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Carbon vs. Stainless Steel Fry Pans

I feel guilty for making this post because I worry I should be able to figure out the answer myself through searches, but I can't.

I'm about to pull the trigger on two carbon steel fry pans (deBuyer Mineral B), but I have this nagging need to understand what I'm missing by choosing carbon steel over stainless for fry pans. Carbon steel seems like such a superior choice to me, why would someone chose stainless? Is it only the acid/reactive issues with carbon steel?

Thank you!

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  1. <Carbon steel seems like such a superior choice to me, why would someone chose stainless? Is it only the acid/reactive issues with carbon steel?>

    I like carbon steel probably as much as most people here. Here are some very quick pros and cons of carbon steel vs stainless steel-aluminum cladded cookware. Just so we are on the same page, most stainless steel cookware you see in stores are stainless on the exterior and aluminum in the interior.

    http://www.all-clad.ca/NR/rdonlyres/5...

    Carbon steel pros:
    Essentially nonstick after seasoned
    Higher temperature limit
    Typically require less cooking oil
    Generally cheaper

    Carbon steel cons:
    Requires seasoning
    Cannot be used for highly acidic foods (lightly acidic is fine
    )Cannot be put in an automatic dishwasher
    The heating surface is not as temperature uniform as a good stainless steel cladded cookware

    1. Hi, Brushy:

      Someone would choose stainless if they:

      --wanted to use a dishwasher to clean them;
      --didn't want to risk rust;
      --didn't want to hassle with seasoning them;
      --they wanted to cook high-acidic foods in them; and/or
      --they just wanted clad.

      Aloha,
      Kaleo

      14 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        Hi Kaleo,

        You may have missed the most frequently occurring reason: They just have to have an [insert brand name] frying pan.

        Jeremy

        1. re: jljohn

          <most frequently occurring reason>

          I don't think that's true. IME, the reasons Kaleo listed are much more common than brand snobbism. Also, IME, if someone is hard over on a certain brand, it's because of their own prior experience with said brand, or family/friend recommendations.

          YMMV

          1. re: DuffyH

            DuffyH,

            If you are only considering people who actually consider both carbon steel and stainless steel, then I'm sure you are correct. But for every one person who takes the time to consider carbon steel as an option there have to be 100 who, without considering any other option, go purchase an All-Clad frying pan, simply because it is an All-Clad. [Please don't read this as being down on All-Clad.]

            Think about the number of frying pans on the shelf at Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table. Yet, in Boston at least, I've never seen a carbon steel frying pan at Williams-Sonoma, and our local SLT carried the Lodge carbon steel for only a few months before giving up and dumping them at clearance prices. I don't believe that the failure of carbon steel to sell with greater frequency has anything to do with people intentionally choosing the convenience of stainless. I'd bet it has a lot more to do with folk just assuming that any pan with a [brand x] label is the best and buying [brand x's] fry pan without consideration of any other options.

            Just my take.

            1. re: jljohn

              <You may have missed the most frequently occurring reason>

              A fairly normal reason, but I don't think it is the most frequent reason. I think you may see more of that if you look and read Chowhound or other sites, but if we are really look at general Americans which shop at Home Goods and Sam's Club, then you won't find many of them have much brand loyalty.

              < But for every one person who takes the time to consider carbon steel as an option there have to be 100 who, without considering any other option, go purchase an All-Clad frying pan>

              Partially true. I think there are more people considering stainless steel than carbon steel, but I think most of them are just scared of the seasoning process. They are unwilling to pay for All Clad anyway. They tend to just buy some lesser name stainless steel cookware anyway. In fact, most probably buy nonstick Teflon cookware.

              <Think about the number of frying pans on the shelf at Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table>

              I absolutely agree with you, but this is only true if we consider the Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table customers. These are premier upscale kitchen stores. This is a very small segment of our society.

              <I've never seen a carbon steel frying pan at Williams-Sonoma, and our local SLT carried the Lodge carbon steel for only a few months before giving up and dumping them at clearance prices. >

              Yes, but I have seen a lot of aluminum and carbon steel pans in my local restaurant supply stores, and have seen no All Clad or Le Creuset. So I think it depends which crowds you are looking at.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Agreed. I guess this little rabbit trail demonstrates how we can craft a desired conclusion simply by limiting our sample!

