Caring for Cast Iron & Enameled Cookware

by Caitlin Kelch

Iron ware has been used for cooking since the 5th century B.C., and has been a preferred method of cooking for some because cast iron absorbs, conducts, and retains heat efficiently. It may take cast iron a little longer to heat up than other cookware, but once it’s heated it stays hot a lot longer than other cook ware. Cast iron appears in many forms, with the skillet being one of the more popular choices for the home kitchen.

I was always curious about the differences between the two basic kinds of cast iron. There’s the regular dark version and the generally bright and colorful enameled version. I’ve underestimated the heat of both kinds in my kitchen and have been left with plenty to scrub.

The first tip for those indoctrinated in the rules of engagement with regular cast iron is that your cookware requires seasoning. This creates a natural nonstick finish and makes sure that the pan or pot doesn’t take on the flavor of foods cooked in it. Also important is that regular cast iron that hasn’t been seasoned, or is in need of a re-seasoning, can react with the ingredients you use. I learned this firsthand when my meatballs I had simmered in tomato sauce had a distinct metallic taste.

Image above: Sean Brock’s Cornbread Recipe Excerpted from  (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards. Get the recipe right here.

So just to be clear — an unseasoned cast iron pan will react to your acidic foods — tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar — and create that metal taste. It may leave some discoloration too. This is where enameled cast iron comes in.

Enameled cast iron is relatively non-stick, generally comes pre-seasoned and is safe for acidic foods. Having said this, it is cast iron beneath the enamel and will conduct heat in a much more intense way than non cast iron cookware, so ere on the conservative side when selecting the amount of heat to cook with. Do be careful not to use metal utensils in your enameled cast iron posts and pans because you can chip the enamel. I’ve done this, and even though the pot still performs well, I had to season the exposed spot. It’s also worth noting that enameled cast iron cookware is expensive. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen and cooking is your thing, it may be worth the investment.

Image above: reminds us of Pantone’s Color of Year, Ultra Violet. Photograph via Sure La Table

As far as cleaning cast iron pieces (regular or enameled), there are several schools of thought. I’ve seen everything from a Bon Appétit test kitchen chef using on his skillet, to dire warnings to never, ever touch it with anything but warm water. If need be, I simmer a little warm water in my skillet and loosen any stubborn pieces with a wooden spoon.

Image above: Artist & Illustrator Lisa Congdon’s collection of Cathrineholm Lotus and Dansk enamelware. See Lisa’s home tour here and learn more about the iconic Cathrineholm Lotus enamelware here.

Here are three hard and fast rules about cast iron care most agree on:

  1. Keep your cast iron pieces out of the dishwasher.
  2. Avoid metal scrub pads unless you plan on re-seasoning the pan right away.
  3. Allow the cast iron to cool slowly. Cast iron can actually warp or crack if cooled too quickly.

How do you care for your cast iron cook ware? I’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comments. –Caitlin

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  • While this article is about cast iron… aren’t those lovely dansk enamelware pots enameled steel (hence the light weight)? Versus the staub or le creuset with cast iron?

  • I had to ban a flat mate years ago from using my skillet pans …. I still have the pans! I try and keep one for sweet (upside down carmel cakes/onion tart) and one for savoury just in case of flavour transfer – they are such a life time buy. my enamel stew pot is super handy. they really are expensive only on the day you buy them. mine did feel expensive when I got it on sale, but 10 years later its still perfect. its so handy for stove top stews and straight to oven.

  • I love my cast iron pans and use them almost exclusively! I use a cheap Ikea dish brush (Ikea ANTAGEN) to clean them – the brush has a top flat edge for scraping anything stuck on, and the bristles with hot water do the rest! A quick wipe with a paper towel to dry, and a light coat of vegetable oil if it looks like they need it. I also never cook anything tomato based in them, it’ll remove your hard earned seasoning! The best part is that even if you screw it up, you can always start over – this is the method I use for new or damaged pans:

  • I have used a cast iron skillet almost every day for many years and I occasionally use soap on it with no longterm ill effects. Afterward I just put it on the stove and heat it up for a few minutes with a little oil in it, then wipe it out with a paper towel, and the very smooth and very black surface seems to come right back.

    Regarding Dansk Calphalon – I had several large pots which I used multiple times a week for 30 years. They were finally getting somewhat worn and discolored inside and scratched and chipped on the edges and lids, so when I started seeing them on sale again in the last 5-7 years or so I replaced my old ones. I am sorry I did – the new ones chipped and flaked on the inside within a year. I tried to email Dansk about it and never received a reply. I have a large Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot now and it seems to be holding up much better – but it was also much more expensive.

  • I love the colors of Le Creuset enameled cast iron, but I have had some pieces chip in normal use. Although they claim to have a lifetime warranty, you have to call New Jersey to get a Return Authorization number, and I called 7 times and never got an answer, also they did not respond to messages left on the phone. So I look at my Le Creuset as a decoration more than reliable cookware. I you plan to invest in beautiful colored enameled cast iron, read the internet reviews of their customer service, so you know if it is worth it to you.

    You can use traditional cast iron pots and pans without seasoning. I prefer to wash my pans with a metal scouring pad and dish soap, then grease them with my preferred oil for cooking. That way there is no flavor transfer from one meal to the next. I do not notice a metallic taste.

    The “Lucky Iron Fish” is a kitchen item that goes in the pot when you make soup or ramen or anything that sits and boils for a while. Microscopic bits of iron are released into the food so it acts as an iron supplement, but without the side effects of oral iron tablets, such as stomach upset and constipation. I found that when I switched to iron pots that I wash regularly, my iron-deficiency anemia improved, so I suspect the pots served the same purpose as the Lucky Iron Fish.

  • I have two Le Creuset French Ovens (enameled cast iron) and use them each at least once a week and often more, on the stove top and in the oven. After five years, they are still in perfect condition. No chipping, flaking, crazing, or anything else. I use only wood or nylon utensils—no metal. They clean up easily (soak in hot soapy water for 10 minutes), but if there’s any residue, a quick scrub with Bon Ami (a very fine cleanser) takes it off right away. I love them! I got both on sale—still pricey but the quality and usefulness are worth every penny, especially because I’ll have them for many more years. Seriously, go for quality if there’s any way you can afford it.

  • I pick up enameled cast iron pieces from estate sales (as long as they are in good shape with no chips — or cheap enough that I can justify having them re-enameled). I only use wooden utensils and should anything get cooked on, a soak in warm water for 10-15 minutes usually does the trick. There have been a few times when my husband has REALLY cooked stuff on. In those cases, I do the initial soak followed by a scrub with warm water, a bit of dishsoap and kosher salt. Works like a charm!

  • When it comes to cleaning: my dad taught me to use olive oil and Kosher salt to scrape the pan. The coarse salt helps to remove any residue on the pan and the olive oil helps to continue seasoning it. Works wonders and my skillet is in great shape!

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