Cast iron vs. carbon steel

Overall cast iron and carbon steel are very similar: Here's what you need to know.

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 creates the two biggest differences between the materials; surface texture and porosity.

Surface Texture:

Carbon steel is smoother than cast iron and has a surface that is much less porous. 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

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.


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.


Other Differences:

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.


Enamel Coatings:

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.

This table 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.