Carbon Steel VS Stainless Steel Cookware: Full Comparison

Carbon Steel VS Stainless Steel Cookware? Which one is better?

In the world of pans and pots, two materials stand out as the most popular: carbon steel and stainless steel. When pronouncing out loud, they don’t seem that different. Both are metals and are used in cookware.

So what sets them apart? And which one should you use? So which one is better?

It really depends on what you’re looking for in a pan or pot. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between carbon steel and stainless steel cookware, so you can make an informed decision.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steelwork is usually made from a combination of iron and a very small amount of carbon. A surprising fact that you may not be aware of is that carbon steel cookware is known to leach iron into the food you cook which is actually a good thing as iron is an essential mineral for the human body.

Carbon steel cookware is preferred because of its low cost, durability, and toughness. A carbon steel pot made from a combination of iron and very low carbon. Slightly heavier than stainless steel cookware and has a natural non-stick coating that does not contain harmful toxins.

Benefits of Carbon Steel

Here are some of the Pros of Carbon Steel.

1:  Versatile

If you only need a cupboard space for a few pots or pans, you need something that can be used for all kinds of recipes. And one of the biggest advantages of carbon steel cookware is its versatility.

Scramble eggs, grill steaks, stir-fried vegetables, fried chicken, everything is done in carbon steel. durability 

Carbon steel is 1 carbon and 99% iron. Due to this composition, it is very durable yet malleable and stretchy. In other words, it can be stacked during manufacturing and pressed into cookware without breaking. 

2: Affordable

Professional chefs and culinary enthusiasts love carbon steel at an affordable price. You can get a great carbon steel frying pan that will last a lifetime for lesser prices.

The price of a carbon steel pot is similar to cast iron, but when compared to high-end Stainless steel frying pans costs a little. Therefore, if you have a limited budget but need professional cookware, carbon steel is recommended. 

3: Non-stick cooking surface

Non-stick surfaces are important in any cookware, whether you are a beginner or a professional chef. The good news is that carbon steel has a natural non-stick coating.

When the pan is heated and cooled several times, the iron molecules settle on the surface and form a patina that prevents sticking.

Plus, this non-stick patina is free of harmful toxins like PFOA and PFOS. 

4: It develops a seasoning

Seasoning is the process of heating oil in the pan to create a polymerized layer that bonds to the metal and gives it a non-stick surface. This is similar to the way cast iron is seasoned. The good news is that carbon steel develops its own seasoning over time, so you don’t have to do it yourself.

Plus, this seasoning gets better and better the more you use the pan. 

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, chromium, nickel, and other metals. The chromium in stainless steel bonds with oxygen to form a thin layer of chromium oxide that coats the surface of the pan and protects it from corrosion and rust.

Benefits of Stainless Steel Cookware

In today’s world, stainless steel is still considered the best when it comes to durable kitchen utensils and cookware. Used in professional kitchens and homes around the world, stainless steel is a product worth investing in.

Here are some of the pros of Stainless Steel Cookware.


Did you know that some types of stainless steel are essentially indestructible? The higher the quality of stainless steel from multiple manufacturing perspectives, the longer it will last. 

Unlike the “non-stick” cookware debris coating and the dirt and rust problems of enamel and cast iron cookware, stainless steel is relied on. Your stainless steel cookware will last for decades and may even be passed down from generation to generation.

Little maintenance required

Stainless Steel is one of the products that actually requires little TLC for its entire life. In fact, there are no special cleaning or maintenance requirements for this type of cookware. In rare cases, you may need an appropriate solution to get rid of persistent burns. 

But overall, stainless steel can last a lifetime simply by washing it with soap, drying it, and storing it.

Easy to clean/Dishwasher Safe

This is one of the main reasons why people invest in stainless steel cookware in the first place. It is extremely easy to clean – even if there are stubborn stains, a good scrub with a sponge will do the trick. Plus, it is dishwasher safe, so you can just pop it in and forget about it. 

