Carbon steel vs. 5-ply stainless steel - Guide to frying pans

Carbon steel vs. 5-ply stainless steel - Guide to frying pans

What is the difference between carbon steel and cookware in 5-ply?
Here are the main differences.

If you have worked in a professional kitchen - or just a well-equipped home kitchen - you are likely familiar with both materials. Both carbon steel and stainless steel (5-ply) are popular choices among the world's best chefs because they are incredibly versatile, durable, and provide fantastic cooking results.

At first glance, the materials may look similar - but the differences are actually significant. Here are the biggest differences between carbon steel and 5-ply:

What is carbon steel?

Chefs around the world have used carbon steel frying pans for many years. You can think of the material as a kind of hybrid between cast iron and stainless steel. Like cast iron, carbon steel consists of carbon and iron (99% iron, 1% carbon) - but carbon steel is made from a sheet, making the frying pan significantly lighter than cast iron. 

Just like cast iron, carbon steel requires special maintenance and care - they need to be greased with oil and burned before use to protect against rust and build a natural nonstick surface. The surface - or the natural nonstick - builds up over time and improves with age. 

Why should I choose carbon steel?

There are many good reasons why chefs all over the world swear by carbon steel.

  • Durability: The construction of carbon steel, consisting of iron and carbon, can withstand high temperatures, making the pan perfect for indoor and outdoor cooking - on all types of stoves, the grill, or even over a fire. If you take care of your carbon steel frying pan, it can be passed down through generations.
  • Lighter weight: Compared to cast iron pans, carbon steel is much lighter - a 24 cm pan weighs approximately 1.2 kg, making it easier and more comfortable to handle when cooking.
  • Temperature control: Carbon steel reacts faster to temperature changes compared to cast iron, which, on the other hand, retains heat for a long time - giving you ultimate heat control and allowing you to easily switch from searing your steaks at high temperature to cooking at lower temperature - without burning the food. 
  • Versatility: Whether you're cooking on the stove, in the oven, or on the grill, carbon steel handles the task. Carbon steel can withstand high temperatures (650 degrees Celsius) and can be used on all heat sources - including fire. Once the pan is well seasoned and has built up a solid patina over time, you can cook almost anything - but like cast iron, you should avoid acidic ingredients like tomatoes, wine, and citrus, as they can remove the natural nonstick surface you have built up over time. In the beginning, we recommend that you fry fatty ingredients to build up its patina - ribeyes and bacon are good examples. And it's a good idea to use a little extra fat in the beginning. You can also use carbon steel for frying in oil. 

Things to consider:

Just like with any other type of cookware, there are things you should consider before starting to cook in carbon steel.

  • Avoid certain ingredients: Acidic ingredients like citrus, tomatoes, vinegar, and wine can remove your seasoning / natural nonstick, so you need to start over with building the patina of the pan. The pan won't break, but you need to give it a new seasoning, so consider it if you often cook with acidic ingredients - e.g., tomato sauce etc. 
  • Hand wash only: We always recommend hand washing for your cookware - but especially carbon steel requires tender care, as the dishwasher can completely remove its seasoning with the risk of rust. So the recommendation from here is to clean the carbon steel pan with hot water and make sure to dry it thoroughly afterward - either in the oven or over low-medium heat on the stove. See our cleaning guide here.
  • Needs to be seasoned with oil before use: "Seasoning" - the process where you grease the pan with oil to protect against rust and achieve natural nonstick. Good things take time - and so does a good seasoning on your carbon steel pan. Over time, it will develop a super good nonstick effect, but it may be that you need to wait a bit before using it for scrambled eggs and fish.

What is 5-ply stainless steel?

Pots and pans in stainless steel are fantastic for cooking at high temperatures, provide excellent searing - and are incredibly easy to clean. Our 5-ply series consists of a five-layer construction, combining the best properties of aluminum and stainless steel, so you achieve professional results - without the food burning.

The 3 middle layers of aluminum provide perfect heat control and distribute the heat evenly and quickly throughout the pan. The outer layer of stainless steel makes the pan perfect for use on induction - and at the same time incredibly easy to clean and maintain.


Advantages of 5-ply stainless steel

It's no coincidence that 5-ply is used in the world's best restaurants. 
The advantages are many:

  • Durability: The outer layers of stainless steel make 5-ply pots and pans extremely durable and resistant to scratches, rust, and everything they can be exposed to during cooking throughout a lifetime.
  • Design: Our 5-ply series is developed based on the requirements of the country's best chefs. That's why you get a wide range of professional details such as the closed pouring rim and the ultra-comfortable CoolGrip handle, which stays cool. Read more about the design here.
  • Temperature control: The aluminum core provides fantastic heat distribution throughout the pan. This means that you can easily control the temperature without the food burning. It also makes it incredibly easy to clean. 
  • Versatility: 5-ply is your "go-to" material in the kitchen and should be the core of your collection. You can use 5-ply for everything from perfect steaks to velvety sauces (that won't separate). And you can easily make pasta sauces with acidic ingredients (e.g., tomato sauce). 


Things to consider:

There are many good reasons to choose 5-ply. But there are also some things to be aware of when you step into the kitchen.

  • Maintenance: Stainless steel / 5-ply has no nonstick coating or seasoning. This means, of course, that you don't have to worry about replacing the pan just because the coating wears off. But it also means that you need to pay attention to your technique - both when frying and cleaning the pan. Hot water and soap handle the daily cleaning. If the pan gets limescale or other stains, it can often be removed with a little vinegar mixed with a bit of baking soda.
  • Surface: You can definitely cook eggs and fish on 5-ply, but because the pan does not have a nonstick coating, it needs to be heated before use - and then you need to remember to use a good cooking oil (grapeseed oil or rapeseed oil works well) - see how easy it can be done here.
  • Weight: 5-ply is generally heavier compared to cheaper steel pans or nonstick pans - even though it's the thick construction from base to edge that provides the fantastic properties, you should be aware that it is heavier compared to pure aluminum pans or cheap steel pans.

What should you choose?

If you're unsure whether to choose carbon steel or 5-ply, our general recommendation is to see the two products as complementary - not competitors. Both materials provide incredibly good heat distribution and temperature control, can be used on all stoves or in the oven, and are incredibly versatile.

5-ply is the obvious choice as the core of your collection once you have mastered the frying technique - while carbon steel can be seen as a natural nonstick alternative to your old nonstick pans. At the same time, carbon steel is the obvious choice if you want to use the pan on the grill or over a fire. 

With both types, your kitchen arsenal is well covered for life.

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