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ECI skillets - do they bring anything to the table?

  • sancor Dec 16, 2013 04:59 PM

I was wondering how people felt about enamel cast iron skillets along the lines of Le Creuset and Staub. Namely, I wanted to know whether people felt they offered anything that wouldn't be offered by a clad stainless steel or bare cast iron skillet.

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  1. <I wanted to know whether people felt they offered anything that wouldn't be offered by a clad stainless steel or bare cast iron skillet.>

    Not for me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      If you want an even heating surface (avoiding heat or cold spots) and a nonreactive surface, then a stainless steel cladded pan is better than an enameled cast iron pan.

      If you want stickless pan or a pan which can take up very high heat, then a bare cast iron cookware is better.

      For a slow cooking vessel like a Dutch Oven, an enameled cast iron construction if fine. For a high heat quick temperature responding cookware like a skillet, there are better options.

    2. Well obviously they are non reactive so that is a benefit over bare cast iron. But you get that with clad stainless also. They do keep food hotter longer than clad stainless though. I don't have any of the skillets, I do have 2 different sizes of the LC braisier and I usually use them for curries, pilaf, gratins ( before I bought gratin pans) any braised dish with a lot of acidic ingredients like meatballs in a tomato based sauce. I bought them before I had clad stainless and my main selling point was longevity and being non reactive.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rasputina

        The braisiers are better than the skillets. That new black matte coating they have in the LC skillets is not great. The original cream-colored enamel is already non-stick in my experience.

        1. re: ratgirlagogo

          <That new black matte coating they have in the LC skillets is not great. >

          What about the previous black coating?

      2. I can't speak from experience, but the new enamel on Le Creuset skillets is supposed to be an improvement, with better nonstick character.

        Cook's Illustrated liked the old enamel well enough, too.

        This is their 2007 review, with the older interior enamel:

        ""Pretty" pan was well proportioned and easier to handle than others. Sloping sides made eggs and sauce easier to scrape up. Achieved "beautiful crust" on steak and corn bread. On first test, eggs stuck ferociously, but results improved dramatically in second round, with minimal sticking. Can't use metal utensils or stack anything inside without damaging enamel finish."

        1. Hi, sancor:

          I've owned several ECI skillets over the years. IMO, these pans are neither fish or fowl. Their chief "advantages" are: (1) they don't rust like bare CI; (2) their owners like that they match their existing ECI; (3) they are less reactive than bare CI; (4) they tend to hold heat better than most SS clad; and (5) they LOOK like they clean up better than bare CI.

          Other than (2) and (4), these are not advantages over SS clad. ECI skillets *do* accept some "seasoning", but nothing as nonstick as bare CI.

          IMO and on balance, a good clad skillet is superior to ECI skillets.

          Aloha,
          Kaleo

          1. Pros over clad SS:
            Heat retention
            Style (subjective)

            Cons compared to clad SS:
            Can't use metal utensils
            Enamel can chip
            Possibility of thermal shock

            Pros over bare CI:
            non-reactive
            no need to season
            no rust
            can be washed like all your other non-CI pans

            Cons compared to bare CI:
            price
            all the others as with clad SS

            I really wanted to get an ECI skillet when I was searching for a non-reactive skillet, but ended up getting clad SS because the ECI, though much prettier, couldn't be shipped to me overseas, and I did want something that I was less worried about bashing around the kitchen.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Sirrith

              Sirrith,

              How about a report on your ECI skillet? Which did you buy? How do you like it? What are your favorite uses?

              I'll be your best friend and take you to the circus! :-)

              1. re: DuffyH

                You already owe me a circus trip, Duffy!

                And I got the SS instead of ECI for myself.

                My girl though, got a small LC ECI grill pan. We've used it a few times and it is surprisingly good, it gives a nice sear (on the grill marks anyway), delicate stuff like fish doesn't stick much at all, it is very easy to clean, and it heats quite evenly without any noticeable hot spots.

