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Are you in the market for some new cookware? If so, you’ve probably come across carbon steel. But is carbon steel cookware safe?
Although we can all take steps to improve our health such as eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise, if you’re using the wrong type of cookware, you could unwittingly be exposing yourself to harmful substances.
You’ve probably seen carbon steel cookware in stores everywhere, but how do you know if it’s right for you or not? That’s where we can help! Here you’ll find super useful info on what carbon steel cookware is made from and its pros and cons.
We’ve also covered methods of cleaning it and how it compares to other materials such as cast iron. So, to find out more about carbon steel cookware and whether or not you should be using it in your kitchen, keep scrolling!
Is Carbon Steel Cookware Safe? YES! Carbon steel cookware is safe to use for cooking or baking since the material of construction is iron and carbon. Iron is a safe material for cookware and carbon has the same characteristics as Iron. This is a natural material without added harmful and toxic coatings.
- What Are Carbon Steel Pans Made From?
- Is Carbon Steel Cookware Safe To Use?
- How To Safely Clean And Maintain A Carbon Steel Pan
- What Does It Mean To “Season” Carbon Steel Cookware?
- The Best Ways To Use Carbon Steel Cookware
- Pros & Cons Of Carbon Steel Cookware
- Is Carbon Steel Safer Than Cast Iron Cookware?
- Final Verdict: Is Carbon Steel Right For You?
What Are Carbon Steel Pans Made From?
Imagine carbon steel as the less bulky cousin of cast iron. Surprisingly, it has more iron than cast iron.
Cast iron cookware is typically 97-98% iron and 3% carbon, whereas carbon steel is usually 99% iron and just 1% carbon. Although this doesn’t sound like much, it makes a big difference.
While carbon steel and cast iron cookware are similar to each other, the lightweight nature of carbon steel makes it much easier to handle. A 12 inch cast iron pan weighs approximately 7 pounds, whereas a carbon steel skillet of the same size will weigh around 5 pounds.
Carbon steel is also much smoother and thinner than cast iron, so it’s much more aesthetically pleasing to many cooking enthusiasts.
Is Carbon Steel Cookware Safe To Use?
Yes, carbon steel cookware is non-toxic and completely safe to use for cooking. This is because it’s only made of carbon and iron, which are two very safe cooking materials.
Carbon steel cookware doesn’t feature a nonstick coating, meaning it won’t leach any substances into your food when the pan heats up. Before it’s used, your carbon steel pots and pans need to be seasoned for the non-stick surface to be created – this prevents any food from sticking.
This seasoning that builds up over time comes from the oil you’ve used as well as natural oils from your food. This makes it completely safe if the seasoning comes off the pan. Additionally, finding a suitable oil for seasoning your cookware can help to maintain it well.
Carbon steel is one of our best cookware options for electric stoves because of its conductivity.
How To Safely Clean And Maintain A Carbon Steel Pan
Carbon steel cookware is a great material to cook with, and the more you use it, the more non-stick it becomes. Although seasoning carbon cookware is essential, it’s also important to know the correct methods of cleaning it without compromising the seasoning.
However, as long as you follow the proper steps and use the right techniques, cleaning your pan doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Below you’ll find four methods of effectively cleaning your seasoned cookware.
Remember though, carbon steel cookware isn’t dishwasher safe, and it should never be cleaned using soap and water as carbon steel and water do not mix well together.
4 Ways to Clean Carbon Steel Pans
1. Wipe your pan
You may think that you need specialist tools to clean your carbon steel cookware but, if your pan has been seasoned properly, a quick wipe can be a sufficient enough method to clean it.
Using a kitchen towel, simply wipe away excess oil from the pan. Thanks to the patina that will have developed, your pan or pot will look as good as new. But, for pans that are dirtier and more stubborn to clean, take a look at the alternative methods below.
2. Oil and coarse salt
For stubborn food messes, add two tablespoons of neutral oil, such as vegetable, canola, or grapeseed oil, and 2 tablespoons of coarse salt to the pan. Using a paper towel, rub the oil and salt around the pan.
The friction from rubbing the salt against the surface of the pan will dislodge any food that’s stuck. Once you’ve done that, simply wipe the leftover food, oil, and salt from the pan.
3. Use boiling water
If there’s food stuck firmly to the pan’s surface, you can use this method to dislodge it. Add a little warm water to the bottom of the pan and use a medium heat to bring it to a boil. Once the water is boiled, use a rubber or wooden spatula to scrape the food off.
Once you’ve freed the leftover food, empty the water into the sink. Put the pan back onto the heat so it dries completely, as this will prevent any rusting.
When the pan is dry, add a thin layer of neutral oil to the surface and allow it to heat for one minute. This ensures that your pan is cleaned and seasoned!
4. Steel wool
If none of these methods have worked and you’re battling stubborn food stains, steel wool is what you need. Gently scrub the stubborn areas of the pan with the steel wool to loosen the leftover food.
Although this may cause scratches, they’re just superficial and will fill in after a while as you season and use the pan.
