The Best Carbon Steel Pan (2024), Tested and Reviewed | Epicurious

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The Best Carbon Steel Pan (2024), Tested and Reviewed | Epicurious

By Julia Heffelfinger , Cecily McAndrews , and Melissa Knific

All products featured on Epicurious are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

If you’re not yet cooking with carbon steel, you’re missing out. And if you’re already in the know, and you’re ready to upgrade to the best carbon-steel pan, you’ve come to the right place. We tested 14 popular and top-rated brands to find the very best option for searing, roasting, sautéing, and more—whether you want to spend $40 or $300.

There are a number of pan materials flying around kitchen supply stores—non-stick, ceramic, copper-core. Well, carbon steel is pretty much what would happen if a stainless-steel pan and cast-iron skillet had a baby—a beautiful, perfect baby that got the best qualities from each parent.

Similar to cast iron, carbon steel is an iron-carbon alloy and requires a little extra care and routine seasoning. But if treated properly, it takes on a slick, almost nonstick surface. Carbon steel also works on any heat source, including induction, and it’s a fraction of the price of comparable stainless steel cookware. If properly cared for, high-quality carbon-steel pans are trusty kitchen workhorses with incredible versatility; they can tackle almost any job in your day-to-day cooking and even fry an egg as well as the best nonstick skillet. Like cast iron and stainless steel, they can also go straight from the stovetop to the oven.

Professional chefs, particularly in Europe, have reached for carbon-steel cookware for decades, yet they don’t occupy the same place in the imagination of the American home cook as materials like cast iron and nonstick. But given their effectiveness and value, they should. In fact, our top pick from German cookware brand Merten & Storck costs about half of what our favorite stainless steel pan does and a third of our top cast iron skillet (and yet we still managed to select an even less expensive budget pick on top of that).

Merten & Storck Pre-Seasoned Carbon Steel Pro Induction 10", Stainless Steel Handle, Black

We tested 14 carbon-steel skillets in search of the best—pans that can evenly sear meat or mushrooms to golden brown perfection over high heat, are slick enough for delicate proteins like fish or eggs, and move from the stove to the oven with ease. Read on for our top picks as well as the specifics of how we tested and what we looked for.

Carbon steel versus cast iron The best carbon-steel pan The best budget carbon-steel pan The best unseasoned carbon steel pan The best splurge-worthy carbon-steel pan How we tested Factors we evaluated Other carbon-steel pans we tested The takeaway

Carbon steel pans are amazingly versatile and can tackle any job your cast-iron pan can—it even does some things a little better. Here’s a quick rundown of the differences.

The polished surface of a carbon-steel pan is smoother and less brittle than the surface of most cast-iron cookware, which results in a more uniform sear on bone-in pork chops or thick slices of tofu. Like cast iron, as the seasoning on a carbon-steel skillet develops, it builds up a natural nonstick coating that makes cooking delicate pieces of fish, fried eggs, frittatas or even a French omelet possible. Also like cast iron, carbon steel doesn’t do great with acidic foods like tomatoes or sauces made with wine until the seasoning is well established. The acidity can strip the coating down to the shiny silver metal, but this is easily remedied by reseasoning.

While cast iron pans have straighter sides that are great for shallow frying, carbon steel’s sloped slides make it a better sauté pan or a stand-in for a wok when stir-frying vegetables.

Like cast iron, carbon steel works on both gas and induction cooktops, as well as in your oven and on the grate of your grill, even under incredibly high temperatures. But because carbon steel is much thinner than cast iron, it’s much more responsive to changes in temperature. And though both are nearly indestructible, you risk warping the thinner carbon-steel metal if you heat it or cool it too quickly, so it's important to always warm it slowly and never, ever run a hot carbon-steel pan under cold water.

If you struggle to hoist the cast-iron skillet carrying your roast chicken or cauliflower mac-and-cheese in and out of the oven, you’ll appreciate that carbon steel is much lighter and easier to maneuver. Our average 10-inch carbon-steel skillet weighed around 3.5 pounds, whereas the average cast-iron skillet of the same size is closer to 5 pounds. Because of the lighter weight, most 10-inch carbon steel pans don’t have a helper handle like cast iron, though some 12-inch carbon steel pans do.

