Dutch oven: plain cast iron or enameled cast iron?
Please advise me which Dutch oven to purchase. I can only afford a less expensive one under $50 or so. I've seen the plain cast iron ones and the enameled cast iron ones. What advatages does one have over the other? I intend to use it at home only and not camping. I think 5qt would be large enough. Is one easier to clean than the other?
My advice: if you want to do braises with tomatoes or wine, forget about bare cast iron.
I respect Chemical's advocacy on all kinds of cookware topics, but I just don't see much reason besides price to have a bare cast iron dutch oven, unless you seldom cook with acidic ingredients or enjoy re-seasoning. I do have and very much value my bare cast iron skillets and grill pan, which are sturdier under high heat and great at what they do. I'd much prefer them for steaks and searing and all kinds of things. But in my cooking, a Dutch oven is for braises, chili, cacciatores, soupy gumbos, etc., which will often expose the pot to 2-3 hours of acidic solution. I have no iron deficiency, and don't want my pot helping out on that score in those dishes. Just my two cents.
About cheaper enameled: I have one such pot--branded KitchenAid and about 5 quarts--and it hasn't chipped or failed at all in three years of steady use. But it was also only marginally "cheap": about $75 on Amazon a few years ago. I bet you could keep returning a chipped pot from Sam's Club forever.
The other posters have covered the pros and cons quite well. I will only add that regardless of which way you go on this, buy the best you can afford, don't let a few dollars make your decision. I don't know what you saw at Walmart, but for bare cast iron Lodge as reccommended by Chem. is a well made piece of cooking equipment. Of the enameled cast iron ovens, Lodge is also better made than many of the other low cost brands, especially those with the name of the star of the show on them, these are all made in China and tend to chip much more easily than the higher priced enameled cookware. If $50 is really your upper limit, go bare or shop the thrift stores for a used quality enameled cocotte.
I cannot add anymore to the conversation than what has already been said regarding the differences between the two. However, in terms of affordability, Costco has a very nice enameled cast iron dutch oven at a price that I felt was extremely reasonable. With their return policy, you can't really lose if you decide to try it out.
ChemicalKinetics gave a very nice list comparing positives. However I would come to the opposite conclusion and recommend enameled cast iron. For me the big issue is that plain cast iron does react with acid foods. Tomatoes, wine, and (of course) vinegar are all ingredients that make food acidic. So this issue frequently comes up when you cook something like stew or chili. Two things happen when the food reacts with the iron pot. It eats away at the seasoning, and the food acquires an iron taste. You can reseason a pot, it[s true, and the iron flavor may get lost in a pot of chili, but I really would not want it in the bœuf bourguignon that I serve to company.
If you do conclude that enameled cast iron might be best for you do not let list prices of well-known brands deter you. Sometimes you can find a good sale, sometimes you can find a good off-brand that is inexpensive, and there is always the possibility of finding a good used pot second hand, via ebay, craigslist, freecycle, or yard sales.
I have both kinds, but I prefer plain/bare cast iron Dutch Oven.
Advantages for bare cast iron:
Much much cheap
Very durable, both physically and thermally -- it can handle metal utensils, it better tolerate quick temperature change than its enameled counterpart (an enameled surface would crack)
Can be seasoned and reseasoned (virtually no way to destroy the surface because you can regenerate it)
Dietary iron is health beneficial for most people
Advantages for Enameled:
No seasoning is required
Food does not incorporate iron taste
Acidic foods do not react with the iron
As for cleaning I find it is much easier to clean the bare cast iron Dutch Oven. In fact that was why I switched from enameled cast iron to bare cast iron. That said, other people argue the other way. Now, I honestly believe the bare ones are easier. You can type and search "how to clean Le Cresuet" and you will get tons of hits:
$50 is sufficient for most bare cast iron Dutch Ovens. However, $50 is very low for an enameled cast iron Dutch Oven. You are pretty much narrowed down to Tramontina:
Lodge Color enameled cast iron Dutch Oven is pretty good, but it is ~$70. Le Cresuset would cost you >$200, so that is very different from your price point.
Thanks so much, Chemicalkinetics.
I think I'll go with the bare cast iron. I saw one 6qt at WalMart for $40 with side handles and the lid and its handle were one piece and not screwed on.
Also, do I need to be concerned with acidic foods like tomato reacting with the bare cast iron? Basicly, I want the Dutch oven to make no knead bread and stews I'm promised will cook better in the cast iron. I'm used to my stainless steel cookware.
You can get nice bare/plain cast iron Dutch Ovens at affordable prices. I have both of the followings:
I like the second one a bit better even it is smaller. The handle loop is bigger, so it is easier to hold onto. The bottom curves up to the side, so it is easier for utensils.
Anyway, yes, you do have to be concern with acidic foods. It will react with the bare cast iron. The more seasoned the cookware, the less the acidic solution will react with the iron, but always more than enameled cast iron. In short, the acidic solution will do two things. First, it will weaken the seasoning surface. Second, iron will be dissolved by the acidic solution. I personally do not find them to be major problems, but that is me. Since I don't cook acidic food all the time, my seasoning surface has the time to build up. I also do not find the dissolved iron offensive, but again that is me. In fact, dietary iron is a good thing for most people, but some people do not like the taste.
I do agree with PinchOfSalt. Of course we have different preference, but that is due to our different needs and different cooking style. The bottomline and the facts are the same. Just look at the strengths and weaknesses for these two types of cookware and see which fits you better.
How pristine do you like for your cookware to look? No Knead Bread has a reputation for being rough on enamled dutch ovens. If potential discoloration on the interior bothers you, this might be a "con" for an enamled one, though it sounds like you're leaning towards bare anyhow. :-)