When choosing a Dutch oven, one of the most common questions people ask is what finish to go for: plain cast iron or enameled cast iron. The truth is that both options are extremely popular with both amateur and professional cooks alike.
No magic formula will help you pick an option that will work for your household. Purchasing a cast iron vs. enamel dutch oven depends on the kind of cooking you would like to do. Both are heavy cookware and have excellent heat retaining properties. No matter which option you go with, you will have a piece of cookware that will last you many many years.
Cast iron is enjoying a resurgence in kitchens. The longevity and practicality of this cookware make them staples for every serious home cook.
In this article, we'll discuss the strengths and drawbacks of each type of finish, but first, let's look at a few of the aspects that all Dutch ovens have in common, and what kind of cooking they are best suited to.
Generally, a Dutch oven is a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. The walls are thick to evenly distribute and retain heat, and it's heavy. Dutch ovens are commonly made from cast iron. Some are plain and some have a coating of either enamel or ceramic.
Best suited for moist-heat cooking, Dutch ovens have many uses in the kitchen. Soups, stews, and braising are the most common ways Dutch ovens are used, but frying, baking bread, and making sauces on the stovetop are also great options for using your Dutch oven.
You can even take your Dutch oven camping, or to cookouts. The cast iron allows non-coated ovens to be placed over direct heat, or surrounded by hot coals, for outdoor cooking options. Just be sure to bring your oven mitts as well - the oven holds heat really well.
The cast iron construction is ideal for retaining and distributing heat, whether the Dutch oven is used on a stovetop, in an oven, or outside over a fire. This allows the contents to cook from all sides at once and reduces the incidence of hot or cold spots, leading to burned or under-cooked areas.
Cooking with cast iron Dutch ovens, whether enamel coated or not, is ideal for moist-cooking methods. This includes braising, as with large joints of meat or whole birds, as well as stewing, including recipes such as chilies, curries, soups, and, of course, stews.
The thick base and walls, along with the tight-fitting lid, serve two purposes - trapping moisture inside, and ensuring the smooth transfer of heat around the pot. Food will not dry out or burn during cooking and will stay wonderfully moist. When cooking with the lid on, the steam created is trapped inside the Dutch oven, which helps tenderize both meat and vegetables.
The advantage of using a Dutch oven for moist-cooking stems from the unique construction of this cast iron cookware. Cast iron is an even distributor of heat, and all the surfaces (including the lid) retain that heat evenly.
Dutch ovens are not limited to oven cooking. Their even heating means no matter what or how you're cooking, the surface is uniformly hot, avoiding "hot spots" that can burn your dinner.
Enamel is a glaze applied to the cast iron surface of the cookware. The glass particles that make up the enamel are fused to the underlying surface, creating a smooth surface with no need for seasoning. This coating allows for easier cleaning and prevents iron from leaching into the foods you're cooking.
It normally costs more than traditional plain cast iron cookware
A cast iron ceramic Dutch oven can be more prone to cracks and chips if not treated carefully.
All cast iron cookware can be damaged by sudden extreme temperature fluctuations. We recommend never running cold water over very hot cookware, enamel-coated or not.
While plain cast iron is more durable, coated Dutch ovens are easier to care for.
Did you know, what we think of as a Dutch oven now was not created by the Dutch?
The plain cast iron Dutch oven was first created in the 1700s. An Englishman, Abraham Darby, was the first to manufacture Dutch ovens out of cast iron, and we thank him for it. The Dutch originally used brass for their cooking vessels. Darby took the casting process the Dutch were using at the time and refined it, creating what we now call the cast iron Dutch oven.
As a very sturdy and durable piece of cookware, cast iron Dutch ovens are sometimes handed down through the generations.
Famous colonists and settlers used Dutch ovens in their travels:
The 1920s saw the enameling of Dutch ovens increase in popularity. The elimination of the need to season cookware and the increase of color availability made enameled ovens very popular in American households, however, the price meant it was a luxury purchase for your kitchen.
Heavy, sturdy cast iron cookware was nearly replaced in common households between the 1960s and 1980s, thanks to the availability of lighter, more modern cookware. But nothing can replace the steadfast, even cooking of cast iron cookware.
Choosing between a plain cast iron vs. enameled cast iron Dutch oven comes right down to what type of cooking you'll be using it for. The main differences between the two types are heat resistance and ease of maintenance.
Once seasoned, plain cast iron is very simple to clean. It does not go in the dishwasher, and should not be washed with soaps. Simply use hot water and a rag or brush to wipe off the food particles left behind by your meal. For stubborn spots, apply kosher salt and wipe firmly over the area to loosen the bits. Rinse with hot water, and re-season if necessary.
Enameled cast iron can be washed in a sink of soapy water. It does not have the same restrictions as it's plain counterpart, and never needs seasoning. Still, treat enameled cast iron Dutch ovens with care so they last for many, many years.
Cast iron is an incredibly versatile material for cookware, whether it's used to make a Dutch oven, skillet, griddle or kettle, its ability to distribute heat evenly, and its robust construction makes cast iron cookware one of the most long-lasting and consistent tools any chef will need.
Picking a cast iron or enamel Dutch oven comes down to how you intend to use it. If you are looking for the flexibility of outdoor cooking, choose plain cast iron. By contrast, if your intent is to only use it in the kitchen, and you want to avoid the effort of regular seasoning, an enamel-coated Dutch oven may be the better choice for you.
We recommend that every kitchen has at least one Dutch oven. They come in various sizes and will last a very long time if properly cared for. Dutch ovens are so versatile you may like one of each: plain cast iron and enamel coated.