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  <<I've never seen a carbon steel frying pan at Williams-Sonoma, and our local SLT carried the Lodge carbon steel for only a few months before giving up and dumping them at clearance prices. >>

                  My WS (Wiregrass Mall, Wesley Chapel, FL) carries deBuyer Mineral B. And from WS online:
                  http://www.williams-sonoma.com/shop/c...

                  <I absolutely agree with you, but this is only true if we consider the Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table customers. Most people do not belong to this crowd since most cannot afford to buy at these price points.>

                  +1, ding ding ding!

                2. re: jljohn

                  <They just have to have an [insert brand name] frying pan.>
                  <If you are only considering people who actually consider both carbon steel and stainless steel, then I'm sure you are correct. But for every one person who takes the time to consider carbon steel as an option there have to be 100 who, without considering any other option, go purchase an All-Clad frying pan, simply because it is an All-Clad.>

                  I didn't think you were writing about All-Clad in your first post. I thought you were talking about brand loyalty for ANY cookware.

                  < [Please don't read this as being down on All-Clad.] >
                  I didn't. Who could be down on All-Clad? Made in America, very high quality, quite durable. I'd never buy an AC saucepan, but that's personal preference for rolled or flared rims. But as I replace my current non-induction Calphalon Tri-Ply for induction-ready pans, if I find a 10" or 12" AC frypan for $50 or so, I'll snap it up without thinking twice. :)

                  1. re: DuffyH

                    <Who could be down on All-Clad? Made in America, very high quality, quite durable.>

                    Handles, the painful handles. Sorry. I still cannot get over All Clad handles. :)

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I buy All-Clad because I love the handles. Especially the original ones. I'm a contrarian, I guess.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        :) You are a tough man. I would hate to fight you in a ring. I can always foretell the end. :P

                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        <Handles, the painful handles. Sorry. I still cannot get over All Clad handles. :)>

                        I heard they changed the handles, no?

                    2. re: jljohn

                      I don't agree. I think a lot of people like SS (inside and out) because they like their kitchen to be shiny-clean. Then some people who want SS get All-Clad because it's made in USA.

                      Williams-Sonoma and (to a lesser extent) Sur la Table are targeting cooks with showcase kitchens because that's where the money is to be made.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        <they like their kitchen to be shiny-clean.>

                        Well, there's that. Gleaming pots and pans do make me happy. They're not a requirement, but like most chicks, I go all magpie over shiny objects. :)

              2. I can't really answer your question as such but I can say that I was researching the same choice as you are now. With a little reassurance, I went with CS and picked up my first de Buyer Carbone Plus and am thrilled with it. I really love it. The seasoning is going well and I've not had anything sticking to it so far. I've not used any acidic contents yet though so I can't comment. I hope you are as happy as I am when you get yours... if you do.

                1. Someone might choose both, selecting different pans for different purposes. A carbon steel crêpe pan is the best thing for making a crêpe, without question. Similarly a larger carbon steel pan would be best for a western-style pancake. But I like my SS-lined French skillet for dishes that are cooked in a sauce. I like it for its shape and size, but the SS lining is also nice in being completely clean and effectively inert, so it does not hold any leftover flavors. I'm sure a carbon steel pan of similar size and shape would also work well enough, but it would be a lot heavier, especially if de Buyer Mineral.

                  I do have a Mineral grill pan, which I use only for meat. Nothing wrong with havong both. I can sear chicken breasts in my grill pan, then put them in the SS-lined pan with the remaining ingredients. I'm ecumenical when it comes to pan technology.

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: GH1618

                    I'll add that cleaning is not an issue. I hand wash my French skillet, even though it's supposed to be dishwasher-safe.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      Me too. I hand wash all my cookware - even when I had a dishwasher I did.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        GH and breadchick - I've always wondered why you hand wash when the mfg. says to go ahead and toss it in the DW.

                        Anytime mine gets a little dull I pop it right in there and it comes out all shiny and pretty.

                        1. re: DuffyH

                          Hand washing my French skillet is faster, and I can use BKF to get the inside really clean. Also, it takes up too much room in the dishwasher. I do put some all SS pots in the dw, as well as one all glass pan. The glass pan is hard to clean by hand, because it has an uneven surface.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            <Hand washing my French skillet is faster, and I can use BKF to get the inside really clean. Also, it takes up too much room in the dishwasher.>

                            Well, that made me go "DUH!" I never put my skillets in the DW, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. It's only the saucepans. I'm so used to washing the skillets by hand I completely forgot that I do it.

                            My son always said beauty may be skin deep, but the blonde goes all the way to the bone, lol.

