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How to Clean and Care for a Carbon Steel Pan

The secret to a carbon steel pan’s long-term success is proper care. Read on for all the cooking, cleaning and storing tips.

5 min read

There’s a lot to love about carbon steel: It’s lightweight and easy to move around, and it’s flexible too, equally at home in the oven or on electric or gas stovetops, the grill, or an open fire. (A carbon-steel frypan is a must-bring next time you go camping; sorry, cast-iron.) Plus, carbon steel heats up fast, cooks evenly, and cools down quickly—and it has excellent nonstick qualities that, like good wine, improve with age.

Yes, the benefits of carbon steel pans are aplenty, but to keep their superpowers going strong, they do need a little special attention. Here, the DOs and DON’Ts of how to clean a carbon steel pan as well as how to cook with, store and care for carbon steel so it stays in tip-top performance shape for days, months, and heck, years to come.

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How to Prep a Carbon Steel Pan

DO wash your pan off with warm, soapy water before using it for the very first time. Carbon steel cookware sometimes comes with a waxy coating that keeps it from rusting in transit. A first wash will remove that coating.

DO season your pan before cooking with it, even if your pan comes pre-seasoned. Here’s how: Heat a tablespoon or two of a neutral, high-smoke point oil (like coconut, flaxseed, grapeseed or peanut) in the pan, then, using tongs and a paper towel, rub the hot oil all over the inside of the pan. Heat again until smoking. Another method: Rub a tablespoon of oil over the inside of the pan when it’s cool, then bake upside down over a cookie sheet (to catch oil drips) in a 350-degree oven for an hour.

How to Cook With a Carbon Steel Pan

DO let your carbon steel pan preheat before cooking with it. This prevents the surface from warping and cuts down on hot spots.

DO protect yourself from burns by using an oven mitt when touching the pan’s handle, or use silicone handle covers. As with cast iron pans, carbon steel handles absorb heat.

DO use wooden utensils and silicone cooking tools. Generally speaking, carbon steel can handle metal utensils, but if your pan is pre-seasoned, the metal can scratch the coating.

DON’T scrape hard against the pan’s surface, no matter what tool you choose, since you could risk stripping off the seasoning.

DON’T cook highly acidic foods (such as citrus, tomatoes or vinegar) in carbon steel cookware. Their acidity breaks down the seasoning.

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How to Clean a Carbon Steel Pan

DO let your pan slowly cool down after cooking rather than running it under cold water or plunging it into a sink bath. This helps protect the surface from warping.

DO wash carbon steel cookware by hand. It’s ok to use a drizzle of dish soap on carbon steel, if necessary. Too much will remove the coating. Use a nylon or other not-too-abrasive scrub brush or pad (skip the steel wool). For food that’s super stuck, clean pans by adding a little water and simmering for a few minutes, then try again.

DO dry the pan right away after cleaning it, to help preserve the seasoning. Soaking carbon steel or letting it sit wet for too long also leads to rust. Alternatively, heat the pan for a minute or two over a low-heat burner or in the oven to evaporate any residual water.

DON’T put your carbon steel pan in the dishwasher, as that will remove the pan’s seasoning and may cause rust.

How to Care for a Carbon Steel Pan

DO spray or pour a small amount of neutral oil (about a teaspoon) into the pan after cleaning it, or spray a paper towel and rub it into the pan’s surface. This helps preserve carbon steel’s nonstick qualities and prevent rust.

DO protect the surface from scratches. If you must stack pans together; nestle a paper towel or dish towel in between pans.

What to cook in your carbon steel pan now that you know how to take care of it? Try one of these quick and delicious stir frys.


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