Enamel on Steel Cookware: A Guide to Durability, Quality, and Care

Enamel cookware refers to pots, pans, and other cooking vessels that have been coated with a glossy, glass-like enamel material. Enameling is a time-honored technique that protects the base metal from corrosion and provides a durable and attractive non-stick cooking surface.

Enamelware first became popular in the early 1900s and many brands, such as Le Creuset and Staub from France, are still prized today for their quality craftsmanship and vibrant colors. Enameled cast iron and enameled steel remain two of the most common types of enamel cookware on the market.

Enamel has many advantages over bare cast iron or stainless steel. The glassy coating prevents food from sticking, allows for easy cleanup, and will not react with acidic ingredients. It also distributes heat evenly and retains it well, making it a great choice for tasks like braising, stewing, baking, and frying.

However, enamel cookware does require a bit more care and maintenance than other types of pots and pans. The enamel can chip if subjected to sudden temperature changes or improper cleaning methods. With proper use and care though, quality enamel cookware can last for decades.

What is Enamel?

Enamel cookware gets its name from the special glass coating bonded to the metal. Enamel itself is made from powdered glass combined with coloring oxides and fused onto the underlying metal at extremely high temperatures of around 1500°F. This liquefies the glass so that it flows evenly to coat the interior and exterior surfaces.

The enamel seals and protects the iron or steel underneath. It provides a non-porous, non-reactive surface that is resistant to rust and corrosion. Enamel also prevents food from interacting with the base metal, so no metallic flavors will be imparted during cooking.

Some key properties and benefits of enamel include:

  • Non-stick surface – Food does not adhere easily to enamel, making cooking and cleanup much easier.
  • Even heating – Enamel conducts and retains heat well for consistent cooking results.
  • Durability – Enamel resists chipping and scratching better than other non-stick coatings.
  • Affordability – Less expensive than fully clad stainless steel cookware.
  • Appearance – Glossy enamel comes in vibrant, attractive colors.

Pros of Enamel Cookware

Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the advantages and benefits that enamel cookware provides over traditional stainless steel, cast iron or non-stick pots and pans:

Nonstick Surface

The smooth, glassy enamel surface prevents food from sticking and makes cleaning much easier. Food residue wipes away without needing to scrub. You can cook eggs, pancakes, and other foods without any oil or butter needed.

Enamel’s nonstick ability outpaces materials like anodized aluminum while avoiding the eventual degradation issues of Teflon nonstick coatings. The enamel won’t flake or chip off into food either.

Even Heating

The enameling process allows cast iron and steel to retain and conduct heat more like aluminum, rather than traditional cast iron that is prone to hot spots. The enamel distributes heat evenly across the cooking surface for more consistent results.

Enamel retains heat very well, providing steady cooking temperatures and allowing food to brown properly when searing. The excellent heat retention also makes enamel suitable for baking applications.

Durability

While not invincible, enamel stands up well to daily cooking demands. It resists scratches, scuffs, and chips better than other nonstick finishes. As long as you avoid abrasive scouring, enamel will maintain its smooth cooking surface much longer than other options.

Some premium enamel brands like Le Creuset even offer limited lifetime warranties against defects due to the confidence in enamel’s durability. With proper care you can pass enamel cookware down to the next generation.

Versatility

Enamel cookware excels at a wide range of cooking tasks. It’s equally at home on the stovetop, in the oven, under the broiler, and even on the grill or open fire. The enameled surface is also suitable for use with induction ranges.

You can braise, bake, sauté, sear, simmer, roast, fry, and more, all with the same pan. The excellent heat distribution and retention means you get reliably even and consistent results no matter the cooking method.

Attractive Appearance

Beyond practical advantages, enamel cookware is simply pretty to look at! The glossy finish and range of colors like flame red, sea green, and matte black allow you to add a pop of color to your kitchen.

Enamel maintains its smooth, glassy finish over time. It won’t take on a faded, worn look like bare cast iron or stainless steel can.

