Last Updated on March 9, 2022 by Andy
Are you looking to buy carbon steel cookware for your kitchen? If yes, you should know what are the pros and cons of carbon steel cookware.
Now, imagine having a cast iron pan with a nonstick finish, but with a lesser weight. In a nutshell, that is carbon steel cookware for you.
In this post, we will discuss what are the advantages and disadvantages of carbon steel cookware, so you can make the best choice for your kitchen.
What is Carbon Steel Cookware?
If you have ever had a cast iron pan or a tawa, then it gets easier for you to understand what exactly is carbon steel cookware, and what are its pros and cons. If not exactly the same, you can think of cast iron and carbon steel cookware as cousins.
In terms of the scientific composition, cast iron is a combination of 2% carbon and 98% iron. On the other hand, carbon steel cookware is made from 1% carbon and 99% iron. In simple words, this means, carbon steel cookware has less carbon and more iron.
Due to the lower carbon content in the carbon steel cookware, it is more flexible and lightweight, as compared to the cast iron cookware.
As far as the cooking experience is concerned, carbon steel cookware has the durability and heat retention of cast iron, a nonstick like surface, and of course you will need to season it as well.
In India, you can get carbon steel kitchenware in the form of a knife, kadai, pan, skillet, etc. Brands like Bergner and Lodge are your best choices, if you are thinking to get one of these in your kitchen. If you are a fan of Chinese food or like to sear meat every now and then, you can get carbon steel cookware in your kitchen.
Pros of Carbon Steel Cookware
While there is no question on the durability of cast iron cookware, one of the major downsides associated is its heavy weight. The heavy weight can take a toll when you are transferring the cookware from the cabinet to the stove or vice versa.
Similarly, the heavy weight is not going to be a pleasurable experience while you are cleaning the cast iron pan, especially for the senior citizens. This is where, carbon steel cookware scores all the brownie points, as they are relatively lightweight with thin walls.
To give you an idea, the weight of a cast iron pan from the Indus valley is 3.02 kgs, on the other hand, the weight of the Trilonium Pre-Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet is only 900 grams. In a nutshell, cast iron pan is almost 3 times as heavy as a carbon steel pan.
The majority of the Indian kitchens have limited space, unless you are living in a big apartment. Limited space also means you will have to work with a limited number of cooking utensils. With less space, you might want to have pots and pans which can do most of the cooking for you.
This means, having a multipurpose cookware is very important as compared to single use pans or pots. A carbon steel cookware serves as a multipurpose cooking utensil, as you can cook Chinese food in it, scramble eggs, stir fry vegetables, or even roast your favourite chicken.
As a matter of fact, you can also use the carbon steel cookware on gas stove, oven, induction cooktop, grill, etc. The fact that carbon steel pans heat up very fast, just like stainless steel, makes them even a better choice.
3. Faster Heating
Who does not like a cooking utensil that can heat up fast and, most importantly, remains hot for longer durations. While we agree, that cast iron pans takes a bit longer to get heated, that is not the case with carbon steel pans.
Carbon steel pans gets hot faster as compared to the cast iron pans. Moreover, you need to preheat the cast iron cookware for a good 15-20 minutes, before you start cooking. On the contrary, you only need to preheat the carbon steel cookware for 3-5 minutes, and you can start cooking in it. Not only, this saves the fuel and money, but you are also able to cook faster.
We Indians have a thing for durable stuff, be it furniture, gadgets, accessories, or even cooking utensils. There is a reason, our kitchen used to be stuffed with stainless steel containers, as they are extremely sturdy, solid, and they can last for a lifetime.
Due to the way carbon steel cookware is manufactured using 1% carbon and 99% iron, this composition makes the cookware extremely solid and sturdy. Unlike glass containers, you can even bang carbon steel pans with each other, drop them on the floor, try to scratch them, but they will still be very durable.
The good thing is carbon steel pans gain a nonstick texture with some seasoning, so even if the nonstick coating is coming off after a bit of usage, you can easily season them to get the seasoning back once again.
What’s better than having a cookware in your kitchen that is solid as a rock, and does not cost you a fortune. One of the major reasons, carbon steel cookware is preferred is because of its affordability. You can get a carbon steel pan in India from an Indian brand for less than a 1,000 rupees, and this pan will last for years to come, that’s why it is a favourite.
