Are you shopping for new cookware but undecided on whether to buy bare or enameled cast iron?
Cast iron is a versatile material that creates some of the best cookware out there. It’s ultra-durable, tolerates extremely high temperatures, and boasts incredible heat retention.
But how do you choose between bare and enameled cast iron?
What are their key differences?
What are the pros and cons of each?
In this comparison of cast iron vs. enameled cast iron, I’ll answer all of these questions.
You’ll learn how these cookware types compare in terms of options, appearance, cooking performance, durability, price, and more.
Let’s get started.
Use the links below to navigate this comparison:
- Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron: Comparison Chart
- Difference 1: Construction
- Difference 2: Cookware Types
- Difference 3: Appearance
- Difference 4: Durability
- Difference 5: Cooking Performance
- Difference 6: Iron Supplement
- Difference 7: Maintenance and Cleaning
- Difference 8: Price
- Difference 9: Top Brands
- Difference 10: Cooktop Compatibility
- Bottom Line: Should You Buy Bare or Enameled Cast Iron Cookware?
Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron: Comparison Chart
If you’re in a hurry, the chart below outlines the key differences between bare and enameled cast iron cookware.
|Enameled Cast Iron
|Bare cast iron (98% iron, 2% carbon)
|Cast iron coated in enamel glaze
|Skillets, Dutch ovens, braisers, casseroles
|Dull black or dark gray
|Range of glossy colors
|Can last a lifetime
|Can last decades, but the enameled will eventually crack/chip
|Avoid acidic foods, safe over an open flame, ideal for searing
|Can handle all ingredients, not grill or camp fires-safe, ideal for sauces, soups, stews
|Must be seasoned before and throughout use
|No seasoning required
|Cannot use soap, must dry completely after cleaning
|Wash with warm, soapy water
|More affordable (view prices on Amazon)
|More expensive (view prices on Amazon)
Difference 1: Construction
Cast iron is an iron alloy containing approximately 98% iron and 2% carbon. It’s melted and poured into a mold.
Once poured, the metal hardens into the desired shape and creates a durable product that can last a lifetime. This process has been used for millennia and dates back to ancient China.
Your family may have a cast iron skillet that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
In fact, many people can tell stories about a skillet their family has been using since the Great Depression or even longer. That’s because the casting process allows iron to become harder and more resistant to wear.
Enameled cast iron cookware is cast iron cookware that’s been glazed with a coating of fused glass particles.
The enameling process allows for a wide variety of colors and protects the core iron from rust and other kinds of corrosion. It also eliminates the need for seasoning and makes the cooking surface stick-resistant and easier to clean.
Difference 2: Cookware Types
While both bare and enameled cast iron can be made into various cookware, bare cast iron is most often used to forge skillets, griddles, and sometimes Dutch ovens. Skillets are by far the most common bare cast iron cookware type.
With enameled cast iron, you’ll find a wider variety of products, including skillets, Dutch ovens, casserole dishes, frying pans, braisers, and more. That versatility is seen in the collections offered by well-known brands such as Le Creuset or Staub.
Difference 3: Appearance
Aesthetic differences are one of the major points where bare cast iron and enameled cast iron diverge.
Enameled cast iron comes in a fun variety of colors and finishes, with companies like Le Creuset releasing offering over 20 different hues.
Thanks to the glossy finish on most enameled cookware, you can use these attractive pieces for cooking food and serving food.
Matched color sets are commonly sold together and offer an attractive way to cut back on the amount of serving platters you use during holidays and other events.
Bare cast iron doesn’t offer this kind of color choice and is only produced in black or grey hues, which are the iron’s natural colors. It’s rugged-looking cookware that gets the job done, with no regard for style points.
For this reason, enameled cast iron is a better option for you if you want colorful cookware, whereas bare cast iron is a more basic, rustic choice.
Difference 4: Durability
Since enamel coating is more susceptible to damage than raw metal, bare cast iron cookware is the more durable option.
Enameled cast iron can chip and scratch during use and storage, which reduces its overall lifespan.
A common source of damage to enameled cast iron cookware is the over judicious use of the ware over an open flame, leading to the enamel cracking.
Le Creuset offers a lifetime warranty on their products (if proper care instructions are followed), which negates some of the risks, but cheaper brands don’t include this protection.
With is rugged cooking surface, bare cast iron can last generations, but it isn’t indestructible. Rust, accidentally slamming the cookware against hard corners, and improper use of harsh cleaning products can damage bare cast iron.
With proper care, both enameled and bare cast iron are quite durable, but bare cast iron has a longer overall lifespan.
Difference 5: Cooking Performance
A major benefit of cast iron is that it has superb heat retention properties, whether enameled or bare.
In other words, it stays hot for a long time after being removed from the heat source, keeping your food warm while you finish preparing the rest of the meal.
It also stays hot when you place a cold piece of meat on it, which helps cook the food uniformly.
You can use enameled cast iron on both the stovetop and in ovens, but you shouldn’t use it over an open flame such as a grill or campfire.
Thanks to its non-porous, smooth coating, you can cook acidic foods like tomato sauce in enameled cast iron pots and pans.
In contrast, acidic foods and bare cast iron cookware doesn’t mix because bare cast iron is porous and reactive. The low pH levels of these foods will break down the layer of seasoning applied to the metal as a part of routine maintenance and lead to corrosion.
Bare cast iron is suitable for browning, braising, sautéing, broiling, frying, and grilling. But it’s arguably the best type of cookware for searing steaks, burgers, and other meats, thanks to its incredible heat retention and ability to handle extremely high temperatures.
