Enameled cast iron cookware, like skillets, grill pans, and Dutch ovens, is often touted as the better (but more expensive) alternative to cast iron.
Sturdy and heavy, these cooking vessels heat up evenly and retain that heat exceptionally well. This makes them ideal for heavy-duty cooking tasks like braising cheaper cuts of meat, searing thick-cut steak, and baking cornbread.
Unlike their counterparts made of bare cast iron, enameled cast iron cookware pieces won’t leach dietary iron into acidic foods. So you can safely cook recipes with tomatoes, vinegar, and wine in them, even when they call for long simmering times.
Enameled cast iron is also easier to look after as it doesn’t require any seasoning at all. Seasoning, for readers who haven’t heard of this term, is the act of greasing an empty pan or pot with vegetable oil, then baking it for an hour in the oven to give it a protective and non-stick coating.
In their adverts and product descriptions, manufacturers like to point out that enameled cast iron cookware is also dishwasher-friendly.
But look at the fine print or read through the owner’s manuals, and they still recommend washing them by hand.
Since you’re here, you’ve probably come across this, too. Now, you’re wondering, “Why is that?”
Just how dishwasher-safe is this type of cookware?
Enameled cast iron cookware is generally dishwasher-safe. However, most manufacturers recommend hand-cleaning as the dinnerware and utensils moving around in the dishwasher can easily chip the enamel coating.
That’s the thing about enameled cast iron: the porcelain enamel, the source of its superpowers, is also what makes it vulnerable to kryptonite.
Porcelain enamel is made by mixing together powdered glass, stone, clay, and a few other materials and smelting them in an industrial furnace at a temperature of approximately 1,800°F.
The scorching-hot slurry is then applied onto cast iron cookware by dipping, dry spraying, or electrostatic wet spraying, depending on the cookware company’s (or, as is frequently the case nowadays, their East Asia-based subcontractors’) production processes.
The newly-coated cast iron cookware is dried and baked at a temperature of 1,500°F for about 4-5 minutes, which allows the enamel coating to fuse with the cast-iron core.
This, by general consensus among cookware geeks, makes your enameled cast iron skillet or Dutch oven superior to traditional cast iron cookware in a number of ways:
First, the cast-iron core is not exposed in any way to the air and the liquids of the foods you cook in it. Cast iron, as any metallurgist will tell you, is highly reactive, so the enamel coating protects it from corrosion and rust.
Second, this takes away the burden of having to season your cookware. The porcelain enamel already serves the same function as the baked-on vegetable oil seasoning’s function. And, no matter how hard you scrub, you can’t wash it away.
Third, it makes the cooking vessel gorgeous and turns it into nothing short of a decorative piece in your home kitchen. Just look for a skillet or Dutch oven on the market, and your eyes will feast on the bright and saturated colors that they come in.
Of course, this type of cookware also has a fair share of drawbacks.
Enamel coatings are dry and stiff. Like all materials that won’t mold and flex when subject to heat or impact, they are susceptible to cracking under thermal shock and chipping when hit by hard objects.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not uncommon for enamel cast iron owners to damage their skillets, grill pans, and/or Dutch ovens when they’re not being careful enough while using and cleaning them.
So here’s what to watch out for (and what my whole rant has to do with your dishwasher):
As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to expose enameled cast iron cookware to stark differences in temperature.
For example, taking a hot Dutch oven right out of the oven and placing it on a cold countertop is a recipe for disaster. So is running cold water on a skillet you’ve just finished cooking with.
While they’re less extreme than the examples above, your dishwasher’s cycles are usually long and intense. Those chemically aggressive dishwasher detergents won’t do it much good, either.
And the muted noises you hear while the dishwasher is running?
That’s the sound of colliding dinnerware, cookware, and utensils as the dishwasher fills itself with water, and some of the items, submerged in it start to float freely. As we’ve already established, when something in the likes of a plate or serving spoon bangs against the enamel, it can easily chip away a piece of it—exposing the bare iron underneath.
How Can Enameled Cast Iron Go in the Dishwasher?
Does that mean you should stop putting them in the dishwasher altogether?
I’m an owner of a few enameled cooking vessels myself. And I know how it feels when you’re too tired to put in the elbow grease needed to clean them by hand.
When putting enameled cookware in the dishwasher, you want to make sure it stays in its place and that, during the cleaning cycle, there are no other items like forks, knives, and spatulas around it that could start floating freely and collide with it.
In other words, enameled cast iron cookware doesn’t get along well with neighbors, especially in the dishwasher. The less it has when you’re loading the dishwasher, the better (ideally, there are none).
Still, don’t do this too often.
These cookware pieces are expensive and, even though hand-washing may not be the most pleasant thing to do on Earth, it’s how to best care for them.
Pro tip: fill enameled cast iron cookware with water and rest it for 2-3 hours before cleaning it by hand to make the whole process easier.
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