Enameled Cast Iron Vs. Cast Iron

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Updated Oct 26, 2016 – Many people hear about cast iron cookware and are surprised to find that there are various types available. You may have decided that you want to begin cooking with cast iron pots and pans but you may not know where to begin.

Enameled Cast Iron vs Cast Iron

Enameled Cast Iron vs Cast Iron.

While bare, uncoated cast iron and enameled cast iron cookware do have similar features and provide comparable benefits, there are a few key differences to note when deciding to purchase the cookware. Me? I started with vintage cast iron, WagnerWare Cast Iron and the newer stuff from Lodge.

The goal of this post is to compare Enameled Cast Iron vs Cast Iron.

It’s the battle of heavy metal!  

Sort of… Here is a quick summary in a table before we go deep…

CharacteristicEnameled Cast IronBare Cast IronWinner?
RustWill not rust.Can rust so it must be seasonedEnameled
Cookability, Non-StickFood may stickFood may stick if the seasoning is poor. Repeated
cooking will help the seasoning and non-stick quality.
Bare Cast Iron
Add Iron to your DietNope, the enamel keeps the iron outIron will get into the food, though a well-seasoned
piece will not add as much.
Depends on if you WANT iron in your food
Cooking Acidic FoodsPerfect for cooking acidic foods like chili
and spaghetti sauce.
Less desirable since the acidic foods will strip the
seasoning, especially if you simmer for a long time.
CostUsually more expensiveUsually cheaperBare Cast Iron
DurabilityLess durable most of the time. The paint
can chip off and you wouldn’t use enameled
cast iron in a campfire, right?
Almost literally bulletproof. You can get a piece of
cast iron that’s 100 years old and rusty, then restore
it to like-new conditions.
Bare Cast Iron
(Links go to Amazon)
Enameled Skillet
Enameled Dutch Oven
Bare Cast Iron Skillet
Bare Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Enameled Cast Iron

Enameled cast iron cookware is comparable to stainless steel in terms of its non-stick characteristics. (See great Enameled Cast Iron on Amazon.)
Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

What is Enamel  Coated Cast Iron?

It’s like regular cast iron, but… Wait for it… It’s coated by enameled paint.

“Why coat perfectly good cast iron?” Glad you asked…

It’s safe to use with acidic foods, like tomato based sauces or chilis, and has a high heat retention due to its thickness and generally awesome cast iron qualities. Additionally, these skillets are also safe to use in the oven, on all stoves and on the grill.

I would slightly hesitate to use the really ornate, pricy cast iron out on the barbie due to the risk of damaging the somewhat delicate, glossy coating. I am talking about something like Le Creuset or a comparable brand. Like this one on Amazon:

Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-Quart

Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-Quart Dutch Oven. Image courtesy of Pearlsa

Enameled cast iron is also heavy which may be a positive or a negative depending on if you have other plans for the cookware such as protection against an intruder.

If you don’t have a sandwich or panini press you can use a preheated dutch oven or skillet.

Enameled cast iron also has a lower thermal conductivity when compared to simple cast iron; many chefs use the time it will take to heat up an enamel cast iron Dutch oven and complete other tasks in the meantime.

These skillets are also more expensive than traditional cast iron, particularly when you compare well-known brand names, like Le Creuset. However, if you can find these skillets at flea markets, thrift stores or from an aging relative, you may be able to save some money.

Lodge Manufacturing Company EC6D13 Dutch Oven, 6 QT on Amazon

Even Lodge has gotten into the enameled cast iron game, and who could blame them with the prices of some of the imported pieces.

The quality is no doubted high to exceptional but if you’re on a budget then the price tag may make you reconsider.  Additionally, the pans and pots vary in their knobs, handles and shape, but you can often order replacement knobs for a dollar or two; your off-brand, never-heard-of-before skillet can now be safely used in the oven.

Usually enameled cast iron makers advise using low to medium heat, which is a little limiting if you intend on searing steaks for example.

Avoid using metal utensils in enameled cast iron; it is possible to chip the coating. However, should such a situation occur, simply season the pan again.

You are only exposing the cast iron – that doesn’t mean you cannot use the pan anymore.  Enameled cast iron will not hold flavors as readily as a traditional cast iron skillet.

This is really a positive and a negative.  Let’s say I’ve just fried some catfish in my Lodge 10.25″ cast iron skillet – Yum Yum!  Let’s say I want to make some pine apple upside down cake the very next day.

I think you can see the point! It’s certainly not a deal breaker for the bare cast iron but I think it’s clear that the enamel coating could be handy in some cases.

Cast Iron

The Standard: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Oven with Dual Handles, 5-Quart. I am not actually a fan of the pre-seasoning from Lodge or the roughness. If you can snag an heirloom Wagner Ware or Griswold, then you can see the difference.

