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My latest find: Lava enameled cast iron cookware

I could spend hours browsing new cookware. I love looking at pots and pans, feeling how substantial some are, learning about the fancy new materials they’re made of these days. I love the colors and shapes. I don’t always love the prices. How exciting to stumble one day on Lava cookware and see options that were beautiful, substantial, well-crafted, practical– all the boxes I hope to check when I’m considering a purchase. My kitchen and budget are small enough that any new cookware is chosen after much deliberation and research: is it necessary? Does it meet a need none of my other pots currently cover? Will it be easy or reasonable to maintain, and will it last? Do I have a place to store it? Lava enameled cast-iron products, at first glance, are carefully and thoughtfully constructed and I couldn’t wait to kitchen test them and compare to some of my other cookware. Specifically, I was hoping to find something close to my beloved Le Creuset Dutch ovens without the hefty price tag, a replacement for a perpetually chipping enameled grill pan, and another option to complement the stainless steel skillet I reach for several times a week. I cooked and baked and braised and broiled and now I want to share my thoughts with you.

Lava ECO enameled cast iron grill pan

I began with the Lava ECO 12″ enameled cast-iron grill pan and some of my recently acquired ground beefalo; my intention was to make burgers, indoors, in February, that were comparable to the ones I pull off my little balcony grill in July. I have been looking at stovetop grill pans for months; truthfully, it seemed like a slightly indulgent and specialized piece of equipment and I could never justify spending the money for a fancy one. At the same time, those within the budget I had allotted are often finished with a non-stick coating I don’t want anywhere near my food, or they just seem flimsy. I had been given one as a gift, and though it wasn’t really working well (so I never reach for it), I couldn’t bring myself to get a replacement. The Lava ECO grill pan, at a reasonable $50, was exactly what I was seeking, and it makes a heck of a burger. Though I typically only make two at a time, the cooking surface would have easily accommodated twice that number of burgers. The pan fit comfortably on my stove, heated evenly and didn’t require seasoning.

beefalo burger cooked in a Lava ECO grill pan

My burgers cooked in exactly the same time as they would on the outdoor grill and gave us a taste of summer. I later used the pan to make chicken satay:

chicken satay made in a Lava ECO grill pan

The marinade for the satay made an awful mess, as you can begin to see, and required some elbow grease to remove. It did come off with soaking, dish soap, warm water and a plastic bristled scrub brush, with none of the chipping issues I encountered with my previous pan, the one given to me as a gift, which cost about the same price. The old pan, an enameled grill pan from one of the Food Network lines, was slightly smaller, and it chipped and stained the first time I used it. I see my Lava grill pan lasting for a long time. I plan to use it for burgers again, chicken, fish fillets and our favorite vegetable kebabs. Though I chose to hand wash it, it’s dishwasher safe. I love the flexibility of grilling indoors; no more struggling to light the grill or rushing to buy propane so I can make dinner. Two thumbs up for the grill pan!

Lava cobalt blue enameled cast iron 7 qt Dutch oven

Next up was the Dutch oven. I have a Le Creuset Dutch oven that is perhaps the most important and useful item in my kitchen; I use it (who am I kidding– her name is Sophie) for soups and stews, jam, small-batch savory canning projects like salsa and ketchup, and all manner of braises and roasts. Sophie is a workhorse, but she cost as much as a prize racehorse, so I realized long ago that it’s unlikely I will ever have a second one, as much as I dream about having two Dutch ovens side by side when I’m canning tomato sauce, or making multiple soups for a dinner party. Perhaps I was wrong. The Lava signature 7 qt. enameled cast-iron Dutch oven in beautiful cobalt blue is just about half the price of the high-end French brands, but comparable in size and weight. The inside finish is different, without the signature smooth cream-colored enamel of my Le Creuset, but it heated exactly as expected.

pork shoulder braised for empanadas in a Lava Dutch oven

I braised some pork shoulder for empanadas using a recipe I’ve made a handful of times so I could compare directly. The stovetop browning process yielded the results I wanted, and the transition into the oven was seamless. The handle on the cover is securely attached; I’ve passed on less expensive options in the past because I was afraid they would break, and often because I didn’t care for the coating used on the inside of the pot. In the case of the Lava Dutch oven, the inside is coated with a textured cast-iron surface but, like the grill pan, it requires no seasoning. I used the pot a second time to make Manhattan clam chowder, and a third time to make this lovely plum cobbler:

winter plum cobbler with star anise and vanilla

I’ve since used it for no knead bread, twice, and chicken cacciatore, with great results each time. It heats evenly and quickly and truly is no-stick, all of which are important factors to me when I reach for Sophie or other enameled cast-iron pots. I will continue using the Lava Dutch oven interchangeably with my Le Creusets. If you’re looking for a cast-iron Dutch oven, the Lava version is an unbeatable mid-range option that functions as well, at least thus far, as a pot that’s twice as costly. The long-term test will be how it holds up, but so far, so good. It certainly feels durable, and it’s a beautiful piece of cookware, a good addition to any home kitchen.

I was also lucky to test a stunning Lava ECO 12″ enameled cast-iron skillet with a stainless steel handle. This product is so new it hasn’t hit their website yet, but let me tell you that you should keep an eye out and grab one when it does. I love this pan so much. The handle was key because I so often move from stovetop to oven with my skillets, and not all handles are ovenproof. Stovetop to oven is my favorite way to cook bone-in chicken thighs, and look how brown and crispy the skin got in the Lava skillet:

perfectly browned chicken thighs using the Lava ECO skillet

pork fajitas made in a Lava ECO skillet

I also made some delicious fajitas with bell pepper, red onion and pork loin. The pork browned beautifully and I loved having such a generous work surface, with plenty of room to cook the vegetables at once; sometimes I will pass up a recipe that requires me to cook in batches. I’m also really happy with the low lip of the skillet, which allowed me to access my food for stirring or flipping so easily. A skillet with deep sides is great for baking cakes, cornbread or similar, and for braising, but the Lava skillet fits the way I cook on an everyday basis. I like how sturdy and heavy it is and how the handle is attached:

Lava ECO 12" enameled cast iron skillet with stainless steel handle

That might sound like an arbitrary thing to notice, but when you’ve had the handle of a skillet, full of your carefully made, delicious dinner, fail so quickly that all of said food lands on the floor, you start to notice the construction of your pans. The Lava skillet, within one month, has become my go-to option for all manner of sauteed vegetables, stir fries, pan sauces, etc. I use it several times a week to make dinner and it cleans up quickly and easily with warm water and mild dish soap.

Lava enameled cast-iron skillets, Dutch ovens, grill pans and other cookware fill a need in my kitchen: they are sturdy and functional but affordable. This is the line of pans I would recommend to someone building his/her first kitchen, anyone curious about enameled cast-iron cooking, or someone looking for an everyday pan that will hold up to frequent use and cleaning. The Lava brand was established in Turkey more than forty years ago; based on my own experience cooking with these lovely pans, I think it will be a household name in the United States within this decade. Many restaurants are noticing the same attributes I did and adding Lava cookware to their commercial kitchens. Don’t let professional chefs have all the fun! Available through the Lava website and Amazon.com, and coming to retail stores across the country, this is a brand I will be watching– and buying.

I was given some Lava cookware to test, but the opinions and words in this review are unbiased and my own.