Cons of Enamel Cookware

While enamel is very versatile and durable, there are a few potential downsides to consider before purchasing:

Weight

Enamel cookware is often heavier than comparable uncoated pots and pans. The enamel adds some weight, but a bigger factor is that most enamel is applied to cast iron rather than thinner metals like aluminum. So you trade heft for heat retention.

The weight makes enamel items harder to maneuver and lift, especially when full. The heavier weight also means you need to take care not to knock the pan against surfaces to avoid chipping.

Potential Chipping

If you regularly overheat an enameled pan or bang it around harshly, the enamel can chip or crack. Any exposed cast iron along chip edges can start to rust or discolor if not repaired.

However, minor chips don’t make the cookware unusable. Small flaws just require extra care when cleaning. Quality enamel is surprisingly resilient against small dings and scratches from regular use.

Not Induction Compatible

Traditional cast iron with exposed iron along the bottom cannot be used on induction ranges, which require ferromagnetic metals like steel or enameled cast iron. Bare cast iron and copper pans won’t work.

So enamel is required for cast iron to function on an induction cooktop. But this isn’t a concern for traditional gas or electric ranges.

High Initial Cost

Quality enamel cookware costs noticeably more upfront than basic stainless steel, aluminum, or non-stick pots and pans. Le Creuset for example commands a premium price.

However, that higher cost pays off in the long run thanks to enamel’s durability and longevity. A more affordable option is Lodge’s popular enameled cast iron line.

Caring for Enamel Cookware

While durable, enamel still requires some specific care to prevent damage and extend its working life:

  • Allow pans to cool before washing. Thermal shock from pouring cold water into a hot pan could cause enamel cracks.
  • Hand wash only with non-abrasive cleaners and sponges. No steel wool or oven cleaner, which can scratch.
  • Avoid metal utensils which can scratch and dull the enamel over time. Use wood, silicone or plastic instead.
  • Don’t stack items inside pans during storage. Impact can chip enamel.
  • Season before first use. Lightly coat interior with vegetable oil and bake at 300°F for an hour to cure.

Treat it gently and your enamel cookware should provide many years of service. Let’s look at some of enamel’s best applications in the kitchen.

Best Uses for Enamel Cookware

Thanks to its durable, non-stick surface and excellent heat retention, enamel works well for:

  • Braising and stewing – Enamel pots evenly distribute heat and retain moisture for fork-tender results. The non-stick surface lets fond develop without burning.
  • Baking – Safe at oven temps up to 500°F. Won’t react with acidic dishes. Excellent heat retention gives consistent oven spring for breads.
  • Searing and frying – Non-stick surface allows lovely browning. Cast iron core provides even, responsive heat distribution.
  • Cooking acidic foods – Unlike bare cast iron or aluminum, enameled surfaces won’t react with acidic ingredients like tomatoes or wine.
  • Serving dishes – Enamel’s attractive appearance lets pots transition beautifully from stove to table.

Popular Enamel Cookware Brands

Several companies have specialized in quality enameled cookware. Here are some of the most popular brands:

  • Le Creuset – Premium French brand beloved for vibrant colors. Known for casseroles, Dutch ovens, and skillets. Lifetime warranty.
  • Staub – Also French, unique for dark matte black interiors. Great for braising and roasting.
  • Lodge – Major American cast iron maker. Most affordable enameled cast iron available from $50-150 range.
  • Tramontina – Brazilian brand offering budget-friendly enameled cast iron and steel cookware.
  • Cream – British stainless steel pans with stylish cream and black speckled exterior enamel.

Conclusion

Enamel cookware offers a great balance of durability, cooking performance, ease of use, and classic beauty. The glassy coating provides natural nonstick ability while retaining and distributing heat evenly. With proper care, quality enamel can serve meals for decades to come.

While not as indestructible as bare cast iron, enamel stands up well to daily demands. The main things to keep in mind are avoiding harsh scrubbing or cleaning, rapid temperature changes, and impacts that could chip the coating.

For anyone seeking cookware that cooks evenly, cleans up easily, and looks stunning, enameled cast iron or steel should be at the top of their wish list. Brands like Le Creuset have proven for nearly a century why this classic cooking material still shines.

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