Which Dutch Oven – Enameled or Plain Cast-Iron?

When it comes to buying kitchen gear, the dutch oven ranks near the top of my list.

What is a dutch oven? Wikipedia gives a pretty good description of what it is:

A Dutch oven is a thick-walled (usually cast iron but also ceramic and clay) cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. Dutch ovens have been used as cooking vessels for hundreds of years.  They are called casserole dishes in English speaking countries other than the USA (“casserole” means “pot” in French), and cocottes in French. They are similar to both the Japanese tetsunabe and the Sač, a traditional Balkan cast-iron oven, and are related to the South African Potjie and the Australian Bedourie oven. (Wikipedia)

Why buy a dutch oven? In my opinion, it’s extremely versatile, and easy to upkeep. It also lasts practically forever, if kept well. However, there are many choices out there and with that, varying price points. I will be focusing mainly on two different dutch ovens – cast iron and enameled cast iron. I have to say I have never owned an enameled cast iron pot but have heard both good and bad things about them. Personally, I own a Lodge Double Dutch Oven and Casserole with Skillet Cover (5 Quart). It’s pictured above. I absolutely love my dutch oven and am glad the hubs and I decided to get one after our Calphalon pot died (I think I left it on the stove too long…).

A few pros about the two dutch ovens:

  • They are extremely versatile and non-stick. You don’t have to worry about scratching the bottom of the pan with your utensils and ingesting the Teflon coating.
  • They retain heat very well and thus are perfect for slow cooking on the stove or in the oven. The two dutch ovens are also great for deep-frying, though it isn’t well recommended for enameled dutch ovens because of the high heat.
  • They are easy to clean. I have to say that especially for the non-enameled cast iron, you don’t have to worry about scratching the surface. Also, you don’t have to use soap to wash the pan as that removes the seasoning. Just use water and a brush, and sometimes salt as an abrasive, if needed.
  • They last very, very long when cared for. These pots will outlive many of your kitchen things. I have heard of people using dutch ovens that belonged to their grandmothers. The plain cast iron dutch ovens (and other cast iron pans for that matter) are also impossible to “kill”. Even if rust develops, you can scrub it off and re-season the cast iron.

Cons:

  • They are heavy. Not super heavy, but let’s just say you can’t really lift the pot and pour things out using one hand.
  • Depending on what you choose, they can be expensive. Best example is the Le Creuset dutch oven which retails for over $200. However, the Lodge dutch oven pictured above costs only $30 (on Amazon).

Between the two pots – enameled vs plain cast iron:

  • From what I’ve read online, enameled pots can stain over time, so that is something to consider. However, I don’t think the staining affects the cooking very much. It’s more a personal preference – how “clean and pristine” you want your kitchen gear to be.
  • Enameled pots can chip. Yes, the better brands are supposed to be coated very well but a friend of mine who is very careful with her kitchen gear recently chipped her expensive enameled pot (minor stab in heart!).
  • You can’t really boil things in plain cast iron. I would not suggest boiling soups or water in plain cast iron. It removes the oil seasoning and also imparts a very iron-y taste to your food. Stews and some sauces are okay though, but if I’m cooking pasta, I stick to my stainless steel pot. Enameled pots will be fine, though it’s not recommended you deep-fry in them because of the high heat.
  • In general, enameled pots cost more so if you are on a tight budget, plain cast iron is a better bet. Do note that you can get a decent enameled pot for less than $100. Lodge makes a decent one. The Hungry Mouse did a comparison of the Le Creuset and Lodge enameled dutch ovens – read it here.
  • Plain cast iron needs to be seasoned (even though the pot usually comes pre-seasoned). This isn’t difficult though. Enameled pots are ready to use.
  • Depending on what plain cast iron pot you purchase, you can also get a skillet. The model in the picture above which I own has a cover that doubles as a skillet – so you get double usage for your lid. I love using the skillet to cook things like cornbread, biscuits, pancakes, eggs, and just about anything that needs frying on a stove.

In summary, it really depends on what you prefer. For me, I’m happy with my plain ole’ cast iron. I don’t think I’ll ever get an enameled one. If I need to make soup or boil water I just use my stainless steel pot.

Cost wise, you can get a decent enameled cast iron dutch oven for about $50 on Amazon. However, the plain cast iron would still be cheaper. Here are a few options I found on Amazon:

Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven:

Plain Cast Iron Dutch Oven:

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