Sunday, February 1, 2009

Article: Enameled cast iron vs. bare (un-enameled) cast iron

A selection of enameled (blue, top left) and bare cast iron

When most people think of cast iron cookware, they envision black, heavy metal skillets or dutch ovens.  Bare cast iron cookware requires seasoning to retain its non-stick capabilities, and needs more care to keep the rust off.

An enameled cast iron dutch oven being used for popcorn
Enameled cast iron, on the other hand, encases the rust-prone cast iron base metal in a coating of porcelain (essentially powdered glass that is melted and baked onto the metal underneath).

Enameled cast iron is typically easier to care for, and comes in a variety of bright colors. But enameled cast iron is not non-stick like properly-seasoned bare cast iron is.

Both bare and enameled cast iron have their advantages and disadvantages, and here they are:

Key differences between enameled cast iron and non-enameled (bare) cast iron

  • Bare cast iron is non-stick, making it ideal for scrambled eggs, omelets, etc.
  • Enameled cast iron is non-reactive, which can make it better for heavily acidic dishes (e.g. tomato soups or sauces)
  • Enameled cast iron requires almost no seasoning, and is therefore somewhat easier to clean and maintain (you should periodically oil the bare cast iron rim if your cookware has one)
  • Enameled cast iron will not hold flavors (e.g. fish) as readily as bare cast iron
  • Bare cast iron is typically thicker, which produces a more even heating surface and reduces hot-spots
  • Bare cast iron delivers heat more evenly and efficiently due to the unique radiative properties of dark metal
  • Bare cast iron introduces extra iron into the food—a bonus if you're anemic
  • Bare cast iron is cheaper
  • Bare cast iron will probably last longer, although you can expect both types to last for decades if properly cared for
  • Bare cast iron is generally better for high-heat searing applications, which can damage enameled cast iron

A bare cast iron skillet being used for
frying bacon over an open fire

Typical brands of bare cast iron are Lodge, Wagner, and Camp Chef.

 For enameled cast iron, typical brands are Le Creuset, Le Chasseur, and Staub.

 My recommendation is to buy cookware that is manufactured in the United States or Europe (rather than China) to hedge your bet against the presence of lead or other toxic chemicals in the pan or coating.

If you live in the European Union, there are much more stringent regulations about what chemicals can be present in the cookware that is sold, so it may well be safe to buy cookware made in China in the EU.

54 comments:

  1. Is the enamled version less likely be non stick food than a seasoned bare cast iron pan?

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  2. Hi Condo Blues,

    Good question. Yes, generally speaking, well-seasoned bare cast iron will be truly non-stick, whereas enameled cast iron will perform more like a glass casserole dish or other crockery... meaning it would not have the same non-stick characteristics. Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  3. I got my first enameled coated cast iron last year and have started using it alot lately- and I noticed that there's rust on the rim- is this normal? And you had mentioned oiling it- is there a specific oil? This is all new to me. Thanks in advance!

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  4. Hey Sweet.Simplicity,

    The rim of both the pan and the lid on enameled cast iron is typically bare, which means you need to dry the whole shebang with heat, and then oil that rim before putting the dutch oven away. I typically use canola oil, but any relatively flavorless oil is fine (and honestly, more flavorful oils like Extra Virgin Olive Oil are fine, too).

    You'll want to remove the rust first, of course. I'd recommend a wire brush, some steel wool, or an abrasive Scotch-type pad (and a little water) to do that. Once you've got the rust off, rinse it, dry it with heat right away, and then oil the rims and stick lid and pot in your oven on 350 degrees F for an hour to help solidify that first coat of oil.

    Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  5. Hi Derek

    Here in the UK I have bought some 'Lakeland' enamelled cast iron cookware:-

    1) A multi-pan (or 'Marmitout')
    2) A casserole
    3) A square grill pan (with some kind of black shiny coating on inside pan surface - don't know what that is)

    Although they are made in China, Lakeland are a good UK company and all enamel has to meet the lead and cadmium levels test before importation so I felt OK about buying these and avoiding paying what would have been double the cost for Le Creuset, which admittedly is a dishwasher safe product and the Lakeland not.

    Do you happen to know if vinegar (when used with water for poaching eggs) has any adverse effect on enamel?

    The egg has stuck a little, just a clear coating baked onto the bottom of the pan. Some has come off with assistance from a finger nail, but I will try using a plastic (net) scrubber next.

