Choosing the right pan can make cooking a joy or a chore. Carbon steel and stainless steel pans are popular, but very different. This article will compare them to help you find your perfect kitchen partner.


Understanding Carbon Steel Pans

Carbon steel is a versatile material used for making pans. It has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Definition of Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is a mix of iron and carbon, making it similar to both cast iron and stainless steel in some ways. Chefs often say it's like having the best parts of both materials. Unlike stainless steel, which also includes chromium for rust resistance, carbon steel relies on its carbon content for strength.

This type of metal is used in many cooking pans because it can handle high heat well.

Now let's explore the good and bad sides of using carbon steel pans in your kitchen.

Pros and Cons of Carbon Steel Pans

Carbon steel pans have unique features that attract many cooks. They blend the best traits of cast iron and stainless steel into one pan. Here are their pros and cons:



  1. Good Heat Retention: These pans hold heat well, making them perfect for searing meat.
  2. Nearly Nonstick: Once seasoned, they offer a natural nonstick surface for easier cooking and cleaning.
  3. Lightweight Yet Durable: Easier to handle than cast iron skillets while still being tough.
  4. Safe Cooking Surface: They're safe to cook on, adding a small amount of iron to your diet.
  5. Fast Cooking: Food cooks quickly, preserving more nutrients.
  6. Induction Compatible: Works well on all stovetops, including induction cooktops.




  1. Slow, Uneven Heating: Carbon steel pans can take time to heat up and may not always heat evenly.
  2. Seasoning Required: To avoid rusting, one must season these pans regularly.
  3. Hand Wash Only: They cannot go in the dishwasher and need immediate drying after washing to prevent rust.
  4. Heavier Than Clad Stainless Cookware: Though lighter than cast iron, they are heavier than many stainless steel options.


Next up is an exploration into the convenience and durability of stainless steel pans.

The Use of Carbon Steel in France and China

French chefs have long favored carbon steel pans for their omelet and crepe creations. These pans heat up quickly and evenly, making them perfect for the delicate task of cooking thin, tender crepes or fluffy omelets.

The material's ability to be seasoned helps create a natural non-stick surface that improves with use.

In China, the story is similar but with a twist. Chinese cooks prefer carbon steel woks for stir-fries and deep-frying. The high sides of the wok make it ideal for tossing vegetables and meats in high heat without spilling.

Carbon steel conducts heat rapidly, allowing chefs to sear food at blazing temperatures which is essential in Chinese cooking techniques like stir frying and steaming.


Specifics of Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel pans offer durability and resistance to corrosion. They can withstand high cooking temperatures, making them suitable for various cooking styles.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is a mix of iron, carbon, and chromium. This combination makes the material strong and resistant to rust. Unlike other metals that might corrode or tarnish over time, stainless steel stays shiny and new-looking with very little maintenance.

It's also safe for cooking because it doesn't react with foods.

This type of metal is perfect for pots, pans, and other kitchen tools. Since it does not hold onto flavors from food, chefs love using stainless steel cookware for preparing all kinds of meals.

Plus, its ability to handle high heat without damage makes it ideal for everything from frying pans to sautéing vegetables. Stainless steel utensils can go in dishwashers safely too, which makes cleaning up much easier after cooking.

Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware is durable and stable, with a low cost-per-year-of-use. It won't rust and often comes with a lifetime warranty.


  1. It is resistant to corrosion and does not react with food, ensuring that no harmful substances leach into your meals.
  2. Stainless steel cookware has a high heat tolerance and is compatible with induction cooking.
  3. This type of cookware is relatively lightweight compared to other materials, making it easy to handle while cooking.
  4. Stainless steel pans are available in sets with a lifetime warranty, providing long - term value for your investment.


These benefits make stainless steel cookware a popular choice for many home cooks.

The Concept of "Clad" in Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel pans are often clad with aluminum and/or copper to enhance their heating properties. This process, called cladding, enables the stainless steel pan to heat up faster and more evenly than non-clad pans due to the superior thermal conductivity of aluminum and copper.

Clad stainless steel cookware typically comes in two configurations: full cladding and disc cladding. Full cladding involves internal layers of aluminum and/or copper that extend all the way up the sides of the pan, while disc-clad only has a metal disk at the base for heating efficiency.



Comparing Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel Pans

Carbon steel and stainless steel pans have differences in non-stick properties, weight, heat conductivity, dishwasher safety, and oven safety. Explore these factors further to make an informed choice.

Non-stick Properties

Carbon steel pans have an almost nonstick surface when properly seasoned. Seasoned carbon steel is more nonstick than stainless steel, making it easier to cook without food sticking.

Both stainless steel and carbon steel are easy to cook on without too much sticking with the right techniques.

Weight Differences

Moving on to the weight differences between carbon steel and stainless steel pans, it's worth noting that carbon steel pans weigh about half as much as a cast iron pan of the same size.