3 Tips for Maintaining Your Carbon Steel Cookware
You’ll want to keep your new carbon steel cookware looking new and luckily, doing so is quite simple. To ensure that your pan can serve you for many years, here are a few easy maintenance tips that you can follow.
1. Clean after every use, but avoid the dishwasher!
Once you’ve finished cooking and your cookware has cooled down, remove any leftover food or oil using a soft cloth or paper towel. Never use harsh soaps or abrasive scrubbing brushes as these can strip away the layer of seasoning.
Also, never put your carbon steel pan, skillet, or wok in the dishwasher as this can destroy the seasoning layer.
2. Don’t let your cookware soak
Although the layer of seasoning can help to stop rust from developing on the surface, repeated exposure to water should always be avoided. This is because water can seep through into the seasoning and cause rusting. But, you can avoid this by thoroughly drying your cookware after cleaning it.
3. Stay away from highly acidic foods
Acidic foods such as tomatoes may damage the seasoning of your carbon steel cookware. If it’s possible, stick to stainless steel cookware or a similar non-reactive material when you’re working with acidic foods.
What Does it Mean to “Season” Carbon Steel Cookware?
After you’ve cleaned your carbon steel cookware, it’s a good idea to season it to prevent rusting. Seasoning is performed by heating oil in the pan and allowing it to create a protective layer. This stops the cookware from rusting even if you expose it to humid conditions.
Seasoning your carbon steel cookware is straightforward, but it needs to be done correctly to get the best results. The seasoning process can help to close the tiny pores on the surface of the pan and prevents any rusting from forming. This process can be done on the stove or in the oven, but keep the oil’s smoking point in mind.
How to Season Carbon Steel
On the Stove
Before you heat the pan, ensure that it’s clean and dry. Once it’s heated, use a paper towel to apply a thin layer of oil to the surface of the pan. Only a little oil should remain in the pan so remove excess using a clean paper towel.
Keep the pan over medium heat for around 5 minutes to ensure all of the sides are hot. Leave the pan to cool and your seasoning is complete! You can do this with your carbon steel frying pan, wok, or skillet. Be sure to do it as often as possible, preferably each time you use it.
In the Oven
You can also perform the seasoning process in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit which should be a bit more than the smoking point of the oil. Make sure your pan is clean and dry, then put it into the preheated oven.
Leave it in there for a few minutes so the pores dry completely. This prepares the pan for the oil seasoning.
Once you’ve done this, apply a thin layer of oil to the pan with a paper towel and leave it in the oven for 60 minutes. Then, turn the oven off and allow the pan and the oven to cool down completely.
The Best Ways to Use Carbon Steel Cookware
Carbon steel cookware has many uses and can be used to whip up all of your favorite meals. It can replace most pans you would usually use to prepare both simple and sophisticated recipes. Below are a few ways of getting the best out of your carbon steel cookware.
Whether you want steak, tuna, or some delicious pork chops, searing is just one of the ways you can use your carbon steel skillet or pan. This is because carbon steel is excellent at retaining heat, so once it gets hot, it will stay hot, making it perfect for searing steaks or achieving crispy chicken skin.
Stir-frying requires the pan to become very hot throughout the whole cooking process. This is why carbon steel is a great choice since it gets extremely hot and holds the heat well, ensuring the food is cooked evenly.
Carbon steel can handle very high temperatures and it can be used in the oven, which is ideal if the recipe requires an oven during the prepping process. With carbon steel, you can bake that skillet cookie or cake you’ve been craving!
With an Induction Stovetop
Induction stovetops require a special kind of cookware material to work effectively, and carbon steel is one of those materials. The induction surface on the stovetop heats your cookware with electromagnetism which is highly efficient compared to regular gas or electric stovetops. Induction stovetops allow for more precise control and a quick rise or fall in temperature, which leads to faster heating. To get the best out of your pan or skillet, heat it slowly before adding your ingredients, then gradually turn the temperature up to prevent burnt food.
Pros & Cons Of Carbon Steel Cookware
Like many things, carbon steel cookware has its pros and cons. It’s important to be aware of both of them before you rush out to buy it.
If you’ve heard a lot about this cookware material, but aren’t sure whether it’s right for you or not, take a look at the list below of carbon steel cookware pros and cons!
1. Highly Responsive
Carbon steel pans respond very quickly to temperature changes, which gives you full control when you’re cooking. For example, if you turn the heat from low to high or high to low, you won’t have to wait for ages for the pan to adjust to the temperature change.
This quick responsiveness helps you to avoid undercooking or overcooking your food. Responsiveness is a great advantage in cooking, especially if you tend to cook one-pot meals. It allows you to quickly change the temperature as you remove or add ingredients.
If you don’t have the kitchen space for an entire cookware set, you’ll want something versatile that can be used for various recipes. One of the most attractive pros of carbon steel cookware is that it’s an all-purpose material.
Whether you’re stir-frying vegetables, grilling a juicy steak, or scrambling eggs, a carbon steel pan can get the job done. It can also be used for many different cooking methods including sauteing, broiling, browning, and searing.
It’s safe to use on the stove, on the grill, under the broiler, and in the oven. It has a high heat tolerance like a cast iron pan, it heats up quickly like stainless steel, and it has natural non-stick properties.
