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Jun 15, 2013 06:21 AM

I'm having trouble with my first ever carbon steel pan

Dear Hounds,

Although I am a frequent reader of chowhound boards, this is my first post. I apologize in advance for any posting faux pas.

I have read all the threads on seasoning carbon steel pans and woks, including the "I messed up the seasoning" threads -- yet I am still confused as to next steps. (I think this is partly because I have never used a carbon steel or cast iron pan of any kind before). I've attached a photo of what it looks like after my initial seasoning attempts.

Anyway, my question:
I purchased a Mauviel M'steel 9.5" frying pan. I followed the instructions to remove the beeswax with very hot water -- it took me four tries and I ended up having to use a "dobie" (not just paper towel) and dish soap on the third try.
I dried the pan thoroughly and let it sit overnight.

Then I followed the instructions (pasted below) to season with oil. I poured a thick layer of grapeseed oil (maybe 3-4 tbsp? My first mistake?) and heated for 5 min (the point at which the oil just started to smoke). I swirled the oil around the pan (my second mistake?) and left it to cool. I repeated the process. I noticed sticky spots on the sides so tried to rub those off with kosher salt and paper towel. The result is the photo above. It also didn't get dark like I thought it was supposed to.

My questions:
If I can continue, what is my next step?
Do I need to start over? If so, should I scour the pan? If so, with what?
Any other instructions/suggestions?

I live in an apartment with gas oven, no window in the kitchen, and no access to outdoor grill or blowtorch. I'm a vegetarian, so no access to lard or bacon.

Thank you so much for your help -- maybe I am overthinking it and can just start cooking?

Instructions included with pan:
Prior to first use, clean the pan with very hot water to remove the beeswax from the entire pan. The beeswax is used to prevent the pan from rusting and to save time when seasoning. If at first use, you notice any wax residue, use a paper towel to wipe your hot pan clean. for seasoning, cover the bottom of the pan with flavorless oil and heat for 5 minutes. Let the pan cool before draining the oil, and then wipe clean with paper towels. Repeat the process a second time and your pan is ready for use. After this process, the pan will acquire a natural nonstick property. After cooking, wash the pan in hot water, wipe with a soft sponge and dry thoroughly. Do not use dish soap and do not remove the black layer that forms at the bottom of the pan, it will make a solid film and create a non-stick surface. Dry thoroughly to prevent resulting and store in a dry area. The pan will darken with use, creating a naturally nonstick surface.

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  1. It's not clear to me that you have any problem yet. The darkening of carbon steel can take a while, as layers of oil build up and polymerize. The non-stick quality also improves over time, so don't be disappointed if there's some sticking the first several times with tricky items, like eggs.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Bada Bing

      Agree with Bada Bing. Continue seasoning by cooking a wide range of fatty foods. Things that will not matter if they stick. Chicken and pork work for me. Do not use for bacon initially as the salt in the fat corrupts the surface you are trying to attain.

      Be patient. Depending on how often you use it, it could be quite a while before you get the non-stick over easy eggs pan you are working towards.

      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

        Thank you both!

        Bada Bing -- I wasn't sure if I had done something wrong because it came out sticky/drippy-looking on the sides. I'll just start using it as I normally would.

        IndianriverFL -- should I avoid initially using for stir fries w/soy sauce because of salt content?

        1. re: Jennie2

          Fine for stir fry. Just don't let it sit in the pan with high heat.

          And the drippy sides will wear away. Have fun.

        2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          Interesting point about salt and bacon. I'd never thought of that.

      2. That little brown spot on your photo is what will eventually be all over the pan. Mine is splotchy in the brownness, but works great. I too wondered what is a properly seasoned pan and watched endless Youtube videos of seasoning. Unless you have access to one of those Chinese restaurant super blow torch type of gas burners, you will have this result.

        Just start cooking. If things stick, pour in some really hot water, leave for just a minute or two - No more than that, and wash with no soap but either a sponge or a Dobie pad (what I use). I towel dry after washing and then heat and oil the pan - not the seasoning way, but heat and add some oil and wipe it around the pan with a paper towel. This protects the pan and prevents rust. The pan does get better with continued use.

