Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron

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This article compares cast iron cookware vs. enameled cast iron cookware. For example, how does a Lodge bare cast iron skillet compare with a Le Creuset enameled cast-iron skillet?

I generally don’t like to have repetitive cookware pieces. Three cast iron skillets of the same size just add unwanted clutter to the kitchen cabinets. So I have to be choosy about which cookware materials I incorporate.

If you’re looking to purchase cast iron cookware, you might be wondering about cast iron vs. enameled cast iron. Both are popular choices for cookware materials. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and they can be valuable additions to any kitchen.

But which one comes out on top? That depends on a lot of factors, but I’ve broken down the features of each type.

Is cast iron or enameled cast iron the right choice for your kitchen? Keep reading to find out.

At a Glance

There are heated debates about which is better, bare cast iron or enamel coated cast iron. But fortunately, you don’t have to sort through all the opinions. Use the chart below to help you decide which of these cookware types is right for you:

Desired use or featureWhich is better? Cast iron vs. enamel cast iron
Searing meats at high tempsBare cast iron
Simmering soups & acidic foodsEnameled cast iron
Easy to cleanEnameled cast iron
Durable, difficult to damageBare cast iron
Casseroles, cobblers, one-pot mealsEnameled cast iron
Baking breadBare cast iron
Campfire or outdoor cookingBare cast iron
Easy to maintainEnameled cast iron
Cost-effectiveBare cast iron

As you can see, it really depends on your intended use and desired features. If you want something easy to clean and maintain, enameled cast iron is a great choice. However, if you want something durable that can last generations, standard cast iron is unmatched.

If you want to know more about which scenarios are best for enameled cast iron or bare cast iron, read about both materials below.

All About Cast Iron Cookware

Cast Iron skillet with a cooked breakfast inside

Traditional cast iron is an extremely versatile cookware material that is highly durable and can last generations. It can withstand high heat and has excellent heat retention. Properly seasoned cast iron will even develop non-stick properties.

However, cast iron has some limitations. For starters, it is necessary to season bare cast iron. Seasoning forms a protective layer that can prevent rust and maximize performance.

Some manufacturers sell pre-seasoned cast iron pans, but I prefer to season my own pans.

Secondly, a traditional cast iron pan can react with acidic foods like tomato sauce and lemon-based dishes, causing iron to leach into your food. The seasoning layer helps prevent this reaction. Also, short cook times will have less reaction than long simmers.

Lastly, cast iron can be more work to clean. You should never put regular cast iron cookware in the dishwasher as it can strip seasoning and damage the pan. Iron will rust easily, so the dishwasher is a no-no.

Instead, handwash your cast iron with water and towel dry immediately. If extra scrubbing power is necessary, you can sprinkle salt on the pan and scrub with a non-abrasive sponge.

Still not sure? Watch this video by Lodge on how to clean cast iron cookware:

Cast Iron Cookware Reviews and Highlights

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet, 12-inch

Lodge has an unmatched reputation for traditional cast iron skillets and cookware. They make some of the best cast-iron cookware in the U.S.A. This 12-inch (30.48 cm) skillet is preseasoned with vegetable oil and includes a silicone handle holder.

This skillet is compatible with all cooktops, including induction. It can go in the oven, as well. Although you use this skillet at any oven temperature on a standard oven, the silicone handle can only protect hands from heat up to 500°F (260°C).

A lot of customers loved the versatility of this pan. They used their skillets for everything but frying eggs. But many also said the factory seasoning wasn’t as good as they wanted. Several suggested seasoning the pan yourself before using.

To season this skillet, simply apply a very thin layer of oil all over the pan. Be sure to use an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado or canola oil. Line the bottom rack of the oven with foil or a baking sheet. Turn the pan upside down and bake at 400°F-450°F (204°C to 232°C) for 1 hour.

Lodge Combo Cooker Cast Iron, 10.25-inch

For the best in campfire cooking, Lodge makes this cast iron combo cooker. It has a diameter of 10.25 inches (26.04 cm) and functions as a deep skillet, fryer, or Dutch oven. The lid doubles as a shallow skillet or griddle.

You can use this combo cooker on the stove, in the oven, on the grill, or over a campfire.

This cast iron cooker has great reviews. Several users did mention how heavy this piece is. That weight makes this cast iron cooker extra sturdy and durable, but it’s not ideal for those with arthritis or weight limitations.

Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven, 8 Quarts

Lodge makes a line of camp cast iron Dutch ovens for all-purpose cooking over a grill or campfire. This piece is not for oven or stovetop use.

The camp Dutch oven has a capacity of 8 quarts (7.57 liters), which can hold enough food to feed 6-8 people. You can cook a whole chicken with veggies in this cast iron pan.

