We Tested the Best Carbon Steel Pans for 2023 — These Are Our Favorites

Merten and Storck's 12-inch Carbon Steel Black Frying Pan can bake, fry, and sear.

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Merten & Storck Carbon Steel Black Frying Pan
Amazon

If you like to cook, chances are you already know how important it is to have both a quality nonstick skillet and a reliable cast iron pan in your kitchen. A carbon steel skillet combines the benefits of both pans, making it a heavy-duty workhorse that's surprisingly slick and easy to clean. Chefs have heralded this lesser-known pan for years, but now it's time home cooks get in on the secret. To help you do so, we tested the best carbon steel pans from some of the leading brands to find our favorites.

Overall, Mertan and Storck's 12-inch Carbon Steel Black Frying Pan impressed us with its ability to evenly conduct heat—it achieved a perfect sear on the stovetop and gently baked cookies in the oven. It's totally affordable, and our expert testers found it to be easy to use and clean. Read on for more of our top picks.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Merten and Storck 12-inch Carbon Steel Black Frying Pan

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Home Depot.

Pros: It's the cheapest and most nonstick on the list.

Cons: This piece can't handle super-high heat like some other carbon steel pans, so make sure not to exceed 600 degrees.

This pan thoroughly impressed us in every category. It's lightweight, easy to maneuver, and completely nonstick. It seared chicken thighs to golden perfection, baked a moist, chewy skillet cookie, and scrambled eggs without leaving any residue behind. It came pre-seasoned, and we didn't need to add any additional seasoning, oil, or butter while cooking. It washes easily with hot water, but we could've thoroughly cleaned it with a dry cloth since nothing stuck to the pan during our testing. The Merten & Storck pan is compatible with all stovetops and oven-safe up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only is this pan functional and versatile, but it's also the most affordable on our list.

Price at time of publish: $50

  • Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Oven-safe: Up to 600 degrees

Best Nonstick: Made In 10-inch Blue Carbon Steel Fry Pan

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Made-In

Pros: An ergonomic handle makes maneuvering super easy.

Cons: Cooking acidic ingredients is not recommended as they can strip the coating on the pan.

Made In's carbon steel skillet passed all of our tests and was particularly useful for scrambling eggs, thanks to the completely nonstick surface. Our testers loved the ergonomic handle, which made this pan one of the easiest to hold and maneuver. The lightweight body and balanced handle made transferring it from stovetop to oven seamless. This pan produced golden, crispy chicken skin and moist, chewy skillet cookies. It's oven-safe up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit and is easy to clean with hot water and a scrub brush.

Price at time of publish: $79

  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Pre-seasoned: No
  • Oven-safe: Up to 1,200 degrees

Best Splurge: Smithey Hand-Forged 12-inch Carbon Steel Skillet

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Food52

Pros: Like all of Smithey's elegant and attractive cookware, each of these pans are handmade and completely unique.

Cons: We found that it needs some seasoning before it becomes completely nonstick.

Smithey's hand-forged carbon steel skillets are stunning pieces of cookware that are just waiting to become family heirlooms. Each piece is handmade and unique, which makes this carbon steel pan an impressive gift for your favorite home chef. It boasts a large cooking surface with gently sloped sides and a long handle. It warmed up quickly and transferred heat evenly and consistently throughout the entire pan. Though the pan comes pre-seasoned, it could benefit from additional seasoning—while it passed all three of our tests, we did notice that some egg residue stuck to the pan. It was very easy to clean with hot water.

Price at time of publish: $295

  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Oven-safe: Up to 1,200 degrees

Related: 11 Useful Kitchen Gifts for the Cook Who Has Everything

Conclusion

Carbon steel pans should be heavy-duty, durable, and versatile, but that doesn't mean they should be expensive. That's why we love the Merten and Storck 12-inch Carbon Steel Black Frying Pan—it performed exceptionally well in each one of our tests while being one of the most affordable in the group. This workhorse pan is easy to hold, clean, and use, and it's earned a top spot in our kitchens.

