There is nothing more exciting than seeing a full kitchen kitted out in colorful enamel cast iron – except maybe cooking with it!
High-quality enameled cast iron is a cookware material that has been popular since the 1890s because of its durability, versatility, and excellent heat retention. This quality cookware doesn’t come cheap, but it’s the kind of product you will keep for a lifetime. There is no beating the true quality of high-end enameled cast iron from trusted brands.
In this article, I will explain why buying quality enameled cast iron is important and recommend six great products from the leading brands in this field.
Why Buying Quality Enamel Cast Iron is Important
If you type ‘enameled cast iron cookware’ into a search engine right now, you will be inundated with options from brands you have probably never heard of. When you compare the prices of these products to a well-known brand like Le Creuset, it will be very tempting to choose the cheaper option. I mean, they look the same on the website, right?
Unfortunately, I have fallen victim to these cheaply made enameled cast iron “dupes” in the past. I coveted my roommate’s extensive Le Creuset collection that she used to cook endless dinner parties with over the years. So I went off to buy a pretty convincing lookalike, only for it to chip on me within a few uses.
Not only do these cheaply made options very chip quickly, but they also can’t withstand temperature fluctuations that the higher-end brands can. You will also struggle to find information about their manufacturing process and testing for lead and cadmium for these cheaper brands.
High-end enameled cast iron brands should be fully transparent about their manufacturing process and the components involved. They should submit their products to third-party testing for harmful elements like lead and cadmium, and be happy to share the test results.
If you invest in high-quality enameled cast iron and take care of it, you can not only have the comfort of knowing you’re using relatively safe cookware, but it will become a family heirloom that you can pass down for generations to come.
Best Enameled Cast Iron Brands
Now for the fun part! Let’s look at which brands make the best enameled cast iron.
The top three enameled cast iron cookware brands are:
These brands are best known for their cast iron cookware. They may sell other products, but cast iron is their claim to fame.
Of the “big three”, Lodge is the most affordable choice for top-quality enameled cast iron; it was named the “Best Bang for Your Buck” by Bon Appetit just this year.
Products from all three brands feature a thick enameled layer that is chip and scratch-resistant, even after years of use. They heat evenly and retain that heat efficiently whether on the stovetop or in the oven. Most importantly, these brands have proven to last well over time, even with consistent use.
A few other brands, namely KitchenAid, Cuisinart, Tramontina, and Crockpot, also offer some quality enameled cast iron cookware alongside their other popular products. These options are often more affordable than the big three but are still reliable and durable.
I do recommend avoiding “knockoff” brands on Amazon that don’t have transparent and certified manufacturing and testing processes. Products from these budget brands (often with strange names) are usually of inferior quality and can contain higher-than-safe levels of lead and cadmium.
Now that you are familiar with the high-end enamelware brands let’s get into some specific product recommendations.
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron 10-pc Cookware Set– Best Enameled Cast Iron Cookware Set
If you love enameled cast iron and are as obsessed with Le Creuset as I am, then this Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Cookware Set is the ideal set for you! It will cost you a pretty penny, but you will have this incredible cookware your entire life. This whole set looks stunning in open shelving or a glass cabinet, so you can use the chosen color to decorate your kitchen when you aren’t using it.
Le Creuset is the most famous enameled cast iron brand by a long way and for very good reason. The layered enamel resists dulling, staining, and chipping with minimal sticking as long as you cook over medium-low heat.
This set features a host of Le Creuset best-sellers in one place, so you’ll have a pan for every purpose. Although this set is pricey, there are nothing but rave reviews about the longevity of these pans from customers, so it will be completely worth it.
Crockpot Artisan Cast Iron Skillet– Best Budget Enameled Cast Iron Skillet
A cast iron skillet is an essential pan in any home cook’s collection. Although this brand is predominantly known for its signature slow cookers, it also makes a small selection of enameled cast iron cookware.
The Crock Pot Artisan Cast Iron Skillet has terrific heat retention and durable enamel for an affordable price. I also enjoy that this pan has a long handle on one side and a small, easy-grip handle on the other to make handling this heavy pan easier.
This is an excellent option if you are on a budget and desperate to own a cast iron piece. Users’ chief complaint is that this pan is heavier than expected and not as non-stick as they would like.
