Carbon Steel Pans...My Exploration Is Over

Kitchen Knife Forums

Help Support Kitchen Knife Forums:

HumbleHomeCook

Life Is Punny. :)~
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
1,934
Reaction score
3,349
Location
PNW USA
I have been messing with carbon steel pans, specifically Matfer Bourgeat, for a couple years now and have even recommended them here. I quite specifically chose Matfer for their thickness to help reduce warping on my coil stove, the rivet-less handle, and the price.

First, without a doubt, they are quality pans. Cared for, these pans will be around for generations.

As for stability, I do not find them needy in terms of rust and so long as I mindful of not cranking the heat, I never had one warp. Again, they are quality pans.

But my primary issue is that the seasoning just doesn't last. I've tried it all. Oven, a bunch of different stove top methods, oils, waxes, etc. It DOESN'T matter. Trust me, I have been incredibly diligent about trying myriad methods and making these pans work. To the extent that it is a joke with my wife that I go into battle with the pans.

Now, don't get me wrong, if I put a little oil in them before I cook, they do great. But they aren't non-stick. Not without adding fat before you cook. You'll be all giddy thinking you got a good season going cuz it's nice and dark and shiny but something will stick just a touch and even if you're very gentle with cleaning, all of a sudden your pan will look dull and dry. And that's because it is.

I have chain mail, nylon brushes, etc. It DOESN'T matter.

I really liked these pans and when they worked, they worked great, but they are too much work for consistency. I will keep them for searing steaks and the like as they rock at those tasks, but I'll no longer advocate them as true non-stick alternatives.
 

pleue

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2012
Messages
821
Reaction score
233
I use mauviel crepe pans, clean all the wax off them, a few cycles on a wok burner or in an oven with a wipe down of grapeseed or veg oil and then cook heavy fat foods in them for a while. They'll never be non-stick but I happily make omelets, crepes, etc. with a bit of fat in em.
 

Brian Weekley

LIfetime Supporter
Joined
May 21, 2019
Messages
1,242
Reaction score
3,200
Location
Victoria BC Canada
I use a variety of carbon pans and have done so for years starting with cast iron pans. My experience parallels yours in that seasoning doesn’t seem to hold up forever. I periodically strip the seasoning and re-season pans. Non-stick cooking requires a bit of oil. Eggs get a bit of butter (Ghee actually) and protein gets bacon fat (yum!). The only thing that demands a stainless pan is sugar cured bacon. Done in a carbon pan, sugar cured bacon is a sure fire seasoning remover. Clean up is generally kosher salt and a paper towel. If I accumulate some stuck bits for some reason I’ll resort to hot water and a non metallic scrubber but that doesn’t happen often. I have one pan that I reserve for eggs and, with a bit of oil or spray, I get great results. Even with the need for oil I’m completely satisfied with the carbon pans and rarely find a reason to use anything else. I guess it is just a question of expectations. I don’t know how I could cook any better using anything else.
 

sumis

Active Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2020
Messages
27
Reaction score
18
Location
Sweden
true as far as my own experience goes. as long as i don't mess up, i only need to recondition once a year.

mess up = cooking too acidic stuff and/or too starchy/sticky/sugary stuff.

recently i forgot myself and threw in some wine and tomatoes in a perfectly seasoned pan (basically non-stick) to braise after searing … put me back a year or two in seasoning. but it was a user error. had i decided on adding the acid stuff earlier i'd obviously used a stainless vessel instead. but now i thought: feck it, it'll work …

imho carbon is amazingly great, as well as easy to take care of, as long as you don't use it for certain foods.

