Carbon Steel Pan vs. Stainless Steel Pan – Which One is Better?

Carbon steel and stainless steel pans are widely used all over the globe and they both come with a huge variety of benefits.

They’re non-porous, durable, lightweight, and non-reactive, which makes them some of the best types of pans for heavy usage.

Despite all of these similarities, they’re not the same at all.

In this article, we’ll enumerate some of their many differences between a carbon steel pan and stainless steel pan so you can determine which one is the best choice for your kitchen.

Carbon Steel Pans

Carbon steel pans are made with a combination of iron and a very tiny amount of carbon.

They’re typically a little heavier than stainless pans and come with a natural non-stick surface that’s free from harmful toxins. Additionally, they can tolerate high cooking temperatures and heat up evenly across the surface.

Much like stainless steel pans, they’re resistant to corrosion and rust and are quite durable.

A surprising fact you may not be aware of is that carbon steel cookware is known to secrete iron into the food that you’re cooking that can be quite beneficial for your health.

Related read: How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan?

Let’s take a look at some advantages of these pans:

Advantages of Carbon Steel Pan

  • Once carbon steel pans have lost their natural non-stick coating due to excessive use, they can easily be made non-stick if they’re seasoned properly.
  • They can be heated to higher temperatures than stainless steel. Since they can retain heat, they’re best used for frying, grilling or searing fish, steaks, and chicken.
  • They require less fat for cooking and are more economical than most high-end stainless steel pans.
  • A carbon steel pan can be put in the oven at high heat temperatures.

Disadvantages of Carbon Steel Pan

  • Carbon steel pans shouldn’t be used to cook foods that are highly acidic, such as tomatoes, as the acid can damage the non-stick coating and give the food a metallic taste.
  • Typically, their heating surface isn’t as uniform as that of a stainless steel pan.
  • You need to wash, dry, and oil them regularly if you want to protect them from rust.
  • They need to be seasoned frequently, especially if they’ve been in use for quite some time, so they can retain their non-stick coating.
  • It’s NOT safe to clean them in the dishwasher.

Tips for Cooking with Carbon Steel Pans

Just like most cookware, there are some precautions you need to keep in mind when you’re cooking with carbon steel pans:

  • Since they don’t react well to highly acidic foods, it’s recommended that you avoid preparing sauces or using recipes that call for a lot of vinegar, red wine, and tins of tomatoes. They won’t damage the pans, apart from ruining the seasoning, but they can impart unpleasant metallic flavors to all of your favorite foods.
  • If you’re planning to store them for a long period of time without using them, it would be wise to oil them properly before wrapping them up in a tea towel or something similar and keeping them in the driest place in your kitchen.
  • As the natural seasoned surface, they come with is just superficial, high-fat food items like bacon or a pork chop should be some of the first things you cook in them. The fat from these foods will help boost the layers of seasoning.
  • Use a neutral oil to season them and place them upside down on sheet pan before baking them in your oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour.

Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel pans, often called ‘stainless’, are made with an alloy consisting of around 10 to 30% chromium and iron.

What sets them apart from most other forms of steel pans is that they don’t rust or corrode.

If you’re considering buying them, it’s important to note that although solid stainless steel pans that aren’t clad with conductive metals are quite inexpensive, they should be avoided at all costs.

Clad stainless pans, particularly ones that are made out of copper or a combination of copper and aluminum, are a lot better.

Since stainless steel doesn’t have good heat conductivity on its own, a layer of copper or aluminum is sandwiched between the steel to improve its heat conductivity.

They can heat evenly and won’t scorch your food, but keep in mind that they’re on the pricier side. They’re known to be quite strong, durable, versatile, and usually come with a lifetime warranty.

Advantages of Stainless Steel Pan

  • One of the best things about stainless steel pans, hands down, is that they’re rust-free.
  • All-clad stainless steel pans are much better in appearance than carbon steel, so if you’re in the habit of collecting beautiful cookware, you need to get your hands on these as they have loads of other benefits too.
  • They’re perfectly safe for use in the oven and can also be cleaned in the dishwasher, which means less work for you.
  • Another great thing about them is that they don’t need to be seasoned and can be recycled as well.

Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Pan

  • Even though these pans don’t really require seasoning, they don’t come with a non-sticking coating. While using these pans, even professional chefs can have a hard time keeping the food from sticking to the surface.
  • If they’re not maintained properly, any scratches or damages to their surface can lead to metal leaching into your food and altering its taste significantly.
  • They aren’t good heat conductors.
  • They can be quite heavy-weight, especially if they come with a copper core.

Tips for Cooking with Stainless Steel Pans

Here are some cooking techniques you need to keep in mind when you’re handling stainless steel pans:

  • Since tiny bits of meat and vegetables can easily get stuck on their surface, consider deglazing the pan first with chicken stock or a glass of wine. This will also add a really nice flavor to all your dishes.
  • Because of their enhanced heat distribution and retention, they’re best used to prepare sautéed and braised foods.
  • Before tossing in your ingredients, it’s advisable to test the pan first to make sure it’s ready. Drop a tiny piece of meat or vegetable or even a drop of water into the pan. If this results in a ‘tss’ sound, then that means the pan is ready.
  • Cold food works the same way as water when it comes to combatting heat. Make sure all the ingredients are somewhat close to the room temperature before cooking them in stainless steel pans.
  • Avoid cooking eggs in stainless steel pans as they have a natural tendency to stick. Reserve omelets and sunny side up eggs for your non-stick pans.

Major Differences between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel Pans

Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about both types of cookware, let’s delve deep into some of their major differences so you can determine which of them suits your cooking needs the best.

Appearance

Both stainless steel and carbon steel pans have a bright and shiny appearance. However, it’s observed that carbon steel pans are in need of a clear coat quickly after they’ve been through the polishing process.

If they aren’t polished and seasoned regularly, they’ll begin to tarnish and eventually get corrosion. A stainless steel pan, on the other hand, will retain its shiny coating even when it’s scratched.

Heat-Resistance Ability

Stainless steel pans are poor heat conductors and require a copper or aluminum layer to be added on their base so that they’re able to contact heat evenly across the surface.

Carbon steel pans, however, are popular for their impressive heat conductivity. They can even retain heat a couple of minutes after they’ve been taken off the heat source.

Even though they both have the ability to withstand high heat temperatures, carbon steel pans are known to be a little more tolerant of heat.

Corrosion-Resistance Ability

As we’ve established, the ability to resist corrosion is a huge factor that comes into play when you’re looking for pans that can last for a long time in your kitchen.

Both carbon steel and stainless pans are made up of iron that oxidizes upon exposure to the environment over time and creates rust on the surface.

Due to the addition of chromium metal in stainless steel pans, they’re a lot more resistant to corrosion as chromium has the ability to attach itself to oxygen quite easily as opposed to iron and can form a protective layer that reduces the chances of corrosion.

Whereas carbon steel pans typically don’t have a sufficient amount of chromium to form this layer and as a result, oxygen gets attached to the iron, which leads to iron oxide, more commonly known as rust.

To Sum Up

Now that you’ve learned almost everything you should know about carbon steel and stainless steel pans, it’ll be a lot easier for you to decide which cooking pan you can get the most use out of.

It’s also important to take other factors into consideration, such as your heat source as flat top stoves require pans that are completely flat on the bottom to promote even heat distribution.

They’re both available at vastly different points so you’ll need to take your budget into consideration as well when you’re shopping for essential cookware.

To get the most out of your pans and make sure they last a long time, you need to take proper care of them and use the right cooking techniques to avoid causing unnecessary damage to the material.

Other Cooking Pan articles you may like: