Carbon Steel Pans...My Exploration Is Over

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MarcelNL

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I do soft through firm tofu in carbon steel all the time. I don't know what else I would use... I'm not exactly sure what problem you're having, but I'll describe my process. Maybe it will help?

I never do it in a dirty pan. I wash the pan out first if I need to. I then use pretty high heat, high enough to pass the mercury test on a stainless steel pan. My carbon steel pan sometimes smokes before it gets hot enough. I pour in a generous (not too deep, just enough to coat and a little more) oil into the pan and lay the tofu down. Flip as desired. If you are adverse to oil, you technically don't need it but the tofu won't be beautifully golden. It will be have brown splots. Still good, but not as delicious. I tend to use less oil than truly necessary for health reasons.

That sounded easy right? Well, I don't find that to be the entire story. Tofu, especially softer tofus, tend to break up if you are too rough with them. So, flipping many times is a challenge. You could use a firmer tofu, but I love the contrast between crispy exterior and silky interior. My recommendation is to cut large cubes (1 in) or cut thin rectangles. My favorite is thin rectangles and then only fry the two large faces. Its not as delicious as perfectly seared cubes, but it is like 2/6th the time (6 faces, 6 flips per cube is a pain in the a**). I've flipped either with a fish spatula (many at a time) or one by one with tongs or chopsticks. Both work. Chopsticks work better for cubes and a fish spatula works better for the rectangles.

My problems with tofu dishes this way is that I want the sauce I make with the tofu to stick to the tofu but I hate cornstarch and the sauce makes the crust soggy. I haven't found a way around these problems yet. If I cook the tofu in the sauce, the tofu becomes soft and you lose some of that crunch. I end up frying the tofu, making the sauce, pouring the sauce into a plate and gently laying the tofu crispy side up and out of the liquid. It's not ideal though.

Its possible to do tofu in a stainless steel pan, but its hard to get the tofu to release without either a lot of oil or burning the tofu.

EDIT: I should note that I do all my tofu in a matfer fry pan. Maybe a very large round bottom wok would work, but I've never tried. Tofu is too tender for me to use my wok burner.

I did indeed do all of that and the Tofu just clung to the pan like heck...

When using Tofu with a sauce I add it once the Tofu is fried, all sauces make for a soggy crust so timing is of the essence yet I usually look for another ingredient to add crunch.
 

rmrf

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I did indeed do all of that and the Tofu just clung to the pan like heck...

When using Tofu with a sauce I add it once the Tofu is fried, all sauces make for a soggy crust so timing is of the essence yet I usually look for another ingredient to add crunch.
Thats a good tip with the sauce. I'll try it next time. Usually the tofu dish is the first I make so it does sit a little while.

Regarding tofu sticking, maybe try not moving it for longer? Usually, I nudge the piece I put in the pan first and when it slides I start moving all of them. High heat and patience usually works for me. If I'm in a rush, I just scrape below them with a fish spatula and flip, but sometimes things do get left behind.

I also used to dry the surface of the tofu with paper towels. Just blot dry, not press dry with a weight. It helps, but I haven't done it in a while. I also used to put each tofu piece down 1 by 1 instead of just pouring them all in and shaking the pan (like I do now).

Since I can remember, I only get slight sticking problems when my pan isn't hot enough or if my pan is too hot. Next time I make tofu I'll try and see if I'm doing anything different.

I've noticed a large difference in texture between fresh and old tofu, but I don't think that's your problem.
 

MarcelNL

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Thats a good tip with the sauce. I'll try it next time. Usually the tofu dish is the first I make so it does sit a little while.

Regarding tofu sticking, maybe try not moving it for longer? Usually, I nudge the piece I put in the pan first and when it slides I start moving all of them. High heat and patience usually works for me. If I'm in a rush, I just scrape below them with a fish spatula and flip, but sometimes things do get left behind.

I also used to dry the surface of the tofu with paper towels. Just blot dry, not press dry with a weight. It helps, but I haven't done it in a while. I also used to put each tofu piece down 1 by 1 instead of just pouring them all in and shaking the pan (like I do now).

Since I can remember, I only get slight sticking problems when my pan isn't hot enough or if my pan is too hot. Next time I make tofu I'll try and see if I'm doing anything different.