Carbon steel performs best when it’s well-seasoned, and many contenders here required some oil, heat, and time before we were able to start cooking (i.e. they came unseasoned). Not so with this pan. Made with the know-how of German steel manufacturers, it was ready to go after a quick (soap-free) wash, and the very first time we used it, a fried egg slid right off with the ease of teflon. The sides are moderately sloped, allowing for plenty of cooking space, and chicken thighs cooked evenly and browned beautifully. Merten & Storck released a version of this pan with a stainless steel handle in 2022 (the handle on the earlier model is made of carbon steel), and definitely it’s worth the extra few dollars; the stainless steel feels nice in the hand, and it stays cool even after a long spell on a hot burner (generally not true of pans with carbon-steel handles). This pan also happened to be one of the lightest pans in the bunch, which requires a little mindset adjustment if you’re used to weight as an indicator of quality. However, it’s nice to only need one hand to hoist a whole roast chicken in or out of the oven, and you’ll want to cook many of them with this pan.

Other than the fact that it’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing as our splurge pick (below), there’s honestly nothing we didn’t like about this pan.

Merten & Storck Pre-Seasoned Carbon Steel Pro Induction 10", Stainless Steel Handle, Black

We’re big fans of so many Oxo products and their pre-seasoned carbon steel pan is no exception. As with the Merten & Storck pan, it didn’t require any extra seasoning out of the box and a fried egg retained its lovely crispy bottom–there was no need to dig at it with a spatula when it was done. The removable silicone handle sleeve is a thoughtful touch; we maneuvered the pan around a hot stovetop without a second thought. The pan responded well to heat and cooked evenly. And at the time of publication, it was $20 less than our top pick, making it an absolute bargain.

The coating on this pan was ever-so-slightly stickier than the Merten & Storck pan and it has slightly less cooking surface area, too. Considering the great price though, neither is a dealbreaker.

OXO Obsidian Pre-Seasoned Carbon Steel, 10" with Removable Silicone Handle Holder

Unseasoned skillets take a little bit of nurturing, but the payoff can be grand. Seasoning your own pans allows you to have more control over the process (not all manufacturers season their carbon cookware the same way). This was certainly the case with the Italian-made Sardel pan. Out of the box, its waxy coating was relatively easy to remove with mild dish soap, hot water and a non-scratch sponge. First-time seasoning was straightforward, and the skillet darkened beautifully after just a few uses. Chicken thighs browned perfectly and easily released from the pan, and fried eggs were crispy once they set. Compared to other unseasoned pans we tested, it was relatively lightweight yet sturdy. The textured handle is both attractive and ergonomic, as its concave shape allows for a better grip.

While the handle has great functionality, it does get rather hot. (It wasn’t as hot as others we tested.) Also, seasoning and caring for the pan might be a downside for some.

Sardel 10-Inch Carbon Steel Skillet

If you’re looking for a carbon-steel skillet that is both high performing and good looking displayed on your stove top—or hanging on your pot rail—then we suggest this gorgeous hand-forged pan from Smithey. In fact, were it not for the price, this might have been our top pick overall. Made in limited quantities in Charleston, South Carolina, this skillet is inspired by the design of traditional fire tools and it arrives beautifully seasoned. And while we did get good results right out of the box, as is expected with this kind of cookware, the nonstick surface definitely improved after a few uses. The round handle is easy to grip and isn’t so long it feels unwieldy. Also, presumably because this is a bigger skillet that only comes in a 12-inch size, it has an additional helper handle that makes it easy to move from the stovetop or oven to the dining table. We especially liked the low, sloped sides and the expansive cooking surface. If you’re an experienced cook, then this skillet is worth the splurge—it’s an instant family heirloom (Psst! That’s even more true if you go for the custom engraving).

The obvious downside to this pan is the price tag, but these skillets are clearly made to endure generations of cooking (so if it’s in your budget, we say it’s worth the investment).

Smithey Carbon Steel Farmhouse Skillet 12-inch

While deciding which carbon-steel pans to test, we looked for popular and highly-rated options that are readily available online or in stores in the U.S. We also chose pans as close to 10 inches as possible (except for the Smithey, that only came as a 12-inch skillet, and the Mauviel and Vollrath, which were 11 inches), since that’s the size used in most home kitchens. Then we tested how seven skillets responded to frying eggs and browning skin-on chicken thighs in a tablespoon of oil, plus how quickly they could bring room temperature water to a boil.

Seasoned carbon steel is happy carbon steel. And while there is a lot to be said about the convenience of a pre-seasoned skillet, overall, the pans that required seasoning out of the box performed better in the initial tests and developed a dark brown patina without much effort.

