All / Tools & Products

Carbon Steel Fry Pans, Oh Yes I Do!

DeBuyer Mineral pan after seasoning (front), and the Paderno Heavy Duty Carbon Steel pan before seasoning (back)

Non-stick pans skeeve me out.  Teflon and other high tech coatings may be relatively harmless, but only up to a certain temperature, at which point they start to give off toxic gases.  I also haven’t met a non-stick pan that doesn’t scratch or peel, whatever promises they make.  So then you have to replace it or risk the coating coming off on your food.  Doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship to me.

I ditched non-stick a long time ago in favor of seasoned steel cookware.  It all started years ago at Kmart, when I bought  a Martha Stewart 10″ cast iron fryer.  Inexpensive and reliable, it now has a sexy black sheen from years of Sunday morning bacon and eggs.  Since then, I have gradually accumulated a dutch oven, a 12″ fry pan, a grill pan, and a flat skillet too.  When it comes to cast iron, I now buy Lodge Logic because their pans come already seasoned. The downside to cast iron is the weight, and there is no way to make a proper omelet in a cast iron pan.  It takes two hands for me to lift the 12″ fry pan even when it’s empty, and I could probably use it to take out a 250 lb. intruder with a single blow to the head.  Cast iron is also brittle, and can break from the impact if dropped, or crack if heated too quickly over high heat.

So recently, I decided to look into getting myself some traditional European style carbon steel fry pans.  They’re much lighter than cast iron, but still heavier than aluminum or copper core stainless pans.  There are a bunch of carbon steel pans out there – some referred to as Black Steel, some as Carbon Steel, and even Blue Steel.  But they are all raw steel that must be seasoned before use.  Seasoning refers to the process of sealing a steel pan with oil,  which protects it from rust and provides a natural non-stick coating that only gets better with use.  The process for all raw steel pans, including cast iron, is pretty standard.  Basically you want to make sure the pan is clean of any residue from the manufacturing or packaging process.  Then you just coat the pan with a flavorless oil and heat the pan.  Then once the pan is cool, wipe out the excess oil.  If the coating ever gets messed up, you can just scrub the pan clean and start all over.

After browsing around and reading some reviews, I settled on buying a set of three DeBuyer Mineral fry pans. Released in 2010, the DeBuyer Mineral series are 99% iron, made from recycled material, and can be used with the widest range of heat sources, including induction cook tops. The set includes 8″,10″, and 12″ Lyon shaped fry pans, with deep angled sides. The seasoning instructions included with the De Buyer pans were a little more involved. Before you season the pan, they instruct you to boil some potato peelings in the pan for 15 minutes, dispose of the peelings, then rinse and wipe the pan dry. It appears that the starch in the potatoes binds to any grime embedded in the metal that is released as the pan is heated, resulting in a more thorough cleaning. Next De Buyer instructs you to heat about 1/2 cm of oil in the bottom of the pan instead of just coating the pan with oil. The rest of the process is the same.

Anyone skeptical of the recycled Mineral pans can put their reservations to rest. I am in love with these pans! They performed beautifully right after the initial seasoning. I cooked myself an over easy egg in the 8″ pan with just a little butter and the pan was so slick the egg slid around and flipped effortlessly. French Toast and Pork Chops browned up nicely and didn’t stick to the 10″ or 12″ pans.

For sake of comparison I also ordered a less expensive Paderno 8″ heavy duty carbon steel pan ($26.90 at Amazon). At first glance there are obvious differences between the pans. The De Buyer pans have a smoother factory finish, a higher offest handle, and more eye-appeal. The Paderno pan is much more basic. It is heavier and shaped more like a standard saute pan, with shallower sides and a straigher handle than it’s De Buyer counterpart. Performance wise though, they are the same. Eggs slid around just as easily in the Paderno pan, and the crusty residue left by the beans for my Huevos Rancheros wiped clean with a paper towel.

