The Proper Care and Feeding of a Handmade Carbon Steel Skillet
Caring for a carbon steel skillet from McMurry Hand Forged!
Our skillets are handmade using centuries old methods in the blacksmith shop here at McMurry Hand Forged with hammer and anvil. The steel is worked slowly and precisely to sink the shape of the pan, and the handle is drawn out and punched to create the decorative finial.
A primer on carbon steel
What's the difference between carbon steel and cast iron?
Honestly, not all that much. While I could tie myself in knots trying to parse their relative thermodynamic properties, the bottom line is carbon steel and cast iron are remarkably similar. They're both very good at retaining heat, so that once they get hot, they stay hot. This makes them ideal for tasks like searing steaks or crisping up chicken skin. Like cast iron, with proper seasoning—the process of heating the pan up repeatedly with a thin layer of oil until it builds up into a layer of shiny black polymers—they acquire near non-stick qualities. They can both be taken directly from the stovetop into the oven, and they're both tough materials that will last longer than a lifetime.
First, if you're at all a fan of vintage cast iron, with its thinner build and smoother surface than the new stuff sold today, carbon steel will appeal to you: This skillet was hand forged from steel, not cast in sand like cast iron, which gives it a smooth surface similar to vintage cast iron. This also means that a perfectly seasoned carbon steel pan will have better non-stick properties than a perfectly seasoned modern cast iron pan. Better even than some teflon-coated pans. Also, teflon is nasty stuff!
Second, there's a form-factor consideration. Carbon steel and cast iron are mostly interchangeable in cookware as far as the metals themselves go, but their shapes are different enough to be a significant factor: most cast iron skillets have vertical sides, making them great for tasks like shallow-frying chicken or baking things like cornbread or pan pizza.
Most carbon steel pans, on the other hand, have curved sloped sides, making them much better suited to sautéing. When it comes to tossing food in a skillet, if you want to launch something skyward, you need to send it off a sloping ramp, not crash it into a wall. Carbon steel shapes are perfect for that.
The next consideration is tradition. The steel skillet pre-dates the cast iron skillet by quite some time, and it’s excellent non-stick properties are hard to beat, even by today’s standards! This skillet will last many generations if properly cared for, and will only get better and more non-stick with use! Carbon steel is great for camp cookware, as there’s nothing on this pan for open flame to hurt. No plastics, silicons, rubbers, etc. There’s nothing on this pan to get hurt, or to burn off and hurt you!
Use and care
First, what’s up with the color?
That’s the seasoning, and it’s perfectly normal.
This skillet has had its first seasoning done for you, but as you use it, the seasoning will develop and get better. Unlike cast iron, which usually seasons black, a seasoned carbon steel pan will develop a deep bronze or chocolate color. Continued use will make the seasoning either lighten up or darken, depending on your cooking styles. Should you ever desire to reseason, you can easily do this by placing the skillet in a 400+ degree oven, bringing it up to temperature (usually takes 10 mins or so) and then wiping it down with a thin layer of a high smoke-point oil, like Canola. After you’ve got it nice and glossy with oil, toss it back in the oven upside down at 500+ degrees and let it cook for about an hour. That’s one coat! You can repeat this as many times as you’d like! You can’t overseason. Use it often and it’ll likely not need reseasoning!
To clean up after a meal, treat it just like cast iron. Wipe it out while still hot, or gently scrub away any clingy bits. That’s it! For long term storage, a gentle oil wipe is good to prevent corrosion. The key to a happy skillet is regular use.