    How about cleaning oven hob pan supports? These are enamelled, and the cream cleaner 'Cif' which was recommended by the oven maker is just not getting the baked-on grease off, even with a non-stick cleaning pad to rub the cream on with.

    So how about using 'Scotch-Brite', the somewhat aggressive green plastic scrubbing pad?

    Best regards

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  6. Hi Derek

    Another thing...

    I bought some replacement flat burrs for my coffee grinder. They arrived wrapped in greasepoof paper and soaked in some kind of oil.

    I cleaned the oil off with hand soap and hot water as I knew that 'washing liquid' has salt in it and could corrode the steel burrs.

    Instead of fitting them I have coated them in vegetable oil (thinking food safe) and stored them in clingfilm until I am ready to fit them.

    I have since found out that vegetable oil (it was probably sunflower) probably has salt in it!

    What should I have used and how is it best to clean the oil off before using in the grinder?

    Thank you

    PS Come to think of it, the hand soap will have salt in it as well!

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  7. Hey there,

    Thanks for your comments! I always love hearing from folks across the pond.

    Living in the United States, I'm not familiar with Lakeland enameled cast iron. But it sounds like someone with some sense is checking to make sure cookware products sold in the EU are safe. Lead and cadmium are definitely a concern for any cookware made in China (I wish we had more government regulation on this front here in the States).

    As for vinegar, I wouldn't worry. Your enameled cast iron should stand up well for decades against poached eggs with a little vinegar.

    As you discovered, enameled cast iron does not share the same non-stick capabilities as bare (seasoned) cast iron. But a fingernail, plastic scrubber, or wooden spatula should make quick work of any stuck egg on enameled cast iron after a few hours of soaking.

    I would definitely use the Scotch-pad type cleaners for your hobs.

    As for the coffee grinder burrs, I'm not sure what to tell you. I know that coffee beans have plenty of oil in them, so I would think that as long as you install the burrs clean and rust-free the burrs will be fine once you've ground a few batches. Hope that helps!

    Thanks for stopping by.

    -Derek

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  8. HI,

    Can I make dishes like scrambled eggs or omlette in enameled cast iron pan or should I use a bare one instead. I am currently trying to decide which one invest in. I also make made-from-scratch multi-grain tortillas. Would I be able to cook them in the enameled cast iron pan? I currently use non-stick pans for this and want to avoid using them as much as possible.

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  9. Hi There,

    Bare cast iron would definitely be better for scrambled eggs and omelets, since bare cast iron is non-stick (when seasoned), and enameled cast iron is not.

    Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  10. Derek, can you stack away bare cast iron skillets without messing up the seasoning?

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  11. I don't have any trouble storing my bare cast iron stacked up. Obviously, heavy grating would wear away the seasoning... and I try not to stack it when I'm traveling by car (e.g. camping trips).

    If you're reasonably gentle when you put cast iron away in your cupboards, it should be fine.

    -Derek

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  12. Hi Derek

    Thanks for your kind reply. Some time ago now!

    I was the one who welded the poached egg to the base of the enamelled cast iron pan. This is Chinese, and marketed by Lakeland here in the UK.

    The use notes on the underneath of the pan ask the user not to soak for cleaning for too long but they don't actually put a time on it or explain why.

    I presume it's because the rim is not enamelled. I don't suppose enamelled cast iron is porous, so that cannot be the reason?

    I have since done the same trick with a poached egg. That was 5 days ago and I still have'nt been able to remove it.

    I bet heating the egg from cold to cook the egg was probably the main cause. I must try poaching the egg with preheated water just to the point of a gentle shiver (or simmer) rather than a rapid boil.

    I really don't want to go to the trouble of smearing the base with butter a la baking just to poach an egg!

    What do you say?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks Derek.
    There is just something about cast iron. I'm pretty new to cooking in CI, started with just one skillet just this last January. Now I got 2 enameled dutch ovens, two 12 inch skillets, one 9 inch skillet, one grill pan and I just picked up the 10 inch lodge round griddle, which is turning out to be my favorite piece.
    I gotta thank you for all the information on your blog.

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  14. Howdy!

    It should be safe to soak the enameled cast iron overnight, but do try to keep the water line low enough to prevent that top edge from rusting.

    Let us know how it goes!

    In terms of preventing it in the future, you might consider just using a stainless steel pot, which could more easily be soaked and/or scrubbed with abrasives.

    Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  15. Hey 1Bigg_ER,

    Great to hear! And I totally agree that there's something amazing about cooking with cast iron. Glad to hear that your cast iron armada is growing!

