Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron Pans: Let's Compare Them

When it comes to frying, sautéing, or any other cooking method involving a pan, its material is just as important as the ingredients. Both carbon steel and cast iron are known for their durability, as they can serve your family for decades. At the same time, they also have some significant differences. Our comparison will help you choose between carbon steel vs. cast iron.

Key Things to Know About Carbon Steel Pan vs Cast Iron

These materials have a very similar composition. They both contain around 98-99% of iron and 1-2% of carbon. Nevertheless, their behavior on the stovetop is very different. These pans do not retain heat equally, which predisposes them to different cooking methods.

Top Four Similarities

Carbon steel and cast iron are similar materials with comparable limitations, functionality, and care requirements, including seasoning. These are multifunctional items that will always come in handy, even if you decide to radically modernize your kitchen. Here are the most notable similarities of carbon steel pan vs cast iron:


You can use pans from either material for baking and frying, as they work equally well on a stovetop and in an oven. For example, if you buy a carbon steel skillet, you can sauté vegetables or cook some pizza in the oven (if you remove the wooden handle). Both types of kitchenware are suitable for induction stovetops thanks to the ferromagnetic metals they contain.

Not Acid-Resistant

Any sauces that contain acids break down the seasoning on carbon steel and cast iron pans. This happens because the acids react with their surfaces.

Seasoning Is Required

Here, carbon steel skillet vs cast iron are not very different, either, as they require coating with oil or fat. This process is known as seasoning, and the purpose is to make the surface virtually stick-free. As the oil penetrates the pores of the metal, it makes it less reactive.

Careful Washing

You should never wash these pans in a dishwasher or use any aggressive detergents. Otherwise, the seasoning will break down. Experts recommend washing with hot water using a scouring pad and only mild soap when it is absolutely necessary.

Top Four Differences Between Carbon Steel vs Cast Iron Wok

Despite their similarities, these materials have different heat retention properties, which determines the cooking instructions. You should not expect them to be equally durable, either. Discover the main distinctions of cast iron vs carbon steel below.


Cast iron is generally slightly less durable. This is due to its heavy fabrication. It makes it relatively brittle, so you can shatter or fracture these pans if you drop them. This is the first major advantage of carbon steel vs cast iron wok.

Surface: Cast Iron vs Carbon Steel Properties

Cast iron pans, as the term suggests, are formed in a cast. This explains why their surfaces have larger pores, and they are generally uneven. Thanks to higher malleability, carbon steel sheets are either pressed or hand-formed. As a result, they have a smoother surface and sides, which is another advantage of cast iron vs carbon steel wok.


Cast iron cookware is the heaviest. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is closer to stainless steel in terms of maneuverability. It is thinner.

Heat Retention: A Big Cast Iron Carbon Steel Difference

Cast iron has excellent heat retention properties. It warms up and cools down more slowly than carbon steel, but maintains the heat for a longer time. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is more suitable for delicate ingredients. It does retain heat quite well, but it also reacts to changes in the temperature faster.


Both types of cookware perform well in the oven, but very differently on the stovetop. Cast iron is best for grilling and any dishes requiring aggressive heat. On the other hand, stir-frying is easier with carbon steel, as its quicker cooling prevents burning. In addition, as the surface is more even, it is more suitable for delicate meals like scallops.

Conclusion: Carbon Steel Skillet vs Cast Iron

As you can see, carbon steel has quite a few advantages, as it is lighter, smoother, and more durable. Yet, whether to use carbon steel or cast iron cookware is up to you. Adding new cookware to your arsenal is always a good thing!
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