I've noticed a large difference in texture between fresh and old tofu, but I don't think that's your problem.
If anything the pan might have been too hot, I drained and dabbed the Tofu dry, let it sit in the pan to get 'unstuck' and tried to loosen them when it became clear they would not get unstuck on their own...
I'll try my other (older and larger) carbon steel pan next time, to see if it perhaps is a coating issue...

Thanks for your thoughts, much appreciated!
 

NotAddictedYet

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All seasoned up.

IMG_4374.jpg
 

boomchakabowwow

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did anyone crack the code to fry Tofu in a carbon steel pan? I just made the error to use the carbon pan that I used to fry up some mushrooms for a noodle soup for the Tofu....instant sticky mess, I upped the heat in a hope to liberate the protein but no dice....

just a few moments ago: i tossed some Tofu into my wok. i immediately thought of you and your woes. i started with a clean wok and did the Tofu first. FIRST! if you have to remove your tofu when it is cooked then do so. then do the mushrooms.

i grimaced and tossed it in..no sticking. it swirled around easily.

first time i did this. i went with some insurance of an added spritz of some non stick spray. not sure if it helped or not, but it didnt stick. i wasnt confident at all.

tofu.jpg
 
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I should have took pictures. But anyway, I made bacon in two pans this morning. One in a Demeyere Proline fry pan and the other in a Solidteknics carbon steel. They both had a little sticking. However, the Demeyere pan made much nicer bacon. They curled less and looked more evenly cooked. The Demeyere was even easier to clean.

I love my Solidteknics pans, but also love my Demeyere pans. Lately I find myself gravitating toward the Demeyere for nearly everything that needs a pan. The Demeyere Atlantis and Proline series use the same amount (very little) of oil or butter as any well seasoned carbon or cast iron.

The allure of carbon and iron is really waning these days. I have rid my home of all factory made nonstick pans. They all chip or flake and many are toxic, no matter how careful you are. So Demeyere is moving into the top spot for me.
 
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I'm still loving my carbon steel Made-in wok. When I pre-heat with oil basically nothing sticks. Cast iron remains my beater pans but the wok is being used for way more different foods then I though.
 

sansho

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edit: However, this begs the question: is there a steel alloy that is somewhere between stainless and carbon steel that is better for cooking? That is, it is "seasonable" like carbon steel but relatively corrosion resistant?

why not season stainless steel just like steel or cast iron? serious question.

this is something i've wondered about for a long time, and i think it's really weird that i can't find online anecdotes of people doing this. i've tried, but maybe i suck at searching.

polymerized oil seems pretty sturdy on the outsides of my stainless skillets (just from incidental spillover during cooking). seems like it should work fine.
 

rmrf

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why not season stainless steel just like steel or cast iron? serious question.

this is something i've wondered about for a long time, and i think it's really weird that i can't find online anecdotes of people doing this. i've tried, but maybe i suck at searching.

polymerized oil seems pretty sturdy on the outsides of my stainless skillets (just from incidental spillover during cooking). seems like it should work fine.
I think you're right that SS can be "seasoned" with polymerized oil just like cast iron. Maybe it won't hold as well (maybe the chrome on stainless that prevents iron oxide also lessens the stickiness of the polymerized oil?) but it should still be possible. I've heard of people doing it and I've accidentally gotten oil burned on my ss pans and needed to scrub with barkeeper's friend to get it off. You can also "season" aluminum baking sheets in a very similar way that one seasons cast iron. I have a few that got seasoned and they work really well. If you can season aluminum oxide, I'd guess that you can season SS.

As to why one doesn't season SS, I suspect there isn't a good reason to do it. Seasoning the Al baking sheets is to reduce sticking and emissivity. For like 90% of my uses, I would prefer a cast iron or carbom steel half sheet tray, but I've never seen them and they would be really heavy. For SS, you usually want the stickiness to make a sauce or you want to be able to see the browning very accurately. If SS pans were cheaper than carbon steel, you'd probably see people trying to season SS more. In my opinion, there's not a lot of things that stick so bad to SS. For those rare foods, you can always use non-stick or carbon steel / cast iron.

I guess if you made a dish that is very acidic and sticks very bad, you could think about using a seasoned SS pan. Maybe a crepe soaked in lemon juice? Or fried tofu stewed in a vinegar sauce?
 