.
 

sansho

(͡° ͜ʖ°͡)
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
211
Reaction score
274
Location
US&A
for the moment, my experimentation with carbon steel and cast iron is over. i just don't dig it.

ptfe and stainless for me.

i only use ptfe very gingerly in low temp cooking. i try not to heat anything to the smoke point in it and clean it promptly after every use with a soft sponge. the surface doesn't get fouled, and it lasts a long time this way. i like anolon nouvelle copper luxe.

alternative nonstick coatings (like ceramics) are trash. i don't understand the mechansim, but they progressively lose their nonstick properties. ptfe lasts WAY longer ime if you're nice to it.

when fluorocarbon isn't required, i default to stainless. i just sear meat until it releases. sorta kinda (not really) nonstick, but i like how it works.

something i want to experiment with is using stainless like a carbon steel skillet. maybe rough up the surface some and then intentionally season it. i don't see why it wouldn't behave like carbon steel (though maybe a little less thermally conductive), but no more of this bs where you have to obsessively oil it and worry about rusting.
 
Last edited:

Pisau

Active Member
Joined
Jul 26, 2019
Messages
32
Reaction score
67
Location
Australia
Only pour fat into a carbon or cast iron pan after it heats up, it'll just work regardless of the seasoning. If possible always practice oil return before putting in the ingredients like on the wok. This method even works on a stainless pan without seasoning to make it fairly nonstick. I'm sure y'all know this, but too it's often missed or like me, too impatient.

.02
 
Last edited:

MarcelNL

professional blame taker
Supporting Member
Joined
Feb 9, 2018
Messages
1,513
Reaction score
1,449
with pans it's also horses for courses IMO, I love my carbon, indeed no non-stick Debyer pans for searing at high heat using a bit of duck fat, something I cannot accomplish in the non stick controlinduc Demeyere that excels at more delicate stuff (I've never before managed to sear foie gras without losing the browning to the pan before, surely a first world problem but it's just an example)
 

Jovidah

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2016
Messages
2,273
Reaction score
1,646
Location
Netherlands
If seasoning doesn't stick it might be user error; either using acidic stuff in it, or simply leaving it dirty overnight. Especially the latter has set me back a few times even when I was dilligent on the first. A lot of the guides on how to season them also don't necessarily result in the best seasoning.

Regarding non-stickyness... I think in most cases it should be 'somewhere in between' normal sticky stuff like stainless and a 'proper' non-stick'... but it's all a tradeoff. Stainless will be more forgiving with certain ingredients and maintenance, but it will stick more. 'Proper' non-stick dies from high heat, and comes with a bunch of environmental and potential health caveats. In the end I like having all 3.

You can get them quite close to non-stick though once you have a really good layer. I had this on 2 pans that were essentially glassy at that point before I stripped it to reset them (in a misguided attempt to test how easy it was to reseason from scratch in 'easy' ways), and it was almost counterproductive how slidey they were when making stuff like pancakes.

A lot of 'guides' are a bit deceptive though in the sense that, yes... if you use fat and high heat a lot of stuff will barely stick or come off easily even with the bare minimum of seasoning. But using such 'proper' cooking methods stuff will barely stick and come off easily from bare stainless as well...
 

HumbleHomeCook

Life Is Punny. :)~
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
1,934
Reaction score
3,349
Location
PNW USA
Cast iron and carbon steel are never non-stick, only low-stick. They do need oil and, even then, stick more than a non-stick pan. That’s just how it is…
I know and I don't mind them being low-stick, but I get tired fighting the seasoning. Yes, as I said, with the addition of some type fat, they work great and are pretty non-stick. But that means I'm adding more fat than I would if I just used an actual non-stick pan. I'd hoped these would become my daily drivers and to a large extent they have been for the past year but I get very flustered when things are going along nicely and then one day the pan looks dry again.

I never use acidic ingredients in them and my pans are always cleaned immediately after use. I have taken tremendous care of these pans.
 

tomsch

Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2012
Messages
303
Reaction score
80
I ended up gifting away all my Demeyere carbon steel pans as I also battled with seasoning. My vintage cast iron pans were always way more non-stick so I tend to use those along with stainless steel and non-stick. BTW I agree with the comment above that even with stainless steel heating before adding oil works well.
 