    -Derek

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  16. Well, Derek, I saw a 10 1/4 3 inch deep lodge skillet today and I just had to have it! It will be at my door step tomorrow.
    I think I need to stop now!! LOL

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  17. Don't stop! You're just getting started...

    ; - )

    -Derek

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  18. Hi Derek!
    I thought I scored big last month when I saw a cast iron skillet made in the USA at a garage sale, and found out it was part of a whole set, for $25!!! Yee haw! Unfortunately I didn't check it out thoroughly, the set was made in China, and only the skillet on display was made in the US - lead and cadmium, eh? Do you know if any of the China cookware made in China is safe to buy here in the US? "Wenzel" I'm thinking it's a costco set or something... I may have to sell it off, and just keep the one skillet - there's grey goo that comes off when scrubbing before seasoning.. Thanks for sharing your vast expertise!

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  19. Hey There,

    If the cast iron is bare (un-enameled), you may be OK with the Chinese stuff. If it is enameled, I'd get rid of it.

    It sounds like it is un-enemeled based on your description of the "grey goo". I'd say try to remove that stuff with lye, or by putting the pan through a "clean" cycle in an electric oven.

    Then, do an old-fashioned cast iron oven seasoning on it with canola oil (preferably organic).

    Hope that helps!

    Let us know how it goes.

    -Derek

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Derek, I'll track down some lye (perhaps I'll make some lutefisk while I'm at it!), or try the oven's clean cycle - I've tried scrubbing and seasoning and am still not satisfied with the results - I'll let you know how it goes! Thanks, Karyn Noyes!

      Delete
  20. Hey Karyn! Didn't know it was you... Yeah, get some lye on that goo and you should be good to go.

    -D

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  21. Hi Derek,

    Could you explain the reactivity of the bare cast iron when cooking acidic foods and why that matter!? Thanks!

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  22. Hi Ingrid,

    Bare cast iron, like most bare metals, will undergo a chemical reaction when exposed to certain acids (e.g. citric acid). For the cook, the result can be a more acidic or metallic taste to the food when using bare cast iron. Enameled cast iron, on the other hand, has a layer of porcelain in between the food and the cast iron, which prevents any chemical reaction with the iron. For this reason, many folks prefer to use enameled cast iron for high-acid dishes.

    Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  23. Hi Derek, Ihope you can help me!I have been very interested in buying a bare cast iron dutch oven to start making gumbos. I have seen a lot of different information online and i am confused.I know that some of the recipes for gumbo call for at least a can of tomatoes. Should I not purchase a bare cast iron dutch oven for this or is this amount of tomatoes not considered alot? I didnt really want to purchase enameled because the ones in my price range ,I have read,were prone to chipping anyway.Any help and info that you could give me I would really appreciate! Thank you so much, Michael

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  24. Hey Michael,

    I think you'll be just fine making gumbos with a bare cast iron dutch oven. I routinely make chili in mine, with a can or two of tomatoes. I've found that the best way to keep a bare cast iron dutch oven well-seasoned (and protected) is to regularly make popcorn in it. Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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    Replies
    1. Hi Derek, Thank you so much for your help !! I cant wait to start making gumbos and the chili recipe that you have on here also! I am just teaching myself to cook at my age, believe it or not. I love your site and it is so informative especially for those like me who are just starting out. It is chock full of lots of great tips and advice! Thank you so much for your help and your site!I look forward to letting you know how I am coming along with my learning to cook!! Michael

      Delete
    2. Hey Michael,

      Definitely let us know how it goes... especially if you have any more questions.

      Happy cooking!

      -Derek

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  25. Hi Derek - thanks for your really helpful summary from back in 2009 and I give you major 'props' for answering questions through to now! I'm just getting into cooking now and I love my cast iron skillet for high heat searing and general pan sauce cooking, but am thinking that the upkeep might be too much for me to handle in the long run. But if it means I have to say 'bye bye' to my seared steaks, I might hold on to it... and this leads me to my question: Enameled cast iron grill pans. From what I gather, enameled cast iron is not good for really high heat applications, but isn't that the basic function of these enameled cast iron grill pans? Or, am I mistaken in that the heat isn't actually that high when using these to sear food?

