For all the popularity the cast-iron skillet has garnered in the last few years, it’s yet to permeate one market of excruciatingly discerning users: pro chefs. Ask the vast majority of chefs what cookware they use in their kitchens and the answer will (in all likelihood) be carbon steel.
We’ve written on the virtues of carbon steel cookware before, but it bears repeating: it possesses many of the qualities of cast iron, and even manages to improve on a few of its weaknesses.
Carbon steel’s weight and R-value (the capacity for the material to insulate heat) is similar to cast iron’s, but manages to shave off enough weight to be far more maneuverable (a trait very useful to a cook who’s tossing veggies one minute and finishing a steak the next). Once heated through, it has the insulating capacity to keep temperature when food is placed in it.
Also like cast iron, it requires seasoning. Unlike cast iron, and thanks to its higher carbon levels, it is very durable. Though the myth of cast iron’s durability continues to spread, it’s nonsensical — the iron used in cookware is exceedingly brittle, meaning one small drop could spell doom for the entire piece. Carbon steel is not going to break when dropped or mishandled. In addition, because it is less pourous, it’s far more naturally non-stick (though not quite Teflon levels of non-stick).
I spoke with Smithey Ironware founder and cast-iron skillet maker Isaac Morton about carbon steel’s comparatively low appeal in the consumer world. He attributes this to a shorter, less storied past. Morton said, “People’s parents and grandparents and great-grandparents all grew up around cast-iron skillets. You just don’t have that with carbon steel — it’s not as romantic.”
Today, these Matfer carbon steel skillets are discounted fairly deeply on Massdrop. Matfer Bourgeat is a family French business that expanded stateside 25 or so years ago. Its main customers are chefs, hotels and catering services.
A note on Massdrop:
Massdrop is not like other online retailers. It’s a members-only site that requires signing up (all it takes is an email address). If you’re not a member, you can sign up here. When you place an order from Massdrop at a discounted price, you’re not buying from them directly. The site works by taking orders from consumers, then bulk ordering product at a discount directly from brands and other wholesalers. For more information on how Massdrop works, click here.
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