Cast Iron Pans vs Carbon Steel Pans

by Robin Hood | Last Updated:  April 26, 2021
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Cast iron and carbon steel are some of the most popular options in the kitchen. As they are made from metal, you can expect them to last for a long time. Both of them will be safe to put in the oven and can cook a wide variety of foods. So, which one should you choose? To help you make this decision, let’s take a closer look at the differences between them.

Cast Iron
Carbon Steel

Maintenance

Regardless of which type of pan you choose, you’ll need to spend some time maintaining it. How difficult this will be will depend on the type of pan you are choosing. For example, carbon steel tends to be smoother. As a result, it will be a lot easier to build up a strong seasoning layer. Often, you will be able to see the patina forming.

However, the seasoning on a cast iron pan will last for longer. It will be able to cope better with being submerged in water or cooking with acidic ingredients. However, repeatedly doing this will still damage the seasoning on the pan.

As we mentioned, both of these pans will be highly durable. When treated well, they will be able to last for many years. However, carbon steel pans have a slight edge. They will be able to better handle being dropped. There have been some instances of a cast iron pan being dropped and the force of the impact causing it to crack. On the other hand, a carbon steel pan will get dented. This damage can be repaired.

Weight

Another substantial difference is the weight of the pans. A carbon steel pan will be much lighter. This will make it a lot easier to maneuver in the kitchen. To put this into perspective, a 12 inch cast iron pan will weigh around eight pounds. A carbon steel pan of the same size would weigh 4.1 pounds.

However, this isn’t always a benefit. If the pan is too light, it could signal that the metal is too thin. In this case, you might find that the heat will cause the pan to start to warp. This is a common complaint made by those who purchase cheaper carbon steel pans. Because of this, it’s important to check the pans that you are using. Read through the reviews before you buy. You need to make sure that they will be high-quality.

Types of Materials

When it comes to carbon steel, you won’t get a lot of variety. Though there are plenty of shapes and sizes to choose from, they are all made from the same material. On the other hand, there are two types of cast iron pans for you to choose from.

First, you might want to choose a bare cast iron pan. This will need to be seasoned before you can use it. If you don’t season it properly, small amounts of iron will leach into your food. This isn’t a big problem, but it will affect the taste.

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On the other hand, an enamel cast iron pan. This is more durable. Bare cast iron won’t be able to get exposed to soapy water, for fear of ruining the seasoning. However, an enamel pan will be strong enough to get put into the dishwasher. The only problem is that it won’t be able to cope with the high temperatures that a bare cast iron pan will be able to withstand. Which one you decide to use will depend on your cooking style.

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Price

When you are buying a pan, you’ll need to consider the price tag. You want to get a high-quality product, but you don’t want to end up spending a fortune. If this is the case, you might want to purchase a cast iron pan. Even the biggest ones are modestly priced. However, carbon steel will be harder to produce. Because of this, they will have a higher price tag.

Cooking Surface

One of the most significant differences in the kitchen is the difference between the cooking surface in the two pans. Cast iron pans will be made in a mold. As a result, they can sometimes get a pocked surface. On the other hand, carbon steel will be made from a single sheet of metal. As a result, it will be a lot smoother.

The cooking surface has a big impact on the way your food will be cooked. The smoother the surface is, the more evenly the heat will be distributed around the pan. Because of this, the carbon steel pan will cook food more evenly. But the pocked surface of a cast iron pot can be an advantage. It ensures that the seasoning will be able to stick to the pan. As a result, the non-stick surface will be easier to maintain.

Heat Retention

Another key element that affects how well the pan will perform in the kitchen is the way that it will retain heat. Both of these will retain heat more effectively than other types of pans. However, cast iron pans will take longer to get to temperature than carbon steel ones. Once they are hot, though, it takes a lot longer for them to cool down. On the other hand, carbon steel is thinner so it will be able to cool down a lot faster.

Type of Cooking

Because of the difference in cooking surfaces and heat retention, these pans are suited to different styles of cooking. For example, cast iron pans can get very hot. As a result, it can be a great option for searing meat. The high heat retention can be ideal for braising or stewing meat.

On the other hand, a carbon steel pan will heat and cool faster. Because of this, it can make it a good choice for delicate foods. You will also be able to use the high heat to sear meat. It will excel when you are making a stir fry. However, it won’t be as good at braising or stewing. The moisture from these dishes has the potential to damage the seasoning on the pan.

The shape of the pan will have an impact on the types of meals you will be able to make. Cast iron pans tend to be deeper sides. Because of this, they will be better suited to meals like deep-dish pizza. They are also good at meals that require you to use a lot of liquids. Alternatively, carbon steel pans will have sloped sides. This makes them better at stir-frying, allowing you to move a lot of ingredients around the pan.

Both of these pans can be put in the oven. This makes them both a good option for baking. This shows how versatile they can be in the kitchen. Furthermore, both of these pans will be compatible with most induction heating cooktops.

Conclusion

Both carbon steel and cast iron pans are popular choices, beloved by chefs around the world. They share plenty of similarities. They are both tough and will last for many years. They both need to be seasoned before you use them. Each type can reach high temperatures, which makes them a good choice for searing meat.

But there are a few key differences. Carbon steel will heat and cool faster, while cast iron will retain the heat. Carbon steel pans tend to distribute the heat more evenly. This makes carbon steel better for delicate dishes, like stir fry. Cast iron will be better suited to searing and braising. So, now you’ll be able to find the right type of pan for your kitchen. Or get both and let the dish dictate how you cook it.