6. Heat Acceptance
Carbon steel pans are known to have an extremely high heat tolerance as compared to any other type of cookware. Carbon steel pans can also tolerate the heat for longer durations. This is one of the reasons, you would see restaurants using carbon steel pans, which can also be left on the stove or the oven for longer durations without any potential risks.
It is believed that carbon steel cookware can handle a heat level of up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit or 315 degrees celsius. You would need carbon steel cookware for food items that requires an intense heat cooking.
With a lot of other cookware materials, you will have to wait a bit before the cooking surface temperature responds to the extreme temperature changes. This happens when you switch the gas from high to low, but that is not the case with carbon steel cookware, as it is extremely responsive to sudden temperature changes.
A lot of cookware may not be compatible with different types of medium such as oven, induction, stove, broiler, etc. However, one of the biggest advantages with the carbon steel cookware is that it has an exceptional compatibility. You can use a carbon steel pan on gas stoves, induction cooktop, oven, etc. Carbon steel is a ferromagnetic material, which makes this cookware compatible and safe with induction cooktops.
9. Healthier Cooking
The time has long come to switch to alternatives that are not injurious to the health, and can be consumed by people of all age groups. With nonstick and carbon steel cookware, this is a possibility, as you can cook with less or no oil and still enjoy your favourite dishes.
The seasoning for carbon steel cookware is similar to that of nonstick cookware, and over a period of time, you can easily achieve a smooth and flawless nonstick surface.
Cons of Carbon Steel Cookware
1. Needs Seasoning
No matter the number of advantages or benefits that a carbon steel cookware has, you will still need to allocate some of your kitchen time to season the carbon steel pan or pot. It does not come pre-seasoned right out of the box, and regular seasoning is a must to enjoy an oil free cooking experience with a nonstick surface.
If, for some reason, you are not able to season the carbon steel cookware, the nonstick surface will be deteriorated over a period of time, and the food dishes will stick to the surface, making the cooking experience a hassle.
Rusting and discolouration is one of the major drawbacks of having a carbon steel cookware in your kitchen. Unfortunately, this risk is greater than the stainless steel cookware for carbon steel utensils. This can happen due to irregular or no seasoning at all.
Scientifically speaking, rust happens when oxygen comes in contact with the material itself, and this is because, carbon steel material does not have enough amount of chromium to form a corrosion-resistant layer, leading to rust and discolouration of the material.
3. Hot Handles
If you have ever cooked with a carbon steel cookware, then depending on various other factors, you might have experienced extremely hot handles while cooking on the stove. Of course, this also depends on the handle position, heat setting, the length of the handle, etc.
To overcome this problem, make sure the handle of the carbon steel cookware is heat resistant, or it comes with bakelite handles, so there is an ease of cooking experience.
The availability of carbon steel cookware on E-commerce platforms in India is not that great, especially when you compare it to the other cookware types such as nonstick, cast iron, stainless steel, etc. As a matter of fact, there are limited number of designs and varieties of carbon steel cookware, and whatever is available, is from international brands such as Bergner, Lodge, etc.
5. Not Dishwasher Friendly
Any type of cookware on which you are trying to create a nonstick surface should not go in the dishwasher for the sake of your efforts. The abrasive cycles of the dishwasher can tarnish the seasoning of the carbon steel cookware, causing rust on it. As an alternative, make it a habit to handwash your carbon steel pans for their better life.
6. Not for Acidic Foods
Honestly speaking, there is no fun in the Indian dishes without the taste of citrus contents such as vinegar, tomatoes, etc. So, if you have a similar kind of taste, keep other cookware to cook acidic foods, since carbon steel cookware is not meant to handle acidic foods. Cooking this type of food in the pan may affect the seasoning, leaving your carbon steel pan useless.
Is Carbon Steel Cookware Safe?
Every time we speak about the cookware material, the first question that comes to our mind is if the cookware is safe for cooking, human consumption, etc. Now, please note that carbon steel cookware is absolutely safe for Indian cooking, and here’s why.
Carbon steel cookware is a combination of carbon and iron, which is a safe cooking material. Carbon steel cookware does not contain any toxic substances, so you can easily and safely use it for day to day cooking.
Carbon steel pans unlike other cookware material does not come with a coating out of the box. The nonstick coating you develop comes from the oil, and therefore no harmful chemicals are leached into the food while you are cooking in a carbon steel pan.
