How to Care for Enamel-Coated Cast Iron Pots and Pans

Enameled pans are much like your teeth. The coating protects the innards (and if you ever got a rotten tooth and had to have a root canal, then you can appreciate that), and the enamel is what makes your teeth look pretty. The enamel coating makes your pans look nice too — much nicer than raw metal sitting on your table.

Cast Iron for Cooking

enamel cast ironThere are many great metals for cooking, but most have some drawbacks. The cast iron I so love tends to absorb flavors, so you may have bacon-smoked food (even when you don't want that bacon taste — but HEY I love that taste myself). The cast iron is also porous, so it has to be seasoned and then reseasoned when you leave it in the drawer too long or really burn up your dinner. Some metals steep out some stuff that you may not want to be eating. The FDA has declared that this is not a problem with steel pans, but some folks think that cooking directly on steel can cause health problems.

This is where enamel comes in... you just buy pans coated with enamel. Then you have a protective coating that prevents flavor absorption, eliminates the need to season, and blocks out any metal traces in your food. The pans with coating have the heating benefits of the original metals, but not the downsides. To top that off, the insides are pretty to boot.

At this point, you may be thinking that pearly off-white lined pans are the only way to go. They are super, but there are some drawbacks.

Go Easy on the Heat with Enamel Coatings

Enamel is simply not made to take scorching temperatures. So, you can't do the deep fast fry that makes the best French fries, and you don't want to blacken foods in enamel. You will crack your enamel and ruin your pan if you go with mega blast heat.

Enamel Chips Just Like Your Teeth

Maybe you haven't chipped a tooth, but you probably know someone who has. Though enamel is pretty hard, it is not diamond or cast iron strong. So, you can get chips especially around the edges.

You need to be careful with your enamel pans. Try not to bang or drop them. And if you do get a chip, then keep an eye on that area and treat as raw metal. For example, you want to dry good and rub a solid fat on the spot for cast iron.

Enamel Stains

If you smoke, drink caffeine, or eat anything really, then your teeth get dingy. Same thing with the enamel cooking surface. If you do use them, then they get stains.

You can brush the enamel with baking soda just like you do your teeth or you can leave water in the pan with Clorox overnight and get back to the original color.

Enamel is More Expensive

If you compare a cast iron skillet with no coating at around $10 to an enamel coated at $75, then you have to wonder how much you want to pay for that lining. True, it does not require seasoning and it is prettier, but that price difference is pretty big.

In my kitchen I have mostly traditional cast iron and enamel coated cast iron. The cast iron are my everyday pans (and quick high heat pans), and the enamel coated are day use for some pans like the sauce pan with omelet pan cover but special occasion for some that just look nice to take to dinners or to use on the table.

If you want to invest in enamel-coated pans, then do know that they will be expensive. They are cheaper when you buy in sets rather than by individual pans. I got a set on special for $125 but that did not include any of the bigger pans or the Dutch oven.

You will need to be careful with your enamel-coated pans. Don't cook on high temps and don't bump the pans around. Chips mean that you don't have the easy-care pans that you planned on using and loving (though they can still be used). If you crack the enamel, then good-bye pan though.

If you do take care of your enamel-coated pans, then you have a good set with the benefits of the underlying metals and without the extra work with most of those. The pans are nice looking and can go straight on the table which is a nice extra. Overall, enamel is a great idea but does require just a little extra effort on your part — just like that brushing and flossing that your dentist recommends.

-- C. Allison