                1. re: Sirrith

                  I'm glad to know they can be relatively nonstick and easy to clean. That's really all I'm looking for.

                  Now about the circus.... you don't have a problem with clowns, do you? Kaleo is scared of them, so I had to cancel those plans. :-D

                  1. re: DuffyH

                    I'm not so much coulrophobic as coulrohomicidal. So we could still go, but I would want to feed the lions some tasty clownchow.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Dear man, what did clowns do to you that you want them dead? So much animus. Did one perchance whump you upside the head with an *ECI skillet?

                      *I'm SO on topic. ;-)

            2. I use them in the oven. I preheat them if I am baking something like a cake or corn bread. I have a set of turquoise skillets with white speckles I like. I use the ECI strictly for looks ;-)).

              1. Different advantages for different kinds of cookware.

                ECI is useful for non reactive surface and heat retention.

                So roasters, ovens, soup pots, bean pots. You cannot do a better risotto than in ECI saucier. Small pot for slow cooking also very good.

                ECI is very good for boiling water, adding whatever, and having quick recovery of boil.

                Terrible for sear, deglaze, quick temp shifts.

                10 Replies
                1. re: law_doc89

                  <ECI is very good for boiling water, adding whatever, and having quick recovery of boil.>

                  When Cook's Illustrated tested dutch ovens, one of the tests was french fries. The two clad stainless pots had the quickest recovery time after adding the potatoes.

                  All but one of the cast iron pots was very good at this, it's true. But if, as your first line indicates, you're pointing out advantages of ECI over other types of cookware, the advantage really goes to clad stainless here.

                  1. re: DuffyH

                    I said boiling water, don't fry potatoes in water.

                    see the review itself:

                    http://www.cooksillustrated.com/equip...

                    but also consider:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/614369

                    1. re: law_doc89

                      Read the review myself this very morning, but thanks for the link for others who may want to read it. You know, I did agree with you that all but one of the CI pots was very good at recovery. It wasn't me, but Cook's, who determined that the clad stuff was better.

                      But really, are you saying that heat recovery magically varies by the liquid in the pot? I find that kind of hard to swallow, since heat recovery is a function of how quickly the pan can absorb (for lack of a better word) and transfer to contents the heat being applied to it. If one presumes that they used the same oil in each pot, the only variable is the pot itself. Switching to water should make no difference at all in the rankings. I understand why you think otherwise, because I always thought that iron pots would exhibit the best heat retention, thereby needing less energy input to recover. Oops. Live and learn.

                      I'm not sure why you linked the Chow discussion, because it simply doesn't apply here. Not unless you're claiming CI outright lied about the results in order to make AC look better. They ranked both the AC pot and the LC at the top, one the "heavy" choice, one the "light" choice.

                      The best pan at heat recovery was the Tramontina clad, which was "recommended with reservations" (it sucked at reducing the stew liquid). Here's what they said about it's recovery; "Oil temperature dropped the least when fries were added and recovered the fastest.". See, all I'm saying is that it appears that clad has the advantage here, not that ECI sucks, or is even mediocre.

                      1. re: DuffyH

                        Hi, Duffy:

                        Tsk, tsk, tsk. You forget, dear friend, the missing secret ingredient of "technique", and its only Buddha.

                        For the unenlightened rest of us, hobbled as we are by the laws of physics, I recommend Sam Kinsey's classic on how cookware works: http://forums.egullet.org/topic/25717...

                        To use Kinsey's analogy, CI has a small pipe (poor conductivity) and a large pot (heat capacity by volume). So, despite its respectable ability to hold heat once stored, CI is relatively slow to BOTH pass that heat on to the food *and* recover. Assuming an equal weight of aluminum/stainless in a clad pan and a CI pan, the clad pan will hold far more heat. If the aluminum preponderates, it will dump more heat faster into the pan's contents (again, Sam's bigger pipe). If the SS preponderates, it holds even more heat than CI by volume.

