Carbon steel pans — versatile, durable workhorses that can go from the stovetop to the oven and are easy to care for — are a staple in restaurant kitchens, and they’re more popular than ever for home use. For ambitious home cooks who aspire to achieve results like professional chefs, professional cookware can help (though of course knowledge, technical skills, and experience are vital to cooking restaurant-quality meals).
Over eight weeks, we looked at eight top carbon steel pans for restaurant and home use and sautéed, baked, deep fried, seared and simmered a wide range of dishes to find the best ones for your kitchen.
Best carbon steel pan overall
Heavy construction, a second handle for easy transport from stovetop to oven and a design that’s deep and wide enough to tackle any cooking task make the de Buyer Mineral B our favorite of the carbon steel pans we tested.
Best budget carbon steel pan
The Matfer Bourgeat performs as well as our top pick, and while it doesn’t cost more than bargain restaurant pans it’s built a lot better, with a high quality, nicely welded handle and enough depth to go from searing to deep frying.
Best carbon steel pan overall: de Buyer Mineral B 2 Handles 32cm (12.5”) $99.95 at Amazon Made in France, the de Buyer Mineral B was one of the deepest (2.06”), the second widest (12.50”), and also the heaviest (96oz) pan we tested. If you’re looking to cook large proteins, and want thick, heavy metal construction, with a lot of depth (for stir-fries, fried chicken, and other single-pan dishes), the de Buyer is absolutely the pan you want to get. This is a multitasker that can be used to cook just about any meal on your stove or in your oven you can think of, and it is worth every penny — it will become your main kitchen workhorse.
We love that this pan has two handles – one main, smooth long handle (which is attached with three short rivets) and a loop-shaped grabbing handle so that you can carry it – with potholders – in and out of a hot oven. It can easily double as a casserole dish because of the second handle, making Mac and cheese, roast chicken, or cornbread a little easier to deal with. Note that there are many versions of this pan, including a single-handle model that performs the same and is also a good choice if you don’t feel you need the handling assist.
Like many high-quality carbon steel cookware pieces, the de Buyer ships from the factory coated in beeswax, so you will want to melt that off in the oven before seasoning.
Best budget carbon steel pan: Matfer Bourgeat 11 7/8” Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan $66 $53.99 at Amazon The Matfer Bourgeat isn’t quite as deep as the de Buyer (1.75”) or as wide (11 7/8”), but it’s thick, heavy (78.50 oz) and designed to take some serious abuse in a French restaurant kitchen. And, of course, it is significantly less expensive than our top pick without giving up much in performance. It’s deep enough to handle frying ( some of the other budget pans were too shallow to cover all the bases) and performed well in all of our testing.
The textured handle is about the same quality as the de Buyer or the Mauviel, though it is arc welded to the pan instead of being attached with rivets, so it doesn’t have the finished, crafted look of the de Buyer. The Matfer Bourgeat pan we tested doesn’t have a second handle, so you’ll want to take a little more care moving it in or out of the oven. However, it gave us equivalent results and was still easy to handle, and you can’t complain about it at this price point given its overall quality.
What you need to know about carbon steel pans Carbon steel pans are the go-to cookware in restaurant kitchens because they’re versatile enough to handle low heat cooking of delicate foods such as eggs and crepes and high heat sears of proteins such as fish filets and steaks with equal aplomb.
They aren’t typically as pretty as cast iron or stainless steel cookware, largely because carbon steel pans haven’t historically been designed with aesthetic considerations in mind. These are working pans, meant exclusively for use in restaurant kitchens.
Carbon steel pans are becoming more common in the home kitchen as home chefs recognize their advantages. Carbon steel cookware is considerably lighter and easier to manage than cast iron, responds quickly to heat changes since it’s so thin, and is much tougher than aluminum or stainless cookware — carbon steel can go from a high-power gas burner right into a blazing hot pizza oven, conditions that an aluminum or stainless pan might not survive. And since they’re ferrous, carbon steel pans work fine with induction cooktops, which are also making headway in home kitchens.
Carbon steel (in French restaurants the material is referred to as acier bleu, “blue steel”) is a type of steel alloy that contains up to 2.1 percent carbon by weight which is a higher carbon content than other steels – that typically have a carbon content of up to .3 percent or as low as 0.05 percent. The addition of that extra carbon to the alloy increases tensile strength.
