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Equipment

Chefs Love Carbon Steel. Here’s Why. 

This little pan can do it all.
By

Published May 9, 2023.

In my ten years of reviewing kitchen equipment, I’ve accumulated just about every appliance, gadget, and pan under the sun. But if you were to ask me my favorite thing I’ve gotten to take home from the test kitchen, the answer might surprise you.

It’s not the ice cream maker or the high-end blender. It’s an 8-inch carbon-steel skillet, already blackened from use. This little pan turned me into a total carbon steel fan.

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Matfer makes our winning carbon-steel skillet. It comes in small (~8 inches), medium (~10 inches), and large (~12 inches).

Skillets and woks, as well as omelet, crepe, and paella pans are often made from carbon steel. That’s because the composition of carbon steel, an alloy made of about 1 percent carbon and 99 percent iron, makes it a particularly functional material for cookware.

Here’s why chefs—and home cooks!—love their carbon-steel skillets and pans so much.

Equipment Review

The Best 12-Inch Carbon-Steel Skillets

What if one pan could do everything the best traditional stainless-steel, cast-iron, and nonstick pans can do—and, in some cases, even do it a little better?
See Our Winner

1. They're Versatile

You can use pans made from carbon steel on the stove, in the oven, under the broiler, even on the grill.

2. They're (Relatively) Lightweight

Skillets made from carbon steel are lighter than those made from cast iron but still sear beautifully.

Carbon steel contains slightly less carbon than cast iron, which makes it less brittle; as a result, it can be made relatively thin and lightweight but still be plenty durable. It’s heavy enough to retain heat well but thin enough to heat quickly. (Learn more about carbon steel vs. cast iron.)

3. They’re Naturally Nonstick

Traditional nonstick skillets use a coating of plastic on their surface to get their nonstick ability. Carbon-steel skillets rely on seasoning—a very thin layer of oil that gets baked onto the surface of the pan over time, just like with cast-iron skillets. (Here are our tips for seasoning a carbon-steel skillet.)

This is a pan, if treated correctly, to pass down to the next generation.

Don’t ask me why, but I named my pan Eddie. (I think I’d been watching a lot of The Munsters?) I don’t typically name my cookware but I have a special connection to this pan.

There is something about the relationship you develop when seasoning a pan. A tiny bit of consistent love can make the surface a gorgeous, glossy black.

This process takes time, and your pan will look splotchy as you start to use it! This is a good thing; it’s the seasoning starting to build.

Several times I’ve thought I’ve ruined his seasoning but Eddie never holds a grudge. This is a pan, if treated correctly, to pass down to the next generation. And a well-seasoned carbon-steel skillet, as I can attest to with Eddie, is truly a rich inheritance.

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