There is a boom happening now in the overall cast iron cookware market, and that includes enameled cast iron pots and pans. Thanks to various Dutch oven and skillet manufacturers like Lodge Cast Iron and Le Creuset, modern chefs have more and more choices of bright and beautiful colors with additional shapes, sizes, features and functions.
The Lodge 3.6 Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven Covered Casserole caught my eye during a recent visit to the company’s famous foundry in West Pittsburg, Tennessee, and with its gorgeous Caribbean Blue color and so many sumptuous feasts to cook, I couldn’t resist. So I sprung for $90 on it and started dreaming. It makes meals all in one pan and does so much as a stovetop and oven workhorse that it’s become a kitchen staple.
It’s the original easy bake oven. It’s a paella pan. It’s a gratin dish. It’s great for baking yummy dishes like cobblers with golden brown toppings. It’s what many people to braise, broil and roast in the oven, or to fry, sauté and simmer on the stove. The weight of the lid means it seals tight if you want to marinate and refrigerate your food. It’s the answer for kitchen-to-table serving.
My casserole cooker also has been an education. I’ve learned so much more than I ever imagined. Maybe Mom was this way when she got her first Dutch oven. This one is flatter and to me a little more versatile, while the full-sized Dutch oven pot of course has the depth for much more volume with one-meal dishes that last a long time. In a perfect world, you want both. I’d like to share some of the many things I’ve learned since bringing this beautiful baby home, and as always it’s important to note that we never have an affiliate deal like others with food equipment makers and sellers, so you’re getting unbiased thoughts and reviews.
Baking Before Baking: How They Add Enamel to Cast Iron and Why
If you want to really care for your enamel cast iron cookware set and get the most use out of it, it’s a good idea to learn a few things about how these products are made in the first place. At the core it’s still just your basic black cast iron pan, but some extra steps make it so much more.
At Lodge, they cast the base and clean the iron as usual, but then it goes to the enamel facility. Enameling is a process of putting glass on top of another material, in this case cast iron. They mix a glass powder mixture called a frit with a water-based solution that makes a clay, and then air pressure turns that into an aerosol spray with color that goes onto the iron pot.
Then it eventually goes through an oven to fire the finish for at least 45 minutes, so it’s basically baking before you start baking. Then each one is quality checked by hand, and you’re left with a hand-me-down for generations with a durable glaze (the glass) to resist cracks, chips and scratches. You can cook up to 500 degrees with consistent and even heat distribution.
12 Things I Learned After Buying This Cast Iron Casserole Pan
I thought I knew everything about what I was getting, but that’s the great thing about buying an important new piece of cooking equipment: You find out all the benefits and features that make cooking easier and better, and you learn what things to avoid so you get it right. Here are some things I learned:
1. It's Perfect for Everyday Use
I quickly learned that I’m cooking with it more than I expected. Le Creuset of France is the biggest name in Dutch oven enameled cast iron cookware, and their equivalent of my Lodge casserole pot is called the Signature Everyday Pan. That’s an appropriate product name because indeed this style can be used all the time. I bought it with the original intention of making occasional or frequent unique supper dishes, but it’s so versatile and easy to clean that I soon realized I don’t want to overly store it. Around the clock: Omelet or pancakes in the morning, sausages for you and your equally voracious dog, and a scrumptious coq au vin for dinner.
2. Oven to Table Satisfaction
Nothing beats kitchen to table serving, for a bunch of great reasons! No. 1, it’s just the pure joy and pride of taking your elegant masterpiece out of the oven or off the stove and walking it over and plopping it down on a dining room table trivet right there in front of your hungry guests. There’s no in-between so it’s like you just created a still painting and the art buyer can watch you do the last brush stroke and then pay you for it and walk out. Enamel cast iron cookware lets you enjoy a family-style serving presentation so there is also no extra serving plate to clean up afterwards. And that’s not all...
3. Matching Enameled Cast Iron Lid
Another reason you’ll love to walk it over from stovetop to table is the pan’s supreme heat retention with the matching enamel cast iron lid. Make sure you do a reveal right then and there, removing the lid so an aromatic puff of steam rises out as everybody gets a first look at the mouth-watering beauty of your entree. After everyone fills their plates, you can put the lid back on the cooking pot and keep it as hot as when it came out of the oven.
4. Get Your Hands on These Ergonomic Handles
Oh, here’s another reason you’ll love stovetop to table serving. There is a time and place for long-handle Teflon or cast iron skillets. We’ve got plenty of those. This has ergonomic handles that protrude just far enough so they are designed for easy lifting of a heavy dish. For this oven-to-table casserole pan, you don’t want a long handle sticking out and over someone’s plate while they are eating. The loop handles also make it more efficient for positioning and maneuvering in the oven. Just use a pair of oven mitts or hot pads to handle. Finally, the smaller side handles make it easier to find just the right storage space, whether in your kitchen cabinet or in the back of your SUV as you take it to a family member’s holiday dinner or party.
