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Can You Cook Tomatoes in a Carbon Steel Pan?

Can You Cook Tomatoes in a Carbon Steel Pan?

Can You Cook Tomatoes in a Carbon Steel Pan?

A common question we receive is whether you can cook tomatoes in a carbon steel pan.

One of our staff members advised: "The acidity in tomatoes can react with the metal, potentially giving the food a metallic taste and damaging the pan's seasoning."

However, based on my experience using a nitrided carbon steel frypan from our own brand, I’ve had no issues cooking tomatoes.

So, Who is Right?

Both perspectives have merit.

Tomatoes are acidic and can strip the seasoning from carbon steel pans. This seasoning is crucial for a non-stick surface and rust prevention. Acidic ingredients like tomatoes can break down this layer, particularly in non-nitrided pans. For more details on nitrided vs. non-nitrided pans, see this article.

But why have I not had problems?

It comes down to cooking time, type of pan, and proper seasoning. Short cooking times are key. I fry tomatoes for a few minutes and avoid simmering or stewing them for longer than 10 minutes. Longer cooking times can strip away the protective oil layer.

The acidity level of the tomatoes also matters. Fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce are less acidic than tomato paste.

Using Tomatoes Safely

  • Well-Seasoned Nitrided Pan: Ensure your nitrided carbon steel pan is well-seasoned before cooking tomatoes. A strong seasoning layer can withstand brief exposure to acidity.
  • Short Cooking Time: Keep cooking times short to avoid wearing down the seasoning.
  • Post-Cooking Care: After cooking with tomatoes, clean the pan gently with warm water and a soft sponge. Avoid abrasive scrubbers which can further damage the seasoning.
  • Re-seasoning: Regular re-seasoning is crucial, especially after cooking acidic foods. Apply a thin layer of oil and heat the pan to restore the protective layer.

If you frequently cook tomatoes, consider investing in a stainless steel pan or wok.

View our Japanese carbon steel woks and frypans here.

Kai, our product specialist at My Cookware®, is the author of this article.

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