Enameled pans and pots are essentially cast iron cooking vessels covered—on the inside and out—with vitreous enamel, a thick layer of melted glass that gets fused onto the metal through a particular process.
That layer gives each cooking vessel a shiny and slick finish, often painted in bold and beautiful colors, giving it several advantages compared to its traditional (bare) cast iron counterparts.
To begin with, the porcelain enamel completely covers the cast iron core, protecting it from corrosion and rust. So enameled pans and pots don’t need to be seasoned at all and can even go in the dishwasher, though manufacturers nevertheless recommend cleaning them by hand.
The non-porous porcelain also keeps the metal core from coming into contact with and reacting to acidic foods. This means you can prepare recipes that call for tomatoes, vinegar, and wine without having to worry about any dietary iron leaching into your supper.
Still, they don’t come cheap. So, before buying one, you may be wondering what exactly they’re good for. Well, my friend, let’s say you came to the right place! This is precisely what we’ll be tackling in today’s article.
For those of you who want the long story short before getting into it, here it is:
Enameled cast iron is ideal for searing, braising, and stewing. Not like bare cast iron, which reacts to acidic cooking liquids and leaches dietary iron into your food, enameled cast iron doesn’t react to acids, so you can prepare dishes with tomatoes, vinegar, and wine in it without fuss.
There are two types of enameled cookware: skillets and grill pans, intended first and foremost for using on the stove, and Dutch ovens (also known by their French name, cocottes). Dutch ovens are tall and multi-functional pots that you can cook with on the stove and put in the oven.
Here’s what else you need to know.
What Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens Are Good For
Enameled Dutch ovens are heavy pots made of a single-piece cast iron core coated with a brightly colored porcelain enamel.
Just like bare cast iron, they take a while to heat up. But, once they do, they’re capable of holding on to that heat incredibly well. Apart from the fact that they’re things of beauty, they have the added advantage of allowing you to simmer acidic foods without leaching iron into them.
Because they can go on the stove and handle the heat of your oven, enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are some of the most versatile pieces of cookware you could possibly have in your home kitchen.
A few of my favorite use cases below:
Enameled Dutch ovens are best for one-pot meals and braises that you start on the stove and finish off in the oven. They’re also good for slow-cooking stews, soups, sauces, and gravies, especially when the recipe calls for long simmering times.
Other common uses for them include searing thick cuts of meat, boiling pasta, rice, and grains, and all cooking methods that require consistent heat, such as shallow-frying and deep-frying.
Last but not least, thanks to their round shape, tall sides, and heat distribution, they’re great for baking homemade cake and rustic loaves of bread.
What Enameled Cast Iron Skillets Are Good For
Enameled cast iron skillets and grill pans, their square-shaped cousins, are cast iron pans with the same porcelain coating as Dutch ovens.
The coating consists of two parts: a decorative, brightly colored exterior and a reinforced, dark gray interior capable of withstanding high heat without cracking and chipping.
Unlike bare cast iron skillets, enameled cast iron skillets don’t need to be seasoned. This is good if you see the process of seasoning cookware as more of an unwanted burden than an enjoyable act of care.
But don’t let cookware companies’ claims that their surface is naturally non-stick fool you; that’s not quite the case.
Enameled cookware’s non-porous porcelain surface isn’t as sticky as stainless steel. However, you’ll need to cook with fat or oil every now and then in order to keep foods from sticking to it.
As the cast of America’s Test Kitchen demonstrated in the clip below, delicate foods, like eggs and whitefish, are prone to sticking to them unless you use plenty of animal fat or vegetable oil.
What are these pans good for?
As a general rule of thumb, enameled skillets do a fantastic job of browning thick-cut steak, pan-frying burgers, and searing large salmon fillets. Unlike bare cast iron, they won’t catch smells from the foods that you cook with them.
Flat skillets are more versatile, as you can also cook sunnyside-up eggs and whitefish in them, or simmer sauces and gravies. Grill pans, on the other hand, are mostly fit for cooking meat. They leave grill marks and catch any dripping juices from it, so that it comes out nice and crispy.
One thing to know about these skillets and grill pans is that they’re heavy on the wrist. So they’re definitely not the right tool for cooking techniques like sautéing that require you to toss, rather than stir, the ingredients in them.
Where Enameled Cookware Falls Short
The consensus in the cookware community is that enameled cooking vessels tend to be superior to their bare cast iron counterparts… as long as price isn’t necessarily a factor and outdoor cooking isn’t a need.
Of course, these are two significant exclusions to make.
Good enameled cookware can be very expensive. For cooks shopping on a budget, its price can be a total deal-breaker. Traditional cast iron skillets cost twenty bucks, give or take, whereas same-sized enameled skillets retail for about a hundred and fifty (the exact price varies with the make and model).
If you’re the type who goes camping and cooks over a campfire, enameled cookware isn’t right for you. The high heat from the towering flames can stain the enamel and cause it to chip and crack. Camp cooks should opt for bare cast iron instead.
Compared to bare cast iron, enameled cast iron has a slightly lower thermal conductivity. This means that they heat up even more evenly but take a little longer to heat up. Here’s how to tell when your skillet is hot enough.
Last but not least, the porcelain enamel is fragile. Unless you handle it carefully and use only silicone or wooden utensils for stirring and flipping over foods in them, you might hit them against metals and other pieces of cookware, chipping the enamel as a result. In 99% of the cases, the warranty on your product won’t cover damage from misuse.