                          2. re: DuffyH

                            I actually enjoy washing and caring for my cookware (strange - I know.) I have some music, a bit of wine, and - sometimes I don't get to them until the a.m. with my coffee - but it's all good. Like taking care of the pool, kinda Zen, if I understand the philosphy correctly. In the moment, enjoying the peace.

                            Well, I also have joint issues, so I've had to learn that it takes me a bit longer to do what I could always do as a wee lass. So I've accepted the process. Again - all good.

                            1. re: breadchick

                              I hear you. Although I'm glad I can toss my pots in the DW whenever I want, at least half the time I hand wash, and there's something quite satisfying about it.

                              In related news, I read an Amazon review today from a young lady who received All-Clad wedding gifts and 2 yrs later sent her DH out to get something DW safe, because it irked her that she COULDN'T wash the AC in the DW. Wha? I feel sorry for the fool who told her that when she finds out it's bunk.

                              Her DH brought home Emerilware pro-clad and she posted that one week later one of the pans was rusty. Again, wha?

                              Odd, just odd.

                              Oh! You have some deBuyer, yes? Which line?

                              1. re: DuffyH

                                It depends on which line of A-C. MC2 and LTD do not go in the d/w; LTD2 will.

                                1. re: GH1618

                                  Yes, that occurred to me. I got the impression from her post (she didn't state, just my impression) that she had the Stainless line.

                                2. re: DuffyH

                                  I have Carbone Plus, which was the only line available when I first contemplated buying carbon steel, from Chefs Catalog years ago. Since exploring what lines are available, I can see how wide a choice there is. I am pretty happy with my skillets - as are the corgis. Ha, they love their Saturday one-egg omelettes. Well, not so happy since they have to share!!

                                  Edit: I bought my first skillet from Chefs Catalog, and then bought subsequent skillets from Finest Cookware.

                                  Yeah, the AC is DW ready = folks not me! Ha!

                                  1. re: breadchick

                                    I'm anxiously waiting for Finest Cookware (thank you SO much for the tip!) to ship my Carbone crepe pan. Got the order confirmation 2 days ago, but no shipping date yet *sigh*.

                                    Anyway, I've been reading lately (and yes, I KNOW I shouldn't do that) the some people have had problems with warpage on thinner CS pans. I posted a query about it this a.m. but no bites yet. Now I'm 2nd-guessing the FB country pan I ordered at the same time, wondering if it will take high heat.

                                    Am I over-thinking? I'm prone to that, to my detriment. :(

                                    1. re: DuffyH

                                      <the some people have had problems with warpage on thinner CS pans.>

                                      It is not uncommon. The warping can be unnoticeable if you use a gas stove or a electric coil stove. It will be very noticeable if you use smooth gas top stoves.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        <It will be very noticeable if you use smooth gas top stoves.>

                                        Thanks, Chem. That set my mind at ease. Oh, wait, no, I've got a smooth top and will be switching to induction.

                                        Bet then again, my 4.5-qt saucepan gets subject to high heat several times a week, and it's still pancake flat. But it's a saucepan.

                                        Seriously, I'm thinking that if I'm careful to match pan/burner size so the whole pan gets the same heat and don't crank it right up to high, but bring it there gradually, that might help. Your thoughts?

                                      2. re: DuffyH

                                        Electric coils are the most dangerous for warpage. No need for red hot coils. If wanting a "smoking hot" pan to sear a steak or whatnot, I put my pan in a preheating oven set to 500-550F and pull it out in 15 minutes and continue it on medium heat on the stovetop... Even though I have a gas range.

                                        1. re: Muddirtt

                                          <Electric coils are the most dangerous for warpage. >

                                          I've done a pretty good job with my GE induction cooktop, too. I warped my thin CS stir fry pan during seasoning. Badly. It wobbles something fierce and spins like a top at the slightest touch, but I'm continuing to use it while I figure out if thin carbon steel is really what I want for stir fry.

                                          Last week I overheated my dB Force Blue crepe pan while adding some oil. Very mild warpage ensued. As this is my most used CS pan, the jury's out on whether to replace it. So far it seems ok. I haven't noticed any tendency to spin, so that's good.

                                          In my defense, I've only had the thing for a few months, and I'm still dialing in the heat levels, especially at the high end where I rarely go. Considering the learning curve I had going from gas to radiant electric, I think I'm doing pretty well. It's probably a good thing I haven't cooked on coils since I was a teen using Mom's thick club aluminum. ;)

                            2. re: GH1618

                              <Someone might choose both>

                              A good big picture view.

