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. While bare, uncoated cast iron and enameled cast iron cookware (or coated cast iron) 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 article is to compare Enameled Cast Iron vs Cast Iron cookware.
It’s the battle of heavy metal!
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron cookware is comparable to stainless steel in terms of its non-stick characteristics. (See great Enameled Cast Iron at Amazon.)
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, pricey 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 at Amazon:
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.
But, thankfully well-known names like Lodge and other cookware brands have gotten into the enameled cast iron game. Which is great considering the high prices of some of the imported pieces.
Lodge EC6D13 Dutch Oven
The Lodge brand of cookware is well known from stainless steel all the way through to enameled and bare cast iron.
This enameled dutch oven by Lodge has a pretty good reputation. And the first thing I like about it is its weight.
It weighs in at 13.7 lbs. That’s a decent weight which is good for any cast iron cookware. So it definitely scores points there.
And the sizes range from 3 quarts all the way through to 7.5. So you’ll be sure to find the right size for your family.
The next feature that stands out is the comfortable wide grip handles. I cook with cast iron every day and it’s damn heavy. Especially when it’s full of whatever you’re cooking.
The oven performs well and heats up quickly. And it can handle heat up to 500 F. Which means you can safely braise, bake, broil and roast with this baby.
From my research, I’ve found that folks are happy with the performance of the oven in terms of even heating and cooking.
Although, the manufacturer advises against using their Dutch Oven on outdoor grills or over campfires.
But you can happily use it on cooktops ranging from gas and electric to induction and ceramic. Just make sure you actually lift the oven when moving it since it can cause scratches otherwise.
Lodge is proud of the fact that their products are made in the United States. But their enameled range of cast iron pots are made in China.
Of course nothing is perfect. And I have 2 main gripes with this pot…
First, there have been several complaints about the enamel chipping off. Some folks experienced this after only one or two uses.
This can be a slight annoyance. But it’s not a dealbreaker since Lodge offers a lifetime warranty on their enameled cast iron range.
Also, other users have complained about getting a damaged oven on delivery. So I recommend opting for your oven to ship in an Amazon Box during checkout.
All being said and done, I like this Dutch Oven from Lodge but it’s not my favorite. Although it’s a decent oven for the price and it’s robust enough to use every day.
Marquette Castings Dutch Oven
Marquette Castings is a family owned cookware startup. And their products are well worth investigating.
This one by Marquette Castings is a 6 quart Dutch Oven weighing in at 13.8 lbs. And it can handle heat up to 500 F.
What makes their Dutch Ovens different is the extra machining process they use after casting. For us regular folk, that means we get an oven with a smoother finish and a totally flat bottom.
Something you’ll appreciate if you used to own an induction or glasstop cooking range.
The ovens also come with a high gloss interior. This makes them super easy to clean and care for. And even bits of burned bacon is easily removed with a little hot soapy water and a non-abrasive sponge.
Even pesky bits of burned bacon are easily cleaned with a little hot soapy water and a non-abrasive sponge.
Yes, you’ll need to make sure to use only non-abrasive cleaning materials. And it’s best to handwash this baby.
The oven has a matte finish which really is beautiful. And I’ve come across no complaints that the matte finish stains.
I love the large loop handles of this oven. They make it easy to handle even with thick oven mitts. Which is a big plus if you’re maneuvering the oven filled with food.
Marquette Castings offer a lifetime warranty which is a must-have in my books. Especially when it comes to cookware.
Although it’s worth mentioning that their enameled cookware is made in China.
Unlike the Lodge Dutch Oven, this one by Marquette Castings comes in excellent packaging right off the bat.
So you won’t have to shell out for extra packaging. It’s a small thing but it shows great attention to detail.
From my research, I’ve only come across two complaints about the oven being damaged on arrival.
One gripe I’ve found with this Dutch Oven is the lid handle. The handle is a cast of the company logo. I think it’s a little impractical. But it’s not a dealbreaker in my opinion.