This makes them lighter and more manageable for everyday use, especially when compared to their heavier cast iron counterparts. Additionally, carbon steel woks are generally lighter than cast iron, offering durability while developing a nearly non-stick cooking surface—a boon for easy cleaning and maintenance.

On the other hand, despite being generally heavier than stainless steel pans, the weight of carbon steel can vary depending on the brand and specific make. This means that there is some variation among different types of carbon steel cookware in terms of weight but they tend to be relatively lightweight compared to other options such as cast iron or even stainless steel.

Heat Conductivity

Carbon steel pans have a higher thermal conductivity compared to clad stainless steel. The heat capacity of carbon steel allows it to retain and distribute heat evenly, making it great for high-heat cooking such as searing, grilling, or stir-frying.

On the other hand, clad stainless steel heats up faster due to its lower heat capacity, allowing for more precise temperature control during tasks like sautéing and simmering. This difference in heat conductivity between these two materials impacts their effectiveness in various cooking methods.

Dishwasher Safety

Moving from heat conductivity to dishwasher safety, it's essential to note that carbon steel pans are not dishwasher-safe due to their susceptibility to rust and corrosion when exposed to water and harsh detergents.

The seasoning on these pans can be easily stripped away by the high heat and moisture in a dishwasher. On the other hand, stainless steel pans are often labeled as dishwasher safe, but frequent exposure may lead to discoloration or damage over time - hand washing is recommended for longevity.

It's crucial to adhere to these care instructions for both types of pans in order to preserve their quality and performance.

Oven Safety

Carbon steel pans can handle high oven temperatures safely without warping or causing damage. The same applies to stainless steel pans, which are also safe for use in high-temperature ovens.

To ensure safety, always follow the manufacturer's guidelines and use oven mitts when handling hot pans to prevent burns.

Both carbon steel and stainless steel pans are designed to withstand high heat in the oven without any risk of chemical reactions or off-gassing. It is crucial to prioritize the correct care and maintenance of these pans for safe oven usage and to prevent potential hazards.


Carbon Steel Vs. Stainless Steel

Is Expensive Carbon Steel Better Quality? Are stainless steel pans lighter than carbon steel? Can you put carbon steel in the dishwasher? Can stainless steel go in the dishwasher? Read more about these intriguing comparisons.

Is Expensive Carbon Steel Better Quality?

Expensive carbon steel pans from boutique brands are deemed high quality and durable, but their price doesn't always guarantee better performance. The cookware's quality isn't solely based on cost; various factors should be considered when purchasing carbon steel or stainless steel pans.

Performance differences between expensive and more affordable options lie in the thickness of the skillet rather than the overall quality.

Moving on to - Does Stainless Steel Heat Better than Carbon Steel?

Does Stainless Steel Heat Better than Carbon Steel?

Stainless steel heats more evenly than carbon steel due to clad stainless steel with aluminum and copper, providing faster heat transfer. The thickness of the steak significantly influences the performance differences between stainless steel and carbon steel skillets.

Carbon steel pans offer better control as they heat and cool rapidly, while clad stainless pans ensure even heating throughout for various cooking needs like searing or frying.

Is Stainless Steel Lighter than Carbon Steel?

Stainless steel is generally lighter than carbon steel, mainly because it is often clad with a lighter metal such as aluminum. This cladding helps to reduce the overall weight of stainless steel pans compared to their carbon steel counterparts.

However, it's important to note that the weight difference can vary depending on the specific brand and design of the pans.

Carbon steel is usually heavier than stainless steel, but this can differ between brands due to various factors that influence the weight of both types of cookware.

Can Carbon Steel Go in the Dishwasher?

Carbon steel cookware should not be put in the dishwasher because it can lead to rusting and corrosion, compromising its quality. The detergents used in dishwashers can strip away the seasoning that provides carbon steel pans with their non-stick properties, making them more prone to rust.

It's important to hand wash and immediately dry carbon steel pans after use to maintain their durability and performance over time.

The alkaline nature of dishwasher detergents can break down the protective layer on carbon steel, promoting rust formation. To avoid damaging your carbon steel cookware, it's best to stick with hand washing using mild soap and thorough drying rather than risking deterioration in the dishwasher.

Can Stainless Steel Go in the Dishwasher?

When it comes to stainless steel cookware, it can generally go in the dishwasher. However, it's recommended to check the manufacturer's instructions for specific care guidelines. The overall stability of stainless steel makes it one of the safest cookware choices on the market.


How to Care For and Maintain Each Pan Type

Care for and maintain each pan type by seasoning carbon steel pans and cleaning stainless steel pans according to the manufacturers' guidelines. For more details, dive into our comprehensive guide.