Factors to Consider

pies
Courtesy of Laura Denby

Carbon steel pans combine the durability of a cast-iron skillet with the functionality of a nonstick pan, so it's important to find a pan that can conduct heat evenly on both the stovetop and in the oven while maintaining a completely slick surface. Just like cast iron, carbon steel pans require seasoning—the more you season them, the more nonstick they become over time. When shopping for a pan, pay attention to whether it comes pre-seasoned or if you'll need to season it yourself, and keep in mind that it won't be as slick on the first use as it may be on the 100th use. Some of the pans we tested arrived pre-seasoned, and some we seasoned ourselves.

Carbon steel pans are super durable and tough, which means they can also be on the heavy side. When shopping for one, keep in mind that these can be more cumbersome than your standard frying pan. If using heavy cookware is an issue for you, make sure to look for a pan that has an ergonomic handle that makes it easier to maneuver.

The Tests

Carbon Steel Pans
Courtesy of Laura Denby

Functionality

A carbon steel pan should perform just as well in the oven as it does on the stovetop, and it should evenly conduct heat so that the center of the pan gets as hot as the outer corners of the pan. To test heating capabilities, we seared skin-on chicken thighs in each pan to see if we could create a golden, evenly crispy skin. To test versatility, we baked chocolate chip skillet cookies to assess how each pan performed in the oven. To test nonstick functionality, we scrambled eggs to see how slick the surface of each pan was. To keep testing consistent, we didn't use any oil or butter in any of our recipes. After each use, we recorded our findings in order to compare the efficacy of our seasoning process versus the manufacturer's seasoning. We also cleaned each pan according to the brand's instructions.

Look and Feel

One of the benefits of carbon steel is that it performs like a cast iron pan without the added weight, so we wanted to make sure that each pan was easy to handle and maneuver. We assessed the weight and feel of each pan and how balanced it felt from handle to body. We also considered how hot or slippery each handle felt in our hands.

Durability and Brand Promises

When searching for a good quality carbon steel pan, chances are you'll often hear the term "seasoning." Seasoning is the process of coating a pan with heated oil to create a protective barrier, which helps ensure a nonstick and rust-resistant surface. Like cast iron, seasoning carbon steel is a vital process, so we followed the manufacturer's instructions to season each pan. If a pan was labeled pre-seasoned, we did not do any extra seasoning to see how functional the manufacturer's coating was. Most manufacturers advised against using soap when cleaning, so we washed each pan with hot water and a scrub brush to help preserve the seasoning of each.

What Didn't Make the List

de Buyer Mineral B Pro 11-inch Fry Pan

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

Also available at Debuyer.

This pan passed all of our tests and was completely nonstick throughout the cooking process. It comes coated in a protective layer of beeswax, so be sure to scrub that off and season it properly before first use. We found that our seasoning was adequate, and not only was the pan totally slick on the first use, but it also continued to get more nonstick with each subsequent test. It's durable, functional and we love how easy it is to clean with just some hot water and a scrub brush. Unfortunately, it was one of the heaviest and most cumbersome to handle.

Misen 10-inch Carbon Steel Pan

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Misen

This heavy-duty pan is durable and conducts heat quickly and evenly. Chicken thighs browned nicely and the pan easily transferred to the oven to bake up a perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookie. We liked that the pan came equipped with a removable silicone handle, which kept it cool and slip-free while on the stovetop. The nonstick functionality worked nicely, though some bits of egg did stick to the surface. This pan comes coated in beeswax for extra protection, so make sure to scrub it off and season it before your first use.

Lodge 12-inch Carbon Steel Skillet

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Lodge.

Lodge's carbon steel cookware comes pre-seasoned, so we didn't add any extra oil or seasoning when cooking. Though the pan is heavy-duty and equipped with an easy-to-grab extra-long handle, it was not as nonstick as we'd hoped. Our batch of test eggs got stuck, and it took a lot of elbow grease to scrub it clean with water and a brush.