Carbon steel pans are available in a wide range of sizes and depths, from petite blini pans to specialized crepe pans to the common 8”, 10” and 12” restaurant workhorses. For this piece we focused on 12” all-purpose pans from each manufacturer for an apples-to-apples comparison.
Seasoning and caring for a carbon steel pan With use, a carbon steel pan builds up a layer of polymerized oils known as “seasoning,” giving the pan an easy-release, near nonstick finish. A little care and maintenance can help you build up and preserve this finish so your carbon steel pans give you a lifetime of service. — Michael Berk/CNN Underscored
Many carbon steel pans ship from the factory coated in wax, which needs to be melted off in an oven at high heat before the pan can be used. Over time, after dozens of uses, the surface of a carbon steel pan will discolor and darken due to the oxidation of polymerized oils, which creates a naturally non-stick surface in a process known as “seasoning”.
Initial seasoning involves coating a pan with vegetable oil and heating the pan to high heat. You’ll likely want to turn off your smoke detector if you’re doing this indoors, and make sure to open windows for plenty of ventilation during the initial seasoning process (and when melting off the shipping wax). Things can get smoky! A pan may need to be seasoned as many as ten or more times before it becomes sufficiently nonstick — though the best way to season it is simply to cook with it.
Some carbon steel pans, such as the Lodge, can be purchased pre-seasoned, but the factory coating on these is typically rough and not as built up as it would be over long use — preseasoning doesn’t get you to the finish line but does give you a head start on, so it doesn’t take quite as long to get that slippery non-stick quick release effect.
While carbon steel is strong and durable, it isn’t meant to remain pristine — with use, carbon steel pans will look visibly discolored, and the thin material picks up dents and dings in a busy kitchen. With only one exception all the pans we tested experienced some natural warping when heated, after which they didn’t sit perfectly flat on top of induction, glass, or ceramic topped electric ranges.
To clean a carbon steel pan, use a paper towel or a kitchen towel to wipe out any excess oil and moisture from your pan. If any food particles get stuck, you can add two tablespoons of coarse salt and two tablespoons of canola oil, vegetable, or grapeseed oil, to your pan. Using a paper or kitchen towel, rub the salt and oil around the pan to free up any food bits. Discard salt, oil, and leftover food from the pan and rinse. If you have really tenaciously stuck bits, you can use steel wool — but only if absolutely necessary, since this will remove the built-up seasoning and can cause superficial scratches in the metal. Don’t worry too much, however, since additional seasoning will fill in those scratches with the new patina as it develops.
Once you’re done removing any food residue and rinsing a cast iron pan, you’ll want to heat the pan at a high temperature to boil away any moisture build-up that could cause oxidation, and apply a thin coat of oil with a paper towel before storing. With proper care, these pans will last a lifetime, just like cast iron pans.
How we tested All the pans we evaluated went through a similar cleaning and seasoning process – for those coated in wax, it was removed by melting off in an oven before performing an initial seasoning procedure with vegetable oil.
Each pan went through at least four consecutive seasonings, with a standard cleaning after each seasoning by wiping the remaining oils and moisture off and heating it to a high smoke point to burn off the remaining particulates.
For performance testing, we used a glass top electric range, a portable countertop induction burner, and outdoor pizza ovens heated at over 600 degrees. Various meals were prepared, including breakfast (eggs, bacon, and sausage) and different large proteins for lunch and dinner, including hamburgers, steaks, fish, chops, meatballs, and Asian stir-fries.
We wanted to see even heat distribution to make sure there weren’t any hot spots or cold spots and the pan’s quickness to respond to heat changes up or down. The pans we looked at performed approximately the same in this area, with even heat distribution across the metal’s surface and rapid response to an increase or decrease of burner temperature settings.
We examined the quality of the steel being used, the weight of the metal, the quality and shaping of the handle, and by what method it was attached to the pan. We also checked whether the handle or handles were insulated and whether the pan was well balanced and easy to use.
Other carbon steel pans we tested: Mauviel 12.5” M*Steel $100 at Mauviel-USA Similar overall to the de Buyer Mineral B, the French-made
We tested the leading carbon steel pans to find two that are really worth your money
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