The flanged lids can hold hot coals and will invert to become grill pans. The legs mean you can easily balance this Dutch oven over hot coals.

Customers loved this camp Dutch oven and the variety of foods they could make with it. Many reviewers had success with chicken, casseroles, soups, cobblers, roast, and more.

All About Enameled Cast Iron Cookware

Enamel cast iron is bare cast iron cookware that has an enamel coating on the interior and exterior of the pan. Enameled cookware is great because it does not require seasoning and won’t react with acidic foods like tomato sauce.

Enameled cast iron pots and pans can also go in the dishwasher, although handwashing is typically recommended. You shouldn’t use metal utensils on enamel, either, to avoid chipping or cracking.

Enameled cast iron can go in the oven and is compatible with all cooktops, including induction.

But if you were hoping to use these pans to get a searing heat? Think again. Enameled cast iron is versatile, but regular cast iron is better for searing meat or other food that requires high heat.

If you want a heavy-duty piece of cookware that doesn’t require the maintenance of cast iron, enameled pieces are a good option.

Watch this video about how to cook with enameled cast iron to find out more:

Enameled Coated Cast Iron Cookware Reviews and Highlights

Le Creuset Enameled Signature Cast Iron Skillet, 11.75-inch

Le Creuset is known for enameled dutch ovens and skillets. This Signature enamel cast iron skillet is 11.75 inches across (29.85 cm) and features a black enamel cooking surface.

This skillet is oven-safe up to 500°F (260°C) and is dishwasher safe. It comes in a variety of bright colors and has a helper handle to make it easy to lift.

Users raved about this Le Creuset skillet, although some complained of sticking.

Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse Oven

This Le Creuset Sauteuse has a capacity of 3.5 quarts (3.31 liters), making it great for feeding 2-4 people. This versatile piece of cookware can be used for casseroles, soups, and one-pot meals.

Just like other Le Creuset pieces, this sauteuse comes in a host of vivid colors, but unlike the skillet, this pan has a sand-colored interior. This helps monitor browning meat.

This Sauteuse had rave reviews overall, but several reviewers said their interior cooking surface became stained with use. This won’t affect the cookware’s performance, but it can be a little unsightly.

This is called a sauteuse because of its slightly lower walls, but you can absolutely use it as a Dutch oven.

Tramontina Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 6.5-quart

From Tramontina comes this enamel cast iron Dutch. It has a capacity of 6.5 quarts (6.15 liters), enough to feed 4-6 people. It comes in a bright blue color and a cream-colored interior.

It’s oven-safe up to 400°F (204°C) and is compatible with all cooktops, including induction.

Customers liked using this pot for roast, cobblers, and soups. It has even heating and holds in heat, making it ideal for a variety of foods.

The maximum temperature limitation does mean it’s probably not as suited for baking some bread or other high heat dishes.

Tramontina is a more affordable brand, making this Dutch oven a nice introduction to enamel cookware.

Cast Iron vs Enameled Cast Iron: Feature Comparison

Cast Iron vs Enameled Cast iron. Enameled cast iron cookware on the left and cast iron on the right

Construction

Cast iron cookware can either consist of bare cast iron or pre-seasoned cast iron. Enameled cast iron, however, has a cast iron core with an enamel coating on the exterior and the cooking surface. The enameled version does not require seasoning.

Cookware Types

While both cast-iron cookware and enameled cast iron come in a variety of cookware pieces, there are certain types that are closely associated with each material.

Bare cast iron is most common in skillets and frying pans, griddles, and Dutch ovens to a limited extent. Enameled pieces span a wider range. Dutch ovens are quite popular, as well as skillets, casseroles, braisers, and sauteuses.

Neither has the advantage here as they are both available in all the types you need. In particular, both Lodge and Le Creuset are manufacturers who produce an incredible range of shapes and sizes.

Appearance

This difference is perhaps the most easily recognizable. Cast iron cookware is black or grey and has a rustic look. It’s a timeless appearance, but it’s limited. The advantage, however, is that it won’t chip or scratch.

Enameled cast iron cookware, however, comes in a variety of colors and finishes. For instance, Le Creuset offers almost 20 vibrant colors on their enameled Dutch oven and skillet. The interior surface is typically a cream-colored or black enamel coating.

The colorful enamel coating is more attractive, but it’s more vulnerable to chips and imperfections that will show, sometimes glaringly.

Durability

If you want the most durable piece of cookware, regular cast iron is your best bet. It’s tough stuff. Even after a little rusting, you can restore a cast iron skillet if you clean it with a chain mail scrubber and re-season it.

Cast iron is not indestructible, however. Dropping the pan or hitting it against sharp corners, extreme rust, and harsh cleaning chemicals can all damage a cast iron pan. Still, it’s quite difficult to ruin cast iron cookware.

