Carbon steel pans are becoming quite popular today, which is strange considering stainless steel pans are widely available. So what’s causing the influx in home cooks buying carbon steel pans?

Keep reading to find out exactly why you should or shouldn’t buy a carbon steel pan over a stainless steel pan.

What’s the difference between a carbon steel pan and a stainless steel pan?

The main difference between a carbon steel pan and a stainless steel pan is the lifespan. Stainless steel pans tend to last a lot longer than carbon steel pans, however they are more expensive. This is because stainless steel contains chromium which is much more resistant to corrosion and rust.

There are more differences between carbon steel pans and stainless steel pans though, so keep reading.

The differences in heat conductivity

Carbon steel pans surprisingly have much better heat conductivity, this is due to the mixture of metals that carbon steel is made out of, it contains some iron, and a little bit of carbon. Heat conductivity mixed with heat retention is the main reason why people love carbon steel so much, it’s an inexpensive way to get great heat retention whilst getting most of the traits that stainless steel has.

Stainless steel on the other hand, especially the solid stainless steel pans, have surprisingly bad heat conductivity. In-fact stainless steel pans are such a poor heat conductor, that they need an aluminum or copper core to increase the heat conductivity to a good standard.

So just go for a stainless steel pan with an aluminum or copper core right? Well there’s a catch, they tend to be much more expensive, so you end up paying considerably more just for the traits of aluminum or copper.

So in conclusion, if you want the heat conductivity from stainless steel pans to come close to the heat conductivity of carbon steel pans, you need to pay a premium price, but you do get extra benefits from the premium priced stainless steel pans, which leads us onto my next point, heat retention.

The differences in heat retention

When it comes to heat retention in carbon steel pans and stainless steel pans, both carbon steel and stainless steel retain heat very well. However, when it comes to stainless steel, you need to go for the more premium models that are 5 ply to get the best heat retention.

If you are looking to spend the least amount of money, then you definitely need to go for carbon steel pans, as they are the best value for money when it comes to heat retention and heat conductivity.

The differences in heat tolerance

With carbon steel pans, not only do they retain heat very well, but they heat up extremely quickly, and they can also withstand high heat temperatures, in-fact they can withstand higher heat temperatures than stainless steel can.

Most stainless steel pans can tolerate around 500-600°F of heat, whilst carbon steel pans typically set the bar at 600-800°F and can even reach up to 1200°F depending on the brand.

So when you are looking to really ramp up the heat for your recipes, carbon steel pans are better than stainless steel pans.

The difference in heat distribution

It’s probably no surprise that stainless steel can heat evenly, especially since you always see the top chefs using stainless steel equipment. However, yet again, you really need to be getting the 5 ply models with aluminum or copper cores, which does cost a considerable amount.

That being said, carbon steel cookware is here to save the day, yet again. Carbon steel pans heat evenly too, in-fact they are just as good as stainless steel pans when it comes to heat distribution.

The differences in corrosion resistance ability

We have been talking a lot about how great carbon steel pans are, but here’s the catch. The corrosion resistance of carbon steel pans is considerably lower than the corrosion resistance of stainless steel pans.

Why? Because a stainless steel pan contains chromium, and chromium binds to the oxygen molecules preventing them from reaching the iron. This allows stainless steel pans to resist corrosion for a long time.

Because carbon steel pans don’t contain chromium like stainless steel pans do, they tend to corrode a lot easier, which means you need to be more caring towards your carbon steel pan.

The differences in reactiveness

Because a carbon steel pan is made from 99% cast iron, and around 1% carbon, it carries the reactive trait of cast iron. This means that carbon steel cookware leaches iron into food when cooking acidic foods, this will give your food a metallic taste. This is especially true with highly acidic foods like tomato.

A stainless steel pan on the other hand, is not reactive to acidic foods. And this is why professional chefs tend to use them over carbon steel, simply because they are more versatile for recipes due to their non reactiveness.

Which is better stainless steel or carbon steel?

Now that we have identified the main differences between carbon steel and stainless steel pans, you should have a good overview of which is better for you.

Carbon steel is essentially a hybrid of cast iron and stainless steel pans, which means they have the benefits and cons of both stainless steel and cast iron.

Let’s take a quick look at carbon steel pros and cons, and then stainless steel pros and cons to get a good look at which is better for you.

Carbon steel cookware pros and cons

Carbon steel is inexpensive, it’s light, it has great heat retention, great heat conductivity, fantastic heat tolerance and finally good heat distribution. However a carbon steel pan requires seasoning, it is reactive,

Stainless steel cookware pros and cons

Stainless steel pans are expensive for the higher end models, but they come with the greatest benefit of all, they have an incredibly long lifespan. If you take care of your stainless steel pan, it will most likely last 5 years minimum, maybe even 10 years. They have all the traits you need, from a natural non stick surface, to being able to cook at higher temperatures.

The downsides to stainless steel pans are simply price. If you are going to buy a stainless steel pan, then you want the best model, otherwise you are better off going with a carbon steel pan.

Conclusion for carbon steel pan vs stainless steel pan

So overall, we have looked at the differences between a carbon steel pan and a stainless steel pan, the conclusion is simply this.

If you are are on a budget, and you love stainless steel cookware, then you are better off buying a carbon steel pan. However, if you have money to spend, and you are looking for a pan that will last a long time, then a stainless steel pan is the way to go.

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