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

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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.

          TS

          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.

                http://www.debuyer.com/video.php?id=44

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

                http://youtu.be/xoIO8YOpyN4?t=1m32s

                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.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              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.

              2. Jennie2, the initial seasoning of a carbon steel pan can be tricky. The main thing is not to use too much oil. You want only a thin coating of oil in the pan, which you then burn into the pan to create a layer of seasoning, making sure that the first layer is well and truly settled in before starting the second. First clean out that sticky gunk by boiling vinegar in the pan and scouring it out with a stainless steel pad.

                Here's how I did it: set the clean pan over a high/med-high burner. Dab some grapeseed oil onto a kitchen towel or paper towel and then swab it into the hot pan with a pair of tongs. You want as thin a coat of oil as possible, spread evenly over the inner surface. When the pan has stopped smoking and looks blotchy grey inside, turn off the heat and let it cool completely. Repeat as desired with more layers of seasoning until it looks right to you.

                I will say that my pan has never gotten to the beautiful glossy black color I've seen in some of these seasoning videos, but it works just fine.

                1. Checking in with an update. I did one more round of seasoning with a thin coating of grapeseed oil, then started cooking with the pan. I had used it 3 times pretty successfully, then tonight cooked a stir fry (tofu, veggies). The tofu stuck a bit, as did the mushrooms. Some of the color definitely came off.

                  I've been using metal utensils, but I had understood that was OK with carbon steel. I'm cleaning with hot water and a "dobie" then drying with paper towel. Paper towel tonight did not come off clean even after numerous wipings.

                  I'm posting a photo of the current state of the pan. You can kind of see the ring of dark spots where my gas burner was hotter as well as the scraping from my metal utensils.

                  Am I still doing OK, and should continue cooking as per usual?
                  Is it OK to eat the burnt bits that come off during cooking?
                  Do I need to start over from scratch?

                  Thank you all so much for the advice. Very much appreciated!

                   
                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Jennie2

                    You're still okay. The uneven character of the darkening suggests to me that you're maybe pushing a bit hard on all fronts--with the oil, with the utensils, and with the dobie. None of which will be distastrous but will slow down the arrival at a more uniform coating. The darker parts appear to me to have perhaps had a bit too much oil burned on at once. The lighter parts are visibly scraped and scuffed.

                    Everything will even out with time. Try cooking for a few weeks with foods less challenging than tofu and eggs, as regards non-stick performance.

                    Also, a cleaning tip that helps to minimize scraping: when it's time to clean the pan, get it quite hot on a burner with whatever crud is left in there, and then splash in a half cup or so of water. The instant boiling action of the water makes it simple to scrape away pretty much anything with a wooden spoon. Then use a paper towel to wipe out the residual moisture, and keep the pan on the heat until the water fully evaporates, which keeps the pan from corroding. No need to oil the pan at that point, if it's in routine use. Just oil the next time before cooking.

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Excellent advice, thank you!
                      I'll ease back on utensils and challenging foods, and will try the cleaning method you suggest.

                    2. re: Jennie2

                      <Am I still doing OK, and should continue cooking as per usual?>

                      I would say that you are mostly ok, but the seasoning is coming off more than it should -- based on the photo. A couple thing you can do for a new pan. First, you can use a softer utensils just for now, or applying less force while using the metal utensils. Second, try to wait for the foods (especially meat) to release themselves instead of forcing them.

                      <Is it OK to eat the burnt bits that come off during cooking?>

                      Yes. Well, it depends how burnt we are talking about too. If it is brown bits, then you are more than fine. If they look like black charcoal, then it is probably not a good idea to consume them all the time. Once awhile is fine, but you won't want to eat them all the time.

                      <Do I need to start over from scratch?>

                      Most likely not.

                      <I've been using metal utensils, but I had understood that was OK with carbon steel. I'm cleaning with hot water and a "dobie" then drying with paper towel. >

                      While you can use a metal utensil, try to be more gentle when the pan is brand new and is still developing the seasoning layer. As for cleaning, try to soak the pan in warm water for a few minutes (2-5 min) before removing stuck on foods. By soaking the pan, it will be easier to remove the burnt on food particles without ripping the seasoning off.

                      1. re: Jennie2

                        Your cleaning method is stripping the seasoning, it is apparent in your picture.

                        I like the salt and oil method of cleaning. Once you rinse the salt out with water it leaves a fine layer of oil that is really nice.

                        1. re: Jennie2

                          I have DeBuyer steel pans & they pretty much look like your picture as part of the continuing process. Just keep on cooking, I don't use soap- really hot water with a soft scrubber. I think you are getting there!

                        2. Being a half vegetarian myself, I find a carbon steel pan / cast iron pan rather pointless. I use my stainless steel pans mostly and I make sure to use the carbon steel pan whenever I fry anything because I want to maximize its opportunity to get seasoned.

                          Well, I've had this pan for some years now. I made sure I only fried things in it since my last melt down (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7629...). Of course no soap either. The seasoning looked nice, so I decided to put it to test several weeks ago. I made saute swiss chard (high in oxalic acid, main ingredients in bar keepers friend). Yep, seasoning got ruined again.

                          It was pretty non-stick before the chard experiment (water formed beads after washing). I'm just gonna take it easy, accept its flaws, and keep in mind a list of food items that are acidic. I'm pretty convinced that I'm never gonna get a beautiful black sheen on the pan like the rest of the people do, unless other vegetarians can chime in. I'd like to hear what kind of food and cooking they do, and whether they have to reseason the pan every 6 months in the oven.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: cutipie721

                            Do you go very light on oil? I'm surprised sauteed chard or any greens would have such an effect.

