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Feb 22, 2011 08:09 PM

School me on carbon steel

I cook all the time but I'm still young and so far have not been terribly discerning about what cookware I use except the only things that have stuck around in my kitchen are items that I have not destroyed.

I have an all clad sauté pan, a couple of nonstick pans that I keep around for nonstick pan jobs, a couple of different sizes of antique cast iron skillets, an antique cast iron griddle, a couple enamel coated dutch ovens, various sizes and finishes of pots and pans. I don't find myself needing any other pots and pans, but I certainly enjoy acquiring them, and carbon steel doesn't seem as though it will break the bank.

What is it best for? What type of pan do I buy? Season like cast iron? I usually do a quick layer with leaf lard in the oven and then just be careful about what goes into it til a good layer builds up.

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  1. i would suggest starting with a crepe pan. carbon steel is my preferred material for crepes. they're good for eggs and pan cakes too. you can get an excellent sear on meats as well, but you would make a mess with the low sides of the crepe pan :P
    really, it is a lot like cast iron, but lighter and a bit more responsive to changes in heat since it's thinner. the surface is also smooth and doesn't really need much in the way of seasoning. they're good solid pans but if you're happy with your cast iron i'm not sure if you'll gain much benefit from carbon steel, but don't let that stop you from finding out for yourself ;)

    6 Replies
    1. re: cannibal

      This is not the first time I've read that carbon steel pans are lighter than cast iron. The carbon steel pans I own (de Buyer) are just as heavy as any cast iron (the 14" beast I stir-fried in tonight would be my go to pan if an intruder ever enters my house - provided I can lift it high enough to use it as a weapon). Obviously, they are made in different gauges of thickness. How do the lighter ones perform in comparison? I don't own a wok - I feel they take up too much precious real estate in cabinet space - but am curious to know how lighter carbon steel fry pans compare to the heavy ones.

      1. re: sherrib

        My Lodge 10" skillet is 2200g, my 9.5" de Buyer is 1250g.

        1. re: sherrib


          You may have a very thin cast iron pan. Cast iron has similar density as cast iron. However, most cast iron skillets are made much thicker than carbon steel skillets. I have seen carbon steel skillet from 1mm to 3 mm thick. I personally have not seen a cast iron skillet thinner than 3mm.

          We can gauge the total weight by thickness. A 4 mm thick cast iron cookware will be twice as heavy as a 2 mm thick carbon steel pan.

          1. re: sherrib

            I just weighed all my pans and I stand corrected! Here was my confusion - my 14 inch de Buyer has about as much surface area for frying as the lodge 12 inch (the de Buyer sides slant). The de Buyer 12 inch seems more like a 10 inch pan when looking at it because of the slanting sides. The 12 inch de Buyer is, in fact, much lighter than the 12 inch lodge (it just has less surface area - which may be a factor for the lower weight). I do remember, however, seeing de Buyer pans that were significantly thinner than mine. They happened to be crepe pans. Does de Buyer make another line of thin pans or is it just that their crepe pans are thinner?

            1. re: sherrib

              In the de Buyer catalog, pan thickness ranges from 2 to 3mm. They bill the thicker ones as better for high heat commercial stoves. Under real high heat, a thicker pan will resist warping better. Crepe pans may not need to be so thick because you don't use real high heat.

              1. re: paulj

                Ok, thank you. Do their crepe pans vary in thickness as well? How would I know how thick a pan I need??

        2. Carbon steel is very much the cousin of cast iron. They are both steels really. If you like to acquire one, I will go for a crepe pan or a frying pan or a wok. There is not much of a point to get a carbon steel stock pot, for example. Yes, you pretty much can season it just like most cast iron cookware. You can do it on the stovetop or in the oven. I prefer stovetop seasoning. It is faster and it goes to a higher temperature.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I completely forgot to mention a wok! For some reason i think of everyone having a wok, like a fry pan or sauce pot a wok is an essential item to me and am surprised when i hear someone doesnt have one :P

            1. re: cannibal

              Haha, I don't have a wok. My stove is a smoothtop ceramic, so things with inconsistent bottoms don't work so hot.

              1. re: LaureltQ

                I find less and less reason to keep a non stick in rotation since I bought a couple of carbon steel - crepe pans and skillet. Eggs , crepes, pancakes all do very well in the crepe pan. I've been debating adding a second one for delicate fish. The skillet has so far only been used for sauteing vegetables and garnishes because I use cast iron for steaks and chops. Oh, also have a wok which I adore.

          2. Will carbon steel pans warp the way cheaper SS type pans do? I only ask because with the smoothtop it's a pain when a pan bottom is not flat.

            5 Replies
            1. re: LaureltQ

              I know I've often worried about my clad stainless pans warping when I use high temps but I've never been even remotely concerned for the de Buyer ones (and I just checked - I have the carbone plus ones). I know I've seen very thin crepe ones from de Buyer (they looked and felt t-falish) so I don't know about those.

              1. re: sherrib

                I destroyed a calphalon tri-ply pan this way before switching to all-clad and haven't had any problems ever since.

                So basically just buy the thicker de buyer pans?

                1. re: LaureltQ

                  The best way to warp a Force Blue de Buyer is to put it on the burner to dry, and forget about it. By the time the seasoning has burnt off, the bottom will be slightly warped.

                  1. re: LaureltQ

                    Yes to thicker. Not so sure about thickest. For smoothtop, I would definitely recommend matching the size of the pan bottom to your burner size.

                2. re: LaureltQ

                  Yes, a thicker pan will be less likely to warp. However, a thicker pan responses slower. Actually most restaurants simply use inexpensive pans, and they don't expect their pans to last.

                3. Very similar to cast iron in usage but the quicker reaction to temperature change is nice. The crepe pan is a fun pan to start with, seasons easily and who doesn't enjoy flipping things in the air ;)