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I have a 10" Lodge skillet that I enjoy using, but would like a larger (~15") version for using stove top, on my BBQ (gas weber and big green egg), and in the oven as a large roasting pan.

I'm looking for the widest that will work in all these places, and I have made a list of ones that might work. Lodge has a 17" pan which that would be great, but is too big for my oven. There seem to be two options that will work, one which is raw/seasoned cast iron (Smithey 14") and enameled cast iron paella pans from Staub and Le Creuset (about 15").

I have a Le Creuset dutch oven, but I seldom think of being similar to the seasoned Lodge cast iron. Seeing two similar pans, one enameled, one not, I'm trying to figure out if both would work for me. What are the advantages of seasoned cast iron vs enameled cast iron and vice versa?

  • Le Creuset enameled cast iron has a recommended 480°F maximum ... Depending on your intended use, particularly on your gas & charcoal grills, that might prevent you from using it in all applications. Too high heat would damage the enamel, and shorten the lifetime of the cookware – AMtwo Jun 29 at 0:35
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    @AMtwo I believe that's the (replaceable) plastic knobs on the lids rather than the enamelling, but I recall their website being poor on mobile so haven't checked this time. I've used one of mine at 270C (a little over 500F) with no trouble, but normally bake in it at 250C (480F) – Chris H Jun 29 at 7:04
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    @ChrisH : Plastic lid knobs aren't the only issue with high heat -- you risk crazing the enamel. Differences in thermal expansion cause the enamel to develop small cracks, and if you continue to do it, it'll start to lose chips of enamel. Max temperature is dependent on the formula of the enamel, so newer ones might be better, but past advice was to avoid going over 400°C / 200°F. I think speed at which you heat it is a factor, too. – Joe Jun 29 at 13:49
  • @Joe that's all true, but what I said was that the low figure quoted above is from the knobs. You've also got your conversion backwards I think. Used in and on an aga (not mine, but I've used one) for years they do show lines, but no chipping. – Chris H Jun 29 at 15:16
  • Cast iron is indestructible. You can throw it into a wood fire until red hot and it will only lose it seasoning. – Candid Moe Jun 29 at 16:10
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Enameled and seasoned cast-iron cookware share a number of properties; they're very heavy, not terribly conductive of heat (leading to hot-spots when over a high flame), and capable of storing an enormous amount of heat energy. Cast iron itself is very reactive and tends to rust easily, which is why it is seasoned or enameled to protect the metal with a coating of either polymerised fat or fused glass, and these two processes lead to a number of differences:

Non-stick properties

Properly seasoned cast iron has a quite good non-stick finish - it won't be as smooth as a Teflon pan, but at the same time, the seasoning is much harder to scratch off and can be safely brought to searing temperatures that would cause the Teflon to begin breaking down and releasing toxic compounds. Enameled cookware, on the other hand, is about as non-stick as stainless steel, i.e. not at all non-stick. This means that many frying applications prefer seasoned cast iron over enameled, where getting a smooth release from the pan is important to the dish. For example, I'd much rather fry eggs in seasoned cast iron than enameled.

Setup & initial seasoning

Enameled cast iron is ready to go right out of the box; give it a rinse to remove the dust of storage and travel beforehand, but otherwise it's usable as is. For bare cast iron, and even the pre-seasoned stuff you often find nowadays, it's wise to put a couple layers of your own seasoning on it before cooking anything. This process has been described in many other places, so I won't repeat it here, but it involves washing off any protective coating from the factory before spreading a very thin layer of fat or oil over the entire surface of the pan before bringing it up to a high temperature on the stove or, for evenness, in the oven. Some people recommend flaxseed oil, but I would steer you away from it; the resultant seasoning has a tendency to flake off. Any fat with a high smoke point should do: vegetable, peanut, canola, coconut, even (relatively pure) lard.

Washing & storage

Seasoned cast iron has a reputation for fussy maintenance, and while it does take more respect and diligence than most pan materials and coatings, it's not as bad as it's sometimes made out to be. Maintaining seasoned cast iron involves not letting it stay wet after washing, avoiding particularly harsh detergents or abrasives in the washing process and, if it's not getting enough incidental seasoning from regular use, periodic manual re-seasoning. Meanwhile, enameled cast iron is coated in a layer of what is effectively glass, and it could not care less about your detergents or being allowed to air-dry. Scrubbing with literal steel wool might be a bit much, but anything you'd do to anything made of glass in the sink should be safe for enamel.

