Cast iron and enameled cast iron are two types of cookware that can be incredibly daunting to newbies in the culinary world. Heated debates, coupled with the battle for supremacy between these two combatants, leave you feeling a little unsure about what you should look for in this cookware.
A bare or traditional cast iron pan has a surface seasoned while an enameled cast iron pan has layers of enamel coating its cast iron core. Cast iron is naturally non-stick when its surface is maintained with seasoning while enameled cast iron requires liberal amounts of oil when cooking to stop food from sticking.
Give and take, both these pots are versatile, durable, and perform as well as the other. They are both low maintenance and don’t require much care. Dishwashers should be avoided by both cookware types even though enameled cast iron is not prone to rust. Handwashing for both is recommended.
Some home cooks swear by (a bare) or traditional cast iron skillet as they feel it’s more robust for outdoor cooking, and the food tastes better, while others say enameled pieces are comfortable to cook with, easy to clean, and convenient. So, who is right? Let’s find out which is the better option.
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Cast Iron vs Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens Comparison Chart
Two of the best Dutch ovens available are the uncoated cast iron Lodge Dutch Oven and the gold standard Le Creuset Dutch Oven (French Oven) coated in porcelain enamel.
Use this comparison table to see the main differences between a raw (or bare) cast iron Dutch oven and an enamel Dutch oven.
|Cast Iron||Enameled Cast Iron|
|Materials||Raw cast iron = 98% iron and 2% carbon||Cast iron + virtuous enamel coating|
|Design||Round Dutch oven, iron skillets, griddles. A large choice of sizes and shapes in all types of cast iron cookware||Round and oval Dutch ovens, French ovens, Cocotte, skillets, griddles, Braisers, and bakeware. A large choice of sizes and shapes in all types of enameled cast iron cookware|
|Finish||Dark gray/black gets darker with more use||Exterior shiny in a wide variety of colors, interior light or dark|
|Heat Source||Suitable for all heat sources indoor and outdoor||No open fires, naturally induction ready, ceramic, glass stovetop, gas, electric, oven|
|Temperature||Will withstand temperatures in excess of 500 °F||Temperatures up to 500 °F depending upon the cookware quality and design (knobs and handles should be oven safe)|
|Performance||Nothing compares to the ability to sear steaks on a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. If the surface is maintained non-stick properties are excellent||Not non-stick when searing oils or liquid required. Comparing slow cooking, roasting, and baking both perform well|
|Durability||Maintenance will last a long time with care your lifetime and beyond||With care can last a lifetime although the enamel will deteriorate long|
before the cast iron
|Clean Up||No dishwasher, no soaking, no soap, scourers & hot water, dry immediately||No dishwasher, warm soapy water, soaking then nylon scourers, dry thoroughly|
|Maintenance||Pre-seasoned cast iron should still be seasoned before first use, season regularly||Seasoning the enamel is not required, you can season bare cast iron rims on pots and lids to prevent rusting|
|Iron Release||Yes, less with regular seasoning||No, if the enamel is intact|
|Price||Less expensive||More expensive|
What Is Cast-Iron?
Traditional cast iron cookware is made from the melted iron cast as a single metal piece, including the handle. It can withhold and maintain high temperatures making it an excellent choice for the open flame and is a great option for frying and searing. Iron pots are also an ideal choice for braised dishes and long-cooking stews.
Cast-iron cooking utensils are thicker than similar-sized cookware and capable of storing heat longer than other materials. The thermal mass feature in cast-iron heavy-duty pots and pans allows them to retain heat for an extended period and continue cooking food after removing the heat source.
Types of cast-iron cookware include; a skillet, a deep fryer, a seasoned Dutch oven, enameled Dutch oven, a flat-top grill, a waffle iron, a wok, karahi, a crepe maker, and more. Cast-iron does best in the outdoors and makes a classic staple for camping. A large pot that holds up well in the open fire, plus you don’t have to worry about ruining the finish.
However, when it comes to cleaning, the cast iron should be wiped after the cooking process or washed in mild soapy water with a stiff brush and then reapplied with a thin layer of fat or oil.
