Are you finding your carbon steel pan a challenge to use? Acidic ingredients like tomatoes can damage the seasoning on these pans. This article will guide you through what not to cook in carbon steel pans, protecting your cookware.


Understanding Carbon Steel Pans

Moving from the basics, carbon steel pans are a must-know for any kitchen. These pans can handle very high heat, making them perfect for searing and browning foods. Made from iron and a bit of carbon, they're tougher than most pans out there.

This combo allows them to heat up fast and stay hot longer.

One key thing about carbon steel is its need for seasoning. Seasoning creates a non-stick surface that gets better with each use. Use oils like flaxseed or sunflower to coat the pan, then bake it in an oven or on the stovetop.

This process not only protects your pan but also adds flavor to your meals over time.


Foods to Avoid Cooking in Carbon Steel Pans

Avoid cooking tomatoes and acidic foods, vinegar-based sauces, wine or acidic deglazing liquids, delicate proteins, stew or soup, sugary foods, strongly flavored foods, frozen foods, and those cooked with low smoke point oils.

Be mindful of these food items when cooking in carbon steel pans.

Tomatoes and Acidic Foods

Tomatoes and acidic foods, like citrus fruits, can hurt the seasoning on your carbon steel pans. Cooking them might make your pan's protective layer weak. This layer stops food from sticking and keeps the pan safe from rust.

So, it's best to use other pots for your tomato sauces or lemony dishes.

Next up are vinegar-based sauces, which also challenge the durability of your carbon steel cookware.

Vinegar-Based Sauces

Just like tomatoes and other acidic foods, vinegar-based sauces also pose a challenge for carbon steel pans. These sauces have a high acidity level which can harm the pan's seasoning.

This means the protective layer that builds up over time and prevents food from sticking could get stripped away.

Cooking with vinegar-based sauces in your carbon steel pan might not only remove this crucial seasoning but can also affect the flavor of your dishes. The taste of your meal might change, turning out not as you expected.

To keep your pan in good shape and ensure your food tastes great, it’s best to avoid these acidic sauces.

Wine or Acidic Deglazing Liquids

Using wine or other acidic liquids to deglaze a carbon steel pan can harm its seasoning. These substances strip away the protective layer built up on the pan's surface. This makes food start sticking and speeds up rusting.

Instead, use water or broth for deglazing when cooking with carbon steel pans. Save wine and vinegar-based liquids for dishes prepared in non-reactive cookware like stainless steel pots and pans.

This way, your meals will taste great, and your pan stays in good shape.

Delicate Proteins

Delicate proteins such as meat and eggs can easily stick to newer carbon steel pans with weak seasoning layers. This can make cooking a challenge, leading to the proteins bonding with the pan's surface, causing sticking and affecting the food's taste.

Properly seasoned pans are less prone to this issue, providing a non-stick surface that makes cooking delicate proteins much easier.

Sugary foods cooked in carbon steel pans may bond with the seasoning, affecting flavor. Delicate proteins like meat and eggs may stick to new or poorly seasoned pans.

Stew or Soup

Avoid boiling or simmering stew or soup in carbon steel pans for extended periods, as it can weaken the seasoning. The acidity in tomatoes, vinegar-based sauces, and wine deglazing liquids can compromise the pan's seasoning when used to cook stew or soup with acidic ingredients.

Additionally, sugary foods can bond with the seasoning layer when cooked in stew or soup, impacting both flavor and maintenance of the pan.

When considering what to cook next on your carbon steel pans after reading about "Stew or Soup", let’s explore "Sugary Foods" and their impact on these versatile pans.

Sugary Foods

Sugary foods, such as jams or caramelizing sugar, can lead to the bonding of sugars with the seasoning on carbon steel pans, affecting the taste and causing potential stickiness. These foods should be avoided when cooking in carbon steel pans to maintain their optimal performance and seasoning.

Cooking sugary foods in carbon steel pans can compromise the pan's non-stick properties by causing a bond between the sugar and the pan's surface. It is advisable to use alternative cookware for dishes involving sugary ingredients to preserve the integrity of your carbon steel pans.

Strongly Flavored Foods

Cooking strongly flavored foods in carbon steel pans can alter the taste of other dishes. The natural flavors from spices and strongly seasoned ingredients can be absorbed into the pan's surface, impacting the taste of subsequent meals cooked in it.

