Carbon vs. Black Steel Frying Pans?
I've had a yen to buy a steel frying or saute pan to cook eggs, scrambled and sunnyside, steaks, potatoes, fish and miscellaneous foods that require high heat at times for searing. I see black steel pans and carbon steel pans, and don't understand what the difference is between them. Many of these pans seem very inexpensive. If anyone can help me navigate among the variety and the quality and their characteristics, I'd appreciate it.
I do not believe there is a big difference between the black and carbon steel pans (Wikipedia has no definition for either). It has more to do with the alloy and finishing. While these pans will tolerate the high heat you are looking for, recognize that steel is a poor heat conductor. So it will take awhile for the pans to heat up and they will remain hot for awhile after the heat source is turned off. For braising, searing and the like, I would suggest clad stainless steel. Much better heat control. Will still work with high temperatures. But are much easier to care for and clean. And for eggs, as EclecticEater said, lower heat works better and this is the one area where I recommend non-stick. Non-stick stainless steel pans are great for omelettes, scrambled, or sunny side up (need little oil or butter).
Your Smart Kitchen
My only French carbon steel pan is a crepe pan, with a shallow lip. It is thick enough to not warp, and has taken a good seasoning. It's my favorite for crepes, other pancakes, and fast omelets.
I've had several carbon steel woks. It's been harder to keep these well seasoned. Now I'm more likely to use nonstick aluminum pan of similar shape (flat bottom) if I'm making a dish that calls for quick stirring. With an electric stove I don't have the heat to produce real stir fry.
I also have a couple of inexpensive Mexican carbon steel griddles, commal. These are thinner and subject to some warping under heat. But they work reasonably well in the oven as pizza pans. I should add, that these pans are larger than my burner, so uneven heating, and stresses that produce warping are inevitable. Paella pans are often made from carbon steel, but have a higher stiffening edge. But traditionally they are used over a wood fire, capable of heating the whole surface.
I also have several inexpensive enameled steel pots and pans. These are fine for boiling water and braising. The latest is a Spanish 'cazuela esmaltada', the enamel equivalent of the traditional terracotta cookware. It's not quite non-stick, but is still quite easy to clean. For many tasks it's as good as a 8" non-skillet or an equivalent cast iron skillet.
In cookware, at least, it's my understanding that both are carbon steel. I looked up the differences a while back and didn't see anything of significance. I have two moderately priced. French-made ones I got from Chef's Catalog. Use them a lot.
BTW, do you really sear eggs? I use a non-stick pan over low heat.