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Bare Cast Iron vs. Enamel

There comes a time when every cook is tempted by a heavy piece of cookware that will last for years and may even become a family heirloom.  Both bare cast iron and enameled cast iron fit this description – but how do you choose between them? 

Black cast iron has an unbeatable ‘rustic’, country look but it requires seasoning which some cooks love to do and others find a chore.  With enameled cast iron ware, the bare metal is enclosed in a coating of powdered glass which is melted and then baked onto the iron surface.  This gets rid of the danger of rusting and dispenses with the need for seasoning.  So, the appearance of both types of cookware has its’ pros and cons (which are explored further, below) and is really down to personal choice.

You also need to examine if one type will be more suited to the type of cooking that you do. 

If you can’t make your mind up, it may help to look at the essential differences between them.

 Main differences between bare cast iron and enamelled cast iron:

• Bare cast iron is cheaper
• Bare cast iron is usually thicker, which helps to reduce uneven heating and hot-spots
• Bare cast iron is dark metal which makes it extra efficient at heating evenly and efficiently.
• Bare cast iron introduces tiny amounts of iron into the food.  This won’t affect the flavor but can be helpful if you’re prone to anaemia.
• Bare cast iron will last longer – but if you look after them, both types will wear well for decades.
• Bare cast iron is better if you do a lot of cooking which requires searing food over a high heat.  Enamel isn’t so good for this as the heat can craze and damage it.
• Cast iron holds a lot of heat, but is slow to heat up. Adding two layers of enamel makes it even slower.
• Plain cast iron is not so good for caramelization, and when you deglaze the pan, you inevitably get some tiny grains of carbon (from the seasoning layer) that can turn a sauce grey.
• When it comes to utensils, some people say that you can use metal utensils.  You can – but be aware that they may damage the seasoned layers that you have so carefully built up, leading to hot spots and uneven cooking.  For enameled ware, Le Creuset (one of the best known manufacturers of enamel ware) recommend wood or silicone tools.
• Enameled cast iron isn’t affected by acidic foods such as tomatoes or citrus based sauces.  Acidic foods can spoil the seasoned surface of a cast iron pan.
• Enameled cast iron doesn’t need seasoning which makes it much easier to clean and maintain.
• Enameled cast iron will not hold flavors, for example, fish or onions, as easily as bare cast iron does.  However, the more highly seasoned the cast iron is, the less it will retain flavors of other foods.
• Enameled cookware is great for using from oven or stovetop to table.  So is bare cast iron.  It just depends which ‘look’ you prefer.

There really is no clear ‘winner’ in this competition.  It all comes down to how you cook, what you cook and what you personally prefer.

The ideal compromise is to have pieces in both bare cast iron and enamelled.  They will work well together as you cook and compliment each other in the good-looks department!


- The Best Enameled Dutch Oven
- How to Season Cast Iron Cookware


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