Carbon Steel – It’s Not Just For Pros
I’ve had a carbon steel wok for going on 20 years now, and it’s great. Near indestructible, and just the right size for anywhere from a one to six person meal. It does what it was designed to do. The problem comes about because it wasn’t designed to cook an egg over easy, or sear steak, or any number of other things a wok just isn’t good for. So I went looking for a Carbon Steel Skillet
So for years my lineup included a stainless steel pan (for searing) and a non-stick pan (for eggs and other stuff that stainless just can’t handle).
Too Many Pans?
The stainless pan definitely has a place in the kitchen. Long slow simmering of really acidic stuff like tomato sauce? Check. Durable? Check. Buy a halfway decent SS fry pan and it’s the last one you’ll ever buy. The N+1 rule notwithstanding.
But the non-stick pan, this one is a conundrum. Set aside the fact that the suspected carcinogen in the coating (perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA) has been phased out by most manufacturers. My problem with these pans is even the newer, ceramic coated pieces are only ‘scratch resistant’. I can guarantee you, no matter how careful you are with these pans, with heavy use, the coating either just gets scratched or starts to lose it’s non-stickiness after a relatively short time period. I don’t like re-buying durable goods. Especially relatively expensive durable goods like a nice non-stick fry pan.
So what’s a person to do? Recently, there’s been a resurgence of American made cast iron; and I admit, I jumped in when the Field skillet completed an encouraging Kickstarter campaign and started selling to the general public. Can that pan sub in for a non-stick pan? Sure, but the details about that are another article.
Enter the Carbon Steel Skillet
Used by professional kitchens since…forever. These pans have an insanely smooth cooking surface that still take seasoning. Kind of like my favorite wok, but this one is fry pan shaped! Frankly, I don’t understand how I went this many years without checking into this kitchen workhorse.
While it’s possible to spend as much as you want on a pan like this, I opted for a Johnson Rose 10 1/2″ version from Tundra Restaurant Supply. Best 13 bucks I’ve spent on kitchen gear. After a single round of washing and seasoning, this pan had no issues cooking an over easy egg or omelette. It also can sear steak just as well as its heavier cast iron counterpart. The long handle stays cool in medium heat scenarios, which combined with its light weight, makes the pan easy to move around.
Some caveats about this type of pan. It does require the same amount of care as cast iron. That means seasoning, drying after use, and lightly oiling for storage. It’s lightweight, which is great if you’re moving it around, but that means it doesn’t hold heat like heavier cast iron. It will heat fast and cool fast, so be prepared to adjust the little dial that controls your cooktop’s heat.
Caveats aside, this kind of pan has a permanent place in my kitchen now, and that old, tired, coated non-stick pan has been retired. Want more? See what America’s Test Kitchen said about this topic.