I’m sold on this Dutch Oven by Marquette Castings. I think it’s a fabulous oven at a great price. And definitely a better option than the Lodge.
Final Thoughts on Enameled Cast Iron
The quality is no doubt 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 pineapple upside down cake the very next day.
I think you can see the point! It’s certainly not a dealbreaker for the bare cast iron but I think it’s clear that the enamel coating could be handy in some cases.
The Standard: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Oven with Dual Handles, 5-Quart at Amazon. 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.
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.
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.
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, 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 a tale that your grandma told you – the Journal of Food Science conducted a study with the results.
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 every day 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 OK.
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.
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?
If you’re after a new set of cast iron cookware you have some great options available to you…
Lodge 5 Piece Bundle
If you’re looking to get into cast iron cooking this 4 or 5 piece set from Lodge will get you on your way.
It comes with a 10.5 inch round griddle. An 8 and 10.25 inch skillet. And a 5 quart Dutch Oven. There’s also a 10.25 inch iron cover which fits the larger skillet and the Dutch Oven.
We use our cast iron cookware on our gas stovetop, in the oven and also on our outdoor grills. And in my opinion, it’s the best way to cook anything that needs to be slow roasted or simmered.
Lodge is an American based company. And their cast iron range is proudly made in the USA. Unlike their enameled range which is made in China.
Any decent cast iron cookware will come pre-seasoned. And this range by Lodge is no different.
Lodge pre-season their range with soy-based vegetable oil before it reaches your kitchen.
If you or someone in your home has a soy allergy. Don’t worry. Lodge has made sure to remove the proteins that cause reactions.
They’ve also made doubly sure there are no animal fats, paints or peanut oils in their seasoning.
The seasoning is essential to keep the cast iron healthy, rust free and non-stick.
Caring for your cast iron cookware takes more time than just washing, drying and storing for the next time.
Some folks have asked about the seasoning oil turning rancid. But I’ve had no issues with this.
But if you know you’ll be storing them away for an extended time, just bake the oil into the pan before putting them away.
I recommend not using dish soap to wash your cast iron cookware. But if you do want to use soap, just a couple of drops of biodegradable soap and warm water will do.
I recommend not washing this cast iron set in the dishwasher.
I love cast iron. Simple as that. It’s my go-to for cooking anything from eggs to a roast and even bread.
I can’t find much wrong with this range from Lodge. Although it’s worth mentioning that several customers received skillets with broken handles.
This can only be put down to poor handling and packaging. But Amazon is great at replacing stuff. So not a dealbreaker there. Just a little annoying!
As far as cast iron cookware goes, Lodge makes high-quality products that will last a lifetime.
Royal Dutch 11 Piece Cookware Set
This set by Royal Dutch Cast Iron will set you up for cast iron cooking inside and outside.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll get…
One 12 inch Skillet and a 4.5 quart Dutch Oven and lid. You’ll also get a 2.5-quart sauce pot with its own lid.
There’s also a 20 inch by 9 inches cast iron griddle which is great for outdoor use. The griddle is reversible with one smooth side.
And the 8.6-inch trivet is great to protect your surfaces from those hot pots.
I like the silicon hand holder too. Simply slip it onto the handle of your skillet to protect your hands from burning.
The Dutch Oven lid lifter also comes in handy. Especially if you’re cooking on outdoor flames.
Royal Dutch has also thrown in a few handy cleaning tools to help you keep your cast iron in tip top shape.
It comes in a beautiful box. Which they brag about storing your set in. But I think it’s a pretty flimsy box. And I wouldn’t store anything heavy in it.
But it makes a beautiful ornament for a kitchen!
Like any decent set of cast iron cookware, these ones come pre-seasoned too. And it’s essential that you keep them that way.
Not just to protect them from rust. But also to keep them non-stick.
As far as quality goes, this set by Royal Dutch could be a little better. From my research, I’ve come across a few complaints about rust.
