Bare Cast Iron vs. Enameled – Which is Better?

enamelled cast iron cookware

There comes a time when every cook is tempted by a heavy piece of cookware that will last for years and may even become a family heirloom. Both bare cast iron and enameled cast iron fit this description – but how do you choose between them?

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each and find out…

1. Price

Bare cast iron – Has always been quite affordable compared to almost all other cookware types. This is because it is such a relatively cheap material, to begin with, compared to say stainless steel, copper and aluminum. But not only that, the casting process used to make the pans is quite cost-effective which is another reason these bare cast iron pans are quite cheap.

Enameled cast iron – Is usually more expensive than bare cast iron, obviously because of the addition of the enamel coating. You will, of course, see quite cheap enamel cookware but it’s important to note that it is usually cheap for a reason. My sister purchased a used enamel cast iron dutch oven from a thrift store that wasn’t branded and it didn’t take long for the enamel to crack. On the other hand, my Le Creuset dutch oven has survived beautifully for years now with quite a lot of use.

Winner: Bare cast iron

2. Durability

Bare cast iron – If you’ve ever browsed an antique shop, you will probably find a bare cast iron skillet somewhere in the store. This is because they are almost impossible to kill. This is the sort of cookware that is handed down from generation to generation while your stainless steel and non-stick cookware are sent off to your local thrift store or tossed because they look so shabby.

Enameled cast iron – When it comes to enamel cast iron, you will probably find it won’t last as long as bare cast iron. This is because there is a tendency for the enamel to chip and crack. However, it’s important that you don’t go cheap when buying enamel cast iron. I’ve already mentioned my sister and her cracked enamel dutch oven. Spend the money and get the best you can afford. It will be worth it as it should last you a lifetime.

Winner: Bare cast iron


3. Cooking with Acidic Foods

Bare cast iron – Doesn’t work well with acidic foods because it will do it’s best to remove that beautiful seasoned layer you spent the time to develop.

Enameled cast iron – Isn’t affected by acidic foods such as tomatoes or citrus-based sauces.

Winner – Enameled cast iron

4. Seasoning

Bare cast iron – Requires seasoning in order to get a non-stick surface. Most modern cast iron comes pre-seasoned but if you’re like me, you have no idea what has happened to that pan at the factory or what oil they used to coat the pan…(I’m not a fan of Canola oil and that is often used to season cast iron).  Plus once it arrives at the shop who knows where they store it before they put it on display. Personally I am going to wash and start from scratch when I get a new piece of bare cast iron that has been pre-seasoned.

Now if you’re not as picky as me and are okay with using the pre-seasoned pan straight from the store, then you are still going to have to season the pan at some point in its life as the surface starts to become less and less non-stick. This isn’t difficult but it takes a couple of hours and some might find this just an extra chore they don’t want to have.

Enameled cast iron – Doesn’t need seasoning. This is often one of the main reasons people buy enamel over bare cast iron as it is easier to maintain than bare cast iron.

Winner – Enameled cast iron

5. Which Heats Up Quicker?

Bare cast iron – Holds a lot of heat but is slow to heat up. However, it can keep its temperature for a long time even after the heat is turned off.  Some people place their cast iron in the oven to heat up before using it. Bare cast iron is better if you do a lot of cooking which requires searing food over high heat.

Enameled cast iron –  Adding two layers of enamel makes it even slower to heat up than bare cast iron. Plus enamel should not be used over very high temperatures as it has the potential to craze or even crack the enamel surface.

Winner – Bare cast iron

6. Non-Stick?

Bare cast iron – With proper seasoning bare cast iron is extremely good at maintaining a non-stick coating. You should even be able to fry an egg in it. However, taking time to season the pan correctly may just be a hassle for some.

Enameled cast iron – Does a good job of preventing food from sticking. However, despite the enamel coating, it’s not going to totally prevent it.

Winner – Both are about equal here depending on your perspective.


cast iron cookware

7. Weight

Both are heavy so no real winner here. It is so heavy it has the potential to crack glass cooktops if not careful. Cast iron cookware is great for muscle building so not for those with joint or muscle issues.

8. The Look

red dutch ovenBare cast iron – Black cast iron has an unbeatable ‘rustic’, country look but I guess it all comes down to perspective. Some might even call it ugly although I wouldn’t go that far.

Enameled cast iron – You have to admit that enameled cast iron cookware looks pretty darn good, especially the Le Creuset range with its beautiful bright colors. Enameled cookware is great for using from oven or stovetop to the table. So is bare cast iron. It just depends on which ‘look’ you prefer.

9. Leaching

Bare cast iron – Has the potential to leach iron into foods. However, some like Dr. Weil see this as an advantage:

..cast iron cookware does “leach”iron into food and that can be an advantage, not a disadvantage, particularly for pre-menopausal women who often don’t get the 18 mg of iron they need daily.


Whether you agree with that or not, if you season your cast iron correctly, it will reduce the amount of iron that is leached from the pan.

Enameled cast iron – The enameled surface prevents the leaching of iron. Enameled cast iron will not hold flavors, for example, fish or onions, as easily as bare cast iron does. However, the more highly seasoned the cast iron is, the less it will retain flavors of other foods.

Winner – Enameled cast iron

10. Can You Use Metal Utensils?

Bare cast iron – You can use metal utensils with bare cast iron but be aware that they may damage the seasoned layers that you have so carefully built up, leading to hot spots and uneven cooking.

Enameled cast iron – For enameled ware, Le Creuset (one of the best-known manufacturers of enamel cast iron cookware) recommend wood or silicone tools.

Winner – No clear winner. Both should really avoid using metal utensils.

11. Rust

Bare cast iron – It can rust and will do if it is not seasoned. This is why you often see rusted cast iron cookware at a garage sale or second-hand store. The good news is that the rust can be removed and since most people think it is unsalvagable you can often pick it up for a song.

Enameled cast iron – With enameled cast iron ware, the bare metal is enclosed in a coating of powdered glass which is melted and then baked onto the iron surface. This gets rid of the danger of rusting and dispenses with the need for seasoning.

cast iron cookware rust

So Which is Ultimately Better?

There really is no clear ‘winner’ in this competition. It all comes down to how you cook, what you cook and what you personally prefer. So, the appearance of both types of cookware has its pros and cons and is really down to personal choice.

The ideal compromise is to have pieces in both bare cast iron and enamel. They will work well together as you cook and complement each other in the good-looks department!