If you’re looking for durable, effective and stylish cookware, you should try hard enamel.
But, what is hard enamel cookware?
Hard enamel cookware is coated with porcelain enamel, which is made by melting the porcelain over aluminum, iron, stainless steel or steel.
But, there’s more to it than just that!
Here I detail what it is, why it’s great and a few things you should be aware of before considering it.
I’ve based my research on my own experience and extensive research. I investigate, so you don’t have to!
Hard Enamel Cookware Properties
The porcelain coating makes the cookware unusually strong with low porosity and a scratch-resistant finish. The non-stick finish won’t peel off, even with daily use rigors, and the color won’t fade.
Cookware can have the hard enamel coating on the exterior and interior, or it can be plain with a non-stick coating on the interior. Hard enamel cookware also comes in a range of colors, designs, shapes and different metal coatings.
Hard Enamel vs Hard Anodized Cookware
Both hard enamel and hard anodized cookware have their advantages and disadvantages, although hard enamel cookware has been around for a lot longer.
Both sets of cookware are normally not sticky, easy to clean, and can withstand high temperatures without the material leaching. They’re also both made without any harmful toxins.
Be warned, though—hard anodized cookware is non-stick because it normally has a coating that may contain Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), the active ingredient of Teflon. Since hard enamel cookware is naturally non-stick, it should be free of any suspect chemicals.
Also, unlike hard enamel cookware made of different materials, hard anodized cookware can be made only from aluminum.
If it isn’t coated or painted, hard anodized cookware will be a natural gray. Hard enamel cookware is renowned for coming in a beautiful range of colors.
Enamel vs Ceramic Cookware
Traditional ceramic cookware is baked in a kiln at low temperatures and is then glazed. It can also be simply a ceramic coating over cookware.
Enamel cookware can be ceramic, but the real thing “enamel” refers to is the coating—powdered and melted glass coated over cookware.
This is why you can have enamel cast iron cookware for example.
Choosing between enamel and ceramic cookware comes down to personal preference. Ceramic is great for dishes like lasagne or ratatouille, as it’s naturally free of any toxic chemicals, and you don’t have to worry about leeching. Just be careful what glaze you choose as anything containing lead could be toxic.
That’s why it’s important to always buy from reputable manufacturers.
Enamel cookware is also great for cooking dishes at high temperatures without leaching, as it doesn’t react to the food. What’s more, it retains heat, which keeps food warmer for longer on the table.
Enamel vs Ceramic Non-Stick Cookware
There is another type of ceramic cookware: modern ceramic non-stick cookware. This cookware has a metal body, normally consisting of aluminum and a ceramic coating.
Yet this isn’t a true enamel coating, normally this non-stick coating is a mixture, that sometimes even includes Teflon.
Ceramic non-stick cookware is typically cheaper but not as long lasting as enamel cookware. It’s often lighter and quicker to heat but less good at retaining heat.
If you are interested, then check out my ceramic cookware guide.
Enamel vs Nonstick Cookware
As you now know, enamel is non-toxic. The risk with many non-stick coatings on cookware is that they may contain toxins that could leach into food. Enamel eliminates this problem from the start.
As always, make sure to buy your cookware from a reputable manufacturer. Don’t put food in something you bought at a low price overseas unless you trust the seller.
Porcelain Pans vs Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is highly durable, but it requires some oil or butter to prevent sticking. They aren’t non-stick, so porcelain pans have the advantage there.
Enameled Cast Iron vs Traditional “bare” Cast Iron
The most common type of hard enamel cookware is enameled cast iron. This takes the traditional cast iron pan or pot and coats it with a layer of enamel.
The Pros and Cons of Hard Enamel Cookware
Cookware is a part of our daily life, and many people are looking for healthier and longer-lasting cookware options.
Before making that final buying decision, it’s best to know the advantages and disadvantages of hard enamel cookware.
Advantages of Hard Enamel Cookware
Yes, Hard Enamel Cookware Is Safe To Use
I see many people asking whether enamel cookware is safe. If you’ve been wondering this, it doesn’t react to food as bare metals do. This means that you can have one set of cookware that cooks all your favorite meals safely.
When the enamel is applied to the cookware, it’s fired in the kiln between 788 and 816°C (1,450 and 1,500°F), fusing the enamel to the base metal (normally cast iron). This forms a very strong bond around the material, permanently sealing in the enamel, which is why your food won’t be contaminated.
Depending on the brand of hard enamel cookware you buy, your pots and pans could withstand high temperatures of 260°C (500°F), which is great if you’re looking to braise or sear food.
