Go to any top restaurants in Paris, and you will see a variety of cookware. From Copper cookware, to enameled cast iron, we can thank the french for the passion we have for cooking. One thing I have noticed in top restaurants that gets used are what are called carbon steel pans.
What are Carbon Steel Pans?
If you have used a traditional chinese wok, then you have used a carbon steel pan. And most likely the cooking knife you are using is carbon steel. If it is a traditional Japanese Sushi Knife it will be a raw carbon steel blade which makes it very easy to sharpen but can rust easily. If you are using your favorite German chef knife, it is most likely high carbon steel covered in stainless steel.
Is Carbon Steel better than cast iron?
If you like cast iron, then you should definitely take a look at a carbon steel pan. They are all compatible with induction cook tops. And when properly seasoned they are as slick as a brand knew teflon coated pan. The other thing is they are much much lighter than cast iron. This can be both a good and a bad thing. Cast Iron is big and heavy and for some people, just to heavy to deal with on a day to day basis. But a carbon steel pan gives you all those benefits without the weight.
Carbon Steel pans, because they are thinner, it is easier to control the temperature of the pan to reflect the cooking. Cast Iron because of its weight and thickness will not change temperatures as quickly. So if you need to steer a steak, then cast iron will be a better choice. But for things like eggs, omelettes and sautéing fish, then carbon steel will be a better selection in my opinion.
Cons of Carbon Steel Pans
I think it is important to detail some of the downsides of carbon steel pans. Like I said above, they are thinner so they don’t hold heat as well as cast iron. You also can’t throw them in the dishwasher as you will make it rust and wash off the seasoning. Did I tell you about seasoning? Most you have to season to get that slipperiness. Instead, just rinse out with a paper towel, dry and maybe rub a little oil in it. But no Dishwasher.
Finally, carbon steel pans are not ideal for certain kinds of foods. For example, things like tomatoes should not be cooked in it long term. The acidity of the tomatoes (or wine) can remove the seasoning and give your food an off-taste. Quick sauces are ok but you should rinse out those pans and add a little oil quickly. In this case, a regular stainless steel pan would be better as cast iron has the same issues. Finally, without proper care, they can rust and discolor.
Pros of Carbon Steel Pans
Carbon steel pans are very versatile which is why they are liked so much in high-end kitchens. Depending on your handle, they can go on the cooktop, or be thrown in the oven to finish cooking. And because they have no “coating” they can go to very high heat.
Properly seasoned carbon steel pans are very slippery so you can saute fish, make over-easy eggs or cook a steak with no issues. And even if the non-stick goes away because it was accidentally thrown in the dishwasher, they are easy to season again. Because they don’t have any coatings, they literally can last for years. The same can not be said of the expensive Teflon coated fry pan that needs to be replaced every year.
Get a Carbon Steel Pan
Even if you already have a set of stainless steel pots and pans, I recommend getting a single 12-inch carbon steel pan for your kitchen. You may find it replaces your non-stick pan for breakfast on Sunday morning. They work wonderfully on your induction cooktop and with proper care and seasoning will literally last you years.