Seasoning Carbon Steel Pans

Seasoning carbon steel pans is essential to prevent rust and create a non-stick surface. This process involves applying oil, heating the pan, and allowing it to cool. The oil forms a protective layer that makes the pan virtually nonstick when seasoned.

This also prevents food from reacting with the metal, making seasoned carbon steel more non-reactive than stainless steel pans.

Additionally, blue and black carbon steel variants are heat-treated to harden the surface for enhanced rust prevention without compromising their excellent heating properties. The seasoning and maintenance of carbon steel pans play a pivotal role in their performance and longevity.

Cleaning Stainless Steel Pans

Wash stainless steel pans with hot soapy water, using a soft cloth or sponge to remove food residues. For stubborn stains, use non-abrasive cleansers like Barkeeper's Friend. Silvinox finish on stainless steel cookware makes it easier to clean and maintain its silvery white appearance for longer.

These pans are durable, stable, and resistant to rust due to their composition.

By regularly cleaning your stainless steel pans using these methods, you can keep them in top condition for extended periods without any hassle.

Do You Need to Season Stainless Steel Pans?

Moving from cleaning stainless steel pans to seasoning them, it's important to understand that stainless steel cookware doesn't necessarily require seasoning in the traditional sense like its carbon steel or cast iron counterparts.

However, applying a thin layer of oil or butter, and heating the pan on low heat can help enhance its non-stick properties and provide an added layer of protection against corrosion and food sticking.

This simple process helps maintain your stainless steel pan’s durability and cooking performance over time.


What to Look for When Buying Either Pan Type

Consider the construction materials and thickness for carbon steel skillets. Evaluate the composition and multi-layer design when selecting stainless steel pans.

Purchasing Carbon Steel Skillets


  1. Purchase from reputable brands known for quality like Lodge and Matfer Bourgeat.
  2. Look for skillets with smooth finishes to prevent food from sticking.
  3. Consider the size that suits your cooking needs, ranging from 8 to 14 inches in diameter.
  4. Check for handles that are securely riveted to the pan for durability and safety.
  5. Evaluate the thickness of the skillet, generally between 2mm to 3mm for optimal heat conductivity.
  6. Assess if the skillet comes pre - seasoned, saving you time and effort.
  7. Verify if the skillet is made with high carbon steel for durability and longevity.


Purchasing Stainless Steel Pans

When buying stainless steel pans, consider the heating properties, durability, and budget carefully. Additionally, ensure the pan is fully clad or disc clad for even heating.


  1. Quality of the stainless steel
  • Look for stainless steel pans that can be seasoned with oil or butter for increased durability and non-stick properties.
  1. Construction
  • Check if the pan is fully clad to ensure fast and even heating.
  • Consider if the pan is made with aluminum and/or copper in a clad configuration for superior heat conductivity.
  1. Thickness of core material
  • Consider whether manufacturers disclose information about the thickness of the heating core of aluminum and/or copper in clad stainless cookware.
  1. Brand reputation
  • While brand name matters, also evaluate factors like heating properties, durability, and design when purchasing stainless steel pans.



Is carbon steel better than stainless steel?

Carbon steel typically contains more iron and less chromium compared to stainless steel, making it susceptible to corrosion while offering excellent heat conductivity. On the other hand, stainless steel is highly resistant to rust and staining due to its chromium content but may not conduct heat as effectively as carbon steel.

Both pan types can be seasoned for a non-stick surface, with carbon steel being lighter and better suited for high-heat cooking such as searing. Carefully consider your cooking preferences when choosing between these two popular materials for cookware.

Is it necessary to season stainless steel pans?

Unlike carbon steel pans, seasoning is not required for stainless steel cookware due to its inherent resistance to corrosion and stains from acidic foods. However, if you prefer a natural non-stick surface on your stainless steel pans, applying a thin layer of oil and heating them in the oven can enhance their performance.

Can carbon steel go in the dishwasher?

It's advisable to avoid putting seasoned or raw carbon steel pans in the dishwasher since this can strip away their protective seasoning or encourage rust formation. Hand washing with mild soap and thorough drying after each use should help maintain your carbon steel pan’s longevity.

Do both types of cookware have non-stick properties?

While both types of cookware can be made non-stick through proper seasoning methods or using specialized coatings, well-maintained seasoned carbon steel offers exceptional natural non-stick properties without any added chemicals found in some non-stick coatings used on certain stainless-steel pans.



In conclusion, when choosing between carbon steel and stainless steel pans, consider the specific needs of your cooking style. Carbon steel offers quicker heat conductivity and is thinner but prone to rusting, while stainless steel provides durability and corrosion resistance.

Both have their pros and cons, so it's important to weigh them against your cooking priorities before making a decision. Ultimately, the best pan for you depends on how you cook and what qualities matter most in your kitchen tools.

March 31, 2024 — Eric Steckling

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