Cast iron vs. carbon steel : What you need to know
Overall when comparing cast iron and carbon steel, they are very similar.
The makeup of the two metals is nearly identical. Ironically cast iron contains more carbon than “carbon steel”. The main difference is that cast iron is poured from a liquid state into its final shape, while carbon steel skillets are formed from into their shape from a flat sheet of steel. It is these processes that create the two biggest differences between the materials; surface texture and porosity.
Surface Texture of Cast Iron vs Carbon Steel:
Carbon steel is smoother than cast iron and has a surface that is much less porous.
If you have been longing for vintage cast iron due to the thinner build and smoother surface that is harder to find today, then carbon steel may be of interest to you. When the steel is rolled into a sheet at its final thickness, it is pressed between very smooth rollers which give the finished sheets a very smooth surface and a closed grain structure. This also means that seasoned carbon steel pans will have better non-stick properties than a modern, seasoned cast iron pan
Since cast iron is poured into a mold shaped like the final piece, the iron gets its surface finish from the inside of the mold which is always more textured than the rollers used to finish sheet steel.
Thickness, Weight and Shape:
Generally, carbon steel is a little thinner and lighter than cast iron.
Our cast iron skillets are similar in thickness with the carbon steel at 3mm and the cast iron between 2.5-4mm thick with the bottom being a little thicker than the walls. This typically means that cast iron heats more evenly making it better for searing meats and carbon steel better for sautéing.
Other considerations between the cast iron vs carbon steel include the shape – cast iron usually has steeper sides and is better for baking, while the low flared sides common to carbon steel excel on the stove top.
Vitreous or porcelain enamel is essentially a glass coating that can be applied on materials with a melting point over 1500 degrees (F) which is the temperature required to melt and fuse the enamel. For cookware, enamel is only used on top of Iron-based materials. Unlike both cast iron and carbon steel, enameled cookware never needs to be seasoned.
Carbon steel and cast iron are seasoned in similar ways, they both are extremely versatile, can be used over any heat source and can be extremely non-stick. Depending on the type of enamel, thickness, and sheen, some pieces can have issues with food sticking while others are extremely non-stick. All three will last forever when taken care of.
This table highlights some examples of pan types ideal for different foods and methods. The big disclaimer here is that any of these types of pans can be used for any of these foods and methods. Everyone has different opinions on which may be best.