                            3. I've had clad steel for yrs, and won't do without them. As others have mentioned, they're ideal for cooking acidic foods. I've recently begun replacing my non-stick with carbon steel and am impatiently awaiting my dB Carbone 10" crepe pan (they're not just for crepes, you know!) and my dB Force Blue 14" country pan.

                              Things stainless sucks at, largely because of the amount of oil needed to achieve success:

                              cooking thin fish
                              stir fry
                              crepes
                              scrambled eggs

                              Things stainless excels at:

                              developing fond
                              building a roux
                              sautéing chicken, beef and pork

                              If I could only have 2 pans, I'd likely get one of each. But that's me.

                              21 Replies
                              1. re: DuffyH

                                What about if I have a stainless sauté pan? Wouldn't that do all of those things that stainless excels at? Why would I want a stainless fry pan over a stainless sauté pan?

                                (Also, thanks for all of your responses! :))

                                1. re: Brushy

                                  < What about if I have a stainless sauté pan? Wouldn't that do all of those things that stainless excels at? Why would I want a stainless fry pan over a stainless sauté pan? >

                                  It would, and you wouldn't. You've got it covered. :)

                                  1. re: DuffyH

                                    Right on! :)

                                    Also, what are crepe pans for other than crepes?

                                      1. re: Brushy

                                        and hash browns!

                                        Really, you can cook lots of things in them. Burgers, for example. Anything that doesn't release a quart of liquid and you're not going to sauce. Who says pans need sides?

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            Too cool! I can totally see the practicality. Talk about pan-to-plate, those are the bomb, no spatula required!

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Roti!

                                              Buss-up-shut, please.

                                              Dal puri with goat, anyone?

                                              LoL

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                I swear I learn a dozen new things here every time I check in - that is so cool... And now I want one of those too! (I'll hang it next to the black steel comal!)

                                            2. re: Brushy

                                              Pretty much anything shallow and you don't expect to spill, like crepe, pancake, eggs, ...etc

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                That's so shallow! What about fish, chicken cutlets, salmon patties and such?

                                              2. re: Brushy

                                                Really gooey grill cheese sandwiches!

                                                1. re: breadchick

                                                  Ooh, we've been doing those a lot since the weather turned cold. Shatteringly crisp crust!

                                                  1. re: DuffyH

                                                    Oh, yeah! Rub the bread with a clove of garlic and I am in heaven!

                                          2. re: DuffyH

                                            I am at a loss when people state that they can't cook certain foods in SS pans - at the proper heat they are tops for cooking. Just preheat.

                                            1. re: blade

                                              There are certain foods which cannot be cooked in a SS cookware. Fried rice for example.

                                              <at the proper heat they are tops for cooking>

                                              That is the problem. To use stainless steel cookware, you have a very narrow window for cooking without sticking. What is usage for stainless steel cookware, and what is proper for a particular dish can be different. Take fried rice for example. Fried rice should be done a very high heat, but very high heat will cause the rice stick to the stainless steel.

                                              Same for other foods.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                I mostly agree with Chem. And I write 'mostly' because with fried rice won't stick if you use more oil. But then we run the risk of having the dish turn out more oily than we'd like. I cook my over-easy eggs with butter and it takes more butter* in my SS pan than in NS or CS.

                                                I can also cook a crepe in a saucepan, but why would I want to? SS does many things very well, but it doesn't do EVERYthing very well.

                                                *There is a way to use very little fat in SS, by 'seasoning' it. Heat the pan to mercury ball hot, add some oil, swirl it, wipe it out. Let pan cool, reheat to med-low, add a pat of butter, fry egg. But it's so much simpler to use NS or CS and skip the extra steps.

                                                1. re: DuffyH

                                                  If the SS pan is bi-metal, heating it too much puts stress on the pan which can cause warpage or delamination. I never use my bi-metal SS-lined pans at high heat.

                                                  1. re: DuffyH

                                                    <because with fried rice won't stick if you use more oil.>

                                                    True true, but then the fried rice kind of tastes bad.... to me anyway. I think the problem is that the stainless steel surface cookware, as great as they are, have their own limitaton -- just like any other cookware. To make things stickless on stainless steel, there is a narrow window of temperature and more oil is needed in general. This works well with some cooking, but can contradict some other forms of cooking.

