Carbon steel pans have the best characteristics of stainless steel and cast iron. They're lightweight, can take high heat, and develop a natural nonstick patina over time.
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made in cookware carbon steel fry ban with chili's
Credit: Courtesy of Made In Cookware

Your carbon steel pan is a versatile powerhouse for searing, and nonstick cooking in general. It seamlessly goes from the stove to the oven (or broiler), which is why it's a staple for home cooks and professional chefs alike.

"Carbon steel [pans] take the best characteristics of stainless steel and cast iron and combines them into one," points out Jake Kalick, president and co-founder of Made In.

Like cast iron, carbon steel has the ability to take high heat and develop a natural nonstick patina over time, but like stainless steel, it is relatively lightweight and heats up quickly, says Kalick.

"You can cook almost anything in carbon steel," he adds, sharing that a few of his favorite dishes are stir-fry in a wok, perfect rice in a paella pan, and a lovely crust on a pizza steel. "The only thing you need to be a little careful of is acidic ingredients. You can add some tomatoes to it no problem, but it's not an ideal place to make a vinegar or citrus-based sauce because that will strip the seasoning."

Not to worry: if you make that mistake, you can re-season your pan with little to no consequences. Ahead, how to take care of your carbon steel pan to help ensure it lasts a long time.

Tips for Cleaning and Maintaining

When it comes to maintenance, carbon steel acts more like cast iron, says Kalick. So before you start using your carbon steel pan, you should season it. "We recommend doing this in the oven, but it can also be done on the stovetop," he says. "Coat your cookware with oil and then expose it to heat. This creates a polymerized reaction, where the oil fills in the pores on the pan, creating a smooth surface." Kalick notes that the more you cook with your pan, the more that seasoning builds up.

Ready to clean your carbon steel cookware? "Start by wiping away as much food residue as possible with a paper towel or cloth," says Kalick. "If stuck food bits still remain, you can boil some water in your cookware to loosen the food, before scraping it up with a metal spatula. When it gets really dirty, scour it with about a cup of coarse salt and then rinse it out with hot water. Your cookware will then need to be re-seasoned, which involves heating a small amount of oil over the stove, letting it smoke, and then letting it cool until the metal darkens in color."

The Best Tool for Cleaning Carbon Steel Cookware

Steel wool is far too abrasive for nonstick or even stainless steel cookware, but it's great for removing rust off of carbon steel, says Kalick. "If your cookware becomes rusty, you can remove that with steel wool and a paste of baking soda and vinegar, using the steel wool as a scouring pad."

It's important to note that because steel wool is such a heavy-duty abrasive, it will not only take off the rust but the layer of seasoning you've built up as well, says Kalick. To remedy this, just follow the re-seasoning steps above. "After the initial re-seasoning, you'll need to build that patina back up from scratch, which gives you a great excuse to cook fatty foods like bacon to help kick-start that process."

Is Dish Soap Okay to Use On Carbon Steel Pans?

Short answer: Steer clear. Dish soap is not suitable for carbon steel pans.

"Just like with cast iron, you never want to use soap on your carbon steel pans," says Kalick. "It will fully strip the seasoning and may leave an unpleasant residue behind as well." When your cookware has crusted-on food, use boiled water and a metal spatula as needed, but never dish soap.

Kalick also cautions home cooks to never put carbon steel in the dishwasher. "The detergent is often too abrasive and there's an increased possibility of your cookware getting scratched or dented by other things," he says. "If you put carbon steel pan in the dishwasher, you will absolutely ruin it."

Storing

When you put your carbon steel pan away, be sure that it's completely dry. "That will help cut down on the potential for rust," says Kalick, adding that if you live in a more humid climate, rust is somewhat inevitable, so make sure you're storing it in the driest place possible and re-seasoning it regularly if rust does appear.

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