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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.
Best Overall: Lodge Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet
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.
"The fact that this is lighter than cast iron makes it very appealing for anyone who has issues with lifting the weight of typical cast iron pans." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Runner Up, Best Overall: Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan
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.
Best Budget: BK Cookware 12-Inch Black Carbon Steel Skillet
Lighter than cast iron
Wax coating must be removed before use
Made in China
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.
"While cast iron gets more and more nonstick with extra seasoning and continued use, this pan was amazingly nonstick right away." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best with High Sides: De Buyer Mineral "B" 12.5-Inch Steel Fry Pan
Made in France
Seasoning video available (in French)
Enamel-coated handle limits oven use
Poorly balanced and heavy
Must be hand-washed
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.
"This pan acts much like cast iron, although it heats a bit faster thanks to being a little thinner than most cast iron pans." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best Paella Pan: Magefesa Carbon Steel Paella Pan
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.
Best Crepe Pan: deBuyer Mineral 'B' Carbon Steel Crepe Pan
Securely riveted handles
Works great for omelettes and pancakes as well as crepes
Protective beeswax coating can be challenging to remove
Hand wash only
Handle can get hot if pan is in use for a long time
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 wonderfully nonstick surface and even heating to make crepes, pancakes, and omelets with minimal oil.
While this pan has low sides that make it easy to access and flip your crepes, it can also be used for searing proteins, making or heating tortillas, and cooking any foods that don’t require the higher sides of a traditional skillet or frying pan.
"This pan conducts heat really well, so you can use it on medium-low to medium heat with excellent results." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Product Tester
Best Frying Pan: Made In Blue Carbon Steel 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.
"The food cooked evenly, and the pan did an impressive job when we seared a steak in a smoking hot pan." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best Grill Pan: Denmark Tools 10.5-inch Heavy Duty Grill Pan
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.
Best Sauté Pan: Northwest Skillet Company Carbon Steel Sauté Pans
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.
What to Look For When Buying Carbon Steel Cookware
Carbon steel and cast iron are often compared because they have a multitude of similarities in terms of durability and versatility. Both made from alloys that contain iron, but the differentiating factor is the amount of carbon in the alloy: cast iron contains anywhere from 2 to 3.5 percent, where carbon steel contains just 2 percent. This makes carbon steel fairly malleable so it can be molded, hammered, and stretched (by contrast, cast iron is fairly brittle and more susceptible to breakage.) Carbon steel’s iron content means that it is compatible with induction cooktops, and its smooth surface will eventually build a patina that makes it naturally nonstick. This material best suits silhouettes that are flat with flared sides—think saute pans, skillets, crepe pans, paella pans, and woks—so if you’re in the market for any of these pans, carbon steel is a fantastic option.
Carbon steel pans weigh considerably less than their cast iron counterparts — a 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet weighs about eight pounds, while a similarly sized Lodge carbon steel pan weighs less than five pounds. If lugging heavy cast iron cookware in and out of storage might be a problem, then this is a great alternative. A good carbon steel pan still has enough heft to it to keep it from moving around on the burner but is still light enough to be very responsive to changes in heat.
Carbon steel cookware often starts out as a sheet of metal that is then heated, pressed, and shaped into the desired silhouette. Pans typically come in 2mm or 3mm thickness, with the latter being heavier and closer to a cast iron pan. Unlike cast iron’s single-piece construction, handles are typically forged separately and attached with rivets (ppt for this type of construction versus spot-welded handles that are more likely to loosen or detach over time). You’ll want to make sure that your handles are easy to grab and aren’t too short—they’ll get too hot on the stove—or too long to put into the oven or store away.
Like cast iron, carbon steel has a very high heat tolerance and can be used with a variety of cooktops, including induction and open flame. Most carbon steel pans can withstand up to 800 degrees, while some brands can withstand temperatures up to 1200 degrees. While this is more than enough for normal household use on the stove and in the oven, certain techniques (like wok cooking) require that one’s pans can stand up to even the most powerful of cooking fires. Carbon steel is also prized for being very responsive to changes in heat, becoming hotter faster and cooling down quickly when the heat is lowered or removed.
Carbon steel is great for all-purpose cooking, but it really shines with high-heat, dry-cooking methods like stir-frying, sauteing, and searing. Carbon steel pieces are oven-safe, allowing you to bake in the pan or finish a dish under the broiler if needed. While you can certainly use carbon steel for braises and making sauces, cooking acidic foods might cause a reaction that discolors the surface or may start to deteriorate the pan’s seasoning. (The good news is, you can easily build the seasoning back up and even out the patina.)
Carbon steel can be found at a large range of price points. While it is typically priced higher than cast iron, it is still often more affordable than high-end stainless steel and copper options. As an example, a 12-inch carbon steel skillet can run from about $20 to over $200, depending on the size and brand.
Many major manufacturers offer a limited lifetime guarantee on their carbon steel cookware as long as they are purchased from an authorized dealer. These guarantees typically protect against defects in material, construction, or workmanship but may exclude damage arising from improper use, thermal shocks, drops, or normal wear and tear. Before you buy, be sure to check on the manufacturer’s terms and warranty coverage to make sure it’s what you need.
As the oldest and longest-running cast iron manufacturer in the U.S., Lodge has built a solid reputation on its extensive line of affordable, cast iron cookware. Lodge also has a small collection of carbon steel pieces, including a skillet and paella pan that can be used both inside on a stovetop and outdoors on a grill or campfire. Like the brand’s cast iron skillets and grills, the carbon steel pieces are all manufactured in the USA.
For nearly 200 years, De Buyer has been a leading producer of cookware and cooks tools in France. From the popular ‘Mineral B’ carbon steel fry pan to Prima Matera induction-friendly copper cookware, it celebrates France’s gastronomic traditions by making innovative, heritage-quality pieces that are meant to last.
This Austin-based brand was launched in September 2018 with a line of professional-grade stainless steel cookware meant for home use. Its collection now includes copper, carbon steel, and nonstick options. These high-quality pieces can also be found in the famous Michelin-starred kitchens of Grant Achtaz’s Alinea and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin. Its carbon steel line is manufactured in France and is oven-safe up to 1200 degrees.
Founded in 1830, this historic manufacturer based in Normandy, France, is best known for its premium copper cookware and specialty copper bakeware. In addition to their traditional copper collection, Mauviel makes other pieces in aluminum, stainless steel, and carbon steel. M’Steel is the brand’s name for its range of carbon steel pieces that are made to the same exacting standards as their professional quality copper pieces.
If you already know how to clean and care for cast iron, then you automatically know how to take care of carbon steel. Its tough finish can resist scratches and is compatible with metal utensils which makes it, for the most part, fairly low maintenance. Like cast iron, carbon steel should not be washed with dish detergent or placed in a dishwasher as it will remove the seasoning. Scrub away any particles, rinse with water, and wipe clean, then heat some oil in the pan until it starts to smoke. Wipe away the oil with a paper towel, and your pan is ready to store.
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.