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Does anyone make a nitrocarburized (QPQ) carbon steel pan? Are there toxicity concerns that preclude it? It would solve the reactivity problem, reduce friction, and radiate better than a stainless pan.

I seem to have found one at an unexpected source: GSI Outdoors, a camping equipment supplier. "Nitrided surface treatment helps to prevent corrosion."

They're not expensive. Hopefully this is really nitrocarburizing and it is done well enough. I think I am going to try one.

 
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why not season stainless steel just like steel or cast iron? serious question.

this is something i've wondered about for a long time, and i think it's really weird that i can't find online anecdotes of people doing this. i've tried, but maybe i suck at searching.

polymerized oil seems pretty sturdy on the outsides of my stainless skillets (just from incidental spillover during cooking). seems like it should work fine.

I'm not a fan. Aluminum and stainless work best clean and hit with a thin fresh film of oil right before each use. I've worked in restaurants where we did all of our seafood searing on plain restaurant supply aluminum pans. Trying to leave a durable polymerized film on stainless steel or aluminum cookware will just lead to dirty, stained, greasy pots and pans that smoke and impart crappy burnt flavors into whatever you are cooking. This is the condition of many pots and pans at many restaurants unfortunately. A real personal pet peeve of mine.

Stainless steel and aluminum works best if it's scoured completely down to bare metal after every use. You then oil it fresh while piping hot with every use. I just bought a brand new extra large aluminum rondeau for my cafe. I thought it was interesting that it did recommend seasoning it before first use by baking it with some oil. It said that that would prevent staining and sticking. I tried it. It still stained the first time we seared 50 pounds of short ribs in it. And then I scoured it down to shiny with a scotch brite pad like I do to all of the aluminum and stainless sheet pans, frying pans, sizzle plates, stock pots, etc. The next round it was much better. After repeated cooking and scouring it will develop a better cooking surface. But not from polymerized oil. But from the scouring. Basically, this type of cookware works much better if kept very clean, even polished.

I also hate it when places only run the sheet pans through the machine. They get all kinds of nasty buildup and baked on crap. And the aluminum oxide that does form is a powdery substance that turns food grey. And if you let the grease build up, especially around the edges, it will eventually carburize into a thick black crust. This isn't effective at anything except getting big flakes of burnt carbon crap into your food.

So scrape and scrub them as clean as you can every time. Stainless steel scrubbers work great but you gotta be very careful not to leave pieces of wire in the pan. Especially around rivets. They aren't even allowed in commercial kitchens anymore in some places (Massachusetts). A fresh green scotch brite pad works great and is all you need 90% of the time.

Sorry for the rant. But this is something that I've fought many battles over with dishwashers and line cooks throughout the years. Some people just don't like to scrub, but it's the only way to maintain aluminum and stainless pans. Or to clean things like ovens and grills without crazy harsh chemicals.
 
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@madmotts I'll post my thoughts if I do get one. Do you think it is too light to work well?
I'm looking for you to buy it and tell me 🙂. Honestly I'm not the right person to ask (home cook). I'm also on electric coil & induction burner. My current go-to pans are a DeBuyer carbon and Field cast iron. Always looking for other options to try tho.
 

M1k3

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Another tip for stainless pans, heat it up until you get some color changing. It'll be a little more non-stick after.
 

Mr.Wizard

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@madmotts I'll be ordering the 10" then. It is the same weight (3 lbs) as the Made In 10" blue carbon fry pan, so hopefully that's a sign it's an acceptable thickness. A have a big heirloom cast iron skillet and I want something smaller to complement it.
 

HumbleHomeCook

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I'm not a fan. Aluminum and stainless work best clean and hit with a thin fresh film of oil right before each use. I've worked in restaurants where we did all of our seafood searing on plain restaurant supply aluminum pans. Trying to leave a durable polymerized film on stainless steel or aluminum cookware will just lead to dirty, stained, greasy pots and pans that smoke and impart crappy burnt flavors into whatever you are cooking. This is the condition of many pots and pans at many restaurants unfortunately. A real personal pet peeve of mine.