                            1. re: cutipie721

                              < I made saute swiss chard (high in oxalic acid, main ingredients in bar keepers friend). Yep, seasoning got ruined again.>

                              Acidic foods are not the best, but it should not automately ruin the seasoning. It really depends the stability of your seasoning. For example, I was just using vinegar yestersday and my seasoning on my carbon steel cookware survived.

                              <(water formed beads after washing)>

                              That is just the oil residue. The seasoning itself does not necessary form waer beads.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                To both Bada Bing and CK...

                                I admit, my seasoning on the pan will not win any competition to begin with. I might have put it in the oven once to season but that's about it because I hated how it stinked up the house for days. Others will have different reasons why they don't want to do a special seasoning spa for their pans. Our only way of building it up is through constant use.

                                My observation is that the layer of seasoning comes and goes. I have no doubt that someone can make tomato sauce in it once in a while with no ill effects. That might strip off some seasoning, but not deep enough to see through the bottom of the pan, and you may think nothing happened. The next day s/he makes some bacon for breakfast and a steak for dinner, the seasoning is recovered and become stronger. I can't imagine high heat searing and/or high fat cooking being common among vegetarians. It's not easy to build anything if the cooking makes the seasoning "go" as quickly as it "comes".

                                I'm not saying vegetarians can't make this happen. You just need to understand what to expect. I'd still be interested to hear from vegetarians who has a stella pan, and/or happy to use it everyday - what their cooking style is and tips.

                                1. re: cutipie721

                                  I agree that seasoning is dynamic--has its ups and downs.

                                  But I really don't think that meats are so crucial--vegetable/nut oils certainly play the largest part in my carbon steel wok's history with fats. You'll see it's hardly picture perfect, but it's functional. High heat is common here but not high fat.

                                  Suggestion for Jennie2: try using your pan like a wok, maybe making smallish quantities of blackened or Sechaun green beens (yum) or asparagus.

                                   
                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                    That's how my pan looks like as well and I don't bother to make it look any better. :-) Agree with the stir-fry strategy for the initial phase.

                                    1. re: cutipie721

                                      Thank you for all of your kind and helpful responses.

                                      I didn't think the tablespoon of vinegar in my stir fry sauce would have an effect -- but maybe it did. Especially combined with the sticking tofu.
                                      I'll focus on cooking with fat, no acid, for the next few uses and see how it goes.

                                      Bada Bing, thanks for posting the photo of your wok -- very reassuring that it's not "picture perfect."

                                      1. re: Jennie2

                                        It should look really grody, AAMOF. That's the whole point.

                                        1. re: Jennie2

                                          <I didn't think the tablespoon of vinegar in my stir fry sauce would have an effect >

                                          Depends. We can talk more about this if you like.

                              2. Quick update.
                                I continued to have trouble with food sticking and stuff flaking off (e.g. when I sauteed some mushrooms in grapeseed oil, they stuck to the pan and some dark stuff flaked off when I stirred with a wooden spoon).
                                I didn't start completely over, but I started partway over. I scrubbed the pan with a green scotch-brite scrubbing pad. I seasoned with a thin coat of grapeseed oil. I seasoned again. Then I started cooking (e.g. stir fried veggies).
                                The pan is not non-stick yet, but I don't expect it to be -- I've only used it three times since the re-seasoning.
                                I'm using a wooden spoon and avoiding vinegar and other acidic ingredients.
                                I'll keep you posted on the progress.

                                 
                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Jennie2

                                  Your pan looks pretty good to me. Make sure you're using enough oil (tablespoon at least) and that you let the oil heat up so that it is shimmering at the outset. That creates an initial barrier between the metal and the food.

                                  1. re: Jennie2

                                    <some dark stuff flaked off when I stirred with a wooden spoon>

                                    Do you actually see the flakes? If so, your seasoning layer is too thick and has a unstable foundation.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      I did see actual flakes. That was what prompted me to scrub the pan and start seasoning again.

                                      1. re: Jennie2

                                        Then, that means our very base was weaker, so the seasoning chipped like paint from the wall. Your first one to two seasoning layers are more important. Keep them thin, and season the pan thoroughly -- either by a good high heat or a long process. Good luck

                                  2. No, no, no, no, no. Seasoning carbon steel cookware is an easy project. First, clean the skillet with soapy hot water, scouring if necessary to get down to bare metal. Rinse thoroughly, then dry with a paper towel until it's bone dry.
                                    One of the better seasoning oils is flax-seed, but extra-virgin olive oil or any cooking oil will do. The only surface of the skillet that needs to be seasoned is the interior. Coat this surface with a very thin coat of oil, making sure that no oil collects in a pool. Heat the skillet over an open flame or an electric burner until it's about 375 degrees F. Remove from the heat and set it aside and let it cool until it's comfortable to touch. Now, coat the interior with another very thin coat of flax-seed oil, then place the skillet once more over the heat and let it come to temperature. Remove from the heat and let it cool again. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Repeat the heating-cooling-oiling cycle again for at least ten times. On the eleventh cycle, use a thin coat of butter (salted or un-) and let it cool. Your skillet should now be seasoned, virtually non-stick. Use only nylon or wooden utensils while cooking, and do not clean with soap or detergent, lest you have to re-season.