Stainless Steel vs Carbon Steel Fry Pans

by R7 eagle | Last Updated:  May 8, 2021
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I was looking for a new pan for my kitchen but there were so many choices I found it difficult to make a decision as to what kind of pan or skillet to buy. I had many questions about stainless steel vs carbon steel so I decided to do some research to find the answers.

Here is a short list of the difference between stainless steel pans and carbon steel pans that I came up with during my research.

Facts about Stainless Steel Cookware:

  • Stainless steel is a metal alloy consisting of around 10.5% chromium and varying percentages of several other metals, like nickel, molybdenum (Molybdenum increases the corrosion resistance of this chromium-nickel alloy to withstand attack by many industrial chemicals and solvents, and, in particular, inhibits pitting caused by chlorides. Molybdenum is one of the single most useful alloying additives in the fight against corrosion. Chromium enhances durability and protects against rust by forming when exposed to air, a non-toxic, passive film of chromium oxide.
  • The presence of a minimum of 10.5 % chromium in the stainless steel gives it the property of corrosion resistance. When chromium reacts with oxygen it forms chromium oxide automatically.
  • Stainless steel can allow other metals to leach into the foods.
  • Stainless steel does not sear meat well.
  • Generally, stainless cookware does not need to be seasoned.
  • Stainless steel can be seasoned but my understanding is that it must be re-seasoned frequently.
  • Stainless steel can be difficult to make non-stick.
  • Cooking eggs with stainless steel is not-stick.
  • Stainless steel cookware is lighter than carbon steel.
  • Stainless steel can be cleaned in a dishwasher without damage.
  • I have read that you can cook in the oven with stainless steel.
  • Some stainless steel is non-magnetic which means you cannot use it on induction cooking stoves.
  • Stainless steel does not conduct heat well, so cookware is usually made with an aluminum or copper core. A sheet of aluminum or copper sandwiched between the stainless steel improves the pot’s heating ability.
  • If the aluminum or copper core becomes scratched, grooved or worn and is exposed then it would be a good idea to replace your cookware. If your pot is rusting (stainless can rust) or if there are signs that the core is wearing through, replace the pot because it’s most likely leaching those metals into your food.
  • Nickle can leach into your food if the stainless pan is scratched.

Facts about Carbon Steel Cookware:

  • Carbon steel consists of about 1% carbon and 98% to 99% iron.
  • Carbon steel is usually heavier than stainless steel.
  • Carbon steel cookware leaches iron into your food. Iron is a healthy mineral that our body needs this can be a great benefit.
  • Carbon steel needs to be seasoned.
  • Putting your carbon steel pan in your dishwasher is not recommended.
  • If you cook acid or alkaline foods, the seasoning may come off.
  • Re-seasoning a carbon steel pan is easy.
  • Carbon steel cookware is good at retaining heat.
  • Carbon steel pans will last a lifetime if cared for properly.
  • Carbon steel cookware is made with a long handle, which helps when lifting or controlling your pan. Most have a hole in the handle so you can hang it up by the handle.
  • Carbon steel cookware is reasonably priced as compared to other cookware.
  • Carbon steel cookware can be made Non-Stick if seasoned properly.
  • Carbon steel cookware sears meat perfectly.
  • Carbon steel cookware can be put in an oven at high temperatures.

What are the Elements of Stainless Steel?

Here is a list of the elements found in various forms in the manufacture of stainless steel:

  • Nickel (a toxic heavy metal)
  • Chromium (a toxic heavy metal)
  • Molybdenum
  • Vanadium
  • Titanium
  • Aluminum
  • Niobium
  • Copper
  • Nitrogen
  • Sulfur
  • Phosphorus
  • Selenium

What is Austenitic Steel?

Some people have asked me what the heck is Austenitic steel?

Austenitic stainless steel is a specific type of stainless steel alloy. Stainless steels may be classified by their crystalline structure into four main types: austeniticferritic, martensitic, and duplex.

Austenitic steels contain 16 to 26 percent chromium and up to 35 percent nickel, usually have the highest corrosion resistance. They are not hardenable by heat treatment and are nonmagnetic. The most common type is the 18/8, or 304, grade, which contains 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel. Typical applications include aircraft and the dairy and food-processing industries

Grades and Groups of Stainless Steel

There are over 100 grades of stainless steel.

There are five major groups in the family of stainless steel. Not all are used in stainless steel cookware.

The following 5 groups of stainless steel are:

  • austenitic
  • Ferritic
  • martensitic
  • Duplex
  • Precipitation-hardening

Is the Use of Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?

After researching this safety issue,  I found that if you use stainless steel cookware while acknowledging the potential hazards, you should be safe if you take into consideration the possible side effects and take sensible precautions.

What are Sensible Precautions in Using Stainless Steel Cookware?

Most authorities on the safety of using stainless steel cookware say that it is safe to use it. Please note that I am not an authority and I always prefer to do my own research.

I would recommend that you discard your stainless steel if deep scratches appear in the bottom of your stainless steel pans. The possibility of nickel or other metals leaching into your food is present even in a very very small amount. Is it worth the risk? You will have to make that determination.

Because there are many metals (some are toxic heavy metals) or elements that go into the making of stainless steel, the degree of potential side effects is far greater than that of the manufacture of carbon steel cookware. In carbon steel cookware there are only two ingredients….iron and carbon. Neither of these is heavy metals or toxic.

The Dangers of Nickle and Chromium Use in the Manufacture of Stainless Steel

Nickle and Chromium are added to the stainless steel process in order to make the product more durable, reliable, functional, and beautiful. The problem is that Nickle and Chromium are considered toxic heavy metals. There are health risks that are associated with mixing Nickle and Chromium in this process. Since they are both heavy metals, some people, especially women, can experience health effects when exposed to Nickle and Chromium. They have found that an amount of just 67 micrograms or so causes contact dermatitis or eczema symptoms in about 10% or so of women exposed to Nickle or Chromium. This amount of nickel is equivalent to a tomato-based pasta meal cooked in stainless steel.

There are some reports that state that an amount greater than 67 micrograms of nickel can cause Alzheimer-like symptoms. I have yet to verify this.

Nickle and Chromium are known to be genotoxic, evidence for DNA damage in our study only exists in response to chromium. Nickel-induced a hypoxic response as well as inducing genes involved in chromatin structure, perhaps by replacing iron in key proteins. Look here for further research into Nickel, Chromium, and other toxic heavy metals.

When they first start to make stainless steel they have to reduce the amount of carbon in the mixture of other elements. To do so they have to carefully inject argon gas and oxygen into the liquid steel. This will reduce the carbon in the manufacturing process to carbon monoxide. The trick is to reduce the carbon without reducing the chromium which is more expensive, hence the argon gas oxygen injection.

What is the Best Stainless Steel Pan to Buy?

When you buy any type of cookware you first have to determine:

  • What kind of foods will you be cooking?
  • How many people will you be cooking for?
  • Where will you store your cookware?
  • Is it dishwater safe?
  • How much do I want to spend?
  • Have the reviews been read?
  • What are the return policies?

If I were to buy stainless steel cookware I would make sure it has these features:

  • It is not made in China
  • It is not one of those really cheap stainless steel sets

I would recommend the All-Clad 401488R Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Cookware Set by Amazon