Stainless steel and aluminum works best if it's scoured completely down to bare metal after every use. You then oil it fresh while piping hot with every use. I just bought a brand new extra large aluminum rondeau for my cafe. I thought it was interesting that it did recommend seasoning it before first use by baking it with some oil. It said that that would prevent staining and sticking. I tried it. It still stained the first time we seared 50 pounds of short ribs in it. And then I scoured it down to shiny with a scotch brite pad like I do to all of the aluminum and stainless sheet pans, frying pans, sizzle plates, stock pots, etc. The next round it was much better. After repeated cooking and scouring it will develop a better cooking surface. But not from polymerized oil. But from the scouring. Basically, this type of cookware works much better if kept very clean.

I also hate it when places only run the sheet pans through the machine. They get all kinds of nasty buildup and baked on crap. And the aluminum oxide that does form is a powdery substance that turns food grey. And if you let the grease build up, especially around the edges, it will eventually carburize into a thick black crust. This isn't effective at anything except getting big flakes of burnt carbon crap into your food.

So scrape and scrub them as clean as you can every time. Stainless steel scrubbers work great but you gotta be very careful not to leave pieces of wire in the pan. Especially around rivets. They aren't even allowed in commercial kitchens anymore in some places (Massachusetts). A fresh green scotch brite pad works great and is all you need 90% of the time.

Sorry for the rant. But this is something that I've fought many battles over with dishwashers and line cooks throughout the years. Some people just don't like to scrub, but it's the only way to maintain aluminum and stainless pans. Or to clean things like ovens and grills without crazy harsh chemicals.

For the home cook, if something is really stubborn, a little Bar Keepers Friend will square it away. :)
 
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Heating up a steel pan of any kind (stainless, carbon, etc.) will cause a change in the microscopic surface structure of the steel, which needs to happen before using a pan. Some carbon steel pan makers recommend a basic heating before use, or do it for you before sale. Seasoning isn't necessary -- this is a phenomenon that happens in the steel itself.

One thing that so many users don't seem to keep an eye on is that the pan has to be hot enough before it sees the food. Some pan makers (Butter Pat, for example) like to tell you to ignore seasoning and just heat the pan properly. If it isn't seasoned properly like all the YouTube videos say, you still get a very nice result from the cooking. I have one carbon steel pan that just doesn't take a durable seasoning without it flaking or peeling, so when I strip it off and just cook with the pan, getting it hot before starting, then everything works fine. Check out how to heat a pan properly on YouTube (about 60 videos available) and all kinds of articles on Wikipedia (plus look at related issues such as Mailliard Reaction which aren't quite the same but take yo to the same place).

I don't know why someone above said that carbon steel and cast iron were fading away. If you're a short-order cook, you may want to use basic stainless pans just so you can scrub them down after and never have a problem with the health inspector who may object if they just look like some food residue is remaining. But for specialist purposes or for fine cuisine -- and of course if you're cooking from home -- there's plenty of room for good carbon steel and cast iron pans, not to mention high quality copper (if copper has faded it may be because of the generally mediocre quality of thin-walled copper pans in the market today -- you still need thick copper to heat evenly and those are both expensive and heavy). Give yourself a chance with a carbon steel pan and just try heating it properly and cooking with it. Ignore your seasoning and just see how it works. You might be pleasantly surprised.
 

Mr.Wizard

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Heating up a steel pan of any kind (stainless, carbon, etc.) will cause a change in the microscopic surface structure of the steel, which needs to happen before using a pan. Some carbon steel pan makers recommend a basic heating before use, or do it for you before sale. Seasoning isn't necessary -- this is a phenomenon that happens in the steel itself.

At what temperature does this change take place?
 
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Heating up a steel pan of any kind (stainless, carbon, etc.) will cause a change in the microscopic surface structure of the steel, which needs to happen before using a pan. Some carbon steel pan makers recommend a basic heating before use, or do it for you before sale. Seasoning isn't necessary -- this is a phenomenon that happens in the steel itself.

One thing that so many users don't seem to keep an eye on is that the pan has to be hot enough before it sees the food. Some pan makers (Butter Pat, for example) like to tell you to ignore seasoning and just heat the pan properly. If it isn't seasoned properly like all the YouTube videos say, you still get a very nice result from the cooking. I have one carbon steel pan that just doesn't take a durable seasoning without it flaking or peeling, so when I strip it off and just cook with the pan, getting it hot before starting, then everything works fine. Check out how to heat a pan properly on YouTube (about 60 videos available) and all kinds of articles on Wikipedia (plus look at related issues such as Mailliard Reaction which aren't quite the same but take yo to the same place).