Related read What is the best oil for seasoning cast iron
What Is Enameled Cast-Iron?
An enameled cast iron piece of cookware features vitreous enamel paint on the surface that prevents it from rusting and eliminates the need for seasoning the metal. It’s also more comfortable when cleaning and can fit in a dishwasher and the microwave. It’s an ideal choice for slow cooking as it helps draw flavors from foods.
Enameled cast-iron cookware offers different pigmentations that make them attractive to the eye. Unlike cast iron, the ability to withstand searing heat and resist sticking are lost through enameling. If you overheat, drop, or add cold water to a hot pot, chipping of the glazed coating can occur.
Enameled cast iron is mostly used for indoor cooking and offers the best results when cooking on the stovetop. Enameled Dutch ovens, in particular, keep moisture which makes the food tastier.
Differences Between Cast-Iron and Enameled Cast-Iron
Now that you have understood the two applications, we are now going to look at the features that differentiate cookware. Let’s dive in.
Cast-iron cookware features a classic black or brown color and includes pig iron, and scrap steel to give them a rugged look with excellent factory seasoning.
Almost every American home kitchen has one of these for searing T-bones, frying eggs, and crisp golden cornbread to roast a chicken.
On the other hand, enameled cast-iron cookware comes in vibrant colors with a glossy finish that makes a design statement in any kitchen.
It’s easy to clean and fits comfortably in a dishwasher, making it an ideal choice for all-purpose cooking and keeping food evenly cooked.
Le Creuset and Staub are market leaders in the manufacture and distribution of quality enameled cast iron cookware. Both offer an extensive range of “A” Grade cookware with both companies honing their casting and glazing skills and manufacturing in France while distributing to the world.
2. Sizes, Shapes, and Colors
There are a plethora of cast iron pot sizes and shapes of cast iron skillet, fry pan, round Dutch oven, and grill pan as well as many cast iron accessories required when using seasoned cast iron, especially outdoors. Unfortunately, the colors are limited to gray, darker gray, and black.
In comparison, there are many more sizes and shapes available in enameled cast iron cookware. Availability is due to the fact that there are more kitchens throughout the world than campfires.
Colors vary from brand to brand. Luxury enameled cookware manufacturer Le Creuset has the largest range of virtuous enamel colors of any brand – approximately 20 with limited additions being added regularly. The Staub Dutch oven color range sits at 9-10 earthy core colors with a dark enamel interior.
An added advantage of enameled cast iron is the ability to match decor pieces to your kitchen. Brands like Le Creuset offer matching colors throughout their entire range including utensils, accessories, and cookware. Serving dishes directly from enamel cast iron at the table is also a clean-up saver.
Check out my up-to-date Le Creuset Color Guide
3. Reactiveness to Rust
A cast iron can acquire some rust over time, mostly if the manufacturer’s seasoning is stripped off through chemical, physical or electric means.
Washing your cast iron in a conventional dishwasher or with soap can strip off the factory seasoning and lead to rust, quality, and performance issues.
Also, avoid cooking acidic foodstuffs such as tomatoes with your cast-iron cookware as it damages the seasoning. However, you can re-season with a layer of animal fat or vegetable oil.
Seasoning new cast iron before its first use is always beneficial.
99% of an enameled cast-iron pot, skillet, or lid doesn’t need to be seasoned as the glazed enamel coating prevents rust.
The exposed cast iron around the top of the pot/skillets and the rim of the lids should, in fact, be seasoned to prevent rust.
4. Heat Sources
Raw cast iron can be used on all types of heat sources, electric stovetops, ceramic, glass, gas, induction, conventional ovens, grills open campfires.
The caveat is that great care should be taken when using cast iron with a rough base on all kitchen cooktops and appliances. The exterior of seasoned cast iron does not have the benefit of a smooth enamel base. So if you are cooking with cast iron on a glass top stove and there are sharp spots on the base you could scratch the glass stovetop.
Although enameled pan is safer to use on kitchen appliances in regards to scratching campfire flame on enamel cookware should be avoided.
