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Jan 30, 2011 10:21 AM

How crucial is enamel cast iron vs. plain? Anyone just use plain for almost everything?

I say this because I have a crush on the Lodge plain skillet with non heating handle and helper handle. And I already have a cast iron Dutch oven. What would buying a Staub enamel pan or two really get me? Is tomato really noticeably iron-tinged with just plain cast iron?

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  1. I personally prefer plain/bare cast iron cookware. In fact, I switched from enameled cast iron coowkare to bare cast iron cookware. Some people think bare cast iron cookware require more care. Others, like me, feel enameled cookware are the ones require more care. In my experience enameled surface easily stained and it takes too long to clean after each cooking session.

    The iron tinged taste is subjective, I think. It brothers some people, but I don't feel it from a seasoned cast iron cookware. I think only you can determine this. Try to cook your tomato recipe once in the bare cast iron cookware and then maybe cook it in a stainless steel cookware. That ought to give you the comparison.

    1. Enamel makes most sense for a dutch oven that is used for long braising. That kind of cooking can eat away at the seasoning on a plain cast iron. But for many skillet uses plain cast iron is great. Two that come to mind a cooking steaks (and other searing), and baking cornbread.

      19 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        Have to disagree. I have a bare cast iron dutchie that for decades was used only for pot roast and my mother's goulash, neither or which had tomato. They both had onion, garlic, bay leaf, and cloves. The metal has absorbed the flavors - even if washed in soapy water, it still has the aroma. It makes better braises (develops flavors better) than my enameled dutchies; I use the latter when including acidic ingredients. I've made swiss steak in a naked cast iron skillet, and while I do taste the iron a little, I don't think it ruins the dish. Chemicalkinetics' idea of cooking sauce in naked cast iron and stainless should determine whether the difference is important to you.

        1. re: greygarious

          Can you elaborate on that 'develops flavors better' bit?

          1. re: paulj

            It appears to me that the food picks up flavoring from whatever else has been coked and imparted some of its essence to the metal. I tried making the same goulash in an enameled dutch oven only once - it was not up to par, so I went back to using the bare cast iron that had seen 30 years' worth of goulash and pot roast. Possibly the difference is the iron itself and not the years of onion, garlic, cloves, and bay leaves - I really wouldn't want to swear either way. But in these dishes, I do not taste iron the way I do if I cook something with tomato or wine in my bare cast iron skillet.

            1. re: greygarious

              I agree about the flavoring of well seasoned CI. I think that is the charm of it. It is also why I prefer bacon fat to season with. Though I often use just lard. I also prefer my meat dishes to be prepared in the Cast Iron instead of the enameld cast iron. I only use my enameld cast iron for soups, stews, and sauces with tomato.
              Although I did make a great beef stew in my non enamled cast iron and really prefered the taste to my enamled one. The tomato in it was minimal, unlike my vegetable beef soup that has lots of tomato juice in it.

              There was a little wear to my season coat on the bare cast iron with the stew, but it was easily fixed by smearing on some fat and baking in the oven.

              I also have two of the lodge loaf pans that I fix meat loaf in. It works great, I just will re season after using for meatloaf a time or two.

              I just do not notice any damage to the seasoning layers unless something acidic is cooked in it for a long time.

              I use my CI dutch oven for green beans and turnip greans. The flavor from the baked on pork fat seasoning is great for adding a touch of flavor for vegetables.

        2. re: paulj

          Chem or others, has this been your experience with bare CI - that braising for a long time eats away at the seasoning?

            1. re: iyc_nyc

              Nope. Anything I'm braising has fat in it and that keeps the seasoning just fine. Clean it up as usual.

              1. re: iyc_nyc

                The effect of any wet cooking on the seasoning is more noticeable with a newish pan, and much less so if the seasoning is well developed.

                1. re: iyc_nyc

                  Not a major problem for me. I suppose if all one do is to braise in acidic solution all the time, then it may be become a problem, but it should not matter if you cook all kind of other things.

                  1. re: iyc_nyc

                    i have several times braised in a barenaked wok using a sweet n sour sauce containing vinegar or wine and each time i do this it has eaten away a good seasoning built up from many sessions of deep and stir frying within a couple of hours.

                    1. re: pericolosa

                      Mankind has been cooking in bare cast iron for millennia. Acid-containing dishes like Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin significantly predate the creation of the enameled iron vessel.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Iron wasn't the only cooking pot material. Earthernware has been around longer, and can work nicely for braised dishes and stews.

                        While not ancient, it's interesting to note how many enameled pots the Two Fat Ladies use. Most look like enamel on steel, as opposed to expensive enamel on cast irion.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          The 'old recipe' for Coq au vin in 'The New Larousse Gastronmique':
                          'Cut chicken ... Heat diced lean pork and button onions 'in an earthernware pot' etc .

                          For Boeuf a la bourguignonne it recommends a 'daubiere', which it defines as casserole of stoneware, earthenware or tinned copper for the cooking of daubes.

