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Carbon Steel Vs Cast Iron Pans
Cast iron cookware is familiar to most home cooks, and they probably own at least one piece.
Whether you’re searing steaks or baking cornbread, it’s an affordable, versatile, and virtually indestructible pan.
A carbon steel pan offers most (if not all) the same benefits of a cast iron pan, but it is less popular—not necessarily because it is cheaper, but perhaps because it is easier to use.
In this article, we’ll examine the two, break down their differences, and see what they’re each good for.
What Is Cast Iron?
The iron used in cast iron is not pure iron, as you might think. In reality, cast iron is made of iron and carbon, much like steel, but with a greater amount of carbon.
Compared to steel, which has a carbon content that surpasses 2%, cast iron generally has a carbon content of 2 to 3.5 percent.
Cast Iron Cookware
Despite having a smooth surface, cast iron feels rough, slightly bumpy due to its carbon content.
Cast iron is more brittle due to its higher carbon content (because it is thick and heavy, if it was thinner, it would break).
The poor conductivity of this material means that it retains heat for a long time (and also takes more time to heat up and cool down).
Carbon Steel: What is it?
A steel alloy contains less than 2% carbon to qualify as steel. It is also an alloy of iron and carbon.
The carbon content of stainless steel is 1.2 per cent (in addition to chromium, which prevents corrosion), while the carbon content of carbon steel is 2%.
Matte finishes are more common with carbon steel than shiny finishes with stainless steel.
In contrast to stainless steel, carbon steel is much harder (making it a good material for knives that stay sharp for a longer period of time but are also harder to sharpen), but stainless steel doesn’t corrode or rust.
The cost of cast iron is generally lower than that of carbon steel (sometimes significantly so).
Cast Iron Pans: How To Cook With Them
The durability, versatility, heat retention, and affordability of cast iron pans make them excellent kitchen appliances.
Due to their high heat, these can be used for searing, baking, braising, roasting, grilling, and even under the broiler or grill.
Their surfaces become nonstick when properly seasoned. Although they’re generally too heavy for sautéing, they’re not the best choice for cooking eggs.
Additionally, if you simmer an acidic liquid, such as a tomato-based sauce, in cast iron, the acid will eat away at the nonstick seasoning and leave a metallic taste behind.
Caring for Cast Iron Pans
There are a lot of preseasoned cast iron pans on the market today. “Seasoning” is a layer of non-greasy oil applied to a pan’s surface, which prevents the pan from rusting and imparts a nonstick finish.
A metal spatula can scratch off this seasoning even though the pan itself is extremely durable.
Cast iron care essentially involves preserving the seasoning, which involves drying it immediately after washing (to prevent rust) and coating it with oil after every wash.
You should avoid using the dishwasher and wash your pan by hand. Despite its false claims, soap is not capable of removing seasoning (unlike excessive scrubbing, which can).
Enameled Cast Iron Pans
Since enamel protects the surface from rust and corrosion, some cast iron pans come with an enamel coating, so they are easier to care for.
It is also crucial to note that the enamel coating on cast iron can crack at temperatures as low as 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which somewhat defeats its purpose.
In addition, it will never become nonstick because it cannot build up any seasoning over time because the enamel will never harden.
Cooking with Carbon Steel Pans
There is a big advantage to carbon steel over cast iron in that it heats up more quickly than cast iron. It heats more evenly than cast iron, with fewer hot spots, because it is more conductive.
In spite of this, it will still be able to heat up to high temperatures enough to thoroughly sear a steak and can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven as well.
The process of seasoning carbon steel is similar to that of seasoning cast iron. One difference, however, is that it will probably require seasoning, which can be done by following the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s not a complicated procedure, but it is a little time-consuming.
In contrast, carbon steel pans are ideal for cooking eggs, omelets, crepes, and fish, which is notoriously difficult to cook with cast iron.
In addition to the smoother surface, seasoning also contributes to the slippery feel of carbon steel.
Additionally, it’s lighter and can be used for sautéing. The seasoning in stainless steel pans might even be stripped away by acidic foods (as well as impart an off taste).
Caring for Carbon Steel Pans
Caring for your carbon steel pans properly will ensure that they last for years and continue to perform at their best. Here are a couple of handy tips to help you keep your pans in top condition.
- First, avoid using harsh detergents or scrubbing pads when cleaning your pans. These can damage the pan’s surface and lead to premature wear.
- Instead, simply wipe the pan clean with a damp cloth after each use. Occasionally, food can become stuck to pans, so immersing them in hot water for a few minutes is recommended.
- Furthermore, it’s important to season your pan regularly. This helps to create a protective barrier that prevents rust and makes the pan easier to clean.
- To season your pan, simply rub it down with a little cooking oil and heat it in the oven for 30 minutes. With proper care, your carbon steel pans will give you years of trouble-free performance.
While cast iron is easier to maintain than stainless steel, carbon steel, which rusts more easily, is more complicated.
Again, cleaning it is a matter of washing it gently, drying it thoroughly and applying a thin coating of oil afterwards.
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