5. Where to Use It and Where Not to Use It
This casserole pan is for the kitchen and not the BBQ cookout. When I first bought this casserole skillet I thought it would be great to use on my new Big Green Egg ceramic cooker out back, but I soon realized that is not an option on outdoor grills and open outdoor flames because the fire’s high heat would damage the enamel. So I just use our Lodge cast iron skillet on the barbecue as needed, and I only use this enameled cookware inside. This Dutch oven pot with lid can be used on electric, gas, ceramic or induction cooktops, plus your oven, but not microwaves. For camping cookware, go with a traditional cast iron set.
6. Who Knew Potatoes Could Cook So Fast
The intense and even heat distribution is a game-changer. For an easy dinner, we bought a bag of rainbow potato fingerlings, sliced them down the middle, tossed them in a bowl with olive oil, fresh rosemary, parsley, salt and pepper, and popped them into the oval Dutch oven. I added a few pats of butter then covered and baked at 375 for about 20 minutes, plus an additional 10 minutes without the lid so they got golden and crispy on top. They came out nice and soft, and I added a curry sauce plus cottage cheese for a fast and carefree meal.
7. Don't Overdo It With the Heat
Similar to regular cast iron bakeware, you don’t have to cook over the highest heat to get the results you want. Enameled cast iron also has very high heat retention, so there’s no need. Stay with low to medium heat for optimal results and you will be less apt to burn food and put in extra elbow grease for a stuck-on mess.
8. Don't Preheat Your Empty Dutch Oven on the Stove
Start cooking by selecting a burner that’s nearest to your Dutch oven’s size, and preheat it with a bit of oil before you add food. Remember that preheating an empty Dutch oven on your stovetop could cause it to break or crack. Now, let’s say you are making a bread recipe in the oven, or the roasted potatoes recipe I just mentioned above. It’s just fine to preheat your enamel Dutch oven for that because heat will distribute more consistently across the whole pot.
9. More and More Color Options That Dazzle
Lodge’s USA Enamel set was prominently displayed at their foundry store in Tennessee, not just in red, white and blue options but rather Cherry On Top, Cloud Nine and Smooth Sailing. I had a hard time choosing between their pearl model and traditional blue for a Lodge Dutch oven, and in the end, I went with the former. Le Creuset’s unrivaled bold, rich colors include a special collection as an example just for autumn with classic fall colors. It makes it fun to color coordinate with your kitchen interior, as a welcomed contrasting splash or something that brings out your interior decorator skills. From brand to brand, every Dutch oven bakeware color in the rainbow is pretty much on the table, so to speak. Or on the kitchen island, wherever you want as long as you can see it and show off your kitchen pans as often as possible!
10. Avoid Stirring Food With Metal Utensils
Help protect your beautiful (and often expensive) new enamel cookery finish by opting for wooden, nylon or silicon kitchen utensils to stir your food. Same with blending or flipping, anything that could scratch your enamel finish.
11. Cleanup is So Easy You Just Want to Leave it on the Stove
Enameled cast iron cookware is always dishwasher safe, but there’s no point in it. No. 1, you can snap off any worn prongs on your dishwasher’s lower tray because of the weight of these pots and pans. More importantly, you don’t need to because it’s so easy to clean them in the sink. Hand washing is recommended for enameled cast iron cleaning, with easy steps. To remove any baked-on food residue, cool the pan and fill it with warm water to soak for 15 to 20 minutes tops. Use a brush or a nylon or soft abrasive pad to remove any stuck-on food. Don’t use steel scouring pads, steel wood, abrasive cleaner or harsh detergent. I keep a square-head wooden spoon handy if needed as well. I generally find that the above steps can be speeded up as well with these baking dishes.
12. Stains Are Easily Removed As Well
Always using oil or cooking spray can help avoid staining, and again avoiding the urge to preheat without oil or water. But sure enough, I stained the inside of my nice and pristine casserole pot the first time I used it. It happens, a trail of discoloration. Not to worry. Just rub the surface with a damp cloth and a ceramic cleaner according to the bottle’s directions. Soak the inside for 2-3 hours with a mix of 3 tablespoons of bleach per quart of water. The stain should be gone. If it persists, then just remember your pot just looks well-used and well-loved.
I learned that it’s hard to pass up one of these beauties if you see it, so be prepared to take one home when you least expect, like a puppy in a window. And just like bringing home a new puppy, there’s a lot you’re going to learn so enjoy the ride.