Since the Le Creuset Classic skillet I link to later in this list is not much more expensive, in my opinion, you’ll get a better deal by saving up a little longer and investing in a heritage brand like Le Creuset.
KitchenAid Square Grill and Roasting Pan– Best Enamel Cast Iron Grill Pan
Like the Crockpot pan, this KitchenAid Square Grill and Roasting Pan is from a brand known for other professional-level products – in this case, stand mixers. But they also make some great enameled cast iron.
I love making steaks in this pan because it gives them those beautiful grill marks. It also has incredible heat distribution, so it cooks them evenly, no matter how big they are.
The main issue I have with this roasting pan is the handles. It feels strange to handle a pan like this without a long handle, and the two small handles get hot very quickly. Customers have also pointed out that this pan scratched glass cooktops.
Staub Enamel Cast Iron Dutch Oven– Best Enamel Cast Iron Dutch Oven
This Staub Enamel Cast Iron Dutch Oven is the perfect example of a pot that you are going to pass down to your children. Made in France, Staub is a luxury brand with an extensive catalog of high-end enamel cookware.
I love slow-cooking secondary cuts of meat, especially lamb shanks, so a versatile Dutch oven is a must in my eyes. This one is just what you need. You can start it off on the stovetop, browning off your aromatics, and get the flavors going before popping it in the oven on low for a few hours. The textured black enamel inside provides a beautiful sear, so be sure to take advantage of that to maximize flavor.
Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Casserole– Best Enamel Cast Iron Casserole
If you want great enameled cast iron for a better deal than Le Creuset, look no further than the Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Casserole. Once you’ve tried making a casserole in this dish, you’ll never look back! This casserole dish transfers seamlessly from the stovetop to the oven and onto your table. Since this cookware is so attractive, it’s perfect for placing in the middle of your table and serving it family-style.
This is merely an aesthetic thing, but I enjoy the color options with a gradated finish. The solid colors are beautiful, but the ombre finish that starts out light and ends in a deeper shade is just as beautiful as its Le Creuset counterparts, in my opinion.
Le Creuset Classic Enameled Cast Iron Skillet– Best Enamel Cast Iron Skillet
I don’t know about you, but the pan I use the most is a large skillet, so I think investing in a Le Creuset Classic Enameled Cast Iron Skillet is entirely worth it.
Many enameled cast iron skillets are very heavy, but this is lighter than its competitors while remaining durable and chip-resistant. The pan can be used for anything from sauces to frying, sauteing, and stir-frying, so I get a lot of use out of it. The surface is made from satin black enamel, so it stains less easily, which is very handy when cleaning. It will develop a natural patina over time, but that will affect your cooking only in a positive way.
All You Need to Know About Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
As you can see from this roundup, many options for incredible enameled cast iron are available from a small selection of high-end brands. But if you aren’t familiar with enamel cast iron or how to cook with it, this section will help you get to know this material a little better.
What is Enamel Cast Iron Cookware?
Enameled cast iron is raw cast iron that has been coated in layers of silica-based solidified glass mass known as enamel. This coating is glossy and glass-like and forms a nonreactive coating around the cast iron, which increases its durability and versatility.
High-quality enamel can withstand high temperatures and has low likelihood of thermal shock, making it resistant to cracking or chipping.
What is the Difference Between Regular and Enameled Cast Iron?
|Enameled Cast Iron
|Doesn’t leach iron
|Reactive to acidic food
after every use
|Doesn’t require seasoning
|More versatile (can also boil
and bake bread)
|Better for searing
|Less effective sear
|Compatible with all
|Compatible with all
|Can be used on
|Only use on medium to
What is the Enamel Coating Made From?
The powder glass base of enamel coating on enamel cast iron pans is made from porcelain particles, which are a type of natural ceramic. Porcelain is composed of kaolin clay, quartz, feldspar, and other minerals that are fused together at high temperatures. Porcelain has a smooth, glossy, and durable surface that can be colored with various pigments and binding agents.
To enamel cast iron, the porcelain particles are applied as a powder coat over the metal surface using an electrostatic or a corona gun. The gun charges the powder with electricity, which makes it stick to the cast iron. Then, the coated object is heated in an oven or a kiln to melt and fuse the porcelain layer onto the cast iron. This creates a strong, non-porous enamel coating that protects cast iron from rusting and leaching.