If you’re fed up with having mountains of cookware items in your cupboards, a carbon steel pan or skillet is for you.
As mentioned earlier, carbon steel cookware is made up of 99% iron and 1% carbon, making it very strong but malleable. This means it can be pressed and layered into pans, woks, and skillets without it cracking.
This is good news if you’re worried about dropping the pan, accidentally overheating it, or banging it against a hard surface – it won’t sustain any damage. The chances of it warping, scratching, or breaking are very small.
Additionally, since carbon steel has a naturally non-stick surface when it’s seasoned, there’s little chance of it peeling off or wearing down. If it does start to lose its non-stick properties, simply re-season it.
4. Heats Up Quickly
Compared to other materials, carbon steel cookware heats up very quickly. Its slim design means the heat can transfer to the pan quickly. So, if you’re in a rush and don’t want to wait for your stainless steel or cast-iron skillet to warm up, carbon steel is your best bet.
Not only does carbon steel heat up quickly, but it also cools down quickly as well. This is ideal for when you’re working with delicate ingredients. It also saves time because you won’t need to wait a long time for it to cool down so you can clean it.
1. It reacts with acidic foods
One of the biggest drawbacks of carbon steel cookware is that it reacts with high acidity foods. Despite how versatile it is, you’ll need to avoid using wine-based sauces, tomatoes, or recipes that require lots of lemon juice or similar ingredients.
A small splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice won’t affect the pan’s performance, but repeated use of these kinds of ingredients will strip the seasoning from the surface.
If you want to cook a recipe that requires lots of high acidity foods, it’s better to use stainless steel. Stainless steel is non-reactive, giving it a high tolerance to acidic ingredients. You could also continue using carbon steel if you are consistent with re-seasoning the pan after cooking with acidic foods.
2. Food will stick to it unless it’s well-seasoned
Although carbon steel cookware has natural non-stick properties, this is only true if it’s properly seasoned. Each pan is different, so it’s important to follow the manufacturers’ instructions about seasoning it.
3. The handles can become very hot
Before you use your carbon steel cookware, you should know that the handles can get very hot. Stainless steel pans generally have handles that are hollow or attached to the base with a fork-like design. This disperses the heat evenly, allowing the handles to stay cool enough to hold.
However, many carbon steel pans and skillets have flat handles that are directly attached to the base with rivets. Unfortunately, this design doesn’t disperse the heat evenly, meaning the handles can become too hot to touch.
If you’re using the pan on the stove, the size of the pan and the angle of the flame will decide how hot the handle gets. But naturally, if you’re using it in the oven, the handle will get very hot no matter how it’s positioned. To avoid nasty burns, use an oven mitt when handling the pan.
We love using our silicone hot handle cover when using our carbon steel pan and cast iron pan. It helps to be able to maneuver the pan without worrying about burns.
There are some better pans for high heat cooking, but carbon steel is still a great option.
Is Carbon Steel Safer Than Cast Iron Cookware?
Both carbon steel and cast iron are very safe to use for cooking. But, carbon steel tends to be more popular, particularly in professional kitchens, because it’s lighter and easier to maneuver.
Because of its lightweight nature, a carbon steel pan can be flipped and shaken much more easily than cast iron. It’s also easier to move from the stovetop to the oven, making it safer to handle.
Thanks to its regular oil seasoning, carbon steel cookware boasts a natural non-stick coating. This coating makes cooking super easy and it’s comparable to other artificial and natural coatings. Another perk of this regular seasoning is that it makes the cookware virtually effortless to clean and you won’t have to worry about the coating getting damaged.
Teflon contains PFOAs. These are artificial chemicals that create non-stick surfaces on cookware. Unfortunately, PFOAs can be harmful because they remain in the environment and the body for a long time. The good news is that carbon steel only contains two chemicals – iron and carbon, and neither of these is toxic.
When it comes to choosing the safest cookware, it’s important to look for materials that don’t possess toxic substances that leach chemicals into the food. If you prefer your pots and pans to have no coating, stainless steel is for you. But, if you want cookware that has a high heat tolerance, with a safe non-stick surface, carbon steel cookware is the answer.
Although you can cook almost anything in your carbon steel pan, there are a few ingredients that could affect the seasoning. Acidic foods such as wine, vinegar, tomatoes, and citrus can strip the pan of its seasoning. But, don’t worry, this is a natural and normal cooking process when using carbon steel cookware. Your pan certainly isn’t ruined – it just needs another seasoning layer.
Final Verdict: Is Carbon Steel Right For You?
Yes, if you’re looking for a skillet or pan that can produce perfectly seared steaks or sauteed vegetables, carbon steel is for you. It’s also ideal for people who need lightweight pans that are easy to handle, such as those suffering from arthritis or mobility problems.
So, is carbon steel cookware safe? Yes, it’s a very safe material that’s ideal for a range of cooking methods thanks to its toughness and versatility.
We all want to look after our health, and using carbon steel cookware means you can have great-tasting food without being exposed to potentially harmful substances.
Read more: Is hard anodized cookware safe to use?
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.