So from a cost standpoint, the Paderno pan was a  more economical choice, but I do like the fact that the Mineral pans are made from recycled material.  Regardless, I expect to have a long and happy relationship with these pans.  Both of them are great, and with proper care and maintenance I’m sure they’ll last long enough to be passed down to my grandchildren, or be sent off to the thrift store to find a new life once I’m long gone.

DeBuyer Pan, after 5 months of use

Notes about Carbon Steel/ Raw Steel cookware:

Great for pan roasting and saute-ing, and cooking foods that tend to stick to other pans.  Stir fries or dishes that use plenty of oil or fat are the perfect use for these pans.  Your food will get a nice sear and the fat will maintain the pan’s seasoning.

Care is the same as cast iron.  To clean, just rinse in really hot tap water and wipe out any residue with a dry towel.  If by some chance there is some food stuck to the pan, you can make a paste of coarse salt and a little water, and use a dry sponge or towel to scrub out the offending matter.  I find filling the pan with really hot water and scrubbing with a natural bristle brush (like a vegetable cleaning brush) works better than the salt paste and doesn’t damage the seasoning. Before storing, dry the pan thoroughly, and use a paper towel or clean dish towel to thinly coat it with vegetable oil.

Cooking highly acidic foods can strip away the seasoning on your pan.  So keep the vinegar away – save your stainless cookware for that.

See De Buyer Mineral and Paderno pans at amazon.com

After browsing around and reading some reviews, I settled on buying a set of three De Buyer Mineral fry pans. Released in 2010, the De Buyer Mineral series are 99% iron, made from recycled material, and can be used with the widest range of heat sources, including induction cook tops. The set includes 8″,10″, and 12″ Lyon shaped fry pans, with deep angled sides. The seasoning instructions included with the De Buyer pans were a little more involved. Before you season the pan, they instruct you to boil some potato peelings in the pan for 15 minutes, dispose of the peelings, then rinse and wipe the pan dry. It appears that the starch in the potatoes binds to any grime embedded in the metal that is released as the pan is heated, resulting in a more thorough cleaning. Next De Buyer instructs you to heat about 1/2 cm of oil in the bottom of the pan instead of just coating the pan with oil. The rest of the process is the same.

Anyone skeptical of the recycled Mineral pans can put their reservations to rest. I am in love with these pans! They performed beautifully right after the initial seasoning. I cooked myself an over easy egg in the 8″ pan with just a little butter and the pan was so slick the egg slid around and flipped effortlessly. French Toast and Pork Chops browned up nicely and didn’t stick to the 10″ or 12″ pans.

For sake of comparison I also ordered a less expensive Paderno 8″ heavy duty carbon steel pan ($26.90 at Amazon). At first glance there are obvious differences between the pans. The De Buyer pans have a smoother factory finish, a higher offest handle, and more eye-appeal. The Paderno pan is much more basic. It is heavier and shaped more like a standard saute pan, with shallower sides and a straigher handle than it’s De Buyer counterpart. Performance wise though, they are the same. Eggs slid around just as easily in the Paderno pan, and the crusty residue left by the beans for my Huevos Rancheros wiped clean with a paper towel.

20 thoughts on “Carbon Steel Fry Pans, Oh Yes I Do!

  1. I am so glad to find your Blog. My oldest son and his wife are prof. chefs so I can identify with your stories. I needed some pans as well as knives and am so glad to find your posts on these subjects. Do you have a water stone or several grits? What brand ? I will be looking more on your site from now on. C

  2. Hi Caroline. I have been wanting to do a post on knives and knife care (you won’t believe how many veteran cooks who still have trouble keeping their knives sharp). To answer your question, I have a fine grit “King Home Stone” that I use for my japanese knives and a generic two sided stone for my german knives.

  3. At Kam Man Foods, the Asian supermarket, I got a super thin, flat 12″ raw steel pan called a “Peking Pan” for $9.99. It’s light-weight and has a big wooden handle for easy tossing. It’s more saute pan than wok because the sides are not curved, but creased almost 90 degrees up from the bottom. I use it for all cuisines. As a matter of fact, I just made linguine with white clam sauce in it for dinner.