HumbleHomeCook

Life Is Punny. :)~
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
1,934
Reaction score
3,349
Location
PNW USA
I ended up gifting away all my Demeyere carbon steel pans as I also battled with seasoning. My vintage cast iron pans were always way more non-stick so I tend to use those along with stainless steel and non-stick. BTW I agree with the comment above that even with stainless steel heating before adding oil works well.
I agree as well. I always pre-heat my pans, regardless of type, then add the oil, then allow to come back up to temp before cooking.
 

coxhaus

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 27, 2020
Messages
975
Reaction score
947
Location
Texas
What I have seem with my Matfer Bourgeat pan is it does not seem to season as well as my older debuyer pan. It could be the way I use it but I have an older debuyer 11 5/8-inch pan that seems to hold its seasoning better than the newer one I bought on your recommendation. I still like the Matfer Bourgeat 10-inch and use it. I wonder if there is a difference in the steel?
 

CA_cook

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2020
Messages
70
Reaction score
108
Location
San FRancisco, CA
You should never cook in your pan without oil. Oil serves a very important function- it regulates the temperature, limiting it to the oil smoke point. If you cook without oil your food can easily overheat, burn, and develop carcinogens. This is why marketing of PTFE pans as "healthier alternative" is perverse. They are not. My DeBuyer carbon pan is essentially non stick, so is my Field cast iron pan. I do use all clad stainless for pasta sauces and everything highly acidic. Works very well. I'm a lot less impressed with MadeIn carbon cookware.
 

Jovidah

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2016
Messages
2,273
Reaction score
1,646
Location
Netherlands
Fat serves more functions than just keeping things from sticking. It also serves as a conductor to essentially fill in the voids, generating more contact between the food and the heat. And it also massively improves flavor. IMO trying to cook without it is a heresy no matter what pan you use, and even from a diet perspective I don't think there's a whole lot to gain here. Heck, some nutrients dissolve in fat and are actually digested better when there's fat in the meal.
 

thebradleycrew

Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 9, 2019
Messages
1,447
Reaction score
2,235
Location
Portland, OR
I use a variety of carbon pans and have done so for years starting with cast iron pans. My experience parallels yours in that seasoning doesn’t seem to hold up forever. I periodically strip the seasoning and re-season pans. Non-stick cooking requires a bit of oil. Eggs get a bit of butter (Ghee actually) and protein gets bacon fat (yum!). The only thing that demands a stainless pan is sugar cured bacon. Done in a carbon pan, sugar cured bacon is a sure fire seasoning remover. Clean up is generally kosher salt and a paper towel. If I accumulate some stuck bits for some reason I’ll resort to hot water and a non metallic scrubber but that doesn’t happen often. I have one pan that I reserve for eggs and, with a bit of oil or spray, I get great results. Even with the need for oil I’m completely satisfied with the carbon pans and rarely find a reason to use anything else. I guess it is just a question of expectations. I don’t know how I could cook any better using anything else.
Great points from everyone on this. Does anyone know the science behind why sugar causes issues. Bacon also ruined my seasoning and I couldn't figure out why behind given the fat.
 

Brian Weekley

LIfetime Supporter
Joined
May 21, 2019
Messages
1,242
Reaction score
3,200
Location
Victoria BC Canada
It’s the sugar man … it’s the sugar in the bacon cure. It seems that the sugar bonds to the seasoning and the rest (your laborious and careful seasoning) is history. Doing bacon is about the only use that I have for my remaining stainless pans. Strangely the fat from the rendered bacon which I save religiously, seems to leave the seasoning unaffected.
 

btbyrd

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2017
Messages
810
Reaction score
1,263
Location
W-S, NC
I only had one Matfer pan and I gave it away because it wouldn't hold seasoning at all. I had it for a couple years and did all the tricks, but it was always crappy for some reason. I have 8 other carbon steel or cast iron pans, and none have had a similar problem.
 

esoo

living the patina
Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 16, 2018
Messages
1,816
Reaction score
3,022
Location
Canada, eh?
I gave up on my larger Matfers after medium heat on my electric stove warped two of them.
 