                        So, it necessarily follows that, unless one is cooking with an underpowered hob, the "bigger pipe" of more conductive metal in clad--measured by weight--will recover faster. Only where the heat source--or setting--is inadequate will CI appear to recover faster, and that is only by dint of the heat that does *not* go into the food.

                        It is true that a CI pan can be very useful for preps like steaks because the cook can preheat the pan very hot, sear the steaks, and then completely remove the steaks from the hob and have a good chance of the steaks finishing nicely in the pan without resort to the oven. This is how my mom did my dad's steaks from their packing plant, and it's a great method. However, the method depends in great part on the slow bleeding of heat into the food after the pan leaves the hob (again, small pipe), not some mystical storage of heat.

                        Again, this only applies to beings still constrained by physics.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

                        1. re: DuffyH

                          You should try it yourself at home, with vegetables or pasta. Then, make upyour own mind.

                          See, there is no such thing as "best." Each tool has its own properties, and technique is what matters. The CI reviews have their own problems, so ultimately, get what you like. But surrounding yourself with tools doesn't make a whit of difference if you don't know how to use them.

                          I always marvel at what some truly great chefs have in their home kitchens.

                          1. re: law_doc89

                            A few things -

                            1. Why should I spend the $$$$ when Cook's has already done the work? Do you think it will be different on my range? Why don't YOU try it? I offered a real world set of data that indicated your statement was not quite correct. You're the one who needs convincing, not me.

                            But I do have one related example of my own. Unhappy with the squat shape of the no-knead bread baked in a 6 quart round DO, I baked the next loaf in a 4.5 quart clad saucepan (Calphalon Tri-Ply). The resulting loaf was perfect, varying only in shape, which was taller and rounder.

                            2. <See, there is no such thing as "best."> I never used the word "best". Not once. Nor did Cook's. All I did was point out that in one test, the two clad pots were better than the iron ones. Nowhere did Cook's (or me) claim they're better dutch ovens. In fact, as I pointed out last night, the clad pot the was the "best" at the heat recovery test was recommended, but with reservations, because it fared poorly in another test.

                            These kind of tests are important, because not everyone cooks the same food. I can't recall the last time I braised anything or put a covered pot into the oven. My primary use for a big pot is soups/chili, boiling pasta/potatoes and deep frying. All stovetop foods and ⅔ of them depend on recovery. So knowing that a clad pot is better at this is a big deal for me. For a cook who wants braising and other more traditional dutch oven uses (i.e., things involving the use of it as an "oven", it's not necessary to have a pot that excels at recovery. Good is likely good enough.

                            <But surrounding yourself with tools doesn't make a whit of difference if you don't know how to use them.> Would you please, please not use this line anymore? It implies that anyone who challenges anything you say doesn't know how to cook. It reduces what should be a discussion of cookware into a flame-throwing exercise. Rather than stoop to this line every time, why not point to some tests to refute the test results I cited? Let's keep it impersonal, please. :-)

                          2. re: DuffyH

                            Hi DuffyH,
                            I think you are a great CH, but your science above (water vs oil) is flawed "But really, are you saying that heat recovery magically varies by the liquid in the pot?" Yes, just like different metals have different levels of thermal conductivity, so do liquids. Example, water, just below the boiling point has a thermal conductivity of 6.23 milliwatt cmE-1 °K E-1 while Toluene is 1.315. I don't have a value for cooking oil, but my point is that, yes different liquids will absorb (for lack of a better word) heat at different rates. Not saying anything about any other issue, just the science.

                            It's just the engineer in me, I can't help myself. The laws fo physics trump technique and conjecture.

                            1. re: mikie

                              Hey mikie,

                              I appreciate science, always. It's the zoologist in me. :-)

                              Yes, I know that the liquids will conduct differently. But still, the pot has to be able to transfer heat, yes? So the question becomes one of relative changes. Is ECI/water v. SS/water similar to ECI/oil v. SS/oil? I'm not equipped to answer that, nor do a RW test. As you rightly noted, I have a theory, but that's all it is at this point.

