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  • This is What You Should Know Before Buying A Carbon Steel Pan

    September 1st, 2021 (Updated August 17th, 2023)

    Carbon Steel Pans are very well loved by many home cooking enthusiasts and professional chef’s alike, and with good reason. This cookware boosts the durability and heat tolerance of cast iron, but the benefits of an easy release cooking surface like that of non-stick, and the thermal conductivity of stainless steel. Our most popular pieces of carbon steel cookware are the Matfer Bourgeat Carbon Steel Fry Pans which have continued to be a customer favorite at Cook’s Direct since being recognized in Cook’s Illustrated back in 2015. The Matfer Bourgeat pans come in four sizes:

    Matfer Bourgeat 062001 an 8-5/8” round carbon steel fry pan
    Matfer Bourgeat 062004 an 11” round carbon steel fry pan
    Matfer Bourgeat 062005 11-7/8” round carbon steel fry pan
    Matfer Bourgeat 062006 12-5/8” round carbon steel fry pan

    In spite of the benefits listed above and the expert recommendation, carbon steel is not for every cooking application. Here’s a quick review of the things you should know and understand before you decide to hit that buy button.

    Benefits of Cooking with Carbon Steel Cookware

    Lightweight and easy to handle – carbon steel cooks like cast iron but weighs significantly less. To demonstrate, a popular 12” cast iron skillet weights 8 lbs. compared to the 12” Matfer carbon steel fry pan weighing in at just over 5-1/2 lbs.

    Multipurpose – carbon steel cookware can be used on the stove, in the oven, under the broiler and on the grill. Is there anything more to say? If you only have room for a few pans, carbon steel can do the work of many.

    Lasts a Lifetime – carbon steel is 1% carbon and 99% iron, which is a highly durable and strong composite that is also malleable or pliant. You can drop, bang, over heat or otherwise handle your carbon steel cookware in a not so gentle manner and it unlikely to break or crack.

    Affordability – professional chefs and home cooks will all agree that it is easy to find a quality carbon steel pan to meet their needs that is affordably priced and delivers a great cooking experience. Our most popular size is the 11-7/8” carbon steel fry pan and it is under $45.

    Superior Heat Tolerance – carbon steel is remarkably heat tolerant which is why it makes great cookware. Most all carbon steel pans are safe up to minimum 600 degrees with some oven safe as high as 1200 degree F. One of the reasons many restaurants will have a wide variety of carbon steel pans is that they can be safely left on range top burners for long periods without concern for damage.

    Quick to Heat Up – carbon steel will heat up and cool down faster than cast iron. The slim design promotes a faster heat transfer from the stove to the surface. Shaving a few minutes off of every dish you are preparing can add up in a busy restaurant.

    Responsive - change the temperature of your heat source and your pan will change temperatures relatively quickly too. Having a pan that responds quickly to temperature changes lets you avoid over or undercooking foods.

    Versatile – you can use carbon steel cookware with nearly any heat source and cook top. Place your carbon steel cookware in the oven, on the grill, in the broiler or on top of the range. And it will be compatible with induction, gas or electric ranges. Carbon steel cookware is light weight and easy to transport, plus you can pretty much count on being able to use it where ever you will be cooking.

    Safe – Carbon steel is made from iron and carbon, both materials are non-toxic and food safe. Additionally, a carbon steel pan doesn’t come with a non-stick surface, but rather you season the pan with oil or lard; also non-toxic, so the surface is non-stick without any added chemicals.

    The Challenges to Using Carbon Steel Cookware

    Requires Seasoning – your carbon steel cookware does not come with a non-stick surface. Instead, it must be seasoned before you cook with it to create the desired slick, quick release finish. Seasoning will also prevent rust and protects against everyday wear and tear. Seasoning itself is relatively easy, as well as necessary. Refer to this document for printable seasoning instructions. Or see below:

    1. Before use, wash pan under hot water in mild detergent, using a bristle brush, if necessary, to remove all protective coating. Thoroughly dry the pan.

    2. Sauté oil and salt the skins of two potatoes on medium heat, continually swirling around entire pan. The amount of these ingredients will vary depending on the size of pan, i.e. for a medium pan use 1/3 cup oil, 2/3 cup salt and the skins of two potatoes. Discard after sauteing for 15 minutes.

    3. Repeat step 2 again.

    4. After processing steps 2 and 3, briefly reheat frying pan with a little oil, remove from heat and wipe with paper towel.

    AFTER USE: Wipe with paper towel or rinse under hot water. Do not use dish soap and do not allow pan to air dry. Dry thoroughly by briefly placing on hot burner and re-grease lightly.

    As you enjoy cooking with your Matfer Black Steel Pan, the color will naturally become darker until it is black.

    May Rust or Become Discolored - unlike stainless steel, carbon steel can rust if not properly seasoned. Carbon steel can also become discolored for a variety of reasons; too much oil will cause ripples of discoloration, spotting is a reaction to acidic food, and over time, most carbon steel will develop a black patina. Changes to its appearance won’t affect performance.

    Hot Handles – Unlike some of the stainless steel pans that have a hollow or pronged connection to disperse heat, most carbon steel pans have flat handles connected directly to the base with rivets which can get very hot. Think ahead and order a silicone sleeve with your fry pan.

    Hand Wash Only – carbon steel cookware is not dishwasher safe and doing so would ruin the pan and the seasoning. The good news is that carbon steel is easy to clean, just wash in warm water and wipe dry.

    Reactive to Acidic Foods – carbon steel and tomatoes just don’t go together. You’ll also want to avoid wine sauces and dishes with lots of lemon juice or other acidic foods. Keep in mind, a splash of vinegar or small amount of lemon won’t ruin the pan but simmering a wine or tomato sauce will strip the seasoning layer and you will be better served using a stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot as these are non-reactive surfaces.

    Food Sticks To Surface (if not seasoned) – for experienced chefs or home cooks familiar with carbon steel and cast iron, this isn’t an issue. But if you’re unaware that your pan requires seasoning and you cook with it right after you receive it, you’ll disappointed.

    Less Common than Other Materials – carbon steel cookware is not as commonly found as stainless or aluminum cookware and many consumer cookware brands don’t even offer carbon steel. For the home cook or amateur chef, you may have to search through unfamiliar commercial cookware lines to find what the carbon steel pan that you want.

    Unevenly Surface Heating – while carbon steel cookware heats up quickly and is responsive to changes in temperature, for even heat distribution a multi-clad stainless steel pan will always win. Multi-clad cookware features an aluminum core which is highly conductive, heating quickly and evenly. In smaller pans, this may not be an issue but with a larger pan, you may find that different parts of your food may cook faster or slower, potentially troubling if cooking meats or delicate foods like fish.

    So, is carbon steel cookware for you?

    It is lightweight, heats up fast, affordable, and highly durable. You do need to remember to season your pan before cooking with it and then re-seasoning when needed. If you’re cooking lots of acidic foods, you will end up disappointed. But if you’re looking to enhance your cookware collection and looking for affordable pots or pans that can be used with most foods, are easy to handle, responsive and will last for years, you should give carbon steel cookware a try.

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