Does not react with acidic food 

This is another big advantage of stainless steel cookware. Unlike other materials, it does not react with food, so you can cook whatever you want without worrying about the pot or pan. 

It doesn’t affect the food’s taste

Another great thing about stainless steel is that it doesn’t affect the taste of your food. Whether you’re cooking a savory dish or a sweet dessert, the food will taste exactly the same as it would if you were using another type of cookware. 

Carbon Steel VS Stainless Steel: Comparison

Manufacturing material: Carbon steel pans are made of just carbon steel (99% iron and 1% carbon), so the performance is similar across brands. Stainless steel pans have a heat-conductive core (i.e., aluminum or copper) bonded between the exterior and interior steel layers. The construction varies significantly across brands; therefore, the performance varies too.

Appearance: The appearance of carbon steel pans changes over time and they quickly discolor and rust. Stainless steel contains more chromium, which helps maintain the original beauty of the pan, even after thousands of uses.

Temperature  Retention: Carbon steel and stainless steel pans both retain heat well. But, with stainless steel pans, heat retention can vary. For example, 5-ply stainless steel pans retain heat better than 3-ply stainless steel pans.

Heat Resistant: Carbon steel pans can withstand much higher temperatures than stainless steel without damage. Most stainless steel pans can handle between 500 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit, while carbon steel pans can handle between 600 and 800 degrees.

Responsiveness: Both carbon steel and stainless steel pans respond quickly to temperature changes. But a stainless steel pan with a copper core layer provides the ultimate responsiveness due to the superior thermal conductivity of copper. 

Versatility: Stainless steel and carbon steel pans are well-rounded and versatile; however, stainless steel is a better all-purpose pan. Carbon steel pans have two significant limitations. First, they react with acidic food. Second, boiling or simmering liquids can degrade the seasoning.

Durability: Carbon steel and stainless steel pans are built to last forever, but carbon steel pans can handle higher heat and withstand a bit more abuse without damage.

Maintenance: Carbon steel pans must be seasoned regularly and are not dishwasher-safe, but they’re easier to clean due to the slick cooking surface. Stainless steel pans don’t need to be seasoned, and you can wash them in the dishwasher, but they can be more challenging to clean because food tends to stick.

How to season a carbon steel pan?

Step 1: Remove Protective Coating and Wash the Pan. Most carbon steel pans come unseasoned, with a protective coating that ensures the bare metal doesn’t rust.

Step 2: Dry the Pan.
Step 3: Heat the Pan.
Step 4: Apply Oil Sparingly. 
Step 5: Burn it On.
Step 6: Repeat.
Step 7: Use the Pan and Re-Season as Needed

How to clean a carbon steel pan?

Ways to clean your carbon steel cookware:

Do not put it in the dishwasher or use soap and water to wash it.
Wipe your pan
Use coarse salt and oil
Use steel wool

How to take care of stainless steel?

Don’t Bleach Stainless Steel.
Don’t Forget to Rinse.
Don’t Use Steel Wool or Steel Brushes.
Don’t Assume It’s the Cleaner.
Don’t Scrub Against the Grain.
Don’t Oil a Cold Pan.
Don’t Salt Water Before Boiling

Is stainless steel cookware non-stick?

No, stainless steel cookware is not non-stick. They have an open steel cooking surface that is prone to latching into light and delicate foods like eggs, fish fillets, pancakes, etc.

What is the maximum temperature for carbon steel?

For a prolonged service life, such as 20 years, plain carbon steels are usually limited to a maximum operating temperature of 750°F (399°C); the ½% molybdenum alloy steels to approximately 850°F (454°C); and the stainless steels to considerably higher temperatures depending upon the type used

Final Thoughts

Carbon steel and stainless steel both have their pros and cons, but ultimately, it depends on your needs as a cook as to which one is the better choice. If you need a versatile pan that is easy to maintain, go with stainless steel.

But if you want something that can be used on high heat and can replace nonstick cookware in your kitchen, go with carbon steel.