To maintain the integrity of delicate or lightly seasoned foods, avoiding cooking strongly spiced or flavored dishes is advisable when using carbon steel pans.

Frozen Foods

Adding frozen foods directly to a hot carbon steel pan can cause the pan to warp due to thermal shock. The sudden change in temperature can lead to warping, affecting the pan's effectiveness and lifespan.

This occurs because the extreme coldness of frozen foods causes rapid contraction in the hot pan, leading to its distortion. Therefore, it's important to avoid placing frozen items directly into a heated carbon steel pan.

The sudden temperature change from adding frozen foods directly into a hot carbon steel pan can cause the metal to undergo thermal shock and potentially become warped—impacting its durability and performance over time.

Foods Cooked with Low Smoke Point Oils

Low smoke point oils like flaxseed oil and certain plant oils should be avoided when cooking with carbon steel pans. These oils can burn quickly, leaving a sticky residue on the pan's surface.

This not only affects the flavor of your food but also makes cleaning up more difficult. Stick to using high smoke point oils like avocado or peanut oil for better cooking results and easy maintenance of your carbon steel pans.

Using low smoke point oils in carbon steel pans can lead to burnt residues that alter flavors and make cleaning harder. Opt for high smoke point oils such as avocado or peanut oil for better cooking performance and easier maintenance of your pan.


Frequently Asked Questions

What foods are best cooked on carbon steel pans? Discover more in the rest of the blog.

What foods are best cooked on carbon steel?

Stir-fries, quick sauté, searing, and sealing before adding to a stew are the top food choices for carbon steel. Using fat and high heat can prevent sticking in carbon steel pans.

Will sugar or salt damage carbon steel pans?

Sugar may bond with the seasoning on carbon steel pans, affecting the taste. Salt does not seem to damage carbon steel pans based on available information.

Is carbon steel only good for woks?

Carbon steel is not only good for woks. It is versatile and can be used for various cooking purposes, including frying, searing, and even baking. Its durability allows it to withstand high temperatures, making it suitable for a wide range of dishes beyond just stir-frying.

The heat retention properties of carbon steel pans also make them ideal for achieving the perfect sear on meats or creating crispy skillets like latkes. Their versatility makes them an essential addition to any kitchen arsenal.

Foods to Avoid Cooking in Carbon Steel Pans


Carbon Steel vs Cast Iron Pans

Exploring the differences between carbon steel and cast iron pans helps chefs and home cooks make informed decisions. Here's a comparison in a concise table format:


Aspect Carbon Steel Cast Iron
Weight Lighter, easier to handle Heavier, can be cumbersome
Heat Conductivity Heats up quicker Heats slowly but retains heat well
Maintenance Requires seasoning, similar to cast iron Requires regular seasoning to maintain
Best Uses High heat searing, sautéing Slow cooking, baking
Durability Highly durable, but sensitive to acidic foods Extremely durable with proper care


Both pans bring unique qualities to the kitchen, from carbon steel's rapid heating to cast iron's heat retention. Next, let's discuss how to clean and season carbon steel pans for longevity.


Proper Cleaning and Seasoning of Carbon Steel Pans

Properly cleaning and seasoning your carbon steel pan is crucial for its longevity. Here's a detailed guide to ensure you maintain the quality of your pan:


  1. After each use, wash the pan with hot water and a soft sponge. Do not use soap as it can strip away the pan's seasoning.
  2. Dry the pan thoroughly with a paper towel or on low heat on your stovetop.
  3. Apply a thin layer of oil to the entire surface of the pan, inside and out, using a paper towel.
  4. Heat the oiled pan over medium heat until it begins to smoke slightly.
  5. Once the smoke appears, remove the pan from heat and let it cool completely before wiping away any excess oil.
  6. Store your carbon steel pan in a dry place to prevent rusting and maintain its seasoning.
  7. If your pan develops rust or food starts sticking, re-season it by repeating steps 3-6.


Remember that proper seasoning helps in maintaining the quality of your carbon steel pans!



Avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar-based sauces, and wine in carbon steel pans as they can damage the pan's seasoning. Sugary and strongly flavored foods should also be avoided to maintain the quality of the cookware.

Delicate proteins and frozen foods are better off cooked using other kitchen tools. Finally, low smoke point oils can burn quickly and should not be used when cooking with carbon steel pans.

March 29, 2024 — Eric Steckling

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