Carbon Steel Pans vs Cast Iron Pans

by Robin Hood | Last Updated:  September 1, 2021
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Carbon Steel Pans vs Cast Iron Pans

Cast iron pans are popular with most home cooks. The fact that it is affordable can be used for anything and is versatile makes it common cookware in many homes. Carbon steel pans on the other hand are increasingly gaining popularity among cooking professionals and are making their way to home kitchens.

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Carbon steel benefits outweigh cast iron benefits. Any cook should desire to have a carbon steel pan for it is more versatile, light-weight, more durable, conducts heat faster, and distributes heat more evenly than cast iron. Here is a detailed discussion of the two pans, how they compare and contrast.

Carbon Steel Pans

Carbon steel pans relate to cast iron pans but are lighter in terms of weight and smoother. These types of pans have been in the market for quite some time and are pro chefs’ favorite. Over the years, the use of carbon steel is increasing not only in professional kitchens but also in home kitchens.

Before we get to details, what is carbon steel made of? Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. The difference between carbon steel and stainless steel is the carbon content. Stainless steel consists of 1.2 % carbon while carbon steel has 2%.

Carbon steel comes with a matte finish as opposed to stainless steel that is shiny and is more expensive. Carbon steel pans are your ideal kitchen cookware for the many benefits they offer. One thing that stands out about carbon steel pans is their high conductivity rate, it, therefore, means it easily heats up more evenly.

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With carbon steel pans, seasoning is required. It doesn’t matter if your pan comes in pre-seasoned, experts still recommend that you season it before using it. Seasoning is simple, you only need to coat the pan thoroughly with vegetable oil and heat it in an oven.

Caring for Carbon Steel Pans

Pros and cons of Carbon Steel Pans


·Light-weight– carbon steel pans are lighter when compared to other cooking materials like cast iron. It is, therefore, easier to move around in the kitchen.

·Versatile– carbon steel pans can be used for almost every cooking method from sauteing, baking, browning, and even searing. You can use it on the stove, oven, and on the grill. For a person that wants to declutter their kitchen cabinets, getting a quality carbon steel pan is the ultimate solution.

·Durable– carbon steel cookware can be pressed to form layers during the manufacturing process without cracking. Its composition is responsible for its strength, malleability, and ductility. Such pans do not easily break or scratch even in the event of overheating.

·Affordable– you can easily get a quality carbon steel pan for under 50 dollars. When compared to quality stainless steel pans, they are quite cheap and thus suitable for professionals under a budget.

·Tolerance to high heat- carbon steel pans can stand extremely high temperatures for a significant amount of time. It is thus best for cooking meals that require intense heat like steaks and burgers.

·Heats responsive– carbon steel pans are highly conductive, which means they can heat up fast and evenly. It responds fast to temperature changes making it easy for you to control you’re cooking.

·Compatible and safe– carbon steel pans can be used in every type of cooktop. It is made from non-toxic materials and thus completely safe.


·Requires seasoning– for carbon steel pans to achieve non-stick property, it has to undergo seasoning. The same also protects it from rusting.

·Hot handles– most carbon steel pans have handles directly fitted to their base and thus prone to getting hot.

·Not dishwasher-safe– using a dishwasher to clean the pan could make the pan lose its seasoning and easily rust. On the brighter side, it is easy to clean since it is non-stick if seasoned correctly.

·Reactive– carbon steel pans do react to acidic food. The acidity ruins the seasoning and causes it to rust.

Cast Iron Pans

Cast iron pans are common cookware you are likely to find in any home kitchen. Many people prefer using them for they are durable, versatile, and affordable.

Cast iron pans are effective especially when seasoned for they develop a non-stick element. Seasoning protects the pan from rust and gives it non-stick properties.

The best way to take care of cast iron pans is by drying them well after washing and coat them with non-greasy oil. Avoid using a dishwasher to clean the pan and just use water.

The market today offers a type of cast iron pans with enamel coating. The coating is to protect it from corrosion and rust. The coat however is susceptible to crack when temperatures go beyond 400F.

Pros and cons of Cast Iron Pans


·Durability– cast iron pans are heavy and enhance with age. This is among the cookware that will stage in your kitchen for a long time.

·Affordability– the reason why you’ll find cast iron pans in most home kitchens is the fact that they are affordable.

·Heat retention– cast iron pans are heavy, meaning they heat up slowly and lose heat slowly. When compared to other materials like carbon steel, cast iron is perfect in terms of heat retention.

·Naturally non-stick– cast iron pans easily develop a non-stick coating when seasoning is done right. This makes it a perfect alternative to non-stick finishes made of chemicals. With proper seasoning, cast iron gets a non-stick property but does not compare to Teflon. Teflon gives off toxic fumes when heat to high temperatures.


·Poor conductivity- cast iron pans are good for heat retention but poor heat transmitters. They, therefore, do not distribute heat evenly. For better results, use a burner that is almost of the same size as the pan. You should also provide adequate time for the pan to heat up.

·Heavy-weight– Cast iron pans are quite heavy compared to other cooking materials. It can be quite a challenge to work with it. For instance, you need to use both hands to remove from the oven or stove. When making a selection, ensure that you buy a pan that you can easily manage.

·Handles get hot– cast iron pans are made from one metal, the handles, therefore, get hot over time and worse if you are using an oven.

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Difference between Carbon Steel and Cast Iron Pans

Carbon steel and cast iron pans can be considered cousins. It means that they have quite some similarities but some characteristics are used to differentiate the two. Here are some of the points to note.

1.Iron Content

It can be quite surprising but carbon steel contains has a higher iron content than steel. Cast irons estimate at 2-3% carbon and 97-98% iron. Carbon steel on the other hand is 99% iron and 1% carbon. These properties do have a significant impact and make a difference.


Carbon steel pans are lighter than cast iron pans. Take, for example, a 12″ cast iron pan will weigh roughly above 7 pounds, a comparable carbon steel pan weighs roughly 5 pounds.


Most carbon steel pans are desirable for sauteing because of their sloping sides that make it easy to flip food. Most cast iron pans are designed with vertical walls and hence desirable for making pizzas and shallow frying.


Seasoning is vital for both cast iron and carbon steel pans. Seasoning carbon steel is less complicated and fast as it is less porous compared to cast iron. Carbon steel however requires seasoning more often for they lose it quickly.

Get to know that manufacturers of carbon steel pans do take some measures such as using beeswax or mineral coating to protect the pans from rusting. Before seasoning, ensure that you remove the coating by scrubbing and washing with hot water.


Cast iron has a heavy fabrication that makes it brittle and can easily fracture. Carbon steel, therefore, is more durable.

6.Heat Retention

Due to their weight, cast iron retain heat perfectly. Cast iron pans take time to warm up but are slow to cool. On the contrary, carbon steel pans heat up and cools down fast. It is quite a heat retainer when compared with other cooking materials but doesn’t compare to cast iron.

The heat retention property has an impact on the pans’ cooking processes. They both do well in ovens but vary on the stovetop.


The two pans relate in various aspects and drawing a distinction can be challenging. They both need maintenance in terms of seasoning to achieve non-stick elements and keep them from rusting. In terms of performance and efficiency, carbon steel pans are better than cast iron. If you are to make a choice, pick one according to your needs.