Moreover, since carbon steel cookware contains a decent quantity of iron, it leaves the same into the food contents, which is only beneficial for the human beings, considering the fact a lot of us have iron deficiency.
How to Choose the Carbon Steel Cookware
1. Weight – One of the main reasons why carbon steel is preferred over the evergreen cast iron is its weight. Carbon steel pans are lightweight, with the same benefits that a cast iron pan can provide you. The lightweight pans are simply easy to use, lift, move from one place to another, or transfer from the stove to the cabinet. Before buying one of these for your kitchen, do check, since the weight should be less than 2 kgs for a carbon steel pan.
2. Handles – If you have ever used a piece of cast iron cookware, you would have noticed that it comes in a single piece without any joints, in a rivetless unibody design. This is not the case with carbon steel pans as they have a thin metal sheet, usually around 2-3 mm. Second, handles of carbon steel pans are typically forged separately and attached with rivets. Therefore, there is a good chance that handles may be too short for your convenience. So, always check the handle of the carbon steel cookware, before buying one.
3. Heating Capacity – One of the great benefits of a carbon steel pan is its high heat tolerance and heating capacity. Carbon steel pans are designed to handle a heat tolerance from 800-1200 degree celsius. This figure is far better as per our daily style of cooking, but you should still check the heating capacity of the carbon steel pan, as some dishes may require an extremely high temperature.
4. Size – While the thickness of a carbon steel pan varies from 1.5-3 mm, the diameter may vary from pan to pan. The length of the carbon steel can range anywhere from 8 to 20 inches, depending on the brand as well. According to the members in your family, pick the correct size.
5. Seasoning – The majority of the carbon steel pans come without any seasoning out of the box. While this may not be a problem, as seasoning can be performed gradually. But, you should decide whether you want the carbon steel pan to come pre-seasoned or you can handle the seasoning yourself.
How to Clean & Care for Carbon Steel Cookware
Caring for Carbon Steel Cookware: Carbon steel pans are designed to last for a lifetime, hence with simple care and maintenance tips, you can make sure to pass these pans from one generation to the other.
1. Carbon steel cookware is compatible with all types of cooktops such as gas stove, induction stove, broiler, oven, campfire, etc. You can also use a carbon steel pan on ceramic stovetops. However, before you do this, make sure you read the product label first for any conflicting instructions from the manufacturer.
2. Once you have bought a carbon steel pan, ensure to let the pan heat and cool down gradually, without forcing it to change the temperature. This is important to make sure there are no hotspots, warping on the surface of the carbon steel cookware.
3. The cooking surface of the carbon steel cookware can get extremely hot due to its high heat tolerance capability. So, always make sure the spatula, ladles, etc are compatible to tolerate that kind of temperature. As a recommendation, you can use silicone or wooden spatula for this purpose.
4. Just like the cooking surface, the handles of the carbon steel pan can get very hot, which could result in injuries, if not handled well. Thus, you can start using oven mitts or buy a carbon steel pan that comes with bakelite handles.
5. While you are cooking in a carbon steel pan, heat up the surface until you see a smoke, and then add the oil. This will prevent sticking of the food, especially with the new pans.
Cleaning the Carbon Steel Cookware: In order to clean your carbon steel cookware, you can start by washing it with hand and some warm water. You can also use a small amount of soap or a scrub brush to remove any stains from the surface of the pan.
For any type of stubborn stains, you can simmer a small amount of water for 3 to 5 minutes, then use the scraper after the pan has cooled. Once this is done, dry the pan with a paper tissue or a microfiber cloth.
Once the pan has completely dried down, rub some cooking oil on the surface of the pan, until it is completely distributed. This will help in seasoning and enhance the cooking experience.
Conclusion – The Pros & Cons of Carbon Steel Cookware
For the number of advantages, there is also an equal number of disadvantages. The decision mostly depends on your requirements. For ex – if you are looking for an affordable piece of cookware that can do most of the cooking for you, but you are ready to take care of it, especially the seasoning part, then you are good to go with the carbon steel cookware.
We hope this post on the pros and cons of carbon steel cookware was useful and informative to you. We also encourage you to read the customer reviews of any product before buying. Should you have any questions on this, feel free to leave a comment. If you want our team to review a product you are interested in buying, you can reach out to us at [email protected], and we will be happy to review it.