One of the biggest debates in the world of cookware revolves around Enameled Cast Iron vs. Cast Iron cookware. For those new to such terms, the first thing you may be thinking is “surely enameled cast iron is better,” and rightfully so.
It’s human nature to believe that with two fundamentally the same products, but one that comes with an extra feature would automatically make that one the better choice.
In truth, adding an extra feature to a product always comes at a price, and that does not necessarily mean on a money level. For example, an enameled cast iron pan is not necessarily a better purchase than a regular cast iron pan.
What is Cast Iron?
By definition, cast iron is a group of iron-carbon alloys that contain a carbon content of at least 2% more than regular iron. As a result, this material offers a greater level of strength and durability that yields longer-lasting results.
However, when constructing cookware, cast iron and steel blocks are melted together, and the chemicals are intertwined to increase the carbon content further.
Cast iron cookware features various cooking items and utensils such as saucepans, saute pans, frying pans, stockpots, Dutch ovens, skillet makers, cast iron griddles, and more. They can store heat longer than many other materials used in cookware. This means you can continue cooking food for some time after turning off your stove.
Cast iron cookware typically comes in a dark black finish and is an excellent choice for concealing smudges and fingerprints.
What is Enameled Cast Iron?
On a fundamental level, they make enameled cast iron out of the same high-carbon steel alloy construction as regular cast iron. The critical difference is the added layer of enamel paint that covers the interior and exterior of the pot or pan.
This serves to maximize rust resistance and provide an aesthetic cooking surface. This coating, known as enamel or porcelain-enamel, is a light, strong, and semi-non stick type of glass.
The enameled cast iron range is typically the same as regular cast iron in terms of the products on offer. This includes the usual frying pans and Dutch oven pots in a typical line of cookware sets.
However, unlike bare cast iron cookware, enameled cast iron will offer excellent non-stick properties when seasoning is applied. It also provides a greater level of rust resistance, allowing you to soak your cookware for hours without compromising its performance over time.
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How are they different?
Indeed, the core difference between these two types of cookware is evident in their given names. Unlike regular cast iron cookware, enameled cast iron cookware features a layer of enamel coating that provides added advantages.
One of these benefits is quick food release properties that ease the cleaning process. It also enhances the cooking experience and delivers more delicious food results free of burn marks and uneven temperatures.
Regular cast iron cookware offers the same heat retention and distribution benefits but excels in durability. In addition, traditional cast iron cookware is not burdened by the enamel coating, unlike enameled cast iron. Unfortunately, enameled cast iron is more susceptible to damage from metal utensils and more prone to chipping and cracking.
Non-coated cast iron cookware is also significantly cheaper than enameled cast iron. However, it does not offer nearly as many colors and design choices as enamel cast iron.
How are they similar?
As mentioned, cast iron and enameled cast iron pots and pans are fundamentally the same in design and craftsmanship.
Both use melted pieces of cast iron and steel to create cookware with high carbon content. This makes both capable of withholding high temperatures to retain heat. As such, enameled and non-enameled cast iron cookware are fantastic performers when cooking food thoroughly and achieving quality searing and broiling results.
Cast-iron and enameled cast-iron are durable and you can wash both with soap and water. However, the exterior material may differ as enameled cast iron comes with a coated layer. Nevertheless, both regular and enameled cast iron pans and pots often feature similar handle designs despite the different materials.
Other similarities include that they both often come with excellent warranties, provided you go for a higher-quality brand. A good warranty means you could have your product refunded or replaced for any defects relating to manufacturing or lack of material quality.
What’s better about Cast Iron?
Essentially, cast iron cookware excels in durability and natural non-stick properties. The benefits of being naturally non-stick are that you can reduce the amount of seasoning used while maintaining the durability and strength of your cookware.
Additionally, with increased use over time and consistent seasoning, your traditional cast iron skillets, pans, and pots have more non-stick benefits. This is because the cookware absorbs the seasoning properties and adds them to its composition.
This privilege is not available for enameled cast iron cookware. They essentially are sacrificing the benefits of durability and resistance to chipping and cracking for an enhanced non-stick experience that lasts the distance.
Furthermore, cast iron cookware is more cost-effective than enamel coated. You can usually enjoy higher levels of oven safety up to 500 degrees F and beyond. Typical cast iron cookware also comes in darker colors such as black or dark brown, which helps to hide smudges and fingerprints for a more consistently aesthetic appearance.
What’s better about Enameled Cast Iron?