OK, so rust is not the end of the world when it comes to cast iron. Since with a little elbow grease, it’s easily fixed. But who wants to remove rust on a brand new set of cookware?
And I’ve also come across a few complaints about the handle of the 12 inch skillet being too small. I can totally understand why that would be a gripe.
You need a robust handle for these things. Especially when they are filled with food.
This set by Royal Dutch is pretty decent. And I like the fact that there’s a griddle included. And that each pot has its own lid.
And the extra cleaning tools are handy. Although, my first choice is the set by Lodge at Amazon only because it’s made in the US. Where this set by Royal Dutch is made in China.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Cast Iron and Enameled Cast Iron:
Is enameled cast iron healthy?
When it comes to health some consider non-coated cast iron to be beneficial because when cooking with it you get iron in the food you cook. If you are someone who battles iron levels this may be something you decide helps you.
However, if you cook with non-coated cast iron too often there can be a chance of raising your iron to a toxic level. With enamel coated cast iron you don’t have to worry about leaching iron, you also don’t have to worry about destroying your seasoning by having something acidic like granny’s pasta sauce.
The FDA also considers enameled cast iron safe, with regulations in place to make sure that if your cookware is imported that it doesn’t have any potentially toxic substances like cadmium in their pigments.
Do you need to season enameled cast iron?
No, for the most part. Enameled cast iron is not required to be seasoned like traditional non-coated cast iron. That is what draws chefs to purchase it.
However, there can be a thin rim along the top of the pan that may need to be seasoned. If your enamel cast iron has a rim use a paper towel, a little oil, and your oven can get it seasoned in no time. Far quicker and easier than a cast-iron skillet.
Can you fry in enameled cast iron?
If you are a southerner this may be a question that will make or break your decision regarding which cast iron is better.
Have no fear! The short answer is yes, you can fry in enameled cast iron.
There is some debate regarding some of the manufactures and whether they recommend it. Le Creuset states that it is not recommended because of the high heat used for frying. However, many of their customers state they have used their enameled dutch oven for deep frying.
If you are more of a fan of avoiding the debate you may want to stick with regular cast iron. Frying in it works great because it heats the oil evenly and is a good way to season your pan.
What is a dutch oven?
A Dutch oven is also known as a casserole dish in some countries. The French call them cocotte. It is a thick-walled cooking pot with a lid that fits tightly.
They are usually made of seasoned cast iron and because they are so deep they can hold more of the tasty things.
Its design is great for long, slow cooking. It makes braising, stews and casseroles great. Really a little of everything can be made in your favorite dutch oven.
You probably wonder what all the fuss is about if it is just a casserole dish. Well, dutch ovens are loved by so many cooks because your meal can go straight from the oven to the table for serving. Especially if you have an enameled dutch oven, they can add a pop of color to the table!
Resources about Cast Iron and Enameled Cast Iron:
- Cook’s Illustrated on a bare-cast iron skillet – Great article from the experts.
- Chow Hound Forum Topic on Enamel or Porcelain versus Traditional cast iron – Good discussion. Obviously a forum discussion won’t be as good as the pros at Cook’s Illustrated…
- The Cast Iron Collector on Enameled Cast Iron – Great article on one of the best forums on everything Cast Iron.
- Kitchen Tool School: The Workhorse Enameled Dutch Oven – Article on the workhorse of the kitchen…Enameled version.
- Epicurious on How To Wash, Season, And Maintain Cast Iron Cookware – Excellent article on Bare Cast Iron Skillet Maintenance.
- Tools and Tips on Cast Iron Cookware from Instructables – Good guide that’s simple and to the point.
- Wikipedia Entry on “Cast-iron cookware” – Basic information and a nice historical context.
- Healthy cookware
- Dutchovens Cookware
Photo Credits to fowler&fowler at wikimedia commons and parityytirap, johnny.hunter at flickr creative commons , Photo courtesy of sierravalleygirl via flickr creative commons