I Love My Carbon-Steel Skillet. Why Did I Wait Five Years to Season It?

The process was easy and surprisingly pleasant. I don’t know why I put it off for so long.

Published Sept. 17, 2021.

I have a confession: For five years, I’ve had a skillet in my kitchen cabinet that I have never used. Not once! I’m embarrassed to admit it. 

It’s a carbon-steel skillet. More specifically, it’s the winner of our review of carbon-steel skillets, the Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Frying Pan, 11 7/8".  I bought it because my coworkers all rave about carbon-steel cookware. The material is pretty special: It has some of the best qualities of my other favorite pans. It sears as well as a cast-iron skillet. It heats as evenly as an All-Clad skillet or another good-quality, tri-ply stainless-steel pan. And it can be as slick and easy to use as a nonstick-coated skillet.

When you’re accustomed to using carbon steel, it’s supposed to be spectacular. But you have to season it before use. That’s no different and no more difficult than seasoning a cast-iron skillet—but for some reason it stopped me in my tracks for years. 

In the meantime, I’ve heard more about the concerns people have about using nonstick-coated cookware. (Here’s more about that, including information on how to use those items safely.) We also published new cookware reviews that continued to pique my interest. Our favorite paella pan? Carbon steel. The best wok? Carbon steel.

As with most things I put off, seasoning my carbon-steel skillet didn’t take very long. It was also surprisingly enjoyable. 

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Lisa McManus, an executive editor of our product review team at America’s Test Kitchen and cookware expert, wrote out detailed instructions for how to season carbon-steel cookware that I followed in my home kitchen. It really boils down to scrubbing the skillet really clean and then evenly coating it in a thin layer of oil over high heat. (The science behind it is this: The oil polymerizes and bonds to the cooking surface, forming a coating that protects the pan and prevents food from sticking.) The process was gradual, and although my stovetop became pretty thoroughly splattered with oil, it was pretty pleasant. I swirled the oil around the pan, lifting the handle and tilting the skillet so that the oil ran into the corners of the pan, and felt downright contemplative. I could actually see progress, the shiny metal becoming progressively more golden and even dark brown in places. I loved the process.

seasoning carbon steelseasoning carbon steelseasoning carbon steel
The process for seasoning a carbon-steel skillet is simple and meditative, and it requires potato peels. (Trust us.)

I also love my pan. 

A few hours after I seasoned it, I fried an egg and then made some home fries (using the pan in place of nonstick and cast-iron pans, respectively). The egg practically slid out of the pan, and the home fries were great, with browned onions and peppers and golden-brown potatoes. I’m already dreaming of smashed burgers and butter-basted fish

So do as I say, not as I do! Get yourself a carbon-steel skillet and don’t tuck it away in a cabinet for months or even years. Season it right away and get cooking.

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