                          It also specifies an earthenware vessel for cassoulet.

                          Under braising pan it lists tinned copper, nickel, aluminum, enamelled cast-iron, earthenware and fireproof porcelain.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            greygarious: With respect, you can truthfully say some lucky Chinese families have been cooking in CI for millenia, but not in the West. Maybe 300 years, give or take, since Darby.

                            But you are right about too much being made of barenaked CI flavoring food. After a lot of cooking and useless sc%$wing around, I cannot say that I've had one dish thrown off by virtue of a lack of enamel on cast iron--plenty of other reasons, though.

                            OK flame me for this, but I think the only *practical* reason for ECI is ease of cleanup, maybe it's a little more nonstick if you were behind the bleachers smoking during Seasoning 101 class.

                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              I'm not sure about that kaleokahu. There are numerous old testament references to iron pots being used, including a passage that ridicules one tribe that 'washes their iron pots with water.' Guess things haven't changed much in the past three or four millennia.

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                Did they wage war over it (cast iron treatment procedure)?

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Which end of a boiled egg did they open?

                                  1. re: Passadumkeg


                                    The same people who bought you ceramic knives because stainless steel knives just impart too much metallic taste and impurities into your foods. Don't you want to able to dance with your daugther in her wedding? Ceramic knives -- because you deserve a healthy life.

                                    P.S.: I understand there are many arguments for ceramic knives, but this one is routinely used.

                                2. re: KaimukiMan

                                  E KaimukiMan, Shoots:

                                  Iron pots referred to before the technology existed to actually cast iron could only be forged iron, hiki no?

                                  I think the Hittites originated smelting of black iron (again, in the West) around 1500 BC. But a LOOOONG time passed before anyone there had furnaces and bellows big enough to liquefy iron for casting. This is because there is a big gap between iron as a complete solid and a pourable liquid. You can forge it above 800F, but not cast it until above 2,300F. It took the West almost 3,000 years to get there (16th C A.D.), while the Chinese beat them by about a millenium.

                                  But I'm sure you're right about the first iron pots--forged or cast--being the subjects of seasoning debates just like those that rage here on CH.

                      2. I have both enameled cast iron, LC and Staub, and a Lodge skillet.
                        IMO, they both have something they do best. The bare cast iron sears well at high heat, carmelizes sugar very easily and is great for baking. I made an apple tart tatin last night and it carmelized quicker and easier than my enameled pan.
                        The enameled cast iron is great for slow brasing, simmering soups or anything with tomato, vinegar or wine.
                        If you can afford it, I would recommend having at least one of each.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: vic383

                          This is exactly what I was going to recommend, but I'd add then that I'd also get (finances permitting) a large stainless skillet to cook you acidic foods - I personally don't like tomatoes, citrus, etc. in my straight-up cast iron Lodge skillets - for those dishes I use my beloved All-Clad skillet. My LC Dutch ovens are for soups, braises, bread . . . whatever else is low, slow or in gigantic quantity.


                        2. I have and use both, but I'm careful not to use plain cast iron for tomato recipes or other acid ingredients (taste and iron-leaching issues as above). The only hard and fast rule is NOT to store high-acid foods in plain cast iron cookware; you will definitely get that "off" taste, and the chance of damaging the seasoning on your pot is much higher.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Aunt Jenny

                            That "iron-leaching" can be a good thing. Provides a source of additional iron for anyone who needs some and doesn't hurt others unless they have a medical issue with storing too much of it.

                          2. I find that my enameled cast iron lodge skillet does a better job of sauteing vegetables. They get a nice browning that tastes delicious.


                            6 Replies
                            1. re: JuniorBalloon

                              And regular CI doesn't do the same? Some people only use CI skillets instead of woks.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Never thought to use my cast iron pan to do veggies. Will have to try that since I don't have a wok.

                                I don't own any enamel cast iron and do various slow braise dishes with tomatoes and red wine and have not had issues.

                                1. re: blackpointyboots

                                  Until recent years, there were no bargain versions of enameled cast iron, and not everyone could afford it. Bare cast iron cookware has been in use for centuries so it can't be a *total* deal-breaker as regards acidic ingredients. It's nice to have an enameled piece but you don't need to forego making a dish just because it contains acid and you only have a bare pot/pan.

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  I haven't tried a regular CI, but it is far better than the non stick pan I used to use and is better then the carbon steel pan that I've tried it with.


                                  1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                    If your un-enameled CI pan is beautifully seasoned and maintained, it's nearly as non-stick as teflon (I gave up on my wok years ago because I never had a stovetop hot enough to do it justice, while I can get CI screaming hot enough on even a middling burner to produce excellent searing)... but I still wouldn't store food in it, for the sake of both the pan and the food (I get enough iron as it is, c oliver-- tho' you make an excellent point-- it's the metallic taste that puts me off). Mostly, I value the seasoning on my CI pots/pans too much to risk their "health."

                                  2. re: c oliver

                                    that'd be me - plain cast iron instead of wok. great char.