I am looking forward to expanding my cookware collection. I cook decently on weekdays. On weekends, my kitchen looks no less than a war ground.
Having more pans would help lessen the chaos. As I searched through different skillets, my eyes fell on cast iron and carbon steel pans. I wonder what is the difference between the two.
Carbon Steel Pans vs Cast Iron Pans
Both carbon steel and cast iron pans are durable, tough skillets that give a multifunctional performance.
Both pans are aces in their fields, similar, yet different.
Allow me to tell you all about carbon steel pans vs cast iron pans – their strengths, weaknesses, differences, and similarities.
Carbon Steel Pans
Carbon steel is a hybrid version of cast iron and stainless steel. Unlike cast iron which contains 98% iron, carbon steel contains 99% iron and one percent carbon.
It has both the benefits of steel as well as cast iron.
Like stainless steel, it gets heated up fast and is durable. Similarly, just like cast iron, it has a characteristic non-stick nature that needs to be seasoned to protect it from rusting.
Carbon steel pans are a lighter and smoother version of cast iron pans. They are excellent pans for eggs, stir fry, grilling, and sauteing.
As they can withstand extremely high temperatures, they are great skillets for oven cooking.
Cast Iron Pans
Cast iron pans contain 98 percent iron and 2 percent carbon. It is a traditional pan that has been used for ages and is well known for its toughness.
Not only are cast iron pans affordable, but they are also highly durable.
Due to its heat retention property, food stays hot for a long time in a cast iron pan.
However, due to the presence of iron content, the surface of the pan is grainy and rusts easily if not seasoned well.
To free you from seasoning and rusting, enameled cast iron pans are also available in the market.
It is best used for slow cooking, searing, grilling, and frying. As it can withstand high temperatures, you can safely use a cast iron pan in gas and electric ovens.
Due to its heavy nature, it is not the ideal choice for stir-frying and tossing the food around.
Despite using excellent metals and high craftsmanship, there are strengths and weaknesses in each one.
Let us look at the pros and cons of carbon steel and cast iron pans.
Pros of Carbon Steel Pans
Carbon steel pans are most sought after by professional chefs.
Some of the loved characteristics of these pans are as follows:
Easy and Lightweight
You can easily manipulate a carbon steel pan. They are light to carry and don’t require a lot of strength, unlike cast iron pans.
Carbon steel pans, when seasoned well, can be used for multifunctional purposes.
You can fry, stir fry, grill, bake, and even sear in these pans.
Carbon steel pans are non-stick and only require seasoning to protect them from rusting.
Seasoned carbon steel pans are an ideal non-stick. You can bake, grill, fry, brown, and saute, without fearing food sticking on the pan.
Carbon steel pans can withstand extremely high temperatures. They get heated up fast and evenly.
Once heated up, carbon steel pans remain heated up for a long time.
Example: Made in carbon steel is oven-safe up to 1200° F.
Weaknesses of the Carbon Steel Pan
There are very few weaknesses of this pan
As it contains 99% iron, the carbon steel pan tends to rust if not seasoned. The seasoning process takes up time.
You have to season after every wash or else the carbon steel pan will easily corrode and form rust.
Adding too much oil can also discolor the carbon steel pan. You might find a rainbow of blue, black, brown, and yellow with regular usage.
It takes a long time for the carbon steel to cool down after cooking, including the pan handles.
You have to wear oven gloves/ mitts while handling them during and after cooking.
There are high chances of getting burnt fingers if you are not careful.
Carbon steel pans are slightly more expensive compared to regular cast iron pans.
Pros of a Cast Iron Pan
Cast iron pans are traditional pans that have been used for ages in our kitchen.
Here are some of its strengths:
Tough and Durable
Cast iron pans are sturdy and tough pans that have been passed down through generations.
It does not bend, warp, chip, or break easily. You can even use it on open flames during camping.
It can last a lifetime and most brands offer a lifetime warranty against cracks, chipping, and breaking of this pan.
Cast iron has a natural non-stick property when seasoned well. There is no toxic coating of any sort in these pans.
Enameled cast iron is also non-stick and does not need to be seasoned.