Reactivity

Some folks warn against using seasoned cast iron for acidic foods for the same reason they warn against aluminium; the acid in, say a tomato sauce, or Filipino adobo, can leach metal out of the pan and into the sauce. In iron, at least, this can be either good or bad for you, depending on your iron levels otherwise - nutrition isn't on topic here, so speak to a doctor if you're concerned. A heavier layer of seasoning, less liquid foods, and less acidic foods are all ways to minimise this effect. Enameled cookware, meanwhile, is still covered in a layer of nonreactive glass, and won't exchange anything but heat with the food you're cooking.

High heat

Cast iron is often held to be an ideal material for searing food in; its respectable specific heat capacity and very high mass give it an enormous amount of thermal mass, meaning the temperature of the pan won't drop too sharply when food is added, and giving it time to pre-heat for searing can even out the hot-spots caused by its middling-to-poor conductivity. Of the two varieties of cast iron in this question, seasoned can take a somewhat higher temperature that enameled; while it is possible to burn off the seasoning layer, it takes a higher heat than damaging the finish on an enameled pan. This isn't a huge difference, but it does exist. One thing to note is that if your pan or pot has plastic or other non-heat-proof handles, removing these can leave you with a pan usable in a much hotter oven. Indeed, some companies manufacture and sell heat-proof knobs and handles for their products to replace the default ones.

Overall, while both varieties can be used quite well for both frying and stewing operations, the properties of seasoned cast iron lean it towards those frying and searing applications, while enamel is geared towards stewing and braising. This is why it's so much more common to find a seasoned cast iron skillet and an enameled dutch oven than the reverse; the opposites do exist, but they're much less common.

Incidentally, I'd be somewhat skeptical of a cast iron pan sold as a paella pan; my understanding of paella pans is that they're typically thin, light, and made of stainless steel. It's entirely possible that what they're selling as a paella pan is a perfectly reasonably cooking vessel, but I don't know that it's what you'd want to make paella in.

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  • I think the le Creuset paella pan is the same base as their tagine but with a different lid. I've got one but never used it for paella; the pan I would use is non stick stainless. It's really good for cooking flatbreads though. – Chris H Jun 29 at 7:00
  • ...capable of storing an enormous amount of heat energy. This isn't really true - like the notion that cast iron is a "great" heat conductor, this idea also is false. There's nothing particularly exceptional about iron or steel's heat capacity. Copper holds just as much heat as iron, for example. This isn't to say that it's a poor performer in terms of heat holding, but there's nothing special about iron that would make you choose it for this purpose over many other materials. The poor thermal conductivity dominates its performance causing hot and cold spots worse than other materials. – J... Jun 29 at 13:02
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    @J... the reason that cast iron has a reputation of holding lots of heat is that it is weak and brittle and that to compensate for the material weakness you must have a thick pan which means that you have more mass which means that you have more thermal mass which holds more heat. both mild steel and high carbon steel are tougher so they can be used to make thinner pans (season like cast iron sometimes used for camping). – hildred Jun 29 at 14:57
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    @hildred Yes, I'm well aware - which makes the argument one for a heavy pan vs a light one, and nothing whatever to do about the material it's made out of. Heavy copper based stainless steel saucepans are greatly superior to cast iron because they're often even thicker in the base than typical cast and hold even more heat still. Due to the copper, however, they can also conduct that heat quickly to prevent hot and cold spots. Cast is cheap cookware - works perfectly fine, but you buy it for fuzzy feelings and old-timey charm. It doesn't bring a lot of technical help to the chef. – J... Jun 29 at 15:13
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    Curious about your description of enamel properties and care. My mom had an enamel frying pan, and she was adamant that one shouldn't use a hard sponge, and by no means was it allowed in the dishwasher. I was under the impression that the glossy surface that was to be preserved had non-stick properties. In case of accidental abuse one was to re-season it, similarly to a cast iron pan, presumably to seal any pores and scratches which might have been created. (But as opposed to cast iron, one was allowed to use soap, though dishwasher detergent was too harsh.) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jun 30 at 13:14

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