Enamled Cast Iron VS Regular Cast Iron
I own a pair of regular (pre-seasoned) Lodge cast iron skillets that I use quite a bit. I've made great corn bread, steaks, chops, pancakes, salmon, and so forth in them, and I'm not put off by the seasoning (and re-seasoning) process. That said, I'm considering splurging on a few Le Creuset purchases -- including a Le Creuset skillet -- and I'm wondering if enamled cast iron cooks food a bit differently from regular un-enamled cast iron. Does enamled cast iron manage the same amazing sear as regular cast iron? Will corn bread come out as crispy and crusty?
I won't be getting rid of my Lodge cast iron skillets, of course.. but I could see myself shelving them or giving them away if the Le Creuset skillets perform the same.
Thanks in advance for any and all help!
Everybody here has already told you, but to pile on...
LC dutch ovens are great. They're the perfect braising vessel. We have something like half a dozen in various shapes and sizes, and they all get used on a regular basis. But LC skillets are useless (unless you're just going to use them like undersized dutch ovens).
<LC skillets are useless>
Then you are doing it wrong. I use mine every day and love them. They are much easier to clean and maintain than my regular cast iron for indoor use. And the ones with the black enamel interior give a very nice sear.
Sanangel, if you are really interested in the enameled skillets, I would recommend trying out one of the Lodge Color enameled cast iron skillets. They are shaped more like a traditional cast iron skillet. And if you get the matching 6 qt enameled dutch oven the lid even fits both pieces making it more versatile.
You can pick one up at Target for under $40, so trying one out won't break the bank. I find them to be a great alternative to regular cast iron and with preheating and just a little bit of fat they can be as non-stick as teflon. Best of all you can soak off any stuck on stuff and not have to worry about the reseasoning.
I have some of both. For searing and cooking on top of the stove, nothing beats the regular cast iron - for those willing to care for it.
The enameled cast iron is my preference for braises although I do have a very large cast iron dutch oven. It's old and well seasoned enough that even wine- or tomato-based sauces don't bother it. If you have a choice, I'd recommend the enamel cast iron for this. No hassle, little care required. I actually sear or brown ingredients in my cast iron skillet and transfer them to the Le Creuset dutch over for long-cooking. The combo works best for me.
I have had Le Creuset skillets and they are long gone. The enamel eventually crazes from high heat, chips, never gets a real non-stick-y seasoning, stains, and gives no advantage over a regular cast iron except for those who don't want to baby-sit the seasoning process. If that's the case, get an All-Clad or something. I really saw no value to what is essentially a "glass" coated skillet.
This was my guess: enameled cast iron for braising, soups, and stews, and regular ol' cast iron for frying, grilling, searing, and corn bread.
PaulJ: I've been interested in making no-knead bread.. but are you saying the method contributes to the cracking and chipping of the enameled surface? (furthermore, is that what "crazing" means? Is crazing the small hairline, web-like fracturing of the enamel?)
There have been lots of threads about that bread, including discussion of what pot to use. You'd have to search for the exact details. My impression is that many people are reluctant to use their best enameled DO for the purpose, but aren't averse to using an inexpensive one. I've been happy with an old cast iron 'chicken frier' - a deep 10" skillet with heavy glass lid - for that purpose.
Yes, by crazing I meant those fine cracks, that seem to be more cosmetic than anything else, though they do suggest some stress in the enamel that may lead to chips and cracks later.
In my experience, what kills an enameled pot is letting it cook dry and burn. It roughens the surface, even if it doesn't produce chips. But I haven't dropped any of mine.
To add to what paulj says, enamel is glass. It expands and contracts at a different rate than the cast iron to which it is bonded. When there is liquid in the pot, the differential between the two materials is pretty well equalized (not completely) but when it's empty or has dry ingredients, the glass cools much more quickly and is prone to crazing (cracking.)
Not the most accurate scientific explanation, but I think you'll get the basic idea.
I have both regular Lodge Cast-Iron and an assortment of Le Creuset that I use for a variety of things. Perhaps it is partly psychological, but I always get a better crust and sear on my meat using the regular cast-iron. I even have the oval cast iron skillet made by Le Creuset and it doesn't compare to my lodge one that I have seasoned myself over the years.
That being said, I use nothing but Le Creuset for stews and braises. I cook tons with wine, and the enamel enables me to make stews, braises, and pan sauces, whereas the regular cast iron by Lodge will react with it and other acids like lemon and tomatoes.
Thus, I would suggest (if it is financially feasible) to have both types - regular and enamel - on hand for a myriad of tasks. Trust me that you will use them both!
I agree. Keep the regular cast iron for searing and cornbread, things you preheat the pan. Enameled is better for braising where you are cooking at a lower temperature for a long time, with liquids that may include acid like tomatoes and wine.
The distinction is not hard and fast. For example many hounds use their enameled pots for noknead bread which requires preheating above 400F. But some also report crazing of the enamel after repeated uses. Excessive preheating of regular cast iron can strip the seasoning. And a well seasoned cast iron can handle braising.
Another difference - you'll be obsessive about stains (and chips) on your new enameled pots, especially if they are white. :)