Both raw cast iron and enameled cast iron take longer to heat up than other types of cookware. But unlike other types of cookware the heat retention properties are the same, even after being taken away from heat. Once it is heated up cast iron maintains an even heat, so there will be no hot spots when cooking.
A well-seasoned cast-iron surface makes it one of the most nonstick cooking surfaces available even when exposed to extreme heat.
When it comes to cooking steak, cast iron’s extreme heat absorbing properties make it definitely the way to go. Not only does it provide even heat distribution, but it also helps to lock in flavor and juices.
Tip: When frying with cast iron, be sure to heat the pan until it is smoking hot before adding any oil. Then, add your steak and cook for two minutes per side. For rare steak, cook for three minutes per side. Remove from the pan and let rest for five minutes before serving. This method will ensure that your steak is cooked to perfection.
Unfortunately, the pH, and acid level, in some food like lemon and tomato can break down the outer layer of the cast-iron surface. Making it important to maintain the non-stick cooking surface with regular seasoning.
Unfortunately enamel cast iron is not non-stick, its surface will require plenty of oil or water when cooking. Although an enameled cast iron pots and pans glass like non-pourus surface will not be ruined by acidic food. If you have a light-colored enamel interior it will likely discolor over time.
Cast-iron cookware is heavy and dense, metal utensils can be used making it durable and based on use can last generations with proper care. Plain cast iron can withstand open flames and higher temperatures, making them a better choice for outdoor use.
On the other hand, enameled cast-iron utensils have a short life expectancy and can last 3-5 years, and need special attention to last. They don’t tolerate high heat, and the glazed enamel coating can chip, crack or come off with rough usage.
However, you can use enameled cast-iron cookware in a microwave and wash it in a dishwasher although hand wash is recommended.
7. Health Effects
Studies indicate that cast-iron cookware leeches significant amounts of iron in the food depending on its water content, acidity, and how long the food was cooked, among other factors. Individuals who are anemic can benefit from this effect.
Is enameled cast iron healthy? Enameled cast iron cookware is safe because it is a durable material that does not leach iron, has a naturally non-stick surface, and does not rust. These qualities make it a safe choice as it minimizes the risk of health problems associated with cookware made from other materials.
The caveat: if cracking occurs or when the enamel coating starts to come off in enamel cast-iron, it’s possible to find small chips in the food, particularly after a few years of usage. However, a seasoned enameled cast iron will work well.
Read my deep dive into the safety aspects of cast iron cooking in Is Enameled Cast Iron Cookware Safe to Use?
8. Non-Stick Capability
Seasoned cast iron will age but will retain its cooking surface with care. While enamel cast iron cookware will discolor and become scratched over time.
When a cast iron is adequately seasoned, you can expect it to fry and sear various dishes without any problem thanks to its non-stickiness feature.
It’s an ideal choice for braised dishes and long-cooking stews and can also make good for frying potatoes and stir-fries. Different foods have varying tendencies to stick to a non-stick surface.
Cast-iron pans make an excellent choice for baking cakes, making cornbread, and cobblers. The non-stick surface allows food to be brown without sticking.
None of us likes to struggle scraping off food from the bottom of the cookware, but with enameled cast iron, this might be a daily challenge. There are strategies, like using lower temperatures, you can take to stop your enamel cast iron from sticking but enamel cookware will never have the non-stick properties of seasoned iron.
“No Dishwashers” Although cast iron and enameled cast iron manufacturers advise you can place their brand of pots and pans in a dishwasher they also advise that hand washing is preferred.
Regular cast iron cookware is durable and can last you for years, it’s hard to clean and maintain, and most soaps are not compatible with the seasoning.
Chefs’ advice is to wipe out with a paper towel after use or washing with hot water, a chain mail scrubber, or a stiff brush. Another option is to scrub the surface with coarse salt and a clean towel.
To avoid rust dry cast iron cookware immediately, preferably on a warm surface.
When should you season your cast iron? You should season your cast iron before its very first use. The out of factory seasoning is only a thin layer to protect the iron from rust and corrosion when in transit and while waiting on the shelf for you to purchase it.