                                                    <There is a way to use very little fat in SS, by 'seasoning' it. Heat the pan to mercury ball hot, add some oil, swirl it, wipe it out>

                                                    Agree. It works, and I have mentioned it a few times here years ago. The problem, like you accurately pointed out, is that this has to be done on a regular basis and it is still inconvenient.

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      <<because with fried rice won't stick if you use more oil.>

                                                      True true, but then the fried rice kind of tastes bad....>

                                                      Yes, indeed. I don't like oily fried rice or any stir fry, for that matter, which is why I think stainless is lousy for stir fry.

                                                      On a side note, Im wondering if the Carbone 14" country pan I ordered for frying/stir fry is going to be too big. (sigh)

                                            2. One thing I never thought about before buying carbon was that "bad for acidic foods" includes deglazing with acidic liquids, including wine. If I brown meat in carbon and deglaze with wine, some of the seasoning can be dissolved and affect the flavor and color of a sauce significantly.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. I have carbon, cast iron, clad stainless & commercial quality non stick.

                                                The carbon is my go to as long as I am not deglazing with an acidic. Truth is I deglaze/clean the pan with water most of the time, reduce down and pour it in my drippings container in the frig for future use.

                                                I think everyone has hit the virtues of all types pretty well. One thing to consider is cost. Its been a while but the last time I looked a 3 piece DeBuyer carbon set was about $150.00 to the front door. That's very reasonable and within comfortable reach for many people and they are practically indestructible.

                                                Really good clad stainless can be much, much more expensive. Like the carbon, good clad stainless should last a lifetime and therefor I thinks its worth the $$$ but for many people it may be a drawn out process spanning several years putting together a set.

                                                1. The main difference is that carbon steel gets better with age and use provided you properly clean and maintain it. At the same time, maintenance gets easier. Stainless can perform as well as it's original state, but it's maintenance doesn't get any easier over time and use (provided you want to keep that beautiful stainless shine).

                                                  I rarely use stainless any more and high acidic cooking is the only reason I do. I only have two SS items now.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Rigmaster

                                                    <The main difference is that carbon steel gets better with age>

                                                    I'm fairly new (4 mos.) to CS and am tending to agree with you, at least when it comes to cooking performance. When I replace my SS pans for induction-ready, I'm leaning towards just one SS skillet, 11"-12", along with saucepans, of course.

                                                    <(provided you want to keep that beautiful stainless shine).>

                                                    Here's where we disagree. My stainless is 10 yrs old and looks gorgeous. I don't baby it, in fact SOS means "save our stainless" to me. It isn't pristinely scratch-free, no. But it shines, oh yes it does.

                                                  2. Cured cast iron or carbon steel is not merely a poor choice for acidic foods, but also poor for boiling and simmering. For instance, you wouldn't prefer cast iron for boiling rice. The coating can flake away from the pan and look like black pepper in your rice.

                                                    1. I have a question: what is the best type of pan to finish pasta in? If you watch the video below of a Roman making cacio e pepe you'll notice the pan is about 14 inches and bowl shaped. The fact that it's lightweight and has a long handle allows tireless flipping. What I'm wondering is does the type of metal effect how the cheese and fat and gluteny water adhere and coalesce with with the pasta? I found this carbon pan, is this close to what he's using?

                                                      http://vollrath.com/ProductFamily/Pro...

                                                      I could afford a namebrand pan, but I have plenty of those, what I want is something authentic, lightweight, and effective.

                                                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPJaB...

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: roxytico

                                                        I have a 14" CS pan. It has decent depth and a nice long handle. It is not something I'd think of using for any flipping, let alone tireless flipping. It is seriously heavy. The pan in the video looks much lighter, maybe aluminum.

                                                        1. re: roxytico

                                                          I tend to use the same pan I used to make the sauce. But then, I don't flip my pasta, I tend to fold it with a pair pf tongs. Clearly I'm in no position to discuss how to do it right.

                                                          Still, I don't think the pan in the video was carbon steel at all. Looks like natural aluminum to me. It's so misshapen it's hard to tell what the original shape was, but I think it's got a more curved sidewall than the Lyonnaise style pans. Maybe something similar to this: http://www.foodservicewarehouse.com/u...

                                                          1. re: roxytico

                                                            He could have used a wok. It looks like a pan that was cut down.

                                                            1. re: roxytico

                                                              It looks like an aluminum pan. lots of restaurants use them or cheap/light carbon steel pans.