Most prominently, enameled cast iron cookware trumps regular cast iron when resisting corrosion and rust. This means you can soak your cookware for long periods in water or other liquids without damaging the interior cooking surface.
Furthermore, unlike uncoated cast iron, enameled cast iron allows you to braise and boil liquids without causing damage to your cookware. Rust rusting or burn marks make it more suitable than standard cast iron cookware for specific recipes.
A typical enameled cast iron skillet that is appropriately seasoned could yield a range of advantages over its non-coated cast iron counterpart. For instance, you will be able to enjoy healthier food cooked with a non-toxic surface that optimizes flavor. It also eliminates the metallic taste of a traditional cast iron pan.
Finally, enameled cast iron cookware comes in a far greater range of colors and design choices. It is not limited to just the darker shades like that of normal cast iron cookware.
Who should get Cast Iron?
Regular cast iron cookware is a great choice for a naturally non-stick surface that will consistently give good results. In addition, they minimize the amount of seasoning required. It’s also great if you plan to cook at extremely high temperatures as this type of cookware is significantly more oven-safe than its enameled counterpart.
Furthermore, cast iron cookware can alleviate the burden of avoiding metal utensils. The surface is not likely to receive damage or cracks like the enameled version.
In addition to its superior durability and resistance to high heat, cast iron cookware has the effect of improving with time in terms of non-stick benefits. Unlike enameled cast iron which ultimately degrades gradually with time.
Normal cast iron slowly absorbs the compounds and non-stick properties of your seasoning over time. This means you can reduce the amount of oil with time for a healthier cooking experience.
On a smaller note, you may benefit from an uncoated cast iron pan if you have an iron deficiency. This is because your food will naturally absorb some of the properties of your cooking surface and fill your food with more iron on a micro-scale.
Of course, the benefits of this may not be noticeable for the user, but it is a factor to consider and could help you increase your natural mineral intake over some time.
Who should get Enameled Cast Iron?
Enameled cast iron cookware is the more non-reactive material of the two. This means you could cook acidic foods without compromising the composition of your pots and grill pans. It is also far more resistant to corrosion than normal cast iron. Furthermore, it can provide a fair degree of nonstick properties through its semi-nonstick surface.
As such, enameled cast iron cookware suits those seeking something that’ll improve their cooking process. This allows them to boil and braise food without damaging the pot or pan.
Enameled cast iron is the way to go for healthy cooking and safer eating. Its enameled coating allows you to enjoy the benefits of toxic-free cooking and upholds your food’s natural taste and flavors.
This is because the glass material of the enamel coating does not interfere with your food’s chemical composition and make-up. This means you won’t get any nasty metallic taste that often occurs with regular cast iron pans and pots.
Many of the materials used for cast iron and enameled cast iron remain largely the same. Both types of cookware come in with a range of high carbon steel alloys in their composition make-up. Of course, enameled cast iron comes with an extra layer of coating on its exterior and interior to prevent rust.
While this improves the resistance to corrosion and rusting when exposed to hot or cold water. It also takes away from the natural nonstick properties of cast-iron, preventing the cookware from building up its natural seasoned cast iron surface.
Indeed, the key differences between these two types of cookware come from the protective layer with enameled cast iron pots and pans. But, for better or worse, this has changed a few things around.
But, ultimately, since both cookware lines utilize the same fundamental material for its core, cast iron. Therefore, it is safe to say that enameled cast iron wins this bout between materials used simply because it has more to offer in that department. Thus, enameled cast iron takes the victory over regular cast iron on this occasion.
Winner: Enameled cast iron
There is no doubt that both cast iron and enameled cast iron perform better in different areas. So, this contest will undoubtedly come down to the user’s personal preference and cooking goals.
On the one hand, cast iron delivers a better nonstick surface that improves over time. This results in a reduced need for unhealthy seasonings over time.
However, on the other hand, enameled cast iron provides a protective layer of rust-resistant coating in and around the cookware. This allows you to soak the enameled pieces in water without copping any damage to their structure.
While cast iron and enameled cast iron share the common trait of superior heat conductivity, retention, and distribution, cast iron pans and pots are the better choices when exposed to extremely high temperatures.
However, enameled cast iron is a healthier option. It eliminates the possibility of compromising food with a metallic iron taste. In addition, the coating is less reactive to acidic foods such as meats and eggs (1).
Thus, we can see from this performance comparison that both types of cookware excel and decline in different aspects. Deciding which of these features is more important than the other ultimately comes down to who the user is and their goals with their cookware.
