When you are looking to purchase new pots and pans for your home, should you buy carbon steel cookware?
“Is Carbon Steel Cookware Safe?” is a question I hear often. Since I am both an avid home cook who uses only high-quality custom made carbon steel woks and skillets (made in China), plus I work as a carbon steel wok and cast iron dutch oven online retailer, I do come across many people who are hesitant to purchase carbon steel cookware.
To answer that question, I have done some research for this article. Here is what you need to know about the pros and cons of using carbon steel pans in your home kitchen:
Carbon steel cookware has been widely used in commercial kitchens like restaurants and catering businesses around the world for decades because it lasts longer than most other metals and heats up quickly without any hot spots.
The professional chef’s preference of ‘hot pan – cold oil’ method ensures an even heating performance, which also results in better tasting food because proper temperature control allows foods like meat to be seared properly before being cooked through.
This also means that cooking with carbon steel woks and skillets will be faster than cooking on other cookware, including non-stick surfaces.
Carbon steel heats up evenly which makes this type of a pan a great choice for a wide variety of dishes, from frying chicken or stir-frying vegetables to simmering tomato sauce for pasta – anything you need a large surface area for.
Carbon steel is naturally stick-resistant and requires little to no oil when used over medium heat (the best heat setting).
In fact, most carbon steel pans come preseasoned with vegetable oil or flaxseed oil already inside the pan, which allows food to slide off easily without sticking during the cooking process.
This precoating also gives the pan a naturally nonstick surface (and eliminates the need for cooking sprays or fats).
The best thing about carbon steel compared to most other metals is that it heats up quickly and evenly without any hot spots, which also means very little heat energy will be required by your stovetop.
This allows you to save money on energy bills over time. Finally, carbon steel pans are not only very durable but they’re usually fairly lightweight, which makes them easy to pick up and move around your kitchen- especially if you have back problems like I do where heavy foods are concerned.
Since carbon steel cookware conducts heat so efficiently, this type of cookware requires careful handling to avoid burning yourself on the exterior of the pan while moving it around.
One good bump against your stovetop or the kitchen counter could be enough to cause a terrible burn, so you should either use potholders or oven mitts when handling this type of cookware while cooking, and remember that heat conducts through the handle more easily than with other types of pots and pans.
Carbon steel is also not dishwasher safe (to avoid rusting) and must therefore be washed by hand after each use. If you like to do large batch cooking once in a while, then this can become quite tedious if not impossible for some people who prefer using their dishwashers daily instead.
Unless you intend on washing your carbon steel cookware immediately after its use (which many cooks forget to do), then it will be difficult to maintain this type of cookware in pristine condition.
Carbon steel does not come in many different colors (like cast iron) and can therefore become quite hot when exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time.
While the precoating applied to most carbon steel cookware helps prevent rusting, it also causes food to stick more easily than on non-coated pans- something you should keep in mind when handling this cookware.
Because you need very little oil when cooking with carbon steel, if the pain becomes too dry then your food will definitely stick during cooking. You can minimize sticking by keeping a small puddle of extra virgin olive oil nearby while frying, just in case you need it though.
Finally, carbon steel cookware is just too small for some people to handle well and therefore cannot be used in larger quantity cooking.
Although you can find larger-sized woks and skillets made of this type of metal, most are still quite smaller than what would be ideal for family meal preparation. Some cooks prefer using non-stick surfaces instead because they can heat up faster than traditional carbon steel pans (without rusting) and provide a smoother cooking surface.
Smaller carbon steel pans also tend to wiggle on many stovetops without proper support underneath them, something that makes it difficult to properly stir-fry food without making a mess.