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    Replies
    1. Hey GY,

      I think you're right that enameled cast iron grill pans are not meant for repeated use as a high-heat grill pan. I would try to convince you to NOT get rid of your bare cast iron! In terms of upkeep, all you need to do is: scrub it with plastic bristles after use, rinse it with hot water, dry it with heat, and give it a light sheen of oil while it's hot. Then it's good to go next time you need it.

      Happy to try to help some more if you have additional questions!

      Thanks for stopping by, GY.

      -Derek

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  26. Hi Derek,

    I was given an enameled Lodge dutch oven for Christmas and I love it. I really want to buy some bare cast iron skillets now, however I have a ceramic electric stove. In the research I have done I am getting mixed messages about if it is safe to use on this particular stove top. Do you have any information or recommendations on this?
    Thanks, Michelle

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  27. Hi Michelle,

    I cooked for 8 years on a ceramic/glass-top range, and had no trouble at all using bare cast iron. Go to it!

    -Derek

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  28. Hi Derek,

    Thank you for your response! I was so sad to find out that my enamel dutch oven from lodge is actually made in China. I am thinking about returning it due to that, or do you think it is safe enough to keep? Also, if I do return it do you have any recommendations of which enamel is made in the USA? I love it but want to be safe as well.
    Thank you again,
    Michelle

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    Replies
    1. Hey Michelle,

      I am very wary of enameled cast iron made in China. They just don't have a good track record of keeping poisons out of their consumer products. I fear that the enameling is full of lead, melamine, or something else. While the European brands (e.g. Le Creuset) are pretty expensive, they last forever if well cared for. I have heard of flaking problems with some of the cheaper/Chinese enameled cast iron. I don't know of any brands of enameled cast iron that are made in the USA. I'd love to hear about it if anyone else does!

      Hope that helps.

      -Derek

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  29. This was a greatly informative post and the comments really made me happy I waited on buying the Giada enameled braiser (made in China) from Target. I've got plenty of nice, bare cast iron Lodge pieces but really want a good enameled braiser and now I can spend my hard-earned pennies on a piece of LC. Thanks so much for your advice. :)

    Lisa

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    Replies
    1. You bet! Enjoy your Le Creuset!

      -Derek

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  30. I have a bare cast iron pan that I bought a long time ago. When I first used it, I'm not sure if I got everything scrubbed off. I have been wiping it out and seasoning it ever since, but it still sticks sometimes. Do you think I'm just not at the bare iron when I'm seasoning it, and I need to just scrub it down to the base and reseason?

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    Replies
    1. Hey William,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I don't think a re-season is required. Two things that are really important when trying to prevent sticking are:

      1) Make sure the pan is shiny with oil when beginning cooking. Sometimes after washing and drying the pan with heat it ends up a dull black color and not shiny. Always re-coat with oil so it shines (ideally before storing it, but definitely before cooking).

      2) Make sure the pan has properly pre-heated before tossing the food in. This is especially important for eggs.

      Does that help at all? Please let me know if you think you're doing these things but it's still sticking... I'd love to hear more details.

      Thanks!

      -Derek

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  31. William, I used to have the same problem until I changed cooking strategy. I wipe it with a little oil and leave it on warm while I prep whatever I'm going to cook.

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  32. I'll try it, thank you so much. Just picked up an enameled Dutch too.

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  33. I have 7 pieces of LC and I blame it on Derek.
    You'll definitely need to warm up the enameled piece before cooking in it.

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    Replies
    1. I accept full blame!

      ; - )

      -Derek

      Delete
  34. There's a strong possibility that I'm now addicted to cast iron. LC pieces are niece and everything but there's something about the black slabs of lodge pieces.

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  35. Do u not get the iron supplement from enameled cast iron at all if you are anemic? Does it give you any extra iron in your food? I am very anemic and I started purchasing some enameled due to the easier care thinking that i would get "some" iron from it but just not as much!! Hope I havent spent the extra money for nothing!!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Angela,

      Unfortunately, you don't really get any additional iron from enameled cast iron. Get some bare cast iron and let me know if you have any questions about care and maintenance!

      -Derek

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    2. I have some bare cast iron that was "pre-seasoned and it sticks really bad...can u give me some tips on how to keep food from sticking? Then that makes cleanup really hard and I was told not to scrub it or it would mess up the seasoning!! I love the way it cooks food but dont love the clean up!!! PLEASE help!! What am I doing wrong???Thanks

      Delete
    3. Hi Angela,

      Pre-seasoned bare cast iron is a starting point, but in order to make it truly non-stick, it takes some time.