High-end enameled cast iron has two layers. The first layer adheres firmly to the metal and stabilizes it, while the second layer. The second layer increases thermal shock resistance and makes it nonreactive to acidic food. Good quality enamel will be 4-5mm thick.
Why is Enamel Cast Iron So Expensive?
The main reason that enamel cast iron is so expensive is due to the enamel coating. High-quality enamel, as you find in Le Creuset, Staub, and Lodge, is costly to create, so the price is so high compared to raw cast iron. But you need to remember that this enamel is very durable and won’t chip even after years of use.
So it will be a significant investment upfront, but the cost per use will make top-notch enamelware worth it in just a few months.
Does Le Creuset Contain Lead or Cadmium?
Le Creuset has passed the California Proposition 65 test, which tests for carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals such as lead and cadmium.
To determine if this is accurate, Natural Baby Mama did a series of tests on various Le Creuset pots and pans where she cooked tomato pasta sauce and then sent it off to be tested at a lab. These tests came back with very small trace elements of lead and cadmium present. But when she tested the pans surfaces with XRF technology, she found these metals predominantly on the outside of the pans and not the inside.
As scary as lead and cadmium are, these elements are found in almost all natural materials at certain levels.
The keys to consider are not just whether or not those metals are present, but whether or not they will transfer into the food you are cooking – as well as your personal health and risk factors.
I encourage you to research your chosen cookware to make sure you would consider it safe to use before you purchase it.
In my opinion, it is worth avoiding all knockoff brands because these will not have such stringent quality control standards and may contain higher traces of these elements.
If you are concerned about exposure to lead, you can purchase a lead testing kit like this for you to test your own products at home.
Is Enamel Cast Iron Safe to Cook In?
Enamel cast iron is widely considered safe to cook with. (Even the blogger I mentioned above who tested her Le Creuset for lead continues to use and recommend it.) Because of the coating, enamelware does not leach iron like raw cast iron.
But this all changes if your pan chips. Chipping can deposit enamel into your food, which may or may not be a health concern, but is very unpleasant to bite down on! Chipping also exposes the metal, which can cause the iron to leach and lead to corrosion.
To prevent damaging the enamel coating, avoid using metal utensils, which could scratch the surface. Avoid exposing your pans to rapid temperature changes. Make sure to rest the hot pans on a pot holder and not directly onto a cold counter to prevent thermal shock.
Cooking With Enamel Cast Iron
What Can You Cook in Enamel Cast Iron?
Enamel cast iron is one of the most versatile cookware materials out there. It’s popular for making everything from sourdough bread to the stew you dip it in. You can boil water or sautee veggies, quick sear, or slow cook. Since enamel cast iron is nonreactive, you can cook any dish in these pans regardless of acidity.
Most enameled cast iron is labeled as appropriate for all cooktops, including induction. Still, I would avoid using any cast iron cookware on glass cooktops as they can scratch the surface. It is oven-safe up to 400 °F.
Is Enamel Cast Iron Nonstick?
Enameled cast iron is often referred to as semi-nonstick. The surface is not inherently nonstick, and no additional nonstick coatings are added.
To get the food to release and not stick to the surface, the enameled cast iron must be preheated over medium-low heat before adding a good glug of oil. Let your proteins form a crust before removing them, and they should release easily.
Care of Enamel Cast Iron Pots and Pans
Many brands label their enameled cast iron as dishwasher safe, but if you read further, they recommend hand washing for the best results. This is confusing, but my rule of thumb is to hand wash all enameled cast iron cookware and dry it well before storing it. I recommend removing stubborn marks and food using vinegar and baking soda.
Unlike raw cast iron, enameled cast iron doesn’t require seasoning, so you only need to focus on cleaning it well. It will absorb oil from food over time, but this will only make it perform better.
What is the Best Alternative to Le Creuset?
Would you believe me if I told you the best alternative to Le Creuset is actually Le Creuset? Let me explain!
Le Creuset Second Choix is a factory outlet program that sells genuine Le Creuset with small cosmetic imperfections for a great price. You might also be able to pick up pieces that were overstocked or are in discontinued colors.
High-quality enamel cast iron may be expensive, but its long lifespan and quality cooking surface make it worth every cent! If you want consistency no matter what you are cooking,
If you want consistency no matter what you are cooking, I recommend the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron 10-pc Cookware Set. But if you’re going to invest in one great piece, I recommend the Staub Enamel Cast Iron Dutch Oven.
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