You have probably seen both cast iron and carbon steel skillets for sale. When it comes time to create a delicious dish, you need to use the right pan. Cast iron and carbon steel are good options for a durable pan. In some cases, these types of cookware can be passed down through the generations. Before choosing between cast iron and carbon steel, here are a few things to know. 

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Carbon Steel Pan vs. Cast Iron

There are a few similarities between cast iron and carbon steel. They are manufactured from similar materials, with the same functions, limitations, and care requirements. However, those similarities don’t stop there. Carbon steel and cast iron can safely transition from the oven to the stovetop and vice versa. This means you can bake a berry cobbler and fry up bacon in the same pan.

Along with that, carbon steel and cast iron contain ferromagnetic metals, meaning they can function on an induction stovetop. When you purchase cast iron or carbon steel, these pans will not become obsolete if you want to update your kitchen appliances, like the stovetop. 

Related: Cookware Materials Guide 

There are some limitations to carbon steel and cast iron. You cannot use either pan for any type of acidic sauce. When those liquids are introduced to the surface, the acids break down the seasoning. As a result, food will stick to the surface. When these pans are well-seasoned, they function at their best. 

Seasoning can help carbon steel and cast iron reduce any reactivity on the surface, providing an almost non-stick texture. There are several methods to season a cast iron or carbon steel pan. All of them will include applying a thin layer of oil and high heat. 

You should never wash the carbon steel or cast iron with harsh detergents. Never place them in the dishwasher. In both cases, that will cause the seasoning to break down. A scouring pad and hot water are the best methods to clean these pans.


The Differences Between Cast Iron and Carbon Steel

There are a few subtle differences between cast iron and carbon steel. First, let's take a look at cast iron. While some people think that cast iron consists of pure iron, that is not the case. Cast iron is a combination of carbon and iron. Cast Iron pans have more carbon than carbon steel pans. Carbon steel requires no more than 2% carbon, while cast iron contains 2 to 3.5% percent of carbon. The cast iron will have a rough, bumpy feel with that carbon content. Along with that, a higher carbon content makes it more brittle than steel, which is why the pans are thick and heavy. 

Now let’s look at carbon steel. These pans are also an alloy of carbon and iron, but it is called steel since it has less than 2% carbon. Carbon steel has a matte finish, and it is harder than stainless steel..

Here is a comparison between cast iron and carbon steel:


If you want a durable pan, carbon steel is an excellent option. This material is more durable than cast iron. Cast iron has a heavy fabrication that can actually make it more brittle than carbon steel. When a cast iron pan is dropped, it can shatter or fracture while putting a big dent in your floor. 

Cooking Surface

A cast is used to form cast iron cookware. As a result, it often creates uneven, packed surfaces with large pores. Carbon steel is more malleable. The sheets are hand-formed or pressed into the cookware, creating smooth curved sides and an even cooking surface. 

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If you have ever handled a cast iron pan, you know that it can be cumbersome. Cast iron weighs more than carbon steel. As previously mentioned, cast iron has a denser and thicker body. Carbon steel has a similar weight to stainless steel. 

Heat Retention

For those who want a hot cooking surface, choose a cast iron pan. Cast iron retains heat exceptionally well. While cast-iron warms up and cools down slowly, it will remain hot when you need it. However, don’t underestimate the heat retention of carbon steel. It still retains heat better than other cooking materials, but not as well as cast iron. Carbon steel heats up and cools down more quickly than cast iron. Carbon steel is a better option if you are cooking with delicate ingredients since the surface is smooth.

Cooking Processes

Carbon steel and cast iron have different heat retention qualities. For that reason, you can use them for different types of cooking. You can use both carbon steel and cast iron inside the oven. On the stovetop, there is a noticeable difference. 

Now you know the differences between a carbon steel pan vs. cast iron. Carbon steel is a good choice for searing chicken or stir-frying vegetables. In addition to that, the smooth surface is ideal for those dishes that contain scallops or fish. Rough surfaces will tear the delicate skin of seafood. 

Related: The Best Pots & Pans and What To Do With Them

Bananas in a cast iron skillets

Carbon Steel Pan vs. Cast Iron: The Choice Is Yours!

These materials can both be used in the kitchen to create delicious meals. Carbon steel will make a better choice than cast iron with some recipes. There is always room for experimentation in your kitchen. Find the right material that works best for your cooking needs. Carbon steel and cast iron cookware help you to become a more creative chef in your kitchen. 

Do you want to add carbon steel to your home or professional kitchen? We have an extensive line of high-quality bakeware, cookware, and utensils at de Buyer!

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