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Carbon steel and cast iron

Could you please explain to me when you would choose to use carbon steel in lieu of cast iron. I understand that each of these options can replace a non-stick pan when well seasoned, but am not clear on when to use carbon steal instead of cast iron.


  • Hi Tamara - Carbon-steel pans are relatives of cast-iron cookware. Both are made from iron, but cast-iron contains slightly more carbon, giving it a rougher surface and more brittle structure. Carbon-steel pans, with more iron and less carbon, are lighter and their surface is smoother, especially the case as compared to modern cast iron pans. Vintage cast iron tends to be smoother and more similar to carbon steel. Cast iron will get a bit hotter than carbon steel but will take longer to heat up and cool down. So, for recipes or foods that require quick temperature changes - maybe a recipe where you're searing skin-on fish and then lowering the temp to finish cooking it through - a carbon steel might be a better bet. Whereas for quick, hot cooking - searing a steak or charring vegetables - a cast iron pan is a little better. Both will behave pretty similarly if used in the oven. A carbon steel pan is great for sautéing vegetables or making stir fries without a wok since it's surface gets ripping hot but it's a bit lighter than cast iron making it easier to lift and shake around. All of that being said, I would say they are pretty interchangeable under most circumstances. Hope that helps! Best. Lynn C.

  • Thank you, Lynn. That does help!!

  • I almost always use cast iron, however it is very heavy. Carbon steel is much lighter and does about the same job. Either way, you must heat the pan before putting oil on it, that is the secret to making it non-stick.

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