The Standard: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Oven with Dual Handles, 5-Quart. I am not actually a fan of the pre-seasoning from Lodge or the roughness. If you can snag an heirloom Wagner Ware or Griswold, then you can see the difference.

Bare, uncoated cast iron is relatively cheap compared to traditional cookware and enameled cast iron. In fact, some lucky chefs can inherit cast iron skillets from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers because cast iron dates back to the 5th century BC.

While you may not have a pan quite that old even though your grandmother may resemble otherwise, cast iron cookware is sturdy and can last for generations.

Some people consider, the author included, the older, vintage cast iron pieces to be superior in quality and the antique stuff just gives you the warm and fuzzies too.

Cast iron, when properly seasoned, is the original nonstick pan. Many veteran chefs and beginners alike agree that it is the best type of cookware for searing and blackening.

Even if you simply need a pan to use under the broiler or a good weapon to guard against an intruder, nearly everyone should own at least one sturdy cast iron skillet.

It’s pretty much a staple in the American kitchen and for good reason.

Bare cast iron can help to evenly deliver heat more efficiently as the result of the unique radiative properties of the dark metal. Additionally, if you have an iron deficiency, bare cast iron can help to add extra iron into your food.

This is an important thing to consider to help get the trace elements that are needed, especially if you or anyone in your family suffers from Iron deficiency anemia.

It isn’t just an tale that your grandma told you – the Journal of Food Science conducted a study with the results published in 2006.

The amount of iron (Fe to the chemistry folks) varied greatly based on the acidic pH or organic acids but the food contained significantly more iron than food cooked in anything else than uncoated cast iron.  We try to cook on cast iron 3-4 times a week around here.
However, while a heavy cast iron pan can help you to protect your home in the middle of the night, the skillets are fairly heavy to lift. These pans must be seasoned and should rarely be used to cook acidic foods because the acid can wear away the seasoning to the point where the food will come into contact with bare iron, causing a reaction.

While it is always fun to experiment with new flavors, you may not want to taste metal when you are sitting down to dinner with your family.  Moderation is key to the acidic food – I make a chili in my dutch ovens every now and then but don’t do it everyday or let it simmer for more than 3-4 hours.

I would skip the pasta sauce (Sunday Gravy) if you’re planning on simmering/braising for many, many hours.

If you do not treat cast iron with care, you risk shattering or cracking the skillet. Avoid placing the pan in water while it is still hot; the temperature difference can damage the skillet by warping or cracking it.

Additionally, use caution if you have a smooth, glass top range; you risk scratching the service, making it more difficult to clean. I have a glass top stove myself and we haven’t had any issues so just be careful and I think your stove will be okay.

These skillets also have the potential to rust and have a low thermal conductivity; it may take a while to properly heat up a pan to cooking temperatures.  The low thermal conductivity has a plus side since the pan will stay hot for longer. Be sure to use oven mitts whenever you’re picking up hot cast iron.

This is why they serve fajitas on cast iron; the hot, searing metal keeps the food hot while you’re stuffing your face full of tasty Tex-Mex.

Wagnerware Cast Iron Skillet 1053
Wagnerware Cast Iron Skillet 1053

If you are searching for a cast iron skillet, inspect it to make sure the handle is usable; a pan with a stubby handle will cause nothing but headaches when the time comes to cook.
It wouldn’t be unusable but you may need to task it with other jobs aside from typical skillet tasks – maybe use it as a deep dish pizza pan…?

Enameled Cast Iron vs. Cast Iron – Who is the Winner?

Both enameled cast iron and bare cast iron have positives and drawbacks; if you are in the market for new cast iron cookware or an enamel cast iron Dutch oven, it is vital that you do your research to determine what type is best for you.

However, if you aren’t picky and you are on a budget, start hounding family and friends to see if anyone has an extra skillet that they are not using or scout out nearby thrift stores and garage sales to score the best deals.

Regardless of what type of cast iron you choose, you will be able to cook with pans that have been around for centuries.  Just get one of each…They both have their place in your kitchen.

If you pressed me, I would go for the bare, naked, uncoated, unadulterated cast iron.  It think it has the edge in durability. See how to care for your cast iron cookware here.

Enameled Cast Iron Vs. Cast Iron

What Next?  Do you already have your cast iron and wonder what you can cook with it?

(Read more about Wagner Cast Iron)

Resources about Cast Iron and Enameled Cast Iron:

Photo Credits to fowler&fowler at wikimedia commons and parityytirap, johnny.hunter at flickr creative commons , Photo courtesy of sierravalleygirl via flickr creative commons
12 comments… add one
  • Liz Feb 26, 2015, 9:19 pm

    Enameled cast iron is pretty, but doesn’t it defeat the whole “spirit” of traditional cast iron? Do you still get the iron benefits when it is covered in enamel?

