Most home cooks are familiar with cast-iron skillets, but carbon steel has eluded the mainstream—for now. As a former restaurant chef, I’m super familiar with these quick-heating, semi-lightweight pans. Many restaurants use them because the pans heat up quickly, and retain heat for a long time after being removed from the stovetop.
Like cast iron or multi-clad stainless steel, carbon steel pans can go from the stovetop to the oven, making them a champion for one-pot-cooking. You can use them to get a hard sear on a steak, but they also develop a seasoning layer that makes them as nonstick as the best ceramic or Teflon-coated pans.
Their versatility makes them a clear choice as a workhorse in home kitchens.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
Mauviel M'Steel Round Frying Pan, 12.5-Inch
The Mauviel M'Steel 12.5-inch Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan exceeds our expectations in almost every way. This French-made pan is one of the lightest pans we picked at just over three pounds, and the straight, nine-inch handle balances that weight perfectly to make it feel like an extension of your arm as it's used. This pan cooks vegetables evenly throughout the pan, and the round fluted edges are perfectly angled to keep grease inside the pan when searing a steak.
Upon arrival the pan is coated with a thick layer of protective beeswax, which requires a hard scrubbing with steel wool to get it all off. Once removed, the pan is easy to season and immediately obtains a nonstick coating and fried eggs and French omelets slide easily around the pan without sticking- making clean-up a breeze.
This pan heats up quickly and maintains that heat to create an even sear on both sides of meat. It even has enough heat left over to create a pan sauce after removing it from the heat.
If we have one complaint about this pan, it’s that the handle is a little uncomfortable and the inside cooking area is a touch smaller than some other pans. That’s a small sacrifice to make for perfectly cooked food, so we had an easy time naming this our choice for Best Overall.
If you don’t want to spend a fortune, and you don’t want to waste any time seasoning your new carbon steel pan, the pre-seasoned BK Cookware 12-inch Black Carbon Steel Skillet is the way to go. It isn't the most nonstick pan right out of the box, though, so we'd suggest through the seasoning process anyway. After the extra seasoning, this pan will be ready to tackle fried eggs and French omelets.
We also love that this pan was one of the lightest we chose, clocking in at fewer than four pounds. The weight, combined with a short handle, helped create a balance that makes it effortless to toss vegetables. The handle is rounded on the bottom, too, so it’s more comfortable to grip than most.
To top it off, this pan heats up quickly, and it boasts one of the largest interior cooking surface areas. The tall, bowl-shaped edges make it equally suited for tossing vegetables or holding a large casserole, making it a no-brainer to name this pan our Best Value pick.
If money isn’t an object, we have no qualms about recommending the Blanc Creatives 11-inch Pro Skillet. This is easily the most expensive pan on our list, but it’s also the only one that’s hand-crafted in Charlottesville, Va..
It’s absolutely gorgeous, with a sleek design and hand-hammered finish on the handle. This pan is a touch smaller than the other brands we tested, so it's surprising how heavy it feels. If the handle were a little shorter, it might have had a better balance.
When it comes to performance, the Blanc Creatives excels. It reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit within 60 seconds, perfect for creating a gorgeous sear on steak with very little effort. It's also exceptionally nonstick after the initial seasoning process.
It might be expensive, but this pan will likely last a lifetime. According to their website, “All Blanc cookware is guaranteed for life,” meaning that your investment is likely well spent should anything happen.
The Lodge 12-Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet was one of two pans we tested that came pre-seasoned, making this pan ideal for anyone who is worried about that initial seasoning step. That also made it more nonstick out of the box than any of the pans we tested. As a bonus, this pan maintained its seasoning layer after being cleaned with soap, so it’s lower-maintenance than the other pans in the group.
On the flip side, the handle is exceptionally uncomfortable, and the very shallow edges allowed a lot of grease to splatter when searing the steak.
While the Made In 12-inch Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan isn't our top choice, we do appreciate several of its features. The pan weighs just over four pounds, an ideal weight for tossing vegetables. The sloped handle has rounded edges that makes it more comfortable to grip than most, and the bowl-shaped edges are ideal for creating a large cooking surface area.
While we like the shape, it is a little large and unwieldy for pouring sauce out of the pan. The real detractor is that the seasoning just isn't as nonstick as the others, causing this pan to struggle big time when cooking eggs.
Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan, 11-7/8-Inch
The Matfer Bourgeat 11-7/8-inch Black Steel Round Fry Pan has received high marks in other carbon steel pan reviews, so we were surprised that we weren’t impressed by its features. It is nonstick enough to cook eggs without sticking too badly, but the interior cooking area is a little smaller than most of the pans we tested.
The wide, flared edges give the pan a little extra space when sautéing vegetables, but they aren't ideal for searing steak because they're a little shallow for catching beef grease. Add those complaints to a heavy weight and a long, uncomfortable handle, and this pan dropped down to the bottom of our list.
These oven-safe pans can be used on any stovetop, including induction cooktops, and are perfect for handling a variety of cooking tasks—everything from creating the perfect sear on a steak to cooking delicate eggs. That said, these pans also require some maintenance. This extra requirement might be what turns most home cooks away from these versatile naturally non-stick pans, but we promise: It’s not that much work.
Basically, bare carbon steel rusts very quickly, so these pans need to be seasoned to create a protective layer. If the pan is properly cared for, the seasoning process only needs to happen right after you receive the pan.
What to Look For in a Carbon Steel Pan
Carbon steel pans should be heavier than nonstick pans but not nearly as heavy as a cast-iron skillet. Between four to four-and-a-half pounds is really ideal. You want to be able to hold it in one hand and toss the contents of the skillet without feeling like your wrist might buckle!
The handle size and design are equally important, too. Our favorite handles were straight, not curved, to balance out the weight of the pan. The longer handles felt more awkward to use, so we recommend looking for a pan with a handle no longer than nine inches.
Finally, the pan’s shape had a lot to do with its success. Steep, bowl-shaped edges make it hard to toss vegetables, but shallow sides allow too much grease to escape when searing steak. Instead, look for wide, sloping sides, which also make it easy to pour out pan sauces or slide a spatula into the pan.
How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan
To season a carbon steel pan, first make sure any wax coating has been scrubbed off using soapy water. Then, heat the pan over high heat to open its pores. After a minute or so, add a very thin layer of neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point (like canola oil), rubbing it all over the pan’s surface with a paper towel or old towel. The pan will smoke to high heaven, so make sure the fan is on and the windows are open!
After a few minutes, you’ll notice the shiny silver surface turn to black: that’s the seasoning layer. Turn the pan and continue heating until it’s black all over. And just like that, the pan is ready to use! The more you cook with it, the more that coating will improve, creating an exceptional non-stick surface that will work as well as a ceramic or Teflon-coated pan.
How to Clean a Carbon Steel Pan
Carbon steel pans also require a specific cleaning regimen because soap removes the seasoning layer. We noticed the pre-seasoned pans fared a little better when we cleaned them with soap, but all the pans we seasoned ourselves lost their coating after a single wash.
The good news? It’s not hard to clean these pans with a scrub brush (like this Lodge Cast-Iron Scrub Brush). The nonstick seasoning layer helps even burnt-on bits slide away with ease. After the pan is scrubbed clean, it’s important to dry it immediately and coat it with a thin layer of oil.
The best news? If you accidentally wash off the seasoning layer, you can repeat that initial seasoning step and the pan will be good as new. These heavy-duty pants are pretty hard to destroy, so don’t be afraid to learn as you go.
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