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TomatoMustard

(Stainless vs Carbon) steel pans

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I just today heard about carbon steel pans. They look to be really inexpensive from restaurant supply stores but I still don't understand the differences. I tried googling it today but there were no easy answers so now I turn to you all.

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I have a 10" stainless steel fry pan with an copper core so my comparisons would be against it.

1)Is heat distribution the same or are features available (such as copper cores) to make heat distribution the same?

2)Are non-stick properties the same? Add some oil and heat and your gold?

3)Cleaning-wise, can you scrub the hell out of it or do you have to be gentle and try to avoid scouring pads? Are dishwashers too harsh?

4)Is going straight from cooktop to a hot bath going to kill it?


Edited by TomatoMustard (log)

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I have a 10" stainless steel fry pan with an copper core so my comparisons would be against it.

1)Is heat distribution the same or are features available (such as copper cores) to make heat distribution the same?

2)Are non-stick properties the same? Add some oil and heat and your gold?

3)Cleaning-wise, can you scrub the hell out of it or do you have to be gentle and try to avoid scouring pads? Are dishwashers too harsh?

4)Is going straight from cooktop to a hot bath going to kill it?

1) Not generally. Most carbon steel pans are thin carbon steel only - no aluminum or copper core. As result, they don't distribute heat very evenly. There may be exceptions, but they won't be dirt cheap like the plan carbon steel pans.

2) More non-stick once seasoned, not much different until then.

3) If you want to keep seasoned, you have to treat it like cast iron - easy on the scouring, etc, etc. If you don't keep it seasoned, it will rust.

4) Probably not, but I would tend to avoid that with any pan.

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larrylee   

They need to be seasoned (as mentioned) and they are very light, easy to manuever, quick to heat and will brown meat very nicely.

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Will   

Carbon steel (or black steel) is more similar to cast iron than to stainless steel. With seasoning, it will become more "non-stick" than pans with a stainless cooking surface, but less non-stick than "non-stick". One key difference is that carbon steel (like cast iron) can be reactive with certain foods, for example acidic foods. So you wouldn't want to use carbon steel / black steel for cooking a lot of tomato, vinegar, beans, and so on, especially before it's well seasoned.

I have a De Buyer, which is pretty thick and solid, but also on the heavy side (actually weighs more than a Griswold cast iron skillet of the same diameter that I have).

Town food has some Asian-made ones which are quite economical.

http://www.foodservicewarehouse.com/town-food-equipment/34811/p375304.aspx

Mafter Bourgeat or De Buyer if you want something a little fancier or more traditional.

http://www.foodservicewarehouse.com/matfer/062004/p369411.aspx

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qrn   

I think the stainless and carbon probably have the same heat conduction,Just one is "stainless,and won't rust...or stain,assuming they are the same thickness

Bud

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Will   

I think the stainless and carbon probably have the same heat conduction,Just one is "stainless,and won't rust...or stain,assuming they are the same thickness

There are few pans which are solid stainless steel, for reasons which are well explained elsewhere on this forum. So when we're talking about stainless lined cookware above, we're talking about either multi-ply cookware with stainless on the inside, and possibly on the outside, combined with other materials (typically aluminum or copper), or stainless cookware with a disk bottom (again, typically some combination of aluminum, copper, and more stainless). Because of this, the heat conduction will usually be different between a solid steel pan vs. the type of stainless steel cookware the OP is most likely referring to.

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Just from personal experience, we always used the Matfer pans at the last restaurant I worked at. Seriously, those things are indestructible. When I saw them for sale at a restaurant supply store, I bought two, gave my stainless steel pan to my sister, and over the year returned to get 5 more pans. They brown meat so nicely, much better then I was ever going to get with my stainless. TomatoMustard, get a small pan from the store, follow the directions to season it, and sear a piece of meat in it. Wait for the pan to start smoking, then place your meat inside. I guarantee you will notice a difference.

And as for as the Matfer pans go, in the restaurant and in my kitchen, I've put those pans through everything, never seen the slightest hint of it wanting to warp.


Edited by minas6907 (log)

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ajaxiran   

Stainless steel has Chromium and Nickle within its structure and in this respect is much more expensive that steel or other alloy steels. therefore, usually stainless steel Pans are thinner and do not properly distribute the heat all over. of course depending on the brand you are using and the standards you may find thicker ones. 


Edited by ajaxiran (log)

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Stainless alloys are much, much less conductive than carbon steels (which themselves are only modestly conductive).

 

But It's generally not a fair comparison, because what we call stainless cookware usually has just a thin veneer of stainless steel over a more conductive layer, or on top of a thick conductive disk. So these pans are really aluminum or thin copper pans with stainless cladding.

 

Carbon steel pans are like lighter weight cast iron skillets. How much lighter depends—they range from very thin to gauges that feel as heavy as typical cast iron. I think the middle weight ones are the most popular. Every restaurant cook I know loves cooking on carbon steel. It's fast and easy, it's not precious, hits the balance between heat retention (for a great sear) and responsiveness (so you don't have to wait forever for it to heat up or respond). They don't distribute heat very evenly, but for fast cooking where things are in motion, it doesn't matter. They develop a fairly stick-resistant finish, but not as durable as what forms on cast iron (the surface doesn't have big pores for the finish to adhere to). The finish really doesn't matter when you're cooking fast and hot with good technique. 

 

I happen to have American-style cast iron pans, but would be just as happy with carbon steel. It does some things a little better, some things a little worse.

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daveb   

Induction.   Carbon steel is compatible.  Some stainless, usually at higher end (All Clad, Viking, Volrath) are compatible.  Anything under 100/pan probably is not.  

 

I cook on All Clad a lot at a culinary store, it's ok but nothing to get excited about and a PIA to restore luster to.  At my house I use de Buyer, a better pan by any measure.

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12 hours ago, daveb said:

I cook on All Clad a lot at a culinary store, it's ok but nothing to get excited about and a PIA to restore luster to.  At my house I use de Buyer, a better pan by any measure.

 

I like them both. They have different qualities. The AC heats a little more evenly and is more responsive. And I like a stainless steel cooking surface for its brightness, especially for sauteing or roasting where you want to be able see how browned the pan drippings are. For saucepans I would always prefer AC. For frying pans and saute pans each has its place. For putting a hard sear on a big piece of meat, or browning a pile of mushrooms, I'd reach for the carbon steel or cast iron.

 

That said, if you like AC, there are many pans with similar construction and performance that cost less. And a few that cost more.

 

Shining up the AC is a piece of cake with Barkeeper's Friend.

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btbyrd   
2 hours ago, paulraphael said:

 

I like them both. They have different qualities. The AC heats a little more evenly and is more responsive. And I like a stainless steel cooking surface for its brightness, especially for sauteing or roasting where you want to be able see how browned the pan drippings are. For saucepans I would always prefer AC. For frying pans and saute pans each has its place. For putting a hard sear on a big piece of meat, or browning a pile of mushrooms, I'd reach for the carbon steel or cast iron.

 

That said, if you like AC, there are many pans with similar construction and performance that cost less. And a few that cost more.

 

Shining up the AC is a piece of cake with Barkeeper's Friend.

 

This is exactly my experience. I like AC for sauteing because it not only lets you see how brown things are, but it's also much lighter and therefore easier to toss food around in. You can do it with carbon steel or cast iron, but the pans are much heavier. And like Paul notes, AC (and clad stainless generally) is more responsive. And you can cook high-acid foods in it.

 

Like all things, there's no one best tool but only the right tool for the job. I like having both options available.

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