  • Like
Reactions: ian

HumbleHomeCook

Life Is Punny. :)~
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
1,934
Reaction score
3,349
Location
PNW USA
I abandoned all my bare steel cookware years ago. Still like enameled cast iron. I'm perfectly happy searing stuff in my stainless pans.
I have nice stainless cookware that sees a lot of use. It'll be seeing even more now. :)
 

JASinIL2006

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2020
Messages
153
Reaction score
142
Location
West Central Illinois, USA
I have several carbon steel pans (mostly deBuyer and no-name carbon steel wok) and none of them hold the seasoning all that well. I also have tried just about every fat I can think of to season them, but it never proves to be all that durable. I still use them all the time, but they are not something I reach for when cooking delicate proteins.

My cast iron pans, though, are another story. I have a smooth-bottomed Griswold from before I was born and a pebbly-bottomed Lodge cast iron pan, and the seasoning on both of those is darn near indestructible. They definitely hold the seasoning better than the carbon steel, by a long shot.
 

MarcelNL

professional blame taker
Supporting Member
Joined
Feb 9, 2018
Messages
1,513
Reaction score
1,449
Tonight I've used my largest Debuyer to bake some potatoes in duck fat, to great pleasure of the whole family.
The few times I ran into issues with stickiness it was my own fault, adding too much acidity to the pan or cleaning it to roughly.
 

BazookaJoe

Supporting Member
Joined
May 22, 2020
Messages
89
Reaction score
263
Location
Boca Raton, FL
Did you do the high heat treatment of the pan before seasoning. You'll need a powerful burner for thick carbon pans, I have a 200000 BTU propane burner outside and it still took about 15 min for my biggest pan. Same treatment that's done to new carbon steel woks, something about changing the steel and developing an oxide layer that allows the subsequent oil seasoning to stick. My process is as follows:
First you heat it on the propane, very high heat. The steel changes to blue color, then back to a dull silver. When cool, heat in the oven at 200F, then very lightly oiled (canola), wiped virtually dry. Back into the oven at 500F for 2 hours. Shut off the oven and let the pan cool in there for another 2 hours.
I don't cook anything tomato based in the carbon pans, I use stainless for those dishes. The photo shows my pans that get a lot of use and the seasoning is still great. Yes some oil or butter is needed but very non-stick with everything.
IMG_7129.jpg
 

Rangen

Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
487
Reaction score
595
Most of my cooking is in a carbon steel wok, and I season it with the trick taught to me by the guy at The Wok Shop in SF: stir fry some chives (ideal) or scallion greens (works fine) in hot oil until seriously browned, moving them all over the surface as you go. Some sort of reaction produces a nice coating on the carbon steel. Works for cast iron too. When the coating fades, back to more chives or scallions.
 

Michi

I'm having a status just so I don't have no status
Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 13, 2019
Messages
4,144
Reaction score
7,205
Location
Brisbane, Australia
I've not yet re-seasoned my wok or my cast iron pan. When I'm done cleaning, I just wipe the most minute film of oil onto the pan (as if seasoning for the first time) and then put it back on the heat until I see the first wisps of smoke. Then let it cool down.

I don't do this every time, only when I notice that the surface starts to look a bit dull. Things have been nicely non-stick for me this way (as much as I can expect without a Teflon-type coating).
 

Steampunk

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 28, 2014
Messages
330
Reaction score
657
When reading the the original post from @HumbleHomeCook , it hit a little too close to home... I feel your pain. Been there a lot.

