Is an enameled cast iron pan worth it?
Expensive yes, but my Staub pan could last until I'm old and wrinkly (well, older and wrinklier)
Can you be in love with a pan? I think I might be in love with a pan. At the same time, I’m a little scared of my pan.
It’s not just any old pan though. It’s an enameled cast iron vintage frying pan from Staub.
There seem to be two cast iron cooking camps… the first believe you can throw anything and everything at your pan, nothing will stick, everything will cook perfectly evenly, your pan will survive everything. After all, it’s CAST IRON DAMMIT.
The other camp believes cast iron needs to be treated delicately, carefully, patiently, nurtured over time...
Currently, as a recent cast iron convert, I’m still in camp two. I’m sure I’ll make the move to camp one eventually, but I want to still be using that pan when I’m 87. So for now, I’m going to look after it more carefully than anything else in my kitchen (...and life, let’s be honest here).
Ahead of my enameled cast iron frying pan arriving, I did a little research. Turns out, there’s a lot of information out there. Although there’s a lot, not all of it is clear, or helpful.
Here’s a round-up of some of the key differences between bare cast iron and enamelware, and the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Works a treat to make frying pan pizza...
The best of the best: Staub and Le Creuset
Everyone’s heard of Le Creuset, but not everyone’s heard of Staub. However, they’re both up there as the best of the best when it comes to quality, with Staub in particular having a ‘bespoke, traditional craftsmanship’ vibe. Staub’s a French company from Alsace, and it makes all its cast iron cookware in France. It was acquired by German company Zwilling J A Henckels in 2008, but is still an independent brand.
Like Le Creuset, Staub is probably best known for its cocottes (Dutch ovens/French ovens/casserole dishes – review coming soon on that), but it also makes a range of other products, including frying pans.
Enameled cast iron vs bare cast iron: what are the differences?
Enameled cast iron is made by fusing glass particles to an underlying layer with intense heat. This creates a non-porous finish that protects the cast iron underneath.
Staub products are enameled cast iron, and have some key differences and advantages over the bare naked stuff.
To season, or not to season...
One of the biggest advantages is that you don’t have to season an enamel cast iron pan. For more info on that, if you have bare cast iron, check out James’ on how to do it. Seasoning helps to build up a non-stick layer, but enameled cast iron cookware is naturally more non-stick than bare.
Enameled cast iron also isn’t affected by acidic foods, which can do some damage to bare cast iron. You know tomatoes, those things you cook with all the time? Not in bare cast iron you don't! However, you can make chilli con carne to your heart’s content in Staub’s enameled cast iron, as it doesn’t react to acidic food.
Use it on everything, for everything (pretty much)
You can use enamel cast iron cookware on loads of different heat sources: under a grill, in the oven, or on a gas, electric or induction hob. Just be careful to keep the wooden handle out the way, especially if you’re putting it in the oven.
You can also use a Staub cast iron frying pan to cook all sorts of foods: searing, deep frying, baking, simmering, roasting… steak or soup, it can all be done, and it will all be wonderful.
Slowly, slowly, and easy to clean
You do need to heat up your Staub pan quite slowly, over 5-10 minutes, and make sure you never plunge it into cold water or anything after cooking as you could crack the enamel… it needs to cool down slowly as well. It can handle high temperatures, but Staub does recommend mostly using low to medium temperatures, and the slow preheating will help with distributing the heat across the whole pan. It does retain heat very well though.
One thing I’ve been really pleased with is how easy the Staub pan is to clean, because that is by far the worst part of cooking. Non-scratchy sponge, warm water, mild soap. Done. You can soak enamelware in water, but I’ll be cleaning mine asap, and drying it straight after. You can also put enameled cast iron pans in a dishwasher, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that with mine anytime soon either, especially with that wooden handle. However, great news, enameled cast iron doesn’t rust, unlike bare cast iron.
Well, those advantages don’t come cheap, but this stuff really can last a lifetime. Is it worth the price? My 28cm cast iron vintage Staub frying pan costs £149, but you’re paying for some serious durability and quality.
Each piece of Staub is checked, so no two pieces are the same. Every product is made using individual sand molds, which are all inspected individually. Having something unique is just a lovely thing, and increasingly rare these days.
Other than the cost, there are some other things to consider...
The reason I’m still in camp one is because you can chip and scratch enamelled cast iron if you happen to bang it on something. Some people say you can use metal utensils while cooking using enameled cast iron, but I won't be taking the risk. However, looking around on the interwebs, there’s a lot of old and unscathed Staub out there, which is a very good sign of its durability.
It’s really bloody heavy. On one hand (or two, dear god it's a struggle to lift with one hand) I love the weightiness of the Staub pan, but my wrists aren’t quite as keen, and it is a job to try to pour anything out of it. Fine if you’re cooking a steak, bit trickier if you’re making something saucy. There is an extra handle to help you move it, but that obviously gets very hot while cooking.
While you can use bare cast iron on your barbecue, you can’t use enameled cast iron, as it will potentially soften and damage the enamel, or discolour it. I nearly learnt that the hard way, and I’m very glad I looked that up before trying it on my Kamado Joe...
If you've been thinking about taking the plunge into the world of cast iron cookware, I would definitely recommend enameled cast iron, and opting for the best with a company like Staub. The cost can of course be prohibitive, but it is a case of getting what you pay for. And when that something could genuinely last a lifetime, and potentially even be something you end up passing down generations, the investment is worth it.