The Honest Truth About Carbon Steel Pans
The carbon steel pans made by JAO Originals are not pre-seasoned. They have a light coating of cooking oil applied to protect the surface from rust and that is all. So let's talk about seasoning. Some people say olive oil, some say flax seed, some say grape seed, and there are dozens more opinions about what should and should not be used for seasoning. Should carbon steel pans even be seasoned? Let's face it, a seasoned pan can be a real pain for some people. A lot of it comes down to personal preference and the conditions the pan is being used under. Seasoned pans like higher heat. To keep food from sticking, unseasoned pans require a lot more care about how much heat is used. Let's take a closer look.
Carbon steel is constantly compared to cast iron with many saying there is little difference except for carbon content. Cast iron has a carbon content of 2% or greater. Low carbon steel has a carbon content less than 0.25%. That difference in carbon is enough to create two completely different materials with completely different strengths and weaknesses.
Cast iron cookware is made by pouring molten cast iron into molds. The molten material takes on the form of the mold and is then allowed to cool until it becomes solid. Nothing from this point forward changes. The amount of carbon and other alloying agents that were in the molten material determines the internal structure and porousness of the cast iron pan. It can not be changed.
Low carbon steel also starts as molten material and while it can be cast the bulk of carbon steels are poured into molds that form ingots. After cooling, ingots are sent to rolling mills that create the flat, round and bar shaped materials that the daily items around us are made from. So how do they create flat sheet from a rectangular ingot that weighs thousands of pounds? Basically by squeezing it through sets of rollers that exert tremendous pressures on the material and gradually reduce the thickness a little at a time. Eventually you have an extremely long piece of metal at the thickness you desire. Granted, there is a lot more detail to the process than I have put in this one paragraph but my purpose is to provide a general overview that shows the difference between cast iron and carbon steel.
Because of the low carbon content of carbon steel, it is not a porous material to begin with but the compressive pressures that it goes through during the rolling process assures a very tight structure in the metal. This is why so many people have trouble seasoning carbon steel pans. With cast iron, no matter how much it is machined or polished the fact that it is a porous material can not be changed and that makes it easier to season. The oils, the greases, and the fats have something to leach into and grab hold of making the seasoning on cast iron more durable. With such a tight structure, carbon steel is the complete opposite as greases and oils have a much harder time bonding to the surface.
Personally I don't season my carbon pans. I use them for whatever I want and never have to worry about the seasoning peeling off. Simply add butter or oil to the bottom of the pan and start cooking at a lower temperature. I've had good results and very few sticking issues because of the nature of carbon steel. Cleanup is always simple if I've used enough butter and I don't think twice about using a green scrubber for anything left behind. There's no seasoning to damage! In my opinion there are more advantages to just using the pan and not worrying about seasoning. If the way you cook and the foods you cook promote seasoning, over time, it's going to happen on it's own.
The best advice I can give anyone is don't stress with what so many on the internet and elsewhere are promoting regarding seasoning a pan. Carbon steel cookware is very forgiving so take the time to experiment and find what works for you. But remember, you will have greater success regarding food not sticking by using a lower heat with an unseasoned pan.
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Cotton Blossom Crafts / JAO