We paid serious attention to the shape because the slope of a pan’s sides significantly affects the amount of functional cooking surface area. Some of the 10-inch skillets with higher, sloped sides only had about seven inches of actual cooking space—and a smaller cooking surface can lead to overcrowding and will affect the quality of the sear you can get on your food.

In our testing there were two kinds of carbon-steel pans: thin, single-layer pans and pans of a more heavy-duty variety. While both types heated quickly and responded well to changes in temperature, the thinner pans got too hot in the allotted time and scorched the chicken thighs in our testing. The thicker pans dispersed heat more evenly, giving a more even color on the chicken.

While testing each pan, we paid close attention to how it felt in the hand. Does the handle have any texture or grip? How long is the handle? Is it angled for someone tall or short? Does the skillet feel light, trim and well-balanced when you maneuver it? Is it difficult to lift and move from burner to burner? We found that our favorite pans had a slightly shorter, thinner handle with a small divot to help with grip.

Just like cast iron, carbon steel should not be cleaned with soap or put in your dishwasher. If your pan is well-seasoned, you should be able to get it clean with some warm or hot water and the abrasive side of a gentle sponge. You can also try the Ringer, which Epi editors have used on cast iron for some time, or a natural fiber pot brush. We cleaned each pan after each test and gauged how easily they wiped clean and if they lost any of their seasoning after use.

Matfer-Bourgeat is a French company with a 200-year pedigree, and if their black carbon-steel frying pan looks like something you’d seen hanging in a commercial kitchen, that’s because it is. Professional chefs love this no-nonsense skillet, and if you like a pan with heft and a certain je ne sais quoi, this is a great choice. It’s one of the heaviest pans we tested, at 3 pounds 14 ounces, and it retained heat well, which you’d expect in a weightier pan. But it also responded quickly to changes in temperature. The seasoning process is laborious, requiring a half hour of stirring a witch’s brew of potato peels, oil, and salt, but the resulting finish was slick–not quite as good as our top two choices, but nearly. Its thorough seasoning and the fact that its steel handle is welded to the base, not attached by rivets, made it easy to clean, and the low sides make it easy to slip food onto a plate—just like a seasoned French chef would.

Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Frying Pan

The SolidTeknics skillet had the largest cooking surface area of any of the 10-inch pans we tested. This pan is all one piece of carbon steel (versus a handle attached with rivets) and the short, grooved handle makes it easy to maneuver. The manufacturer claims it won’t warp, either. It came pre-seasoned and had no trouble with chicken thighs—the skin browned evenly and released with no trouble—however, the egg immediately stuck and was no cinch to clean. Additional seasoning would make this pan much better, but given the price ($129 at the time of writing) it couldn’t beat our more affordable top picks. Note: This product is currently only available in 7" and 12.5" sizes.

As Amazon’s top pick and its highest rated carbon steel pan, we were eager to test out Lodge’s carbon steel skillet. The simple design makes it lightweight and easy to lift, and of all the pans we tested, this one produced the best color on the chicken thighs. Unfortunately, this pre-seasoned pan just doesn’t stack up to the others in terms of quality. The surface lacks that smooth carbon steel sheen and actually feels abrasive, more like a traditional cast-iron skillet (this made the egg test particularly disastrous). Worse, the factory seasoning was already chipped in a few places right out of the box and we worry it would only deteriorate with more use.

This 10-inch pan from DTC company Made in Cookware is certainly handsome, and we liked the curved stainless-steel handle that makes it easy to remove from the oven. Food browned well in it, too, but unfortunately eggs stuck mercilessly, even after initial seasoning and a few uses. Also, the high, curved sides meant there wasn’t much cooking surface—they also made it hard to slide food out of it. Finally, while the brand promises to deliver top-quality cookware to consumers without the markup, their carbon-steel frying pan still costs more than our top two picks. Not even the lifetime warranty could offset that.

Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan, 10-Inch Unseasoned

Preparing the Mauviel M’Steel pan for first-time use was very time consuming. Like other unseasoned pans, it came coated in beeswax, which is necessary to prevent the pan from rusting. However, the coating was so thick that it was extremely difficult to remove under hot water as instructed. (It took a good 10 minutes of scrubbing and still wasn’t fully removed.) It wasn’t the lightest pan, but it wasn’t the heaviest either. Once seasoned, it performed similarly to the Sardel, with maybe just a bit more sticking.