Although it doesn’t get heated up as quickly as carbon steel or stainless steel, once it heats up, it retains the heat for a long time.
You can use cast iron to keep your food warm for a long time.
Cast iron pans are compatible with almost all stove tops including ovens. They can be used outdoors to cook on coals, woods, and open flames.
There is hardly any place where cast iron pans won’t work.
They were the ideal choice of cookware for our ancestors and remain the favorite of most people till now. You can sear, braise, grill, roast, and fry with cast iron pans.
Cast iron pans are one of the most budget-friendly pans on the market. Anyone can afford to have them with savings of around 20 dollars.
Weakness of a Cast Iron Pan
Although used by mankind since early ages, cast iron pans do have some weaknesses:
Heavy and Bulky
Cast iron pans can be difficult to operate due to their heaviness.
Depending on the size, they can be the most bulk cookware and difficult to store.
You cannot cook, toss, and transfer easily. Most restaurant chefs and other professionals don’t use it for everyday cooking due to its heavy nature.
Poor Heat Conductor
Unlike carbon steel and stainless steel, cast iron pans do not get heated up fast.
For an evenly heated cast iron pan, the burner should not be very small, or else the pan will be unevenly heated and take a long time to heat up.
Prone to Rusting
If not seasoned well, cast iron pans tend to rust just like carbon steel pans.
You cannot cook acidic foods in them for long as it strips off the non-stick coating and leeches iron into your food.
Differences Between Carbon Steel and Cast Iron Pans
Now that we have covered each metal in detail, have a look at the differences between the two pans
|Carbon Steel Pan||Cast Iron pan|
|Contains 99% iron, and 1% carbon||Contains 98% iron, and 2% carbon|
|Smooth surface||Grainy surface|
|Lightweight and easy to operate in the kitchen||Heavyweight and challenging to handle in the kitchen|
|Rapid heat distribution||Poor heat conductor|
Similarities Between Carbon Steel and Cast Iron Pans
As I mentioned earlier, carbon steel is a hybrid variant of cast iron. Both have a lot of similarities
|Carbon Steel Pan||Cast Iron Pan|
|It can withstand high temperatures.||It can withstand high temperatures except for enameled cast iron|
|It is compatible with all stovetops, including ovens.||It is compatible with all stovetops, including ovens.|
|It cannot be used for cooking/boiling acidic foods||It cannot be used for cooking/boiling acidic foods|
|It needs to be seasoned or else will rust.||It needs to be seasoned except for enameled cast iron.|
Tips on Caring for Carbon steel and Cast Iron Pans
Care for them well and they will take care of your cooking. Here are some helpful tips that will help to give a long life to both pans:
- Wash them with mild soap and a soft sponge. Avoid washing them in the dishwasher. It strips off the non-stick coating and increases the chances of corrosion
- Never soak both carbon steel or cast iron in the water. The metal will react with water and leech out leading to discoloration and rusting
- Wipe the pans dry with a kitchen towel or napkin
- Apply a seasoning layer all around the surface. Heat at medium temperature for a few minutes. You can also bake the empty pan in the oven.
- It may take a few minutes for the pan to season. Once you see smoke coming out, the seasoning is complete.
- You can repeat the seasoning process for a well-seasoned finish
- Store the pans in a cool and dry place. Avoid humid areas as any contact with moisture will cause them to rust.
Both pans are durable and versatile allowing you to cook as you like.
While cast iron pans contain 98% iron and 2 % carbon, carbon steel pans contain 99% iron and 1% carbon. Both are different, yet similar.
Carbon steel pans are lightweight and preferred by professional chefs. Cast Iron pans remain a favorite of home cooks and campers.
While a carbon steel pan heats up rapidly, a cast iron pan takes time to heat up. Cast iron pans have a grainy finish while carbon steel pans have a smooth finish.
They can withstand really high temperatures. Once heated, they retain heat for a long time. Both need to be seasoned well as they are prone to rusting.
Each pan is very versatile and can be used on all cooktops including the oven. Do go through the tips mentioned above. Care for them well and they will take care of your cooking!
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