I’d recommend going for regular cast iron for nonstick benefits and better durability as a general rule. On the other hand, I’d recommend enameled cast iron for more liquid-based cooking and healthier eating experiences. Thus, it comes down to a draw between these two types of cookware in individual performances and yielding results.
The user experience is an often overlooked aspect of purchasing cookware. This means how well your cookware accommodates your needs and goals. Plus, how it affects your overall happiness in cooking with these products.
Essential factors to consider include ergonomics, the level of unwanted effort required to get what you want, and how pleasant or unpleasant the cooking process is.
Despite their differences in materials and craftsmanship, enameled cast iron and standard cast iron pots and pans come with similarly designed handles. For pots, this means two side helper handles. For pans, this means a single long extended handle that keeps you at a safe distance from the hot elements of the cookware.
These handles are usually ergonomic. Both cookware lines can provide you with a sense of comfort, security, and grip that makes cooking effortless and fun.
However, in the contest of cast iron vs. enameled cast iron, some aspects of the user experience differ significantly. For instance, enameled cast iron pots and pans require adding more seasoning to achieve the same level of non-stick properties as normal cast iron.
For this reason, you need to be careful with metal utensils when using enameled cookware. You will have a better user experience with uncoated or regular cast iron cooking products.
Winner: Cast iron
Cleaning & Maintenance
The cleaning and maintenance process is also part of the user experience to a large degree, but it is also critical enough to have its own category. As discussed, enameled cast iron cooking products are highly resistant to rust and corrosion. You will have a more effortless time cleaning as you can use as much soap and water without causing damage to your cookware.
On the downside, maintaining the enamel coating could be a pain. In addition, you must avoid using metal utensils for longevity’s sake and be generally more careful with how you handle the cookware while cooking to avoid cracks.
Regular cast iron is devoid of this problem. There is no fragile coating to be aware of. In addition, you can typically enjoy cooking at a higher oven temperature. They design this type of cookware to handle extremely high temperatures without sustaining damage to its design.
Thus, the cleaning process alone may be easier with enameled cast iron cookware due to its anti-rust properties (2). However, the overall maintenance experience pales compared to regular cast iron.
You can generally be rougher with cast iron, expose the cookware to high-temperature searing heat, and clean it with a metal chain mail scrubber without damaging the surface like enamel cast iron. But, without a doubt, cast iron cookware is my preferred option in the cleaning and maintenance department.
Winner: Cast iron
Colors & Design
In terms of design, both cookware lines are fairly similar. They offer similar types and styles of saucepans, saute pans, stockpots, and Dutch ovens, at least as far as core functionality goes.
However, there are far more options in terms of color and appearance with enamel cast iron pans and pots. They are more “kitchen-friendly,” and most home cooks use them. Regular cast iron excels in outdoor cooking because of its strength, durability, and heat retention, making them great for barbecues and outdoor grilling.
On the downside, raw cast iron cookware is more limited in the available color choices and often comes in darker tones such as black or dark gray/brown. As this helps to conceal any burn marks sustained from searing meat.
On the other hand, an enameled Dutch oven would not display such marks due to its high resistance to rust and corrosion. This makes it the better choice for indoor cooking in the kitchen. Thus, enameled cookware takes the cake as far as colors and design choices go.
Winner: Enamel cast iron
Enameled Cast Iron vs. Cast Iron FAQ
Which is better cast iron or enameled cast iron?
Cast iron is certainly the better choice for durability and strength, but enamel cast iron excels in resisting rust and offering healthier cooking alternatives due to its non-reactiveness towards acidic foods. Therefore, both raw cast iron and enameled cast iron cookware are excellent choices. It would be best to base your decision on your needs rather than a given consensus.
Is enameled cast iron as good as regular?
In terms of overall performance, enameled cast iron is just as good as regular or raw cast iron, though each type of cookware excels in different areas. For example, Enameled cast iron is better for healthy eating and cooking liquid-based acidic foods. In comparison, raw cast iron is better for outdoor cooking and grilling thicker meats where strength, durability, and quick food release are a must.
What’s the difference between enameled and cast iron?
There are a few key differences between enameled and cast iron, and they all stem from the addition of the enameled layer of coating present with the former. This results in differences, including increased rust resistance, fewer chemicals, and greater durability with raw cast iron.
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(1) – https://www.dentalhealth.org/blog/what-foods-and-drinks-contain-acid-and-why-it-spells-trouble-for-our-oral-health
(2) – https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/materials-science/anti-corrosion