I love the way my carbon cookware handles in terms of temp response, and the flavor it seems to bring out in food versus non-reactive cookware. However, I've been doing battle with seasoning and things sticking for years, now. Just like you... I really try to use logic to solve problems, but sometimes, my carbon pans make me believe in pan-gremlins. There are days that carbon is 'happy', and days that it is not. Some carbon pans are more consistently happy than others, but all have their bad moments when they just seem to puke-up their seasoning, and go home (Even when you've never done a single thing wrong to them.)... I've spent a long time trying to figure this out. I still don't have answers, but I do have conjecture, that is gradually starting to make more sense in my head, the more years I do the same battle that you've been doing.

Here's what's starting to make sense:

#1 - If you're afraid of fats, or animal proteins, or can't afford them, stay away from reactive pans. Bare carbon/cast iron thrive on these things.

#2 - If you're not cooking in your carbon/cast iron at least 3-4 days out of 7, it seems to hate you. They love to be used.

#3 - Use butter, or a butter/oil mixture when cooking eggs, or anything else you want to be nonstick at lower temps (200-300f)... It just works, if you're not into high-temp, practically deep-fried eggs... Straight oil works about once at low-temp if your seasoning is perfect, and then the pan is likely to throw a wobbly straight after...

#4 - Don't do the 100-coats of oil (Don't even think about Flaxseed! Use whatever high-temp veggie you normally cook with, or lard.) before you cook anything, or oven methods of seasoning. That's a great way to create a weak seasoning that'll peel off. Do it like the Chinese treat their woks... Heat treat the bare pan until it starts to change colour, to create a perfectly clean, oxide film on the surface that will help to hold the carbonized oil/fat. Then, put one layer of high-temp veggie oil or lard on the pan, start to bake it off way past the smoke point until you see the fat turn into droplets on the surface, rebuff the pan with a towel to level out the coating, and then finish off on the heat until all the smoke disappears. Only do this 1-2 times, before you start cooking things in the pan, and letting the rest of the seasoning build up naturally. After that, there are certain things that carbon/cast iron pans love, that seem to help them settle in quicker.

#5 - Carbon/CI loves starchy potatoes, sausage patties, and low-sugar onions (Like the Spring Onions mentioned above.). If you're not ready to cook things yet, cook some russet potato skins with a lot of oil and salt, or some scallions, until they are inedibly dark, and with enough salt and oil to embalm a corpse, and bin them after... Otherwise, make Latkes/Hash Browns, Pork Sausage Patties, and saute some not-too-sweet onions and peppers. Do this a ton. Your pan will love you, and quickly develop a very even, as-durable-as-it-can-get seasoning.

#6 - Carbon/CI needs surface texture. Not the pebbly, truck bed liner texture of Lodge, but enough of a surface profile for the oil to cling to. Pans with ground finishes hold seasoning worse than pans with pickled (Acid etched), or abrasive blasted finishes. I think it was Stargazer that actually commented on having to change their process, and implementing a bead-blasting step after grinding/polishing, so the seasoning adhered properly. Same applies to carbon. Seasoning is just like paint... Paint needs texture to stick. Grinding/polishing creates a really crappy base for coatings to adhere to. I think that companies that blast or pickle their pans, tend to have less issues than ones that sell them in a freshly-ground state. I stopped sanding/grinding rust out of pans I restore, and started using chemical treatments to preserve or introduce an etched profile. Really need to get a blasting booth up and running. This would be even better... For what it's worth, DeBuyer's seem to be pickled, which makes them respond to seasoning a little better than a lot of other carbon I've tried. They also use something like C100 carbon steel (1% carbon; basically cutlery grade.), and that added carbon seems to make them respond a little differently than mild steel on cheaper pans... Some of the new cast iron startups are blasted, which is going to be even better, providing they get the Ra profile in the right depth range, and use the right media shape.