You’ll find that the enamel’s heat conductivity is good and that it warms up slowly and evenly. Once the enamel cookware is hot, it will hold the heat well and maintain a consistent temperature.
Hard enamel cookware can be used on all heat sources, from stove tops that include gas and electric, to the oven or grill. If the base material is the typical cast iron it can be used on induction stoves.
If you’re into camping, you may even be able to use the enamel cookware in coal or wood-powered ovens.
If you’re using the cookware in a coal open fire or wood-powered oven, you just have to make sure that you don’t scorch the outside of the cookware with temperatures that are too hot.
It’s always good to bear in mind that hard enamel cookware is best warmed slowly and not to rush the process. Extreme temperature changes risk cracking the enamel.
As ever, make sure to check manufacturer’s guidance on stove types, especially for induction stoves, open fires or high temperatures.
When you invest in hard enamel cookware, you’ll have it for many years to come.
You won’t have to worry about enamel rusting, and it won’t retain any strong odors from something you’ve cooked either.
As with all pots, you have to take care of hard enamel cookware to make sure that you get many years of cooking with it. For instance, most enamel cookware is dishwasher-friendly, but it’s recommended that you hand wash with warm soapy water to be safe.
It’s also recommended that you don’t use metallic utensils in the pots. Metal can lead to deep scratches in the enamel.
Disadvantages of Porcelain Enamel Cookware
Enamel cookware sounds awesome so far, right?
It’s not all plain-sailing, especially since some may find it to be expensive. Although, when you look at how long it can last, it does pay for itself over time.
Here are some other things to bear in mind when you consider buying hard enamel cookware:
When you compare the weight of hard enamel cookware to aluminum, enamel cookware is much heavier, making it much less portable and user-friendly.
The weight directly depends on the material. For example, an enamel cast iron pot is heavier than one with stainless steel in its base.
Thermal conductivity levels mostly depend on the metal under the enamel.
If you have an enamel pan with an iron base, it will take a bit of time to heat. But, you can get enamel cookware that has a steel base, which will heat more quickly while distributing the heat evenly throughout the pot.
Chipping and Cracking
The enamel coating can chip or crack on hard enamel cookware. Once that happens, unfortunately, there isn’t any way to repair it.
Yet, it doesn’t need to crack. Treat your enamel cookware with care and you’ll be fine:
- Hand wash
- No metal utensils
- Don’t drop it
- No extreme temperature changes
Using Hard Enamel Cookware
Cooking With Hard Enamel
Hard enamel cookware mostly follows the properties of the base metal. So if you have aluminum then it should warm up quite quickly.
It will also be light and easy to handle – thought not as much as other versions of aluminum cookware.
In the case of enameled cast iron, it definitely needs to be preheated. Preheating helps avoid hotspots, and helps reduce stickiness. It will also retain its heat for longer so you can turn it off the stove before you’ve finished cooking.
It’s great for any type of cooking where you want to keep that heat, such as searing.
Personally my favorite use of enameled cast iron is baking bread. For that you need a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid.
Enamel does need some care when cleaning. It’s important not to chip or scratch the enamel.
If you use the dishwasher make sure you:
- Have checked the manufacturer’s guidance (some hard enamel cookware is not dishwasher safe).
- Position the enameled cookware in a way that it won’t get scratched or chipped easily. This means nothing else should be able to touch it.
Actually though, I don’t recommend using the dishwasher at all! In most cases it’s quite easy to hand wash hard enamel:
- Try to clean it normally with a mild dish-soap or detergent, and warm water. Make sure not to subject it to a temperature change – maybe don’t clean it straight away. Scrub with a soft sponge and not anything abrasive.
- If that doesn’t work scrub with a 50:50 baking soda and water paste.
- If that still doesn’t work, fill it with water and add a few spoons of baking soda. Then boil it on the stove.
- Rinse and repeat if necessary.
So What Next?
You now know that hard enamel cookware is tough, durable and stylish – all at the same time!
If you can afford to spend a little more on hard enamel instead of ceramic or plain metal cookware, you’ll find that your cooking is not only safer but quicker. You’ll also have invested in some high-quality long-term cookware
Not sure? How about this: Get one hard enamel dish (perhaps a Dutch oven) and try it out.
If you want to dip your toes in gently, check out my Tramontina Dutch oven review for an affordable product. On the other hand if you want to start with a premium product, then I’ve compared both Staub and Le Creuset.
For those of you who’ve fallen in love with enamel, then check out my enamel cookware roundup.