  4. This is cookingwithdee.net. Thanks for checking out my site today. I enjoyed your article about the French pans and will look into it.

    I’m in a fully furnished condo for a brief time and would not cook with the cheap, scratched saute pans that were here. We bought better ones with Teflon (not looking for long-term investments) and now are here nearly two years.

    It’s time to look for better. Thanks and I don’t know about your Bolognese with fennel and preserved lemon but will look at your recipe. Keep up the good work! Dee

  5. Thanks Dee. Yeah, I haven’t worked out a recipe yet, but I used a combination of pork and beef in the bolognese and the fennel bulb turned out to be a nice complement. I ended up omitting the preserved lemon as it didn’t seem appropriate.

  6. Thank you for your evaluation of the two product. I was interested in the two product too and wasn’t sure which one to go with. I was a little confused by the different “type of steel” and you clarified it nicely.

    Thanks again.

  7. Good info here. Carbon steel pans are great. Unlike stainless steel ( a poor heat conductor), carbon steel is an excellent heat conductor with heat transfer properties almost identical to cast iron.

    They become non-stick quickly, but in the meantime if you ever need to scrub anything off, I have found that those red plastic mesh bags that onions come in make perfect scrubbies.

  8. ok. I can see a lot about seasoning a pan but I want to know about what oil to use for storing a steel pan. I know vegetable oils can get rancid quickly so what oil should I use to store a steel pan that will not get rancid?

  9. As a general rule, fats that do not solidify when refrigerated have a longer shelf life and will not go rancid. Canola and soybean oils are good choices. Olive and nut oils are not.

  10. Hello Priscilla,
    I was given a DeBuyer killer pan….however, it is rusty and I am having a hard time getting it clean. I have been using soap, hot water and a real steel wool pad. Please educate me on the right way or another way to get this pan into better condition so I can actually use it!

  11. Hi Linda,
    The most important thing is to remove all the rust from the pan, which will take good old fashioned elbow grease. I recommend a heavy duty steel scrubber. Once the rust is removed, wash the pan with soap and water, then boil some potato peelings in the the pan for about 15 minutes and dump them out. This should remove any remaining residue. To season the pan, I recommend generously coating the pan with oil and heating it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven, let it cool, then wipe out any excess oil.

  12. I have a de Buyer crepe pan that I got back in college. Half of the bottom of it rusted and it’s got some scratches in the cook surface. There does seem to be a ring where I succeeded at the seasoning thing a little though! So 2 questions, first, this pan is only about an inch deep, should I still attempt to boil potato skins in it and what do you suggest for the bottom? Second, what style of cooking utensils should I be using to avoid scratching it up again? Most of what I use currently is the stainless All Clad set, wood, or high temp silicon.

  13. Scratches on the cook surface that go down to bare metal or signs of rust on the pan usually mean that you would have to scrub the pan down to bare metal and start again. Once you have removed all the rust and scrubbed the pan clean, then you can boil some potato skins in the pan to remove any residue from the cleaning process. After that, rinse and dry the pan completely, generously coat it with oil and heat it. If it has an oven proof handle, I would just pop it in the oven at about 350-400 degrees farenheit for about 15-20 minutes. This will season it both inside and out. Let the pan cool, then wipe the excess oil off with a paper towel or clean cloth. If you have been able to salvage the seasoning on the cook surface, you may be able to get away with just scrubbing down and re-seasoning the outside. To prevent your pan from becoming rusted or scratched again, it is important to take proper care of it. Do not use metal utensils as they will scratch it. Use wood or heat resistant plastic. To clean just use hot water and a bristle brush. Never soak the pan for long periods of time. The seasoning should form a natural non-stick surface, but if necessary, use a salt paste to remove and stuck-on foods. Always dry your pan completely and coat it lightly with oil both inside and out before storing. Hope this was helpful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s