                              I would love to hear from someone who's got the answer, though.

                              1. re: DuffyH

                                I know I don't have the answers. In my business we try to conduct different tests to determine how the plastic material will perform in the real world. Nothing quite simulates what really goes on. Few parts are shaped like ISO test specimens, so how do you really know that a test repilcates or even simulates the real world experience? In spite of the theoretical flaws in ECI, I love to make soups and stews on my stove top in my large Staub DO. Now maybe that's because I don't have a clad SS or aluminum vessel in that size that's of the same quality, or maybe I just like to watch food cook in the Staub, or perhaps my technique has improved and therefore the food tastes better, or maybe the recipe I use now is better. Whatever the reason, and it defies science, I really like those Staub DOs for slow cooking gravey (Italian for pasta sauce) chilli, soup, and stews. Their great for braises too, does a great job on a pot roast.

                                BTW, just ordered the Viking 2qt saucier, it may be the last one for sale on the planet, I had a difficult time finding one. Seafood gumbo here I come!

                                1. re: mikie

                                  I can totally see the attraction for slow cooked saucy things in ECI. There's some tradition in there, yeah? Me, I grew up watching Mom and my aunt cook stuff in thick Club aluminum pots, so for me, aluminum feels right, ergo with induction, clad or heavy disk SS.

                                  Or my Mauviel M'Cook DO, which while slow to heat (relative term) on my range, does a nice job, giving me slow, even heat. Mom thinks it's ugly, but she thought the Club pots were pretty. Seriously? LOL

                    2. For skillets I find ECI does not offer benefits over other materials - a raw CI sjillet will be non stick and able to sear at high heat without damage - a clad SS skillet (or better a copper one) will heat evenly and clean up shiny - carbon steel will give good distribution and non stick - but ECI sticks and heats unevenly and the enamel surface can be damaged - I don't see benefits - I own a few I never find a reason to use them over another skillet. I am sure they will make a nice roasting pan though

                      1. In a good cooking school, one is exposed to doing things with various kinds of tools. You will do the same thing across several kinds of utensils. It is then you learn from hands on that there can be all kinds of "tests" that are meaningless as guides to what happens in actual usage under real conditions. Cooks Illustrated has to come up with man bites dog, and does consistently, to sell magazines.

                        You will get lots of silly advice here from people who know all sorts of things, but do not know how to cook, only to read recipes. Don't worry about it. Buy what you like, and you will adapt. There are some things that really don't work well for all things, but beyond those exceptions, anything without holes will do the job.

                        You would be amazed at what some famous chefs use when at home, many times, the cheap restaurant stuff you can buy at places like Nisbets.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: law_doc89

                          <You will get lots of silly advice here from people who know all sorts of things, but do not know how to cook, only to read recipes.>

                          From Mirriam-Webster:

                          Cook - "a person who prepares food for eating"
                          and "to prepare (food) for eating especially by using heat"

                          1. re: law_doc89

                            "You will get lots of silly advice here from people who know all sorts of things, but do not know how to cook, only to read recipes."

                            What does that even mean? Can you at least give an example of what you mean?

                            I think cooking is multidimensional. People who want to learn how, have to learn any way they have available and often that is through a good book. I like to gather information from many sources. Recipes are a great, proven method of communication one cook to another. I love reading about the science of cooking and incorporating that knowledge into what I do. The more I can learn, the more my cooking skills improve. Could I spend fruitless hours trying to make canelés in a pie pan or recognize the science behind using the proper copper mold and how that contributes to making a canelés what it is. Where I live, there is no cooking class for canelés, but I can still learn to make them with a recipe! I personally like the saying "If you can read, you can cook".

                            1. re: wekick

                              Save your breath. The post to which you're responding is vacuous.