I don't know why someone above said that carbon steel and cast iron were fading away. If you're a short-order cook, you may want to use basic stainless pans just so you can scrub them down after and never have a problem with the health inspector who may object if they just look like some food residue is remaining. But for specialist purposes or for fine cuisine -- and of course if you're cooking from home -- there's plenty of room for good carbon steel and cast iron pans, not to mention high quality copper (if copper has faded it may be because of the generally mediocre quality of thin-walled copper pans in the market today -- you still need thick copper to heat evenly and those are both expensive and heavy). Give yourself a chance with a carbon steel pan and just try heating it properly and cooking with it. Ignore your seasoning and just see how it works. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Well, the seasoning does keep carbon and cast from rusting.

As far as heating the pan goes, I’ve been trying to explain this concept to my wife for years. Every time she makes scrambled eggs she leaves a thick cooked on mess in the pan, carbon, cast, Demeyere stainless, doesn’t matter. I make them in the same pans and they slide right out. In addition to not getting the heat right, she has a compulsion to constantly swish the eggs around and scrapes the fat off the bottom making them even more prone to sticking.
 

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Every time she makes scrambled eggs she leaves a thick cooked on mess in the pan, carbon, cast, Demeyere stainless, doesn’t matter. I make them in the same pans and they slide right out. In addition to not getting the heat right, she has a compulsion to constantly swish the eggs around and scrapes the fat off the bottom making them even more prone to sticking.
I love scrambled eggs in a stainless steel pan. I know it sounds sacrilegious, but I like my scrambled eggs to be a little brown in parts but not even set in others. Stainless just lets me see what I'm doing so much easier.

I like the water drop/mercury/Leidenfrost effect test to check pre-heating. In fact, I find it significantly harder to get eggs to come out right now in carbon steel or cast iron because I know the timing of my stainless pans from observing the leidenfrost effect; I cannot do the same test on my carbon steel or cast iron. I suspect surface roughness is too high or polymerized oil is too thermally insulating.
 

rmrf

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At what temperature does this change take place?
That's a great question. I don't know what microscopic changes happen on stainless steel, aluminum, and cast iron from 100-300C. It seems low to me for tempering and I have a hard time believing this same thing occurs on Al, cast iron, and whatever stainless they decided to use for pans.

My guess is that its the leidenfrost effect which occurs with water at 193C (390F). This is around the smoke point of a lot of oils [ref]. Canola, vegetable, grapeseed are all ~400F. Refined olive is ~450 (I use this) and evoo and butter are ~350F.
 
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At what temperature does this change take place?
The temp varies with the steel and it's also a function of both temperature and time at heat. The effect starts around 450 F and is basically completed by about 500 F or slightly higher. It takes a good bit longer at 450, very little time at 500. Again, remember it depends on the steel or iron, with ductile iron having a much more pronounced effect but taking higher temps for longer times.
 

rmrf

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The temp varies with the steel and it's also a function of both temperature and time at heat. The effect starts around 450 F and is basically completed by about 500 F or slightly higher. It takes a good bit longer at 450, very little time at 500. Again, remember it depends on the steel or iron, with ductile iron having a much more pronounced effect but taking higher temps for longer times.
I'm curious. What is happening at 450F? You said there's a microscopic change in surface structure but I'm not sure what that means. I tried to look up oxide formation but I didn't see anything that was obvious to me. Are you taking about austenite formation? I ran across a paper [Silva et al, material research 2015] but I don't know enough about material science to really comment. It didn't seem like anything significant was happening even at higher temperatures (300C) so I'm still confused.
 
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I'm curious. What is happening at 450F? You said there's a microscopic change in surface structure but I'm not sure what that means. I tried to look up oxide formation but I didn't see anything that was obvious to me. Are you taking about austenite formation? I ran across a paper [Silva et al, material research 2015] but I don't know enough about material science to really comment. It didn't seem like anything significant was happening even at higher temperatures (300C) so I'm still confused.
Sometimes I overthink things. I think it’s important just to know that there’s a difference. You may simply have to experiment with your own pans and cooktop to find what works. Cooktops generally don’t give a temperature readout like ovens do.
 
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