        2 Replies
        1. re: laraffinee

          +1 on this advice. carbon steel is very forgiving. Just cook with it and it will get better and better. The only time I would go to the trouble to go through any seasoning ritual on one would be when I was creating a dedicated omelette pan.

          1. re: tim irvine

            Great, thanks, laraffinee and tim irvine -- that puts my mind at ease!
            My gas stove is pretty strong (it's the original stove from 1965), but the ventilation in my apartment is not so great, so I'm reluctant to turn the burner all the way up to high. Splotchy is fine with me.
            I will start cooking!

        2. Hi Jennie2.

          IMO, you might have better luck using less oil for seasoning. You write that you used a "thick layer" of oil. I'd suggest you try again with a very thin layer.

          When I seasoned my carbon steel pans, I just wiped on a very thin even layer of oil (well, lard, actually) with a folded up paper towel. (BTW, if you hold the paper towel in a pair of tongs, you can wipe on more oil while the pan is hot, allowing you to focus on specific areas.)

          One of the great things about carbon steel pans is that you really can't mess them up permanently. Even if your first seasoning efforts fail completely, you can always grab some steel wool, scour the pan back to bare metal, and try again.

          Good luck.


          1 Reply
          1. re: tanuki soup

            Good idea; I'll try one more round (before cooking) w/a thin layer of oil.
            Great tip re: holding the paper towel with tongs!

          2. <Then I followed the instructions (pasted below) to season with oil. I poured a thick layer of grapeseed oil (maybe 3-4 tbsp? My first mistake?) and heated for 5 min (the point at which the oil just started to smoke). I swirled the oil around the pan (my second mistake?) and left it to cool.>

            Most likely you are fine. Sticky spots are not desirable, but they are usually not the end of the world, and can be worked around. Sticky spots are incomplete seasoning spots. You did exactly the right thing by scratching them out. As long as they are not too thick, they will disappeared in time.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Thanks; that's reassuring.
              I'll report back once I've cooked in it.

              1. re: Jennie2

                You are doing just fine. Based on the photo, it seems that you have under-seasoned it. If needed, season the pan one more time before cooking.

                As for your earlier questions, it is actually fine to use a lot of oil or very little little oil. However, there is an intermediate amount of oil which would make it difficult to season. In this immediate amount, the oil will be unevenly spread on your pan, and you will get spots. If you want to use very little oil, then use a paper towel to help spread the oil. If you want to use a lot of oil, then you want enough oil to cover your pan and swirl the oil around.

                As for the smoke point, you are doing it just right by bringing the oil just to and above the smoke point. You don't want excessive smoking, but you want to visibly see the smoke. Finally, swirling the oil around the pan is a good practice (for a lot of oil), so you do want to keep doing what you have been doing

                Here is a seasoning video from DeBuyer. I have tried this method, and it does work.


                Vollrath also has its seasoning video, and this one also works very well too.


                My personal method is a bit different than either, but again these two methods do work.

            2. Hi, jennie:

              There's bad news and then there's better news...

              The bad news is that taking the oil past the smoke point was a mistake. The good news is that it's a small mistake, easily fixed. And even if you don't want to fix it, it's no big deal.

              This is going to sound more technical than it is. Do you have a IR thermometer? If so, stop before the smoke point of your oil. If not, do it in the oven, at a setting below the smoke point. The problem with going past the smoke point temperature is that you will get spots and runnels (like tears in a wineglass) that polymerize unevenly.

              The *really* good news is that you could do your worst like... 1000 times and the your steel pan would still be waiting, like a loyal puppy, for you to try again. You can't hurt it. And if you cook enough in the most screwed up pan in the world, it'll still work.

              I urge you to relax, go slow, and reward yourself with a stem of wine on each try. Err on the side of less oil, too.


              1 Reply
              1. re: kaleokahu

                Good point on less oil. Last night I tossed some big scallops into a hot steel pan with no oil. I got a good sear and flipped them onto a small pat of butter, drizzled with miso and lime, and lifted them out. Of course it was a good sharp spatula, but the point is they released fine and the pan was not hard to clean. If I messed up the pan, a burger or some bacon will restore it quickly.