It’s the perfect day in your commercial kitchen: You’ve planned the recipes du jour, prepped the meats and veggies, and turned on your stovetop. It’s time to cook! But wait … where’s your cookware? Should you use enamel cast iron or induction-ready cast aluminum? Will your choice affect the outcome of your food? Presentation? Ticket times?
Something as seemingly insignificant as the metal composition of your cookware can impact several areas of your operation in tangible ways. We’re going to take a look at the differences between enamel cast iron and cast aluminum cookware, how it can affect foodservice operations, and which heat sources are best for these metals.
What is the “Cast” in Enamel Cast Iron & Cast Aluminum Induction Cookware
To cast metal is to heat any major metal until it’s molten, pour it into a mold, and allow it to cool. When cooled, the mold is removed and what remains is a solid piece of cast metal.
Casting refers to one of many processes used to shape metals. It doesn’t affect the metal composition. Molds can be used to form metals into almost any imaginable shape, including pots, pans, and Dutch ovens. You can watch a video of this process using sand as the mold, which is one common method of casting. Die casting is another, more sophisticated process of casting metals.
The Enamel Cast Iron Look is a Growing Cookware Trend
Enamel cast iron has been used for centuries. In some cases, well cared for enamel cast iron cookware can be handed down from one generation to the next, a testament to its longevity.
Beloved brands like Le Creuset have recently played a hand in the increased demand for coated enamel cast iron, which is now being used for table service in addition to cooking. This is in part because enamel cast iron is a useful, versatile food-safe metal. But these pieces, which are often produced in vibrant solid colors with white enamel or porcelain interiors, are undeniably gorgeous. So why hide them in the back-of-the-house?
The enamel cast iron look supports several popular décor themes in foodservice:
- Urban industrial
- Farm to table
- Urban chic
- Vintage provincial
As you can see, the versatility of the enamel cast iron look can range from high-end New American cuisine to more casual environments. Overall, the enamel cast iron look offers transferable elegance to a number of styles.
To get this look, you may think that enamel cast iron is your only choice. But cast aluminum induction-ready cookware is quickly becoming a popular option because it functions similarly to enamel cast iron, mimics the look well, but is lighter in weight and less expensive.
Enamel Cast Iron Cookware Characteristics
No longer used for potbelly stoves or cauldrons, you can commonly find enamel cast iron pots, pans, Dutch ovens, etc., in plenty of foodservice operations.
Enamel cast iron cookware pieces offer the following qualities:
- Can withstand high heat for short or long periods of time
- Even heat distribution
- Maintains temp well
- Can take a while to heat up, but once it’s hot, it stays hot – including the handle
- The enamel can chip, leading to corrosion
- Great for searing, baking, frying, blackening, sautéing
- Commercial dishwasher-safe
Enamel cast iron does not require seasoning because the enamel blankets the pores, removing the need for an additional protective layer.
Usually enamel cast iron cookware is two-tone. The outside can come in many different colors and the inside is typically white, but that can vary. You may be able to find enamel cast iron cookware in your brand’s colors, which would allow you to pull your visual identity into your open kitchen or onto your tabletops, creating a striking look for your guests.
It is worth mentioning that enamel cast iron cookware can chip over time. This exposes the natural cast iron beneath, increasing the opportunity for your cookware to corrode. However, if your enamel cast iron cookware chips, it’s probably time to retire it. You don’t want to get flecks of enamel in your guests’ food. The white interior can also discolor over time from heat and contact with acidic foods. This is a purely visual occurrence and by no means a sign that you need to replace your cookware.
Cast Aluminum Induction Cookware Characteristics
Enamel cast iron and cast aluminum cookware can both be used in ovens, on gas or electric stoves, and over open flame. Thanks to G.E.T.'s Heiss™, a new commercial line of cast aluminum induction cookware that's made with a specially fashioned induction-ready base, this cookware can now be used on induction ranges as well. Both enamel cast iron and cast aluminum induction cookware offer the same elegant and popular enamel cast iron look, making them great options for cooking and table service. The biggest differences between the two that you should consider are:
- Price & service life
- Enamel cast iron is more expensive, but has a longer service life
- Ability to withstand high heat for long or short periods of time
- The amount of time it takes to heat up and cool down
Considering the versatility of both materials discussed here, there may be good uses for each of them in your foodservice operation.
Properties of Aluminum Cookware – Induction-Ready & Otherwise
Aluminum, like enamel cast iron, is a commonly used food-safe metal. In fact, it’s the second most used metal in foodservice. Induction-ready or otherwise, it's generally:
- Can’t rust because there’s no carbon in the metal
- Heats up and cools down quickly
- Even heat distribution
- Reactive to acids and bases in foods unless coated in enamel or non-stick surface
- Commercial dishwasher-safe
Because aluminum is reactive to naturally occurring acids and bases in foods, it may need to be replaced more often than enamel cast iron. However, aluminum is generally less expensive than enamel cast iron, so the cost will balance out over time, while allowing you to add new colors and shapes to match the changes in your kitchen.
Which Metal is Best for Your Cookware?
Both enamel cast iron and cast aluminum induction cookware are great options in foodservice, evidenced by their wide use. Which type is better for your operation just depends on what you need out of your cookware. It’s entirely possible you’d want to use both enamel cast iron and induction-ready cast aluminum for different parts of your menu.
Enamel Cast Iron Cookware
Your menu will likely influence the use of enamel cast iron more than anything, assuming your operation isn’t constantly moving around cooking equipment. If you have a lot of items that require high-heat searing, baking, frying, or long cook-times, you will likely get the best result from enamel cast iron cookware.
Another thing to consider with enamel cast iron cookware is that it takes longer to heat up and cool down than induction-ready cast aluminum. If you’re using enamel cast iron in a fast-paced environment, you’ll want to be sure to get your cookware to temp before service. Once service starts, you should be fine if you’re using enamel cast iron for a lot of your dishes because it holds heat better than aluminum. But if it’s only being used for a few menu items, requiring frequent reheating may result in longer ticket times.
These qualities remain whether you’re working on an induction range, over an open flame, or in an oven.
Cast Aluminum Induction Cookware
Cast aluminum is a great choice for operations that need to frequently move their equipment around. For example, action stations at hotel, casino, or cruise ship buffets, or catering events would benefit from induction-ready cast aluminum pots and pans because their light weight makes them easier to schlep than enamel cast iron.
In an action station environment where you’re cooking in front of guests, induction-ready cast aluminum’s ability to rapidly heat up and cool down means that you can get people through your line quickly. When it’s time to shut down operations, your cookware will cool off faster than enamel cast iron, allowing you to pack up quickly.
Now you can get on with your perfect day in the kitchen knowing exactly how your choice between enamel cast iron and cast aluminum induction cookware is going to affect your food, cooking methods, and ticket times. And that’s how you can bring peace of mind to your chefs and line cooks, which we think you’ll agree is something everybody can benefit from.
If you’d like to learn more about food-safe metals, you can dive into “Grades of Stainless Steel & What They Mean for Your Foodservice Operation.”