and thinner than cast iron. 

Over time, carbon steel pans become non-stick without any special coating during the production process. 

Finally, what are carbon steel pans suitable for? This question may be running through many people’s minds. 

Well, carbon steel pans are good for pan-frying, searing, stir-frying, boiling, and sautéing on any cooktop. These include BBQ grills, induction stoves, and campfires. Little wonder they’re a favorite of many restaurant chefs. 

Furthermore, carbon steel pans, much like their stainless steel counterpart, are resistant to rusting and corrosion, making them durable cookware.

Another secrete many don’t know about carbon steel pans that sets them apart is that iron sips into food items during cooking. 

Is this iron that leaks from carbon steel pan toxic? No, it’s not. It’s beneficial to one’s health.   

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using carbon steel pans? That’s the next area we are going to focus on. 

First, let’s start with the advantages. 

Advantages of Carbon steel pans

  • Slope sides – Carbon steel pans’ slope sides make them a wise choice for sautéing (a cooking method that involves the use of a small quantity of fat or oil in a shallow pan. So, if you like sautéing, carbon steel is a wise choice for you.
  • Withstand high temperatures – Unlike stainless steel pans, you can use carbon steel pans for cooking food items that require high temperatures. Carbon steel pans can withstand higher temperatures. That’s why you can use them in a BBQ grill, induction stoves, or campfire. They are also better at retaining heat. 
  • Oven-safe – You can use carbon steel pans in a microwave oven at high temperatures, and they won’t suffer any damage. These pans come built to withstand high temperatures. 
  • Economical to cook with – The fact that one can cook with carbon steel pans with a small quantity of fat or oil makes them more economical than their stainless steel pans counterparts. 
  • Easy to replenish non-stick ability – Carbon steel pans may lose their non-stick ability after excessive usage. All pans will experience this at some point. But what sets carbon steel pans apart is the ease at which the non-stick ability gets replenished. All you need is to season such pans properly, and they would become as good as new. 

Disadvantages of Carbon Steel Pans

Our next focus is the disadvantages of using carbon steel pans. Every cookware has its pros and cons. And it would be bias and unwise to consider the pros, leaving out the cons. 

So, what are the drawbacks carbon steel pans have? 

  • Not dishwasher safe – You can’t place your carbon steel pan in a dishwasher. It’s not a safe practice. You have to watch it by hand. Use detergent, water, and then scrub gently.
  • Not suitable for acidic ingredients – Avoid cooking highly acidic ingredients in carbon steel pains. Even if you must, don’t allow it to remain on the pan for a long time. Why? Carbon steel pans are quite reactive. An example of food items to avoid is tomatoes. It can destroy the pans’ non-stick surface and even give the food some form of metallic taste. 
  • Heating surface not uniform – Unlike stainless steel pans, carbon steel pans don’t have consistent heating surfaces.
  • Frequently seasoning required – Carbon steel pans require regular seasoning, mainly when used for quite a long time. Seasoning is cool, as it would make the pan more appealing and useful. But the fact that one has to do it more often could make it more tiring. 
  • The handle could become very hot – After cooking, carbon steel pans’ handle gets very hot and can be very uncomfortable to grab. 

Tips For Cooking in Carbon Steel Pans

Are you preparing to cook your first meal on a carbon steel pan? Or perhaps you have one, but you haven’t been following any cooking tips? Whatever the case may be, following the right cooking tips will help you prepare your meals satisfactorily on a carbon steel cooking pan without changing your food’s taste. 

Here are cooking tips to follow when using carbon steel pans. 

  • Be generous when adding oil – Try using enough oil. It does help a lot. 
  • Less stirring and more searing – Resist every urge to continuously stir your food items while using a carbon steel pan. This is true if you’re cooking proteinous food such as eggs, meat, tofu, etc. Allow the food item to sear in the oil. Don’t start moving it around for fear of it sticking to the pan. Once the protein gets cooked, it would release from the pan on its own. It won’t stick. 
  • Get rid of residues after every use – Avoid storing your pan with residue stuck on it. Make sure you remove everything. Allowing a single residue to remain stuck on your pan can lead to residue build-up, which might be harder to remove in the future. 
  • Avoid high acidic foods – Carbon steel pans do not perform well with highly acidic foods. So, stop preparing sauces or recipes that require the use of red wines, vinegar, or tin tomatoes. Using these acidic ingredients would cause carbon steel pans to ruin your seasoning. 
  • Store in a dry place – How you store your carbon steel pan is essential. If you plan to put it away for a long time, make sure you wrap the entire pan with a tea towel and store it carefully. Ensure you keep in a dry environment. 

What Are Stainless Steel Pans?

To understand stainless steel pans and compare them to carbon steel pans, we have to define them. 

So, what are stainless steel pans? These are often called “stainless.” It’s how they are made. Stainless steel pans come designed with alloy, consisting of about 10 to 30 percent chromium and iron. 

Excitingly, stainless steel pans are resistant to rusting or corrosion. This feature alone sets them apart. 