Mauviel M’Steel Black Carbon Steel 11-Inch Pan

The Vollrath pan was one of the least expensive carbon steel pans we tested. It couldn’t quite keep up with the others. The protective coating wasn’t any trickier to remove than most unseasoned pans, but it was still a process. While it was relatively lightweight, the material was very thin and the handle became extremely hot (very quickly, too). Chicken thighs began to burn after 5 minutes, and eggs needed to be scraped out of the pan.

Vollrath Carbon Steel 11-Inch Pan

The CRUXGG 10-inch Blue Carbon Steel Skillet is the product of a partnership between Made By Gather, a housewares company making trendy, affordable kitchen tools, and Ghetto Gastro, a Bronx-based culinary collective. The pan has simple, sleek lines, reminiscent of the utilitarian pans used in professional kitchens, and it has higher sides than many of the pans we tested. The name is a little misleading though; while it is billed as a seasoned pan, it still requires seasoning before you can cook in it. Even after following the pre-seasoning instructions, fried eggs stuck to the surface, but after a few uses, a nice patina did start to form. We can see this pan being a great workhorse with regular use, though it stayed out of the top spots here because of the extra time and effort required to get it there. Note: This product is currently unavailable.

We’re big fans of BK Cookware’s pre-seasoned carbon-steel wok and we had high hopes for the brand’s seemingly-similar carbon-steel frying pan. It’s the lightest and most affordable of the pans we tested and eggs soared across the pre-seasoned surface. It was also pretty easy to clean. However, while the thin, single layer of carbon steel conducted heat quickly, it did so almost too quickly and this was the only pan to scorch the chicken thighs during our five-minute cook.

BK Pre-Seasoned Black Steel Carbon Steel Frying Pan

The de Buyer Mineral B Pan arrives with a thin layer of beeswax that should be washed off before first use. While we did get a nice even sear on the chicken thighs, they didn’t develop as much color in the time allotted as the other pans. This pan comes in two sizes—9.5 inches and 12.5 inches—and even the larger size had the smallest cooking area of any of the pans we tested because of its heavily sloped sides. However, the biggest downside of De Buyer Mineral B is its epoxy coated handle, which is only oven safe up to 400°F for 10 minutes. The company says longer or hotter and you could risk the epoxy melting. Since stovetop to oven is a big selling point to us for carbon steel this is pretty limiting. De Buyer does make the Mineral B Pro with a stainless steel handle that is fully oven safe though.

de Buyer Mineral B Carbon Steel Fry Pan

Misen’s 10-inch pan was our top pick the first time we tested carbon-steel pans. The direct-to-consumer brand—which makes knives, dutch ovens, nonstick cookware sets, and some of our favorite sauce pans and baking sheets—began selling carbon-steel pans in late 2020 after raising nearly $2 million through Kickstarter to fund the project and we were very impressed. The gently sloped sides came up just high enough to avoid too much splatter, but not high enough to trap any moisture. The pan was on the heavier side of the 10-inch pans we tested, but it was nicely balanced and easy to maneuver. The long handle wasn’t too large and felt good in the hand, thanks to a removable silicone sleeve. After time on the stove, it was still cool enough to touch, but Misen also includes a grippy silicone cover just in case (remove it if you’re moving the skillet to a hot oven). Misen’s skillet is thicker than some of the other pans we tested—similar to a pricier stainless-steel pan. This gave a nice, even golden brown color on chicken skin yet was still responsive to changes in heat. The only downside to the Misen skillet is that it does not come with any seasoning, so per Misen’s recommended process, the pan developed a deep brown layer of seasoning that only continued to improve. After several uses, this pan could give a traditional nonstick pan a run for its money; a fried egg easily skittered across the smooth surface. Unfortunately, Misen’s original carbon steel pan has been discontinued and at the time of publication, the brand is crowdfunding yet again for a “new and improved” pre-seasoned carbon-steel pan, also with a removable silicone handle sleeve.

If you’re looking for a sleek pan that transitions seamlessly between stovetop and oven, beautifully browns meat and vegetables, and gets better with use, then the Merten & Storck, Oxo and Sardel are the best carbon-steel pans we tested. For something with a few extra style points—and a price tag to go along with it—then the Smithey farmhouse skillet is truly a worthwhile, heirloom-quality investment. Whatever pan you choose, with proper care, any of our top picks will last you a lifetime.

The Best Carbon Steel Pan (2024), Tested and Reviewed | Epicurious

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