As you know, I’m a big fan of cast-iron cookware. But unlike many cast iron “purists,” my affection extends to enamelware, which is cast iron coated in enamel. Cast iron has many cooking advantages, but there are times when bare cast iron isn’t ideal, like when you’re making mac ‘n’ cheese and you’re already dreading the clean up, or when you’re cooking chili all day and you don’t want the acidic tomatoes to dull the seasoning in your bare cast iron. Enamelware has many of the cooking advantages of bare cast iron, but it can be soaked in water and it doesn’t require seasoning. It’s also a safer alternative to other types of cookware like chemical nonstick pans, aluminum, and copper…right?
Enamelware isn’t what it used to be…and that’s a good thing.
Awhile back, I posted a video where I broke down the benefits of enamelware and compared a couple different brands. This week, a viewer posted his concern over the use of cadmium and other carcinogens in the creation of enamelware. So is enamelware really safe to use? I went back to my research to find the answer. An article on Delishably.com provided a deep dive into all things enamel, including the topic of food safety.
But first, what is enamelware? It’s steel or cast-iron cookware that has been covered in enamel. To make enamelware, a ground glass (called “frit”) is applied to the metal. The cookware is then fired at a temperature sufficient to melt the glass but not the metal, creating a smooth, decorative finish like a gloss. To create various colors and designs, metals are added to the glass prior to heating.
In the past, additives like cadmium and lead were used to produce the vibrant colors of orange and red. Over time, we realized the danger and developed new guidelines. California regulations are some of the strictest in the world and are now followed by leading brands like Le Creuset. While cadmium is still used, new production methods prevent the metal from escaping during the cooking process.
It is also important to note that the bright colors that require cadmium and other metals are only used on the outside surface of the cookware, not on the inside cooking surface, which is always white, cream, or black. (And you can always get enameled cookware in a lighter color, which wouldn’t require the cadmium at all. This white Dutch oven by Tramontina is gorgeous and only $47.95!)
While it’s wonderful that the US has strict safety regulations for enamelware, it also poses one issue: companies have found it impossible to manufacture enamelware here in the States in accordance with those guidelines. This is why all enamelware you find for sale here is made overseas.
Enameled cast iron can be much more expensive than regular cast iron, and that glass coating can crack. So if you’re in the market for a new casserole dish or Dutch oven, pick a trusted brand or at least one that offers a lifetime warranty. Here are some great options in order of price:
I switched to cast iron for the health benefits, so I totally understand any concern about cooking with cadmium or other carcinogens. However, if you buy a new piece of enamelware in the US, cadmium should not be an issue at all—especially since it’s not used in the interior of the pot where the food is cooked.
If you have your grandmother’s enamelware, you may want to keep it as a decorative piece. But if you’re making chili this weekend, you should be able to reach for that new enameled Dutch oven with confidence.
Read more about enamelware, cast iron, and cookware alternatives in the dozens of articles I’ve collected during my research for Modern Cast Iron, and be sure to check out my video, Enameled Dutch Ovens 101.
Let me know your thoughts on this. Do you feel good about using enamelware? Or do you plan to stick with bare cast iron?Author Ashley L. Jones answers the question, Is enamelware really safe? #moderncastiron Click To Tweet
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