Carbon Steel 101
Carbon Steel Skillets
Found in restaurants, and kitchens around the world, the carbon steel pan has yet to find its self into most American kitchens. So why isn't this cousin of cast iron as popular? If you are looking for a great alternative to non-stick pans, carbon steel might just be the perfect fit for you.
Cookware can be expensive, so when you are buying a new pan or skillet, You want to make sure you get something that will stand the test of time. Carbon steel skillets are a great alternative to other types of non-stick cookware. Unlike aluminum, they can handle high heat without damaging the pan and unlike ceramic, they will not chip or break if dropped.
I personally use Carbon steel skillets for just about anything I cook on the stovetop. They are great for searing meats and even cooking delicate dishes like crepes or eggs.
One of the biggest benefits of carbon steel is that it is much lighter than cast iron, and has slopped walls which make it perfect for cooking dishes that require tossing like a stir-fry. Because the walls are thinner, carbon steel heats up and cools down quicker than cast iron, which allows you to have better control over your cooking temperature.
Another benefit of carbon steel is that it has a much smoother surface out of the box, meaning you only need a small amount of seasoning to get a great non-stick finish. Most skillets come unseasoned and require that you go through the seasoning process before you start. Our Marquette skillets come pre-seasoned and ready for go right out of the box.
Every once in a while you might need to add a layer of seasoning to keep your food from sticking. This seasoning process is very similar to cast iron but not nearly as time-consuming. Seasoning is simply baking on a thin layer of oil on to cover the raw metal. The difference between cast iron and carbon steel is that cast iron is much more porous, so it soaks up more oil and requires more coats while carbon steel requires thinner coats of oil and fewer of them. Just like cast iron carbon steel will rust if not taken care of, so we want to get a good coating of seasoning on our skillet to keep it protected.
The beginning of any good seasoning process starts with a clean skillet. if you have a new carbon steel skillet, follow the manufactures suggestions for preparing the surface. Most carbon steel skillets are shipped with a protective coating that needs to be removed before seasoning. If you have just cooked in your skillet the best way to get food and particulates loose is to deglaze the pan. Just pour some water in the pan and let it work the burnt food loose.
If you do find food starting to stick while cooking, it is usually because of residue from a previous meal rather than an issue with the seasoning. If you this happens just clean your skillet well and season again. Now that your skillet is clean give it a good rinse and dry it off. The best way to do this is to put on the stove and let the water evaporate or throw it in the oven on low until it's completely dry. Keeping your skillet clean and well seasoned will improve its performance.
The best oil for seasoning your skillet one with a high smoke point oil such as flaxseed oil or grape-seed oil. These oils let you cook with a much higher heat without hurting the seasoning. Pour about a quarter sized spot of oil into the pan. Take a clean lint-free cloth and spread the oil around, coating all sides of the pan.
The best way to season your skillet is on a gas range. But if you don’t happen to have one, don't worry. You can simply use your oven. Place your skillet on the burner over medium heat. Move the skillet around so all the areas are heated evenly. Once you see the skillet getting hot, turn it upside down to heat the inside walls of the pan. Because we are seasoning the entire skillet, you want to make sure to heat the whole surface nut just the bottom. Once the oil starts to smoke, turn the heat down, but keep moving the pan around until all the oil is dried. take the skillet off the heat and let it cool down. Repeat this process until you are happy with the amount of seasoning on your skillet. It shouldn't take more than 2-3 coats.
if you are seasoning in the oven, turn the heat up high to about 475-500º Leave your skillet in the oven for around 45 minutes or until it's fully cured.
If you are looking to replace your non-stick pans, carbon steel is a great option. These skillets last a lifetime and are extremely versatile.
Enamel vs Raw Iron
Enamel vs. Raw Iron
With all the different types of cookware, it can be hard to know which one is best for you. enamel and non-enamel raw iron are two of the best high-quality options out there. Today we are going to be talking about their differences and why one might be better for your kitchen.
First things first. Let's talk about what enamel is. Enamel is a glass coating that is fused to raw iron at a very high temperature. The coating is designed to keep the iron protected. When hardened, it becomes a smooth, extremely durable, non-stick surface that is easy to clean.
Enamel is great for cooking things on high heat like searing large meats. It is also great for cooking acidic foods and simmering things for a long time. Anything that could potentially damage the seasoning on your raw iron is the perfect place to use enamel. Because of its smooth surface, the cleaning process for enamel is just about as easy as it gets. If you are new to cast iron, enamel may the perfect place to start.
Despite the many benefits of enameled cookware, there are still many situations where seasoned iron is a better option. Cast iron and carbon steel are the two most common types of raw iron cookware. Their surfaces are virtually indestructible, and under normal cooking conditions, they are nearly impossible to damage. They require a protective coating of baked on oil called seasoning to give them a non-stick surface. This makes them more ideal for situations where your enamel might be damaged. Such as use on the grill or campfire. With a well-seasoned surface, raw iron can achieve a better non-stick coating than enamel, making it well suited for delicate foods like eggs and crepes.
Think of them like tools meant for certain applications. Find the one that's right for you and put it to work.
IRON + OIL: HERE'S OUR QUICK OVERVIEW OF SEASONING CAST IRON
Using and maintaining cast iron cookware can be very different from using other types of cookware, Like any tool, it needs to be taken care of and treated properly for it to work best. With proper technique, the performance, versatility and longevity of your cast iron are worth the extra effort. We put together this guide to help you get the most out of your cast iron.
