A professional chef will tell you that a carbon steel pan is great for just about every cooking task. After all, a carbon steel pan can be used to braised and fry on the hob and then be transferred to a hot oven to finish off the cooking.
This is because carbon steel pans don’t usually have a non-stick coating and often have metal handles too. So, these pans are fantastic in a busy, professional kitchen.
Still, do the features that make carbon steel pans great for the pros hinder them in our home kitchens? Do carbon steel pans have a place in our kitchens, or should they be reserved for the pros?
If you think of carbon steel pans like a lightweight version of a cast iron pan, you can begin to see the many uses that they have in a home kitchen. These pans are a delightful cross between a modern frying pan and a traditional cast iron pan with all of the great features of both.
Let’s take a look at the features of carbon steel pans to see just how incredible they are, shall we?
Advantages of Carbon Steel Pans
Compared with cast iron pans, carbon steel pans are extremely lightweight. If you’ve ever tried to move a cast iron pan full of food, you will know that it can be quite a struggle.
Carbon steel pans are a fraction of the weight of cast iron but still have all of the brilliant heat distribution that a cast iron pan has. In fact, because the metal is much thinner, carbon steel pans heat up much faster than cast iron.
This also allows for quick temperature changes, which is impossible with cast iron even on a gas or induction hob.
The weight saving is excellent if you enjoy braising on the hob and then transferring to the oven. However, the thinner metal also offers much more control over temperature, furthering the use of these pans in the kitchen.
Smooth cooking surface
Modern-day cast iron pans often have a rough cooking surface due to modern production techniques. This rough texture means that food cannot contact the entire cooking surface creating tiny warm and cold spots throughout the pan.
Carbon steel pans, though, have a glass-like cooking surface allowing full contact with the food. So, when you cook with carbon steel, you can achieve a more consistent sear on a steak or stir fry veg quickly and evenly.
Carbon steel pans are incredibly versatile. They can be used for any cooking tasks that a stainless-steel pan or cast-iron pan is usually reserved for.
The only cooking tasks that carbon steel may struggle with are the more delicate tasks like cooking eggs and omelettes. However, for searing steak, chicken, and fish, these pans are unbeatable.
But you can also use a carbon steel pan for veg. Stir-fries in a carbon steel pan are extremely quick and easy to cook.
Carbon steel pans, then, can be used for just about every cooking task on the hob, but they aren’t just for the hob.
One of the biggest reasons carbon steel is used so widely in professional kitchens is because these pans can be transferred directly into the oven with no harm coming to the pan at all. There is no non-stick coating to damage and no plastic handle that can melt!
If you grew up in a home with a cast iron pan, you might have been on your way to the sink with the hot pan, ready to dunk it into the water only to be hurried away and told that you mustn’t put hot cast iron into the water after cooking as it can crack.
This is, of course, very true. Cast iron is quite brittle, and even dropping it could crack this cookware.
Carbon steel pans, however, don’t suffer from these issues. Of course, to keep the seasoning intact, it isn’t a great idea to plunge it into the water after cooking, but this won’t actually damage the pan itself.
You may just need to re-season it. And if you drop a carbon steel pan, it may dent, but it certainly won’t explode!
And if a carbon steel pan does dent and is no longer useable, your wallet won’t suddenly go into shock when you need to buy a new one. Perhaps one of the best features of carbon steel pans is the price! They are fantastically good value for money.
You can find carbon steel pans for under £20 that will last you years in a home kitchen. Granted, carbon steel pans won’t outlive cast iron, but they certainly will outlive non-stick pans. And you’ll use carbon steel pans every day, which isn’t typically the case with cast iron pans.
What Are Carbon Steel Pans Good for in Home Kitchens?
Carbon steel pans are workhorses and are fantastic additions to any kitchen. This is the pan that you’ll grab for every cooking task. They heat up much faster than cast iron and offer much finer control over the heat.
However, unlike non-stick frying pans, you can chuck these in the oven to finish off your food without any fear of damage.
So, what are carbon steel pans good for? Well, just about every cooking task you can think of other than delicate tasks like frying eggs. And they are extremely good for your wallet too!
Downsides to Carbon Steel Pans
The only true downside to carbon steel pans is that they require the same care as cast iron. This means that carbon steel pans need to be seasoned, and they can’t be washed in the dishwasher as this will ruin the seasoning.
However, if you take care of your carbon steel pan, it will last many, many years in a home kitchen.
So, there you go; carbon steel pans are an excellent addition to a home kitchen. They are lightweight versions of cast iron skillets that have just as many uses.
If you want to invest in a carbon steel pan now, then do check out our articles about the best carbon steel pans in the UK. You can also find a very easy seasoning method for these pans on Chef’s Pick (we wrote it about cast iron, but it works just as well for carbon steel too).
Scott is a writer and a passionate home chef. His passion for cooking began when he was 10 years old. Scott has been writing professionally for over five years now and loves to combine his passion for cooking with his day job.