Enameled cast iron is easier to chip and scratch during use and storage. This limits the lifespan of these pans. However, properly using enamel cast iron reduces the likelihood of scratches. Sticking to low or medium heat, handwashing, and storing in a single layer are all ways to prevent damage.

It’s also true that higher quality enamel pans, like Le Creuset, tend to last longer than more affordable ones, such as Tramontina.

Whichever way you scratch it though, raw cast iron is more durable.

Cooking Performance & Oven Usage

Both seasoned cast iron and enameled cast iron retain heat well. This makes them great for stovetop-to-table dishes, as the food won’t get cold. They’re also great for slow cooking or simmering, for the same reason.

If seasoned properly, cast iron will possess a naturally non-stick surface. You shouldn’t expect the same non-stick surface as Teflon, but you should be able to cook almost any food without sticking.

Enameled cast iron is stick-resistant, but it’s not non-stick. You will still need oil or butter to prevent many foods from sticking.

As mentioned before, bare cast iron cookware is porous and reactive. Food rich in acidic ingredients like tomatoes, citrus fruits, or wine can break down the seasoning and cause corrosion during the cooking process.

Enameled cast iron, however, has a protective coating in the enamel. Its surface is smooth and nonporous, making it safe for cooking acidic foods.

When it comes to oven use, both cast iron and enameled cast iron cookware are oven-safe. Maximum temperatures range for enameled cast iron from 400°F to 500°F  (204°C to 260°C). 

This is a balanced feature. For high heat cooking, bare cast iron has the advantage. When cooking sticky or acidic food, then go with enamel.

Cleaning and Maintenance

With both types of cookware, it’s important to let the pan cool down completely before washing. Running cold water over a hot pan can cause thermal shock and ruin the cookware.

Cast iron is not dishwasher-safe and must be hand-washed. You can use soap if you’re about to re-season the pan, but even then you shouldn’t use as much soap as with other cookware. Soap can break down the seasoning that you worked so hard to build. You can use a chain mail scrubber to get stuck on food off, if necessary.

Some enameled cast iron, like Le Creuset skillet or Dutch oven, is dishwasher-safe, but handwashing is recommended to preserve the enamel layer.

However other enameled cast iron isn’t dishwasher safe, such as the Tramontina Dutch oven. Some enamel pots can even have an exposed cast iron rim–which the dishwasher will rust!

Wash your enameled cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven with mild soap and a non-abrasive sponge. Towel dry and store in a single layer to avoid chips and scratches.

Bare cast iron needs to be seasoned. After a while, your pan may need to be re-seasoned. The process is simple, but it can be a hassle.

Simply coat your cast iron pan in a very thin layer of oil and bake at 400°F (204°F) for an hour, turning the skillet upside down to let the excess oil drip out onto a foil-lined oven rack.

Enamel cast iron does not need to be seasoned. So when it comes to cast iron vs. enameled cast iron? In the area of cleaning and maintenance, enamel cast iron gets the advantage.

Cooktop compatibility

Both cast iron and enameled cast iron are compatible with all cooktops, including induction. However, bare cast iron has a rougher surface and can scratch glass or ceramic cooktops if you aren’t careful.

Enameled cast iron cookware is must less likely to scratch cooktops due to its smooth surface. If you use cast iron on a glass cooktop, be sure to avoid dragging or shaking the pan on the stove top.

Clearly enameled cast iron is the better choice for glass and ceramic stovetops, but it’s a draw for other cooktop types.

Cost

Generally, enameled cast iron is going to be more expensive than regular cast iron. The enameling process requires more time and more materials, which leads to a greater cost.

Obviously, price varies among brands and locations. The most popular brand for cast iron is Lodge, whereas the top name in enamel cast iron is Le Creuset.

Lodge is generally very affordable, whereas Le Creuset tends to reflect its premium quality with a premium price.

Tramontina enameled cast iron, while normally pricier than Lodge, is usually significantly more affordable than Le Creuset.

Enameled Cast Iron vs. Cast Iron: Which is best for you?

When it comes to cast iron vs. enameled cast iron, which cookware material is right for you?

If you cook a lot of tomato-based recipes or like to deglaze with lemon, I would recommend the Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron skillet. If you want to make one-pot meals or casseroles with a low-maintenance piece of cookware, I would go with the Le Creuset Sauteuse.

For an affordable introduction to enamel cookware, I recommend the Tramontina Dutch oven.

On the other hand, if you like outdoor or campfire cooking, the Lodge Dutch oven is your best option. For searing meats, making biscuits or hashes, I would go with the Lodge cast iron skillet. It’s affordable, durable, and versatile. 

Whichever piece you choose, you can rest assured you’ll be getting a solid piece of high-quality cookware.