Carbon Steel Pans – The non-stick alternative

Carbon steel pans have been widely used in restaurants for years, but only really came to light for many home cooks with a feature in Cooks Illustrated last year. With out getting into the politics of Teflon we’ll say that there has been a significant rise in people looking for alternatives to the trusty non-stick pan we all have. One driver of this is that the non-stick coating decomposes over time eventually flaking off into the food you cook. This presents two issues – one its gross to find flakes of Teflon in your food, and two you now need to buy a new pan. Constantly buying new pans is frustrating and becomes expensive over time. Due to this people have been searching for alternatives to non-stick at higher and high rates, the most common of those has been cast iron, but that has its limitations.

Enter Carbon Steel Pans

These pans have a number of advantages over traditional non-stick those combined with their durability are a main driver of their commercial use. What are those advantages? Glad you asked. Carbon steel pans get much hotter than a non-stick pan which means it is a better choice for searing, it also means more font in the pan for better sauces. These pans are also much safer than non-stick which begins to actively decompose at 500 degrees. This temperature limit for Teflon also means that tossing the pan in the oven to cook a piece of meat all the way through can be a no go. Finally durability – in my kitchen a non-stick works great for about 6 months and is worn out in a year, a carbon steel skillet like a cast iron will last decades.

Carbon Steel Drawbacks

These pans do have two potential downsides, the immediately noticeable one is weight. An 11 inch carbon steel pan can weigh two to three times that of a non-stick pan, this is something to consider especially if you have a volume of liquid in the pan. The second drawback is care – like cast iron these pans achieve their non-stick properties via the “seasoning” process, that means they require a little more care to preserve than the simple wiping out of a non-stick. Once done cleaning the pan dry the pan right away and then rub the inside with a little vegetable oil.

P.S. – if you are curious about non-stick safety check out this informative piece from the fine folks at Good House Keeping

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