After you start using the cast iron pan! As soon as your food starts sticking to the surface and/or your shiny ‘Patina” or cooking surface starts to look dull.
Rust appearing on cast iron is not a given read this article I give you simple steps on how to stop your seasoned cast iron from rusting.
You can wash enameled cast iron with soap and warm water without worrying that you might ruin the non-stick properties. Also, they don’t trap intense aroma, making them an ideal choice for cooking various foods.
If you need help with cleaning your enamel cast iron cookware check out my article on how to clean enamel cast iron.
10. Cast Iron Seasoning, Cleaners, and Conditioners
Many brands of cast iron and enamel cast iron manufacturers have available for purchase seasoning, cleaners, and cast iron conditioners to elongate the life of the pans as well as a huge range of accessories safe to use on these cookware types.
Related read What Is Cast Iron Conditioner?
11. The Lifespan of Cast Iron
Seasoned Cast Iron
How long does seasoned cast iron last? Bare cast iron cookware when seasoned with a protective layer along with care and maintenance will last your lifetime, and beyond.
Enamel Cast Iron
How long does enameled cast iron last? Brands like Le Creuset and Staub that use high-quality materials and have been casting and enameling for decades are considered heirloom pieces. With care, this enameled cast iron will be handed down through generations. Inferior products will of course last as their materials will allow, before cracking and chipping starts.
Deep dive into the benefits of Le Creuset vs Staub cookware.
Seasoned cast iron doesn’t come in vibrant colors and needs seasoning to maintain its properties, its price tag reflects this being marginally cheaper than its enameled counterpart.
Enameled cast-iron cookware comes at a high price and can cost three or four times as much as its counterpart. It is also easy to conserve thanks to its enamel glazed properties.
Which is Better Cast-Iron or Enameled Cast-Iron?
Here is why you would want to purchase cast-iron cookware over enameled cast-iron and vice versa. Here are the pros and cons to guide you to the best choice.
Pros & Cons – Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware
|Excellent heat retention||Doesn’t offer a variety of colors|
|Non-stick cooking properties when properly seasoned, avoid acidic ingredients to elongate the natural nonstick coating||Needs maintenance|
|Highly durable||Needs seasoning|
|Even oven temperature distribution||Heavier than other types of cookware materials|
|Can withstand extreme heat||No dishwasher hand washing and quick drying required|
|Affordable||Acidic foods like tomato sauce break down the seasoning on a cast iron pot|
|Various sizes and shapes||Can leach a significant amount of dietary iron into the food|
|Doesn’t require special attention|
|A quality French company will offer a lifetime warranty|
Pros & Cons – Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
|They don’t rust easily if quality enamel is used to coat the cast iron core||Heavier than other types of cookware|
|Offers different methods of cooking||Not non-stick – does require oil to prevent sticking|
|Smooth surface is convenient and comfortable to clean||Not as durable as a regular cast iron pan|
|Vibrant colors, sizes, and shapes||Can’t tolerate the high temperatures of seasoned cast iron. Medium temperatures work the best|
|Use on all kitchen stovetops including induction. Oven safe providing accessories (knobs are oven safe up to 500°F)||Can’t be used with all heat sources (campfires)|
|Easy cleanup and maintenance (no seasoning required)||You can wash in a dishwasher (I wouldn’t) it breaks down the enamel|
|Enamel is safe by stopping iron from leaching into your food||Prone to chips and cracks from heat fluctuations, incorrect utensil use (no metal), and incorrect cleaning practices|
|Quality brands are heirloom pieces and will be handed down through generations with care||Price quality brands can be expensive|
Must read before choosing a regular cast iron Dutch oven or an enameled cast iron Dutch oven is this article I wrote outlining in full detail the pros and cons of enameled cast-iron cookware.
Final Thoughts – Cast-Iron Vs Enameled Cast-Iron
There are many key differences between cast iron and enameled cast iron.
There are also lots of products in both categories, for good reason and both are capable of cooking a variety of foods sufficiently and efficiently at a higher temperature.
However, to make the best decision regarding which product you need, the question boils down to what you plan to use it for and how you’re going to use the cookware. Give both a few a try and see which one works best for you.
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