It might seem strange to consider porcelain as a cookware option, but porcelain enamel is not the same as those fragile (and, let’s face it, sometimes creepy) doll figurines some of us had as children. Porcelain enamel cookware refers to cookware made of aluminum, steel, stainless steel, or iron, coated with porcelain enamel, a type of glass.
Porcelain is made from baked clay
Porcelain itself is a ceramic material made from a type of white clay called kaolin, plus feldspars, quartz, steatite, and other rocks. To make regular porcelain, the whole mixture is baked at 1300-1400 degrees. Porcelain enamel is made when the porcelain is melted together with a stronger metal. This makes porcelain enamel cookware both light and strong, with low porosity, so it is naturally non-stick.
Pay attention to porcelain coatings
Oddly enough, though, some companies seem to want to coat their porcelain enamel cookware with chemical non-stick coatings or to use potentially toxic heavy metals and other compounds in glazes and in the enamel mixture. It pays to be picky about porcelain enamel cookware and to ask questions of manufacturers if it’s not clear what they use in their pots and pans.
Unlike somewhat terrifying porcelain dolls that could be extras in a Stephen King movie adaptation, porcelain enamel cookware is a fun addition to the kitchen. That’s because it is available in a variety of colors and does not fade or peel when used according to instructions. My advice, though, would be to avoid porcelain enamel in reddish tones and to favor those that are blue, given that some Le Creuset models with a red tone have tested positive for lead and cadmium. The Signature Enameled Cast Iron Braiser (in a blue shade like Marseille or Marine) from Le Creuset is a good option for one-pot meals.
Be picky about porcelain enamel cookware and treat it well
High quality porcelain enamel cookware has a thick enamel coating that makes it hardwearing and easy to cook with. It is easy to clean, naturally non-stick, and resistant to stains and scratches, as long as it is treated well.
Spotting lower quality porcelain
Lower quality porcelain enamel has a thinner coating that can crack and chip easily, which significantly affects the cooking experience. Dropping porcelain enamel cookware can also crack or chip the surface. Some porcelain enamel cookware has non-stick coatings, including Teflon, so be sure to check labels.
The best option is either porcelain enamel with a cast iron or stainless-steel interior, or enamelware, which is a type of cookware with a porcelain enamel coating inside and outside. This coating creates a seamless, non-porous interior that is resistant to acidic food, heat, and humidity. This makes enamelware an excellent choice for baking and roasting, serving, and storing foods.
Avoid using enamelware over high heat for long periods of time as this can melt the coating. Also, be careful to never let the pot boil dry as this can crack the finish.
How to clean porcelain enamel
It is best to clean porcelain enamel cookware right away as the surface can crack and chip if food residues are left to dry inside the pot or pan. Avoid using steel wool scrubbers or other abrasive cleaning items on porcelain enamel. Some porcelain enamel cookware is dishwasher safe, just be sure to check first and to wipe out food residues before putting porcelain enamel in the dishwasher. As porcelain enamel is part metal, it is typically not microwave safe. It may be useable on induction cooktops, though, so is a great option if you’re looking for cookware options in an energy efficient kitchen.
All in all, I’d say porcelain enamel is a decent option for eco-friendly cookware, but you’re much better off with ceramic, cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, or metal-ceramic, rather than porcelain enamel.