A Handy Tip: Resist every urge to splash the cash on solid stainless steel pans. They may be pocket-friendly but aren’t a wise choice. These inexpensive pans are unclad, and that makes them a poor option. It would be better to choose a clad stainless steel pan with better heat conductivity. The clad material could be copper, aluminum, or both. 

Again, the stainless steel pan is quite versatile, durable, and healthy. Many of them usually come with a lifetime warranty.  

Unlike carbon steel pans, stainless steel pans don’t have non-stick surfaces, though some prefer this. The fact that food does stick to stainless steel pans’ surface also makes them prone to staining.

So, what are stainless steel pans good for? This is one top question on people’s minds. 

You can use stainless steel pans for browning, sautéing, boiling, or deep frying. You can’t use them for delicate foods. 

Furthermore, unless you can create a temporary non-stick surface or use enough fat or oil, do not use stainless steel cookware for fish, tofu, eggs, or lean meat. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using stainless steel pans? Let’s focus on them. 

Advantages of Stainless Steel Pans

What makes stainless steel pans a good buy? What are the factors that set them apart? Here they are below.

  • Possess great cooking ability – Top-quality stainless steel pans’ cooking performance is top-notch. They absorb heat faster and distribute heat evenly. 
  • Very durable – Stainless steel pans are built to last long. They are almost indestructible. The higher the pans’ quality, the harder the surface. A top-quality stainless steel pan may be passed on from generation to generation. 
  • Ease of cleaning – stainless steel pans’ non-porous, smooth and hard surface makes them super easy to clean. You can scrub, but avoid rough sponges, as these can leave your cookware with some scratches. 
  • Dishwasher safe – You can wash your stainless steel pan in a dishwasher. It’s safe and makes cooking comfortable. 
  • Rust-free – Another feature that sets stainless steel pans apart is the fact that they are rust-free. 
  • Requires low maintenance – These pans only require simple care. There’s no need for you to pamper the coat to put an end to peeling or season to stop rust.
  • Oven-safe – You can use stainless steel pans in your microwave oven comfortably. 

Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Pans

Every cookware has its pros and cons. We have looked at the pros of stainless steel pans. Now let’s focus attention on the cons. 

  • Poor heat distribution – Stainless steel itself isn’t an excellent conductor. It needs the help of a conductive material to boost performance. 
  • Food sticks – Non-stick surface means food may stick to the surface of the pan. 
  • The issue with weight – stainless steel pans, especially those with copper cores, are usually weighty. 
  • Metal leaching – Scratch or damage on the pan due to low maintenance can cause metal leaching, which can alter your foods’ taste. 

Tips For Cooking in Stainless Steel Pans

 Before you cook with your stainless steel pans, go through these tips. These are tips you should follow to ensure the proper use of your stainless steel pans. 

Let’s discuss each of them quickly.

  • Cook with low temperatures – Stainless steel pans have a high possibility of leaching, so avoid the temptation to cook at high temperatures. Stainless steel pans’ bottom and sides heat up evenly, so you can still cook foods at low temperatures. 
  • Don’t ever skip preheating – When dealing with a non-stick pan, preheating time has to be minimized. But if the pan sticks like stainless steel, the reverse is the case. Stainless steel pans are porous when cold. The pan pores’ edge causes food to stick on the pan. Preheating would make the pan expand, thus closing the pans. It will help create a smoother cooking surface for you. 
  • Preheating adequately – You will know how long you need to wait for preheating over time. However, an easy way to understand this is to use the water drop test. To perform this test, wait till the pan’s rim is too hot to touch, and add a tiny drop of water, just a splash. If the water turns into a ball and rolls around the pan, then it’s ready to use. 

A Handy Tip: When preheating, it is good to always have your ingredients on hand. The reason is that the pan can go from preheated to overheated, in the twinkling of an eye.  

  • Oil after you have preheated the pan – Don’t oil before you preheat the pan. Doing so will only cause the oil to get into the pores on the pan and sit there. Always preheat adequately before oiling. And ensure you take the pan off the heat source before oiling and return to heat after oiling. 
  • Avoid sticky foods – If you’re concerned about clearing off the residue from your pan after cooking, you need to avoid sticky foods. A good example is the eggs. Use non-stick pans for your omelets instead. 

Conclusion

So, you can see that both pans are a wise choice. But certain things separate them, and we mustn’t rule them out. The thing is, carbon steel pans have better conductivity than stainless steel pans. Stainless steel pans need copper or aluminum so they can heat up evenly.  

Carbon steel and stainless steel pans are also resistant to corrosion. But stainless steel is more resistant because of the chromium metal it contains. 

Now that you have learned a lot about carbon and stainless steel pans, you can make an informed decision. Focus on the features to decide which cooking pan is right for you. 

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About Sylvette Brown

Sylvette is a homemaker and is passionate about cooking and other kitchen-related stuff. She also loves to do home improvement related tasks and keeps on writing about food and cookware on her blog. When she is not writing, she keeps herself busy with her 2 little kids. :)