Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron

By Alex Williams | Indoor Living

Jan 08
cast iron skillet

Now that you’ve decided to delve into cooking with an iron skillet, you’ve realized there are several kinds to choose from. So it’s best to do your research and narrow down your choice, according to your own needs and preferences in the kitchen. While cast iron is probably the most common, you may discover that enameled cast iron better meets your cooking needs.

First, start out by narrowing down your choices to selecting between cast iron an enameled cast iron. Both can be great additions to your cooking arsenal.

What Are They?

  • Cast Iron: These sturdy pans, which are made when molten hot iron is poured into casts that give them their shape, have a history that dates all the way back to the 4th Century B.C. China. They made their way to England in the 1100s A.D. and came into popularity in the United States in the 18th Century. Suffice it to say, these pans have been tried and true cookware for many centuries.
  • Enameled Cast Iron: These pans are also cast iron, only covered with a coat of enameled paint. They’re safe to use with such acidic foods as tomato-based sauces. Plus, they’re thick, heavy and safe to use on a stovetop, on a grill, or in the oven.

Pros & Cons of Cast Iron Cookware

Advantages of Cast Iron Pans:

  • Because these pans are forged from iron, a small portion of that iron is absorbed into the food they cook. Therefore, you get a portion of the daily amount of iron needed in your diet when you cook with them.
  • Cast iron skillets are also non-toxic, which means they remain safe after frequent use.
  • When seasoned properly, they have natural non-stick characteristics.
  • Cast iron pans are incredibly versatile, easily used on the stove top or in the oven.
  • They distribute heat evenly, making for an ideal cooking situation.
  • They’re durable and can literally last for 100 years.
  • Cast iron pans are pretty inexpensive. A 10.25-inch skillet averages around $20.

Disadvantages of Cast Iron Pans:

  • Because they’re iron and can easily rust, these pans need to be seasoned and maintained regularly.
  • Acidic foods can’t be cooked in these pans. When they are, the acid strips the seasoning from the pan.
  • These pans are slow to heat up.
  • Cast iron pans are not good for caramelizing food. Trying to do this will strip the seasoning layer, making your sauce gray.
  • These pans don’t work well with metal utensils, which strip the seasoning layer from the cookware.
  • Bare cast iron pans are heavy. A 10.25-inch pan can weigh 5 pounds.

Pros & Cons of Enameled Cast Iron Cookware

Advantages of Enameled Cast Iron Pans:

  • Thanks to the enamel coating, these pans won’t rust.
  • The enamel coating also makes these pans ideal for cooking such acidic dishes as chili or spaghetti sauce.
  • Because these pans don’t need to be seasoned, they’re easy to clean and maintain.
  • Although not quite as durable as bare cast iron, these pans can still last for several decades.

Disadvantages of Enameled Cast Iron Pans:

  • Food may stick when cooking with these pans.
  • The enameled layer in these pans prevents the iron from absorbing into the food.
  • These pans are typically more expensive than bare cast iron. A round, 10-inch skillet can start at around $40.
  • Enameled cast iron does not hold up as well as bare cast iron. The paint coating can chip off after a time.
  • Heat does not distribute as evenly in these pans, making for hot spots and uneven cooking.

The choice between these two pans comes down to personal taste and use. For sturdy cookware that’s durable and versatile, bare cast iron is great. For cooking tomato-based sauces and caramelizing, enameled cast iron would be a wise choice. Comparing the characteristics of both will help you select the pan that’s best for your needs.