We all love cast iron skillets. They’re the heat conductor gods of the kitchen, able to handle high temperatures with the greatest of ease and cook meat, breakfast food and other dishes easily. In particular, Lodge cast iron skillets will always have a place in our culinary hearts. However, it’s time to widen the circle a bit and let in an alternative. The best carbon steel skillets are lighter, heat up quicker, and have a more even cooking surface for you to work with.
Carbon steel skillets, frying pans and woks have a lot of benefits in the kitchen, and it’s time to take them into consideration when picking out your arsenal of kitchen tools.
Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron — Similarities and Differences
So what differentiates carbon steel from cast iron? We should start with similarities — both pans can easily transition between stovetop to oven and back. They’re both made with ferromagnetic metals which basically means they won’t overheat or crack on an induction stovetop. Both don’t vibe well with acidic sauces and both require consistent seasoning for optimal performance.
There are a few key differences that are worth highlighting:
- Carbon steel is quite a bit lighter than cast iron — so if you’re looking for a heat-conducting pan for an older relative or simply don’t want to lug around your heavy cast iron griddle, carbon steel might be the way to go.
- Carbon steel is also a more durable cooking pan than the cast iron due to cast iron’s heavy fabrication, which makes it more brittle and prone to chipping or shattering.
- Lastly, their heat and cooking abilities differ slightly. While cast iron is great for maintaining a high heat for long periods of time, carbon steel heats up and cools down quicker.
This makes the cast iron great for cooking thick juicy meats, while carbon steel is better for sauteing vegetables, fish, or more delicate meats. Carbon steel skillets are typically what’s used to make dishes like paella, with a lot of components that all need to be cooked evenly without a ton of heat the whole time.
Now that you know the differences, and are hopefully sold on why carbon steel is the perfect complement to your tried and true cast iron, here are our the five best carbon steel skillets to try out in your kitchen.
1. De Buyer MINERAL B Round Carbon Steel Frying Pan
This MINERAL B carbon steel pan from De Buyer works on all stovetops including induction, is made without PTFE or PFOA chemicals and is naturally nonstick after a little seasoning. It comes in a variety of sizes and has an ergonomic handle for easy handling in the kitchen. Season it when you get it and regularly for best results.
Pros: Works on all stovetops, transitions from the stove to the oven easily, ergonomic handle, heats up and cools down quickly.
Cons: It arrives with a beeswax coating around it to prevent damage during shipping which can be difficult to get off at first.
2. Lodge CRS15 Carbon Steel Skillet
This carbon steel skillet from Lodge is made with 12 gauge carbon steel and conducts high amounts of heat. You can cook with this skillet over gas and electric stoves, outdoor grills and even open fires. It’s made brutally tough for high-heat conduction and can brown and sear delicate meats with ease. Season with oil right when you get it for better nonstick performance and easy-release capabilities. Although this is our budget pick, this carbon steel skillet comes from one of our favorite cookware brands, and Lodge is known for making cast iron skillets that last a lifetime. Now, you can add a Lodge carbon steel skillet to your cooking arsenal.
Pros: High-quality steel construction that can handle high heat cooking for years without wear and tear, black color, easy to care for, affordable price.
Cons: Like all carbon steel products, it requires washing and immediate hand drying to stay in tip-top shape. The 15″ skillet only has two small handles on the sides, which can get hot.
3. Manuviel M’Steel Carbon Nonstick Pan
This carbon steel pan from Manuviel is made in France out of high-quality materials that will conduct heat from a variety of surfaces and develop a natural nonstick surface over time. It’s made of extra-thick carbon steel and has iron handles that are easy to grab and handle during cooking. The smart design keeps your hands further away from the heat source. This pan is ideal for searing and sauteing as it gets hot and cools down quickly. The pan also darkens and builds up a natural nonstick layer on its own.
Pros: Made of extra-thick carbon steel, can conduct high heat from any source, builds up natural nonstick over time, lifetime warranty.
Cons: It’s got a higher price than other options.
4. Souped Up Recipes Carbon Steel Wok
BEST FOR GIFTING
This carbon steel wok has a flat bottom that can conduct high heat from a variety of heat sources and includes two high-quality accessories for easy stir-frying and sauteing. The large 12.5″ diameter gives you plenty of space to cook and the lighter weight carbon steel heats up very fast — ideal for wok recipes and easy stir-fries.
Pros: 12.5″ diameter with plenty of space for cooking, flat bottom, compatibility with a variety of heat sources, includes accessories, solid price that’s still affordable as a gift.
Cons: Some users experienced a warped lid after extensive use.
5. BK Cookware Black Carbon Steel Skillet
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
BK Cookware is a trusted brand in the cooking space with over 150 years of experience. This pan is oven safe up to 600-degrees F, develops more nonstick over time and is built densely to avoid aluminum, corrosion and stains. The more you use it, the more nonstick it becomes and is three times denser than aluminum as well as stain and corrosion-resistant. It conducts heat and sears just as well as cast iron without the extra weight and rough surface. Softer, more delicate foods won’t rip or tear along the outer layers but will still cook just as well.
Pros: Trusted brand for beginners, comes pre-seasoned and ready to use, heat-responsive design, oven save up to high temperatures.
Cons: Side walls of the pan are thinner than with other options.