    • The Kitchen Professor Mar 3, 2015, 4:30 pm

      Hey Liz – Thanks for coming by!

      Well, enameled cast iron has its place. 🙂 You can cook acidic foods for long periods in the enameled cast iron – like spaghetti sauce.

      No, you wouldn’t get iron unless you use the bare (yet seasoned) cast iron.

    • SDH Aug 20, 2016, 5:24 am

      One of the reasons they make cast iron cook wear is heat retention, both enabled and regular,cast iron cook wear will benefit from the retained even cooking.

  • jpgocats Mar 3, 2015, 8:36 am

    I love my cast iron skillets that were my Grandmother’s wedding presents in 1918.

    I also love my enameled pots for searing and baking because they are so easy to clean.

    I enjoy them both.

    • The Kitchen Professor Mar 3, 2015, 4:31 pm

      Hey jpgocats – Great point about the easy cleaning. And, searing is a great experience as well.

      I enjoy them both, too. Thanks for coming by!

  • Peggy Gilbey McMackin Mar 24, 2015, 8:12 am

    Each type of cookware has merits. I use cast iron for specific purposes, but most every day of the week my blue colored Le Creuset sits atop my kitchen stove, simmering a soup, a tomato gravy, an Indian curry, a stew. It also looks lovely for serving a daily meal, and is easy to clean.

  • Patrick Jun 5, 2015, 10:07 pm

    Cast iron is a collecting experience, as I learn the history, and the use, of
    all my collected pieces. All of mine are used for cooking. Many hang on ‘S’ hooks, between use, on the expanded mesh shelves of my baker’s racks.
    One irk is that some folks emote a bad opinion of some cast iron, based on where it is made, or the name of the seller. Just propwash, of no value
    to anyone who is looking for a bargain, and will use the stuff.
    My favorite pan is a No. 8 BS&R frying pan, of 1900-1940. Smooth interior,
    that makes perfect omelets! But, I also have some MSE and no name China made ware, that serves equally well!
    Point here, is that you may use what you have found, if it is in good shape, not cracked or warped! Just enjoy!

    • Kitchen Professor Nov 11, 2016, 10:57 am

      I have some no-name, unlabeled pieces too, and they are great! They made some great ones in China (gasp!) back in the day.

      If I have my choice, I’ll be using my Wagner most of the time…. And if I’m on the grill, I’ll use my 10 Lodge since it’s thicker and more bulletproof. And heck the Lodge was under $20 at Walmart so I don’t mind beating it up or putting it in a campfire. Now, after a decade of use and a sanding session, it’s pretty darn smooth.

  • TK Hooker May 2, 2016, 8:15 am

    I have an odd enameled cast iron that I’m trying to find history on. I can’t find a picture of one either. It’s about 15″ long and sorta shaped like a boat. Has one handle on the end and a pouring spout on the front end as if you would pour gravy or something. It has white porcelain type enamel on the inside only. Any ideas?

  • Joe Nov 4, 2016, 3:46 am

    I am considering a cast iron dutch oven to use primarily for pot roast. I may occasionally use a tbs of tomato paste or a glug of red wine in my recipe. I am leaning toward bare cast iron because I believe I will get a better sear and I’m thinking enameled cast iron will stain in the process. Question is, will the small amount of tomato paste or wine break down the pan’s seasoning and cause a reaction and affect flavor? Also, is my theory about the better and more flavorful searing and staining correct?

    • Kitchen Professor Nov 11, 2016, 10:53 am

      Hey Joe, I think you’ll be okay with bare cast iron as long an you keep the dutch oven seasoned after use. I’m assuming you’re adding some water, broth, or some other liquid to braise the meat, and if so, then the tomato paste & wine will be a small percentage of what’s in there.

      And, confession time…I’ve made chili in my dutch oven that’s bare. It took off a bit of the outer layers of oil – NOT seasoning. So I cleaned it up and popped it in the oven for a few minutes to get the metal hot. Then, I lightly coated it with oil and it was like it never happened.

  • Amanda Jan 4, 2017, 11:33 pm

    I am so lost. My dad has cooked with cast iron all my life – but I can’t seem to get the seasoning down. Right now I’m stuck with the sticky bare cast iron because I messed up – and now I can’t seem to get the sticky off. That’s one. Two: we just became owners of two enameled cast iron – what are the best things to cook in them? I have one from my grandma that is about 60 years old, but nothing is cooked in that but cornbread as it was long ago dubbed the magic cornbread pan (which is true – perfect everytime). We make a lot of eggs and since we got the eci I’ve read everything from plenty of fat and you can cook eggs – to oh god no, don’t cook eggs in eci! Thank you for reading my novel and any pointers would be appreciated.

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