#7 - I've babied carbon/cast-iron cookware, and had it spank me. It's crushed me when I've met people with some beat-up carbon/cast-iron pan, that they've been using for decades with none of the rules I or others have created on how to treat this stuff, and it's got a better seasoning than I've ever been able to make... I'm talking, they've got carbon Lyonnaise skillets or American-style cast iron pans that have been used for decades, that they can cook shakshouka or even caramel sauce in every week, and it still looks great, and can immediately fry an egg without sticking after... I wouldn't believe it, if I hadn't actually seen it in person... This sort of stuff makes me feel that all the care I've lavished on my carbon/cast-iron cookware hasn't let it shine, and that you kind of need to let go of your standards a bit, and just cook in it like you don't understand it, or care about it. These people flog it, and don't worry about a darned thing (Rust? Just bake another level of fat on, and keep going... In some ways, rust is actually a great bonding agent for coatings.), and their pans are better behaved than mine. Kind of reminds me of carbon knives. At some level, our worry doesn't help them, and they just like being used.

#8 - Temperature is critical. I think part of the problem (Although those mystery carbon/cast-iron pan abusers with perfect seasoning make me doubt myself.), is that I'm not always using enough temperature, or am maybe using temperature in the wrong way. My pans seem to especially love when I flog them up past 500f, on a routine basis. Eggs stick less when I cook them at least 50f higher than I would in nonstick. When I dry the oil out of my pans on the stove to keep building up their seasoning, they don't just like something hovering around the smoke point, and turning off flame immediately once the oil starts drying, they like something WAY beyond those points. The surface gets smoother, and blacker, when I use them hard. Especially when I'm cooking things in them at those high temps, rather than just drying oil onto them empty. Something about mild food acids helps the oil layer to bond, and temp/timing also plays a big role in not getting things to stick. Really high temps seem to create that smooth, black, glassy layer. You definitely need an awesome vent fan, or to work outside for this, along with at least 15K BTU's.

#9 - Honestly, I don't know how people without high-output gas can get a proper seasoning on carbon/cast iron based upon my own personal experiences (Those 'zero f's given' people, with the perfect seasoning on their pans, often prove me wrong. Many do so with like 5-7K BTU's, or coil stoves. I can't explain it. Maybe it's more repetition in cooking than me, or the certain fats they use, or the temp curves, that make this work. Or, the fact that they do let their pans go too far, and the corrosion helps hold the seasoning better?). The oven method is a waste of time; seasoning is built up by cooking, and methods that aren't continually enhanced through use seem to be weakest. Based upon what I've seen with how Carbon/Cast Iron performs on induction, I'd probably just accept stainless and teflon pans, and say goodbye to my days screwing around with reactive pans. They just don't seem to be able to create a seasoning as well, due to the nature of the heat. Coil/glass top electrics also appear to be worse than gas at this job.

#10 - IR temp readings only work with fully seasoned pans. Spots with shiny-brown spots, don't read as accurately as spots that are fully matte black. It makes your pan look like it has hotspots, even when it doesn't.

I've played around with a lot of carbon and cast iron ware... DeBuyer, out of the box, is the best experience I've ever had with carbon cookware. A carbon-steel 'USA' wok from the Wok Shop, which came rusty enough I had to take an angle grinder with a flap wheel to it, despite the nasty industrial-oil finish, was and is my very worst. It flakes off huge amounts of seasoning into every other meal, no matter what I do. The DeBuyer's have been really well behaved, until recently, when they seemed to lose whatever 'magic' they had initially, and are now rusting like crazy on me, and struggling to develop the quick/consistent seasoning they did before. I'm currently attributing this to neglect, and lack of abuse. I haven't been cooking in them as much, and haven't been taking them much past medium lately since their seasoning started getting really good. I think they need more... More cooking, more temp, more often. That cheap wok, I'm determined, is unfixable, unless I could maybe low-pressure crushed-glass blast it, and even then the material might just be rubbish.

I'm not giving up... Still trying to solve this mystery. It's too intriguing.
 
Last edited:
Top