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Cast iron pans have been a popular kitchen staple for years, but professional chefs around the world have come to love pans of a different material: carbon steel. This alloy is made from steel and carbon (just like cast iron) but in slightly different proportions. When used to create cookware, the result is a lighter, less brittle, smoother metal that performs almost exactly like cast iron, with similar durability and versatility. Once the pan has been seasoned, it will give you a nonstick surface that stands up to metal cooking tools, so you won’t have to worry about scratches. You’ll be able to use a carbon steel pan for searing, frying, sauteing, and broiling on just about any cooktop, including induction, BBQ grills, and on a campfire.
Like cast iron, carbon steel does require some mindful maintenance in order to retain its seasoning, but when it's properly cared for, it will last for the long-term. If you’re thinking about investing in some new cookware, here are the best carbon steel pans.
Securely riveted handles
Can use on any cooktop
Hand wash only
Requires special attention to maintain seasoning
Lodge is well-known for its vast array of cast iron cookware, so it makes sense that the company would venture into making carbon steel cookware as well. Like Lodge's cast iron, this skillet comes pre-seasoned, so you can start cooking with it right away, but of course, more seasoning will make it more nonstick and more rust-resistant. The skillet comes in sizes ranging from 8-inch to 15-inch and is also broiler safe.
Like cast iron, carbon steel pans become more and more nonstick over time, without the need for special coatings during manufacturing. In use, carbon steel pans are thinner and lighter than cast iron, and also more responsive to temperature changes. This one can be used on all cooktops, including induction, as well as on a barbecue grill or campfire.
Suitable for all cooktops
Welded handle makes it easy to clean
Will require seasoning and regular maintenance to upkeep surface
This all-purpose pan by Matfer Bourgeat is made in France and is designed for commercial and home use. Constructed of unseasoned black carbon steel, you’ll have to season it yourself (but once you do, it will perform as a non-stick surface). The steel handle is welded securely to the body of the pan, and since it does not have traditional rivets, it is easier to keep clean since there’s nowhere for food particles and residue to hide.
The angled sides make it suitable for a variety of uses, from stir-frying to sauteeing, and you’ll be able to use this on just about any cooking surface, even induction. Be sure to wash the pan thoroughly with a bristle brush and mild dish detergent to remove the protective coating before first use.
Oven safe to 600 degrees
Not as durable as higher end pans
If you’re not sure you’ll love cooking with carbon steel, this affordable 12-inch skillet is a good starter piece. It’s pre-seasoned, so you can use it right after giving it a preliminary wash to remove the protective silicone wax and it’s a nice size for searing a few small chops for dinner. The handle is coated cast iron, and shaped to give you a comfortable hand-hold while you cook.
High sides gives it versatility
Ergonomic handle has good grip and balance
Oven safe maximum temperature is lower than some other pans
This pan straddles the line between a low-sided frying pan and a wok, with medium-high sides that will keep your food contained when you’re stir-frying, yet it won’t take as much storage space as a wok. This pick is made in France and comes with a beeswax coating that protects the metal as the pan travels from the manufacturer to your door.
The pan has a long, ergonomic handle that is securely riveted to the pan's body, to help you toss the ingredients as you cook and easily hang the pan when it's not in use. You can also use this pan in the oven for a maximum of 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Well-built, traditional style
Generous handles make it easy to move on and off the burner
Comes in a wide variety of sizes to accommodate any size party
Can be difficult to store
Hand wash only
If you’re going to buy a paella pan, why not buy one from a Spanish cookware company like Magfesa? They’ve got the know-how and the experience to make a pan that will perform when you need it. Paella pans are often made from carbon steel, which helps to produce the socarrat—the crisp rice at the bottom of the pan—while the dimpled bottom on this pan also improves the cooking process.
Two generous handles make this one easy to move and carry as it goes from stovetop to oven to table. This option is available in a variety of sizes so you can scale your recipe to however many people you're serving.
Super sturdy single-piece construction
Helper handle makes moving this pan easy
Made from a single piece of Australian steel and designed to be a pan that gets passed down through generations, this skillet is pre-seasoned so you can get right to cooking, whether you’re searing steaks or cooking the perfect burger. The long handle has cutouts near the pan’s edge to help vent heat and keep the handle cooler in use, while a helper handle gives you an extra hand-hold when you’ve got a full pan to move.
Securely riveted handles
Works great for omelettes and pancakes as well as crepes
Protective beeswax coating can be challenging to remove
Hand wash only
Made in France by a well-known, premium cookware company, this crepe pan comes with a protective beeswax coating that should be removed before seasoning the pan. Once it is seasoned, it provides a beautifully nonstick surface and even heating to make crepes, pancakes, and omelets with minimal oil.
While this pan has low sides that make it perfect for crepes, it can also be used for searing meat, making or heating tortillas, and cooking any foods that don’t require the higher sides of a traditional skillet or frying pan.
Becomes more nonstick over time
Works on any cooking surface
Seasoning can be spotty
Not dishwasher safe
Needs seasoning before use
The Made In company is making a name for itself with quality kitchen gear, so it’s no surprise that its blue carbon steel frying pan is a favorite. While the blue color is distinctive when the pan arrives, it darkens with additional seasoning and with more use, as it should. The sloped sides make it easy to flip food in the pan, and the arched handle offers a firm, balanced grip. A hanging hole on the handle makes it easy to hang the pan on a hook to keep it at hand. This pan is available in three sizes, and it can be personalized with up to 24 letters and spaces on the handle for a great gift or just a personal touch for the kitchen.
Large area for cooking steaks, chops, or burgers
Not dishwasher friendly
Now that carbon steel pans are making inroads in home kitchens, companies are making more types of pans besides the original frying pans. This 10 1/2-inch grill pan offers enough space for steaks, chops, or burgers and creates impressive grill marks on the food. Not just for meats, this is also perfect for grilling asparagus and other vegetables, and it’s oven-safe so food can start on the stove and finish in the oven. This pan is pre-seasoned, so it’s ready for cooking when it arrives, but it gets even better with more use or additional seasoning. The handle is secured with two rivets and has a hole at the end for hanging on a hook.
Handmade in Oregon
Easy to hang or display
Naturally nonstick with no chemical coating
Sauté pans are very similar to frying pans, but while the sides on frying pans are flared, the sides of sauté pans are more vertical. This can make it easier to get under foods with a spatula since the straight sides act as a bumper. The straight sides also offer more cooking space at the bottom of the pan. These pans are made by hand in Oregon, so each is an individual piece of hand-crafted, functional art.
To make the pans just a bit more special, they are available with a choice of three artistically designed handles, each triple-riveted for security and each with a hanging hole at the end so they can be proudly displayed in the kitchen. The sauté pans are available in 8-inch and 10-inch sizes.
The Lodge 12-Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet takes the top spot because of its lightweight yet rugged construction and how quickly it heats up. Plus, it's easy to clean. On a budget? Give the BK Cookware 11-Inch Black Carbon Steel Skillet a try. It's nonstick out of the box and lighter than a typical cast iron pan.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a food writer and product tester for The Spruce Eats. A self-professed "kitchen geek," she's written many roundups on a range of essential kitchen items, from the best induction burners to the top seafood kitchen tools of the year.
This piece was edited by Bernadette Machard de Gramont, an LA-based writer who specializes in global food and wine content. She researches and tests a variety of cookware, bakeware, and wine tools, and interviews field experts for their insight.