      I use my skillets for a lot of oven-roasted recipes (veggies, potatoes, chicken, etc.). This not only makes delicious food, but also helps harden the seasoning. Over time, this kind of use leads to a deep, dark, highly non-stick coating. Other important steps are: only scrub with a plastic brush or "Dobie" pad and hot water (no soap). It's fine to soak it for a few hours if things are really stuck, but don't soak it overnight. Once it is clean, dry it with heat on the stove top or in the oven. Once it is dry, lightly oil it with canola using a paper towel. Your cast iron should be shiny when you're done with it. That coating of oil will also help your next meal not stick.

      A good way to jump-start the seasoning process is to coat it with oil and bake it at 350 degrees F in the oven. After an hour, turn off the heat and then keep re-oiling the skillet as it cools to make the mottled appearance shiny. You can do this several times in a row.

      When you are cooking with bare cast iron, it is important to let the pan heat up properly before cooking (especially with eggs). It will take longer to heat up than most pans you are probably used to (but will then hold its heat longer, and distribute it more evenly).

      Hope that helps. Don't give up... you'll get there!

      -Derek

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  36. Hello Derek,

    Amature kitchen pyro-tech here, please guide me... I have a ring stove and am fussing over what type of cooking ware to purchase. Should I go for enamel coated or bare cast iron cooking ware? I don't have many options where I'm from, very few resellers here stock quality non-teflon cooking ware. I've been contemplating the stainless steel - tramontina tri-ply pans(Prima/Domus), but as stated above, I tend to heat things up in the kitchen! I'll be travelling at month end to Atlanta where I'm sure i'll have a variety of choices - any tips on what I should avoid (because of the ring plates) and what I should consider? Thanks :))

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Howdy,

      First off, by "ring stove" I am assuming that you are talking about a standard electric stove with ringed coils for each burner element. Please let me know if I am wrong about that. If so, you should have no trouble with any type of cast iron or stainless steel cookware.

      In terms of which types to get, here are a few basics:
      Enameled cast iron is not non-stick. It's great for baking and high-acid soups (which can react with bare cast iron. It tends to be pricey, and I would not recommend getting anything made outside of Europe or the U.S. due to poor quality control over what chemicals end up in the enamel.

      Bare cast iron is non-stick once it has been properly seasoned. It tends to be the cheapest, and if properly cared for can literally last for generations. You can find all sorts of stuff used, or buy new. I often buy Lodge pre-seasoned when I buy new. You'll need to be patient when heating up your bare cast iron, it takes time. If you get it too hot, you'll burn off the seasoning and have to start over.

      Stainless steel is the ideal choice for routine boiling (e.g. pasta), and also for making pan sauces. The idea behind a pan sauce is to cause some of the food to stick to the pan, with the eventual plan of deglazing it (and thereby un-sticking the browned bits of food) to make a flavorful sauce.

      In my opinion, a well-stocked kitchen should have all three types of cookware.

      Practically speaking I use my bare cast iron pans on a daily basis, and my stainless almost as often. I don't use my enameled cast iron more than a few times a month. Given that the enameled cast iron is by far the most expensive... you might leave that off of your shopping list for now.

      Hope that helps!

      -Derek

      Delete
  37. Thank you for writing this article. Can you offer some advice on the difference between cast iron and good copper as far as evenness and durability? Obviously, good copper cookware is extremely expensive, but I'm in the market to replace my stainless pans and stoneware baking dishes, and I'm not sure if I should save up for copper or if a good set of cast iron will do just as well. Thanks. Elizabeth

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    Replies
    1. Hi there,

      You're welcome! I have not used copper much, but it is similar to stainless steel usage-wise in that it is NOT non-stick, and therefore good for standard boiling and sauce-making, as well as sautéing when you want to develop fond (browned bits that stick to the surface of the pan, but are later deglazed with liquid such as wine, broth, or citrus juice).

      Bare cast iron, on the other hand, is a non-stick cooking surface that's great for omelets, scrambled eggs, and all manner of searing and roasting. Does that help?

      -Derek

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    2. Ah okay. This is quite helpful. I think I will keep my stainless and add cast iron to what I already have then. Thanks! E.

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  38. Hi Derek,

    Have you yet found any manufacturers who make enameled CI in the US?

    K G

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    Replies
    1. Hi Krys,

      Unfortunately, I have not. Lodge makes their bare cast iron in the US< but their enameled cast iron is made in China.

      Would love to hear about it if you find such a company!

      -Derek

      Delete

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