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. So we picked up some of the highest-rated carbon steel pans and after searing steaks and flipping over-easy eggs, we’re confident our top pick— Mauviel M'Steel(available at Amazon for $119.95)—is capable of replacing several pans in your kitchen.
Here are the best carbon steel pans we tested ranked, in order.
Mauviel M'Steel Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan
BK Cookware Black Carbon Steel Skillet
Blanc Creatives Pro Skillet
Lodge Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet
Misen Carbon Steel Pan
Made In Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan
Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Fry Pan
De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan
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The Mauviel M'Steel 12.5-inch Black Carbon Steel Fry Pan exceeded our expectations in almost every way. This French-made pan was one of the lightest pans we tested at just over three pounds, and the straight, nine-inch handle balanced that weight perfectly to make it feel like an extension of our arm as we used it. Our vegetables cooked evenly throughout the pan, and the round fluted edges were perfectly angled to keep grease inside the pan when we seared a steak.
The pan contained a thick layer of beeswax when it arrived, which required a hard scrubbing with steel wool to get it all off. Once removed, the pan was easy to season and immediately obtained a nonstick coating. Our fried eggs and French omelet slid easily around the pan without sticking, making clean-up a breeze.
This pan heated up quickly and maintained that heat to create an even sear on both sides of the steak. It even had enough heat left over to create a pan sauce after we removed it from the heat.
If we had one complaint, it’s that the handle is a little uncomfortable and the inside cooking area was a touch smaller than the other pans we tested. 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 wasn’t the most nonstick pan right out of the box, though, so we went through the seasoning process anyway. After the extra seasoning, this pan was ready to tackle fried eggs and French omelets.
We also loved that this pan was one of the lightest we tested, clocking in at fewer than four pounds. The weight, combined with a short handle, helped create a balance that made 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 was one of the quickest pans to heat up, and it boasted one of the largest interior cooking surface areas. The tall, bowl-shaped edges make it equally suited for tossing vegetables and holding a large casserole, making it a no-brainer to name this pan our Best Value pick.
Hi, I’m Lindsay Mattison, a trained professional chef and an advocate of the one-pot meal. I often reach for my cast-iron skillet when searing meat or making casseroles, but it’s heavy and difficult to store. That’s why I’ve started turning to a carbon steel pan instead, an undervalued pan that’s used in many restaurant kitchens. If you haven’t tried one, you’re missing out!
Before we started testing, we selected eight highly-rated carbon steel pans. Although many brands offered several sizes, we focused on 12-inch pans (or pans as close to 12 inches as possible). A 12-inch pan is versatile enough to sear a large steak, bake several chicken thighs at once, or handle a one-pot pasta dish.
Two of the pans came pre-seasoned, but the rest needed some attention before they could be used. Most carbon steel cookware comes with a wax covering that protects the unseasoned steel, which can rust without proper attention. Our first test was to season the pans.
Next, we pulled out an infrared thermometer to see how quickly the pans heated up. We measured the temperature at one and two minutes, awarding bonus points for any pan that exceeded 200 degrees Fahrenheit within one minute. We also took the temperature around the four quadrants of the pan to see if they heated evenly or had any wild hot spots.
Finally, it was time to cook. We seared one-inch-thick sirloin steaks and made a pan sauce with the drippings to see how the pan maintained heat. To test whether the seasoned carbon steel was actually nonstick, we also fried two over-easy eggs and made a three-egg French omelet.
While we tested, we took several subjective measurements. Did the pan have a large enough interior surface area, or did the flared edges reduce the cooking space? Was the handle comfortable, and did its angle assist in balancing the pan’s weight or did it feel heavy and awkward to use? These answers went a long way in helping us determine the winning pan.
What You Should Know About Carbon Steel Pans
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 an 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.
Other Carbon Steel Pans We Tested
Blanc Creatives Pro Skillet - 13"
If money isn’t an object, we have no qualms about recommending the Blanc Creatives 11-inch Pro Skillet. This was easily the most expensive pan in the group, 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 was a touch smaller than the other brands we tested, so we were surprised at how heavy it felt. If the handle was a little shorter, it might have had a better balance.
When it came to performance, the Blanc Creatives excelled. It reached 200 degrees Fahrenheit within 60 seconds, creating a gorgeous sear on the steak with very little effort. It was 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.
If the Misen 12-inch Carbon Steel Pan got one thing right, it was the handle. Unlike most of the pans we tested (which had sharp, uncomfortable edges on the handle), the Misen handle comes with a silicone grip. That not only kept it cool as we cooked, but it also made things significantly more comfortable. The handle was attached to the pan with two wide-apart rivets, making the pan much easier to clean.
Sadly, this pan was a little heavy for our liking, and it wasn’t as nonstick as some of the other pans in the testing group, so it lost a few points.
While the Made In 12-inch Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan wasn’t our top choice, we did appreciate several of its features. The pan weighed just over four pounds, an ideal weight for tossing vegetables. The sloped handle had rounded edges that made it more comfortable to grip than most, and the bowl-shaped edges were ideal for creating a large cooking surface area.
While we liked the shape, it was also a little large and unwieldy for pouring sauce out of the pan. The real detractor was that the seasoning wasn’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 was nonstick enough to cook eggs without sticking too badly, but the interior cooking area was a little smaller than most of the pans we tested.
The wide, flared edges gave the pan a little extra space when sauteing vegetables, but they weren’t ideal for searing steak because they were 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.
De Buyer Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan, 12.5-Inch
The De Buyer 12.5-inch Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Fry Pan was our least favorite pan in the group. It did an admirable job of searing the steak, and we liked the addition of the helper handle, but the pan’s design caused it to lose a lot of points.
For starters, it was way too heavy—close to six pounds, almost as heavy as a cast-iron skillet. It also featured a long handle, making it way too uncomfortable to hold with one hand. To add insult to injury, the edges of the handle dug into our hand when we tried single-handed sauteing.
And that helper handle that we liked? Unfortunately, it added extra rivets that made this pan hard to clean.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.