The world of cooking is a vast one. There are so many materials and coatings for your pots and pans to choose from, each with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
Some types of cooking vessels, like cast iron and carbon steel, which heat slowly but evenly, are better for browning thick-cut steak and searing large filets of salmon. Others, like aluminum and copper, are highly responsive to temperature changes, which makes them better for sautéing thin-sliced meats and vegetables.
Some have non-stick surfaces (Teflon and ceramic), allowing you to cook sunnyside-up eggs and whitefish in them without mangling. Others need to be seasoned (cast iron) or require you to use cooking oil or animal fat (stainless steel) to keep foods from sticking.
Then, there’s enameled cast iron cookware: a spin-off from cast iron cookware that’s not only gorgeous and functional yet versatile and long-lasting.
Yes, they don’t come cheap, but with the proper care and attention from your side, they can last you a lifetime. Some even turn into a family heirloom and get haded down for generations.
Enameled cast iron pans and pots have stood the test of time—and proven themselves as pieces of cookware capable of helping you cook almost anything you throw in them to sheer perfection.
So, if you’re eyeing one, here are my top reasons to go for it.
1. It heats relatively evenly and retains heat really well.
Every piece of enameled cookware is essentially a cast iron cooking vessel that’s been coated, on the inside and out, with porcelain enamel. This gives it more or less the same thermal properties as traditional cast iron.
According to The Engineering Toolbox, cast iron has a thermal conductivity of 52 Watts per meter-Kelvin (W/mK), making it four and a half times less efficient at conducting heat than aluminum and almost eight times worse than copper.
So, compared to aluminum—which is what most Teflon and ceramic pans are made of—and copper, enameled cast iron cookware takes longer to heat up.
However, once it’s hot enough, the cast iron body and the porcelain enamel distribute that heat rather evenly and can hold on to it for an extended period of time, long after you’ve taken the vessel off of the heat.
This, for example, makes enameled skillets and grill pans great for browning thick-cut steak or searing large salmon filets. Adding a big cut of meat to the hot pan won’t cause its temperature to fluctuate all that much, which keeps moisture levels low and leads to better browning.
For the same reasons, enameled Dutch ovens are the perfect tool for keeping stews and soups warm. Suppose you cook up chili or beef stew in one on a late Sunday afternoon. You can leave it on your stove with the lid on, and it will stay warm for dinner.
2. You can cook anything in it, including acidic foods.
The biggest disadvantage of cast iron cookware is that it isn’t a good choice for cooking acidic foods. Its cooking surface will react to the acid and leach dietary iron into your meals. The longer the simmering times, the heftier the amount that’s leached.
Even if you’re totally fine with that, the acidity will erode the seasoning on your skillet or Dutch oven, and you’ll probably have to re-season it all over again. So, as much as you like that slight tang of apple cider vinegar in your chili, it’s probably not a good idea to add it.
Enameled cast iron cookware solves that problem by allowing you to cook anything in it:
The porcelain enamel coating keeps the bare cast iron from coming into any contact whatsoever with your food, so recipes that call for lemon and lime juice, tomatoes, vinegar, and wine are no longer a no-no.
3. It’s easy to clean and can even go in the dishwasher.
“I have a particular fondness for Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware. It’s certainly heavy, and I keep mine on open shelves at easily reachable level. It not only conducts heat so well, it also seems to get more flavor out of the food,” chef Nigella Lawson told the New York Post in a 2018 interview.
“I slow-cook a lot in mine and however burnt they look inside, a bit of a soak in the sink and they clean easily.” I’ve observed the same with my Le Creuset Dutch oven.
Enameled cookware’s non-porous porcelain coating makes clean-up surprisingly easy. 99% of the time, all it takes to clean your skillet, grill pan, or Dutch oven—no matter how badly burnt it looks—is to fill it with enough water to cover all stains and let it rest for 1-2 hours before hand-cleaning with soapy water.
These pans and pots can also go in the dishwasher. But be very careful when doing that; if dinnerware, utensils, or other pieces of cookware start to float and bang against the enamel, they can easily chip or crack it beyond repair.
4. It won’t corrode and rust.
Bare cast iron cookware, when unseasoned or mishandled, is prone to corrosion and rust. Corrosion is the deterioration of metal that happens when the iron reacts to the air, whereas rust results from the exposure of that metal to moisture.
Enameled cast iron cookware, thanks to the fact that the porcelain enamel protects the cast iron body from any exposure to the outside elements, doesn’t have that issue at all. So you don’t need to fanatically pat it dry with paper towels every time you clean it.
5. It looks gorgeous.
The final reason to use enameled cast iron cookware is that it looks gorgeous. These pans and pots come in bright and saturated colors, and most manufacturers offer a wide variety of options to choose from.
The color of enameled cast iron cookware comes from cadmium pigments, a type of pigments that contain on the soft and malleable metal called cadmium, added to the vitreous enamel coating.
Cadmium pigments are used because of their ability to produce vibrant colors and their high resistance to heat. For example, HUPC, a manufacturer of cadmium pigments for enameled cookware, describes them as capable of withstanding temperatures of 1,652-2,336°F (900-1,280°C).
So they will not only help you draw flavors from the foods you cook but decorate your kitchen when you’re not using them.
Of course, all of these benefits come at a price. Compared to most other types of cookware, enameled cooking vessels can be costly, and are second only to copper pans.