Seasoning – Baking on Oil
Our cast iron skillets come with 4 coats of baked on oil, so they are ready to use right away. The oil coating on your skillet will get better with age if you properly clean and maintain it. Depending on how you use your skillets, baking on another layer of oil may be necessary. If the surface of the skillet starts to look really dull with no sheen and food seems to be sticking a little more, it may be time to bake on another coat. We always recommend wiping on a very thin coat of oil after cleaning and washing - this ensures that your skillet will be ready to go the next time you use it.
If you think its time to bake on another coat of oil, here's the steps:
1) Make sure you start with a clean surface. Scrub as necessary to make sure the pan is completely free of food residue before baking on more oil.
2) Wipe on a very thin coat of oil on every surface and wipe it completely off. Try to make sure the coat is as even as possible. We recommend flax seed oil or grape seed oil.
3) Bake in the oven at 450 degrees for about an hour. You will know when it's done when the oil looks dry. If your oven has a convection setting - use it.
4) With the smooth surfaces on both the carbon steel and cast iron, One coat should be enough.
5) Once the pan is cool, we generally like to finish with a very light "wet" coat. Wipe down the interior of the pan with a very thin coat of oil - no need to bake it on. This will ensure your skillet is ready to go next time you need it.
cast iron on the left, carbon steel on the right
cast vs sheet
The difference in porosity is largely a result of the differences in surface finish. Cast iron has more texture and a more absorbent surface. It will soak in more of the oil during seasoning and builds coats of seasoning differently than carbon steel. When seasoning carbon steel, the coats of oil need to be extremely thin. Often carbon steel is seasoned on the stovetop rather than in the oven, so the skillet can reach higher temperatures to better dry and burn off excess oil .
Generally, carbon steel a little thinner and lighter. Our skillets are similar in thickness with the carbon steel at 3mm and the cast iron are between 2.5-4mm thick with the bottom being a little thicker than the walls.
Carbon steel and cast iron are seasoned in similar ways, they both are extremely versatile, can be used over any heat source, can be extremely non-stick and both will last forever.
Materials aside, other considerations between the two 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. Enameled cookware never needs to be seasoned. Enamel is a lifetime coating, while it is possible to chip enameled products last for a very long time. Depending on the type of enamel, thickness and sheen some pieces can have issues with food sticking while others are extremely non-stick.
The table below highlights some examples of pan types are 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 and that everyone has different opinions on which may be best.
Maintaining Your Cast Iron Skillet
Using and maintaining cast iron cookware can be very different from using other types of cookware. Like any tool, it needs to be taken care of and treated properly for it to work best. With proper technique, the performance, versatility and longevity of your cast iron are worth the extra effort. We put together this guide to help you get the most out of your cast iron.
All cast iron pans are unique. With various thicknesses and surface finishes, our skillets (and vintage skillets) are going to clean up differently than modern sand cast (inexpensive) skillets.
General cast iron skillet cooking tips
- Always pre-heat your skillet. Pre-heating your skillet greatly improves the skillet’s ability to be non-stick. Cast iron takes a little longer than other types of cookware to hear up. With a little practice, you will know exactly when your skillet is the right temperature.
Cooking with a little oil makes cleanup a lot easier. We like to use a cold pressed coconut oil. Try to avoid Olive oil when cooking at high temperatures – it can turn into a gooey mess on the cookware.
Try to avoid food becoming stuck when cooking at very high temps – This is generally the cause of most cleaning and maintenance issues.
Cast Iron Seasoning – Baking on Oil
Our cast iron skillets come with 4 coats of baked on oil, so they are ready to use right away. Nearly all other skillets will need to have a few coats of oil baked on before they can perform optimally. Depending on how you use your skillets, baking on another layer of oil may be necessary. If the surface of the skillet starts to look really dull with no sheen and food seems to be sticking a little more, it may be time to bake on another coat.
- Before you season your skillet make sure it is very clean! You don’t want to bake on anything under the seasoning.
- Choose your oil! – There’s lots of options and opinions on what to use to keep it simple we recommend Flax seed oil or vegetable oil. If you use Flax, MAKE SURE to get filtered oil – you don’t want to deal with those seed parts in your finish.
- Start by pouring a half-dollar size spot of oil in the middle of the skillet, the oil seems to be easier to apply if the skillet is warm, but pre-heating is not necessary. Wipe down every surface of the skillet with the oil.
- Grab a new paper towel or lint free rag (old t-shirts are great!) and completely wipe off all the oil you just wiped on. This is how thin you want the coat to be. Every beginner will have a strong tendency to leave too much oil on the skillet – try your hardest to avoid this! Also make sure there isn’t oil stuck in the lettering of graphics of the skillet.
- Now your completely wiped clean skillet is ready to go in the oven. Don’t worry about face down or up. If you have to worry about dripping, you put way too much oil on. Turn the oven on to about 425 degrees and bake for about an hour. If it still looks to have wet oil on it, turn the heat up a little and give it some more time.
- One coat is usually enough for re-seasoning. If you bought a new skillet that wasn’t fully seasoned, you may want to repeat these steps 3 more times.
Questions about maintaining your cast iron skillet? Ask us in the comments.
Cast Iron vs Carbon Steel Cookware
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.
You May Like: Marquette Castings Enameled Dutch Oven
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.
Which do you prefer for your cooking style? Leave us a message in the comments.
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