Enameled cast iron is more prone to food sticking than well-seasoned bare cast iron and requires the use of more oil to prevent it.
Difference 6: Iron Supplement
One of the more interesting differences between enameled and bare cast iron is that the latter option provides you with a dose of iron whenever you cook in it.
Thanks to bare cast iron’s porous and reactive nature, a small amount of the iron is absorbed into food during the cooking process.
Enameled cast iron’s glossy coating prevents this from happening. If you’re anemic, bare cast iron is a sneaky – and unconventional – way to add more iron to your diet.
Difference 7: Maintenance and Cleaning
Another significant difference between bare and enameled cast iron cookware is that bare cast iron needs to be seasoned, and enameled cast iron doesn’t.
Seasoning is the process of coating the cookware in fat, typically vegetable oil or lard, and heating it so that the fat bonds to the surface and creates a protective layer.
After the initial seasoning, you’ll need to re-season your skillet whenever the protective layer wears down, which can happen every few weeks or months depending on the type of food you cook in it and how well you care for it.
For example, if you choose to cook highly acidic foods or use steel wool or any other abrasive material while cleaning bare cast iron, you’ll need to re-season before the next use.
Although the steps are simple, seasoning is unnecessary with enameled cast iron cookware, making it a lower-maintenance option.
Enameled cast iron cookware can simply be washed with soap or harsher cleaners to tackle severe stains (check out my guide to cleaning enameled cookware to learn more).
Some enameled products claim to be dishwasher safe, but hand-washing with warm, sudsy water is a better option when it comes to prolonging your cookware’s life.
Never use soap with bare cast iron. Instead, clean with water and a soft sponge or chain mail scrubber. Soap and other cleaners will strip away the seasoning.
Because the iron is exposed, bare cast iron cookware needs to be dried immediately after washing to avoid rust.
Difference 8: Price
Generally, enameled cast iron is more expensive than bare cast iron.
Cost depends on the brand and quality, but the enameling process almost always comes with a higher price tag (more materials and steps in the production = higher price).
To help navigate these price differences, here is a helpful chart showing the current prices of the most popular cast iron and enameled cast iron products on Amazon:
|Utopia Kitchen Bare Cast Iron Skillet (12.5 Inch)
|Lodge Bare Cast Iron Skillet (10.25 Inch)
|Lodge Bare Cast Iron Skillet with 2 Loop Handles (17 Inch)
|Lodge Bare Cast Iron Dutch Oven (7 Quart)
|Lodge Bare Cast Iron Grill Pan (10.25 Inch)
|Backcountry Bare Cast Iron Grill Pan (12 Inch)
|Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Skillet (10.25 Inch)
|Crock Pot Artisan Enameled Cast Iron Deep Sauté Pan (3.5 Quart)
|Tramontina Enameled Cast Iron Braiser (4 Quart)
|STAUB Cast Iron Round Cocotte (5.5 Quart)
|STAUB Enameled Cast Iron Frying Pan (10 Inch)
|Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Skillet (11.75 Inch)
Difference 9: Top Brands
If you’re looking for a high-quality bare cast iron skillet, look no further than Lodge. As one of the oldest American companies, Lodge has been making high-quality cast iron cookware since 1896 in its South Pittsburg, Tennessee, foundries.
Several other brands make quality bare cast iron, but Lodge boasts some of the best skillets, Dutch ovens, and grill pans on the market. To learn more, browse the thousands of positive reviews for their popular Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, or read my in-depth review where I break down its pros and cons.
Lodge also makes enameled cast iron products, including Dutch ovens and casseroles, but they are better known for their traditional cast iron skillets.
The top brand for enameled cast iron cookware is Le Creuset. Best known for its iconic enameled Dutch ovens, this French company has been leading this category since 1925.
Besides the expansive lineup of colors, Le Creuset’s attention to detail and commitment to craftsmanship is what makes them stand out.
It takes over 30 skilled craftspeople to make each Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch oven. And, if the final product isn’t perfect, they melt it back down and start over. In fact, they are so obsessed with quality that they reject up to 30% of their Dutch ovens.
Difference 10: Cooktop Compatibility
Bare and enameled cast iron are both compatible with all cooktops. However, if you have an electric or induction cooktop with a glass surface, enameled cast iron is safer.
Bare cast iron has a rougher exterior surface and can develop burrs and rough edges over time. If you’re careful, cooking with bare cast iron on a glass top stove is not a problem. But if you accidentally drop it or drag it, you can easily scratch the glass.
Enameled cast iron is equally heavy, but the bottom of each piece has a much smoother surface, limiting the risk of scratching the glass.
Bottom Line: Should You Buy Bare or Enameled Cast Iron Cookware?
When considering cast iron cookware, the right choice is dependent upon your unique needs and preferences.
If you want low-maintenance, colorful, and versatile cookware, enameled cast iron is likely the way to go.
On the other hand, many cooks swear by bare cast iron despite its relatively rigorous maintenance needs.
While you can’t cook acidic foods in bare cast iron cookware, it has been around for centuries and comes with a lot of history — as well as the ability to be used over open flames like grills or campfires.
Ultimately, I recommend purchasing a bare cast iron skillet for your steaks, burgers, and cornbread, and an enameled cast iron skillet or Dutch oven for soups, sauces, and acidic ingredients.
If you have the budget, it shouldn’t be an either-or situation; get both!
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