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Enameled or Non-Enameled: Which Cast-Iron Cookware Should You Buy?

Three cast iron pans, including one that is orange enameled
Lodge/Le Creuset/Lodge

You’ve probably noticed that there are two main types of cast-iron cookware: enameled and non-enameled. Is one better than the other? Which should you get? We’ve got the answers!

When it comes to choosing a cast-iron piece for your kitchen, you’ll need to consider several factors. Things like what you want to cook, the kind of cooking you do, how much maintenance you’re willing to do, and what your budget is like will all factor in.

Enameled and non-enameled pieces both have the same reliable, durable, and high-quality core. However, they’re just different enough that it’s important to understand what you’re getting before you buy.

What’s the Difference Between Enameled and Non-Enameled Cast Iron?

Visually, it’s very easy to tell the difference between enameled and non-enameled cast iron. The non-enameled option is probably what you picture when you think of cast iron: a black, textured surface that’s pretty much uniform across the whole piece.

Enameled, on the other hand, has a smooth, porcelain enamel coating. These pieces are usually pale ivory or beige on the inside and come in a variety of colors on the outside.

Many of the traits of cast iron are shared between the enameled and non-enameled options. Both provide incredible durability, consistent heating, and surprisingly simple cleanup, among other benefits. It’s really about the subtler differences between the two in terms of what cooks best in which materials.

The Pros and Cons of Enameled Cast Iron

Because enamel doesn’t conduct heat quite as well as solid cast iron, enameled cookware can heat up a little more slowly and evenly. Even the aesthetic of enameled cast iron helps with heating precision and monitoring.

Because of the light-colored interior common in enameled pieces, it’s also much easier to check for burnt bits at the bottom and monitor the color of darker foods, like sauces or caramel.

On the downside, however, enameled cast iron definitely tends to be more expensive. Actually, sometimes, it’s a lot more expensive. The smooth surface also doesn’t hold seasoning the same way non-enameled does, which means you’ll have to be careful to avoid sticking with each use.

The most significant con is the heating issue. Because the enamel coating heats more slowly than the cast iron inside, too-rapid heating (or heating a pan when it’s empty) can cause cracking.

What Can I Cook in Enameled Cast Iron?

Two closed enameled cast iron Dutch ovens (one orange, one blue)
Le Creuset/Lodge

An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is ideal for dishes that need to cook low and slow, like stews, soups, and roasted meat dishes. The enamel coating also makes these pans a better choice for acidic foods (think tomato-based dishes, for instance).

Plain cast iron reacts with acids, possibly causing a flavor exchange between the pan and the food, but the enamel coating prevents this.

Le Creuset is pretty much an icon when it comes to enameled cast iron. The Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven works beautifully as a multipurpose piece, whether you’re making soup, bread, stew, or pretty much anything else.

Enameled cast iron is always a little pricier, but the Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven is an affordable enough pick from a well-known brand. For under $100, you can get a versatile, six-quart Dutch oven.

So, what’s the difference between the two? It’s mainly materials and craftsmanship: Le Creuset comes from classic French materials and manufacturing, and the Lodge enameled line is manufactured in China.

The Pros and Cons of Non-Enameled Cast Iron

The high conductivity of cast iron means that a non-enameled pan can heat quickly and to a high temperature, an option that enamel doesn’t have. When it comes to nonstick properties, non-enameled also has the edge.

The plain, cast-iron surface builds up its seasoning—a layer of fats from cooking that have heated, changed, and bonded with the surface. The smooth enamel surface can’t build up a natural nonstick layer. From a practical perspective, non-enameled cast iron also tends to be significantly cheaper for the same quality.

Non-enameled pots and pans aren’t ideal in every circumstance, though. Due to the reactivity of bare cast iron, cooking any acidic foods in these pans can result in it altering the flavor of the dish a little bit. It won’t happen with every dish and in every pan, but it’s a definite possibility.

Non-enameled cast iron also has more of a risk of heating unevenly or too rapidly, so low-and-slow dishes aren’t always a perfect fit. Bare cast iron does run the risk of rust, although you can mitigate this with proper care.

What Can I Cook in Non-Enameled Cast Iron?

Two cast iron skillets

The classic cast-iron skillet is so iconic for one-pan meals that there’s an entire subcategory of recipes dedicated to it! If you’re cooking something that requires high, fast heat, like searing meat, non-enameled cast iron should be your go-to. These pans are also ideal for cooking outdoors, because they’re a little hardier than the porcelain-covered enameled pieces.

It’s tough to beat Lodge when it comes to classic, non-enameled cast iron pans. American-made and expertly crafted, they’re high quality at an accessible price. For your first pan, the Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet is an ideal option. The most popular sizes are in the 10-12 inch range, but they come in sizes from 3-15 inches.

All Lodge pans come with reliable grip handles, and the 10.25-inch and up all have two handles for better control. Plus, they’re pre-seasoned with 100% vegetable oil, so you can start cooking right out of the box.

Classic cast-iron skillets are popular kitchen items that serve a dual purpose: cooking and décor. If you want to upgrade the look a little bit, consider a vintage-inspired piece, like the Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet.

This beautiful 10-inch pan features two pour spouts, a secondary handle for lifting, and a beautiful, polished interior. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s also a unique and still very versatile take on a classic.

Cast-iron cookware is a worthy investment for any home chef. While they can be a bit pricey upfront, as long as you take good care of them, these durable pieces will last a long time.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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