Matfer Bourgeat 12-inch Carbon Steel Pan

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Matafer Bourgeat.

This pan passed both our chicken and cookie test, but fell short on the egg test. While it's a sturdy, durable pan that transfers heat nicely, it was not as slick as we'd hoped. We also found it more challenging to clean than some of the others.

Oxo Obsidian Carbon Steel 10-inch Fry Pan

carbon steel pan
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Walmart.

This pan has a large cooking surface and deeply angled sides, making it ideal for cooking large batches. However, we didn't find the surface as slick as some of the others, and a good deal of residue stuck to the pan during our egg test.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is a carbon steel pan best for?

    "Carbon steel pans are a wonderful alternative to chemically coated nonstick pans," says Ted Burdett, founder of cookware company Fourneau. "The oil-seasoning finish on carbon steel stands up to high heat, so it works well under a broiler, and you can use metal cooking tools without fear of scraping up Teflon. Many chefs say that the performance of carbon steel reminds them of a wok, which makes sense because most woks are made from thin, seasoned steel. Depending on the thickness of the steel, it is much more responsive than a cast iron pan. This makes it great for cooking lower temperature dishes like fried eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets, french toast, or just general sauteing and light stir frying."

  • Are carbon steel pans nonstick?

    "Although not as nonstick as a chemically coated pan, a carbon steel pan gets better over time, developing a nearly nonstick service and does not need to be replaced every couple of years," says Burdett. "Carbon steel pans will never provide the same nonstick performance as a Teflon pan, but with their smooth cooking surface, they can get close. If you like a durable product, consider that oil seasoning improves over time while ceramic coatings and Teflon degrade over time and cannot be repaired."



  • How do you season a carbon steel pan?

    "Seasoning is built up in layers by applying a very thin film of oil to the pan surface and then heating the pan to 'bake on' the oil. When heated, the oil forms cross-linked bonds and cures to a solid film. Flax, grape seed, and soy oil form hard, smooth seasoning layers," says Burdett. "More and more, carbon steel pans are being sold with seasoned already applied, providing the home chef with a solid foundation on which to build. In most cases, you can start cooking with pre-seasoned pans right out of the box." Over time, if properly maintained, the seasoning will be bolstered by regular use.



  • How do you clean a carbon steel pan?

    "Carbon steel pans need to be hand washed. With light use, sometimes all that's needed for cleaning is a wipe with a paper towel. With heavily soiled pans, it's important to remove any stuck or carbonized food bits – these do not contribute to a pan's seasoning. A bamboo scraper or chainmail scrubber works well. Light detergent and a sponge will be enough to clean up after most dishes. The final step is seasoning: once the pan is clean, dry it. Then, rub a very thin layer of oil on the cooking surface," says Burdett. Heat the pan on the stove on low heat until both sides are dry. Note that these pans "should never be stored wet," he says.



  • How do you get rust off a carbon steel pan?

    "Because they are made from steel, they can form rust when the steel is allowed to oxidize. Light rust is easy to remove with a three-millimeter abrasive pad or fine steel wool," says Burdett. "After the rust is rubbed off, wash the pan and season it several times to rebuild the protective oil coating. Heavy rust can lead to pitting on the steel surface and may require a wire brush to remove."

Our Expertise

Laura Denby is a food writer and former professional chef who focuses on finding functional kitchen equipment for home cooks. She uses her years of experience cooking in professional kitchens along with her degree in Culinary Arts from the Institute of Culinary Education to guide her thoroughly tested product reviews. For this piece, Laura performed competitive research to develop a comprehensive product set, then personally tested each carbon steel pan and assessed each one's efficiency for use in home kitchens, using a diverse collection of recipes. You can find more of Laura's work in Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, FoodNetwork.com, and more.

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