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Enamel Cast Iron vs Stainless Steel

Enamel Cast Iron vs Stainless Steel: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on June 15, 2024 by Shari Mason

Enameled cast iron and stainless steel sit proudly in most kitchens—they’re the best friends a cook could ask for!

However, we cannot disregard that one can simply outperform the other in various aspects.

We will compare these two cooking tools by discussing all their aspects to determine which is the better fit for you in the long run.

Comparing Enamel Cast Iron & Stainless Steel

enameled Cast Iron on top of a stove

Enameled cast iron and stainless steel are entirely different cookware and serve their own cooking purposes very admirably.  

For starters, enameled cast iron is made from cast iron that has been treated with a layer of the enamel coating, while stainless steel is an alloy of iron made from several chemical elements.

Both have several different aspects you need to consider before purchasing either one, including materials, features, benefits, cooking performance, and more.

Read:

Key Differences

Materials

Enameled cast iron is cast iron only coated in vitreous or porcelain enamel. It doesn’t need any other material to make, as manufacturers typically pour cast iron into a mold and then coat it with an enamel glaze.

On the other hand, stainless steel is generally made of chemical elements such as chromium, nickel, and iron. It is sometimes cladded with aluminum and copper for better heat conduction and even heat distribution.

Features

Enameled cast iron cookware has a rugged look yet is visually appealing due to its aesthetic enamel coating. It is often weighty as they come thick.

Stainless steel is a sleek, shiny cookware. It is lighter than enameled cast iron in terms of weight, but it tends to be more durable. But how do you season a cast iron without an oven?

Uses

Enameled cast iron is versatile when it comes to its uses. You can cook with it on the stove, grill, or even in the oven. 

However, it is not recommended to be cooked on a campfire since it has a temperature limitation of 400-450°F. Exceeding this range may only break its enamel coating or leak iron compounds.

In comparison, stainless steel is similar to enameled cast iron for its versatility. Whether you’re cooking on the stove, grill, or oven, stainless steel surely gets the cooking job done.

Benefits

Enamel cast iron doesn’t rust nor requires regular seasoning, for which the enamel coating is responsible. It serves as a protective layer and saves you from these troubles.

Stainless steel, on the other hand, does not affect the taste or smell of your food, making it safer to cook with. 

Moreover, stainless steel cookware is built to last a lifetime and doesn’t rust or corrode, particularly if it has chromium content [1].

Cooktop Compatibility

Both enamel cast iron and stainless are compatible with all kinds of cooktops, whether it be gas, electric, induction, downdraft, or glass.

However, if you’ll be using enameled cast iron on a glass cooktop to cook, you must place the pan gently to avoid irreparable damage.

Heat Conduction & Retention

While enameled cast iron distributes heat evenly, it requires a lot of time to finally heat up due to its thickness and enamel coating, allowing for longer heat retention. 

Stainless steel, cladded with aluminum and copper, has phenomenal heat conduction [2], and it only takes short periods to heat up evenly. Also, stainless steel cools down quickly after cooking.

Cooking Performance

Enameled cast iron offers a flawless cooking experience owing to its enamel coating. It is an excellent cooking tool for meats since it works best at low to medium temperatures and retains the heat—allowing the meat to be cooked from the inside out.

Moreover, you can do other cooking methods like frying, baking, roasting, sautéing, braising, and stewing. Unlike its ancestors, there are no exceptions to cooking acidic foods or citrus. Although, it is primarily used on slow-cooked foods, such as stews and soups.

Stainless steel can also be used in all cooking methods and be cooked with anything. It has higher heat resistance compared to enameled cast iron. However, it is susceptible to discoloration, mainly if you use it in cooking tomato sauce. 

Cleaning & Maintenance

Stainless Steel Pan on a Stove

Enamel cast iron is relatively easy to clean and maintain. You just have to wash it with warm water and dish soap, using a soft sponge or non-abrasive scrubbers, and then rinse and dry it.

Furthermore, it no longer requires regular seasoning like the traditional cast irons.

Stainless steel, on the other hand, must be cleaned and maintained with caution. It is highly corrosive, especially after prolonged exposure to water or moisture.  

After washing it with warm soapy water using a soft sponge or non-abrasive scrubbers, rinse and dry it immediately.

Durability

Enamel cast iron is inherently yet not equally durable as its cast iron ancestors. Its enamel coating is very prone to cracking since it is glass that has been melted. 

“I like cast iron coated with enamel for longevity and forgiveness if I happen to take my eyes off the prize while pouring Chianti.”

— Mario Batali

On the other hand, stainless steel is known as the most durable cookware due to its impact resistance. It contains chromium which gives it an increased hardness to resist scratches more effectively. 

Food Sticks

You never have to worry about stubborn food particles sticking into your enameled cast iron’s surface after every cooking because its enamel coating provides resistance to sticking. 

Stainless steel is susceptible to food sticks, especially if it hasn’t been heated enough with oil before it is cooked with something. 

This sticking is mainly caused by the pores in them that open and close during the pan’s heating process and latch onto food particles and get stuck. 

Price Point

Generally, enameled cast iron is more expensive than stainless steel due to its enamel glaze coating, which has many benefits.

But, if we compare the price range between stainless steel and traditional cast iron, cast iron is much cheaper. Cast iron’s manufacturing process is a lot less complicated than how stainless steel is made. 

Stainless steel requires various materials and must be bonded with some conductive elements to receive heat better.

FAQs

u003cstrongu003eIs it healthy to cook in enameled cast iron?u003c/strongu003e

Yes, enameled cast iron is completely safe and non-toxic to cook in. Its enamel layer prevents any iron compounds from leaching into your food, unlike the traditional cast irons. 

u003cstrongu003eIs enamel cast iron or stainless steel cookware better?u003c/strongu003e

Stainless steel cookware is usually the better choice because it heats up pretty quickly and can cook all types of food, which is perfect for daily cooking.

u003cstrongu003eWhat happens if you scratch enameled cast iron?u003c/strongu003e

It is still generally safe to use a scratched enameled cast iron. However, it will now become prone to rust or corrosion since the cast iron core is exposed.

u003cstrongu003eCan enameled cast iron rust?u003c/strongu003e

No, simply because enameled cast iron is not porous. Its enamel layer acts as a barrier to protect the tiny pores that the cast iron core has, preventing rust or corrosion.

u003cstrongu003eWhat should you not do with stainless steel cookware? u003c/strongu003e

Stainless steel cookware should not be exposed to high chlorine content, such as in swimming pools or salty water, as they cause corrosion regardless of the grade of stainless steel.

Conclusion

Choosing between enameled cast iron and stainless steel is a matter of personal preference as both have similar aspects and individual differences.

You can use our guide to help you better decide which is more useful or convenient for your cooking ventures. 

References:

  1. https://mse.engin.umich.edu/internal/demos/case-study-how-chromium-protects-steel
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1290072912002396
Shari Mason

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