Cast Iron Vs Carbon Steel

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Cast Iron and Carbon Steel are two types of metals that have been used to make cookware for many years. They both offer their own set of benefits, but which is the better option? This article will compare and contrast the two metals to help you figure out which one is the perfect option for your project – let's get right into it. Be sure to also check out our guide for brushed nickel vs. chrome for your home hardware.

Cast Iron vs Carbon Steel – The Basics

Both cast iron and carbon steel are types of steel and are composed primarily of chromium, manganese, and silicon, although they differ in their processing.

Also, cast iron is molten, carbon steel is cast. Carbon Steel contains only trace amounts of silicon and manganese, with the most prominent elements being carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus.

What is the difference between cast iron and carbon steel?

So how do they differ? Carbon steel is a pretty straightforward metal. It only has one phase (body-centered cubic), but it does have different allotropic forms. On the other hand, casting iron has two phases and an oxide scale layer on its surface.

They are composed primarily of chromium, manganese, and silicon, although they differ in their processing.

cast iron vs carbon steel
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For the most part, cast iron outranks carbon steel in terms of durability because it can withstand more thermal shock without cracking or breaking which makes it perfect for cooking eggs over. However, when it comes to seasoning a pan (which is a method used to create a non-stick surface), carbon steel can get the job done much quicker than cast iron. 

Cast Iron vs Carbon Steel – The Manufacturing Process

Cast iron and carbon steel are made using very similar processes; both involve the use of large amounts of heat and pressure along with molten metal. They are also made in a variety of shapes such as ingots, billets, and slabs. Both types are then broken down into smaller pieces called blooms for further processing. After that comes rolling or forging which involves turning them into bars that can be used to make cookware.

What are Cast Iron Cookware's Strengths & Weaknesses?

Cast iron cookware offers plenty of benefits that make it a great choice for both inside the kitchen as well as outside it on the grill or in a campfire. One of the best features of this type of cookware is that cast iron tends to hold heat very well when compared to other materials like aluminum. It is also more durable than many other types of metal cookware which makes it perfect for camping trips as you won't have to worry about how heavy your cooking setup will be when carrying it around.

Cast iron cookware can also be a great choice for cooking outdoors because it gives food extra flavor. Unlike other types of metal, cast iron retains its seasoning better. This type of cookware is also extremely affordable as compared to many other metals and better yet – there are plenty of places that offer second hand cast-iron pans at bargain prices so don't worry about spending too much on this type of equipment.

Cast iron is pretty fragile and can break if it is dropped or is struck with something too hard. Though, carbon steel fares even worse in this department as having your cookware drop on the floor could cause damage to your stove or worse – an oven fire.

Another major problem with cast iron cookware that cannot be ignored is that it requires a lot of upkeep. To get rid of any corrosion, you will need to continuously apply layers of seasoning before cooking in the pan. This process can be extremely frustrating and time-consuming for many people which is why they tend to avoid cooking with cast-iron cookware unless it's necessary.

What are carbon steel's cookware strengths & weaknesses?

When cooking with carbon steel, it is generally easier to work this material because it doesn't require seasoning before usage. Carbon steel is also much lighter than cast iron and can be used for a variety of different things such as making forks, knives, razors, and even bicycles. It possesses many qualities that make it comparable to high-end types of metal like aluminum but with one major catch – carbon steel costs a lot less money.

The biggest issue facing users of this type of cookware is when they try to maintain its nonstick surface. Because carbon steel tends to rust easily, most people who use it will need to re-apply oil after each usage. There are also a few things to note when it comes to cleaning carbon steel, so cleaning is also something to consider.

cleaning carbon steel pan
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Which one should you choose for your cooking?

Well, that depends on the type of cooking you do. If you typically cook more eggs or fish and want a non-stick surface then cast iron would be the best choice for you. But if you need something that can withstand higher temperatures without cracking or breaking then carbon steel is what you should be using – here’s our recommendations for the best carbon steel pan you can buy. 

Both materials offer their unique benefits and both have an array of disadvantages – so which one will work better for your needs?

As mentioned before, cast iron outranks carbon steel when it comes to durability. This means that if you drop your pan onto the floor, it is less likely to damage your stove or cause an oven fire compared to its carbon steel counterpart. Additionally, cast iron cookware is easier to maintain and season than carbon steel which means you won't have to worry about spending hours on end trying to get the seasoning perfectly even throughout your pan.

The difference between cast iron vs carbon steel
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However, that doesn't mean carbon steel isn't without its benefits – it offers plenty when used correctly, particularly when cooking outdoors. For example, if you are planning a camping trip I would highly recommend using carbon steel as it will be flat-out lighter than cast-iron cookware and much more durable against outdoor elements such as wind or rain. Also, since carbon steel takes on seasoning so easily, you can expect your food to come out with extra flavor compared to other types of metals like aluminum or copper. Like I mentioned before, this type of cookware is also incredibly affordable as compared with other metals like copper or aluminum.

Black vs Grey Cast Iron Cookware

As you probably already know there is black cast iron cookware, but did you also know there's grey cast iron? Black cast iron was once the most popular type of cast iron on the market, but these days it has been largely replaced by grey cast iron. This is because black cast iron doesn't hold heat quite as well as grey and it's harder to regulate the temperature when cooking which can often lead to dramatic spikes and drops in temperatures that could potentially ruin your food.

Final thoughts on cast iron vs carbon steel

Overall, both cast iron and carbon steel are two highly dependable types of metal that can be used to make delicious meals in the kitchen – no matter how you choose to use them they will last you for many years to come. 

Just remember that each material has its strengths and weaknesses so it's really up to you as the buyer to determine which one works best for your needs. If you are cooking at home then I would recommend using cast iron but if you want something lighter and more durable when outdoors on a hiking trip then go ahead and purchase yourself a quality carbon-steel pan.


Ben James

Ben James

Ben is an experienced content writer with a passion for kitchen remodeling. He loves writing about latest kitchen designs & trends so that he can educate our readers make the best decisions possible when it comes to kitchens.

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