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The Tennessee company is famous for its cast iron cookware. Now it is getting into the enamel game.
Lodge Cast Iron, America’s preeminent manufacturer of cast iron cookware for more than 125 years, announced on June 13 the debut of its USA Enamel collection of Dutch ovens, the first and only American-made colorful enamel cast iron made in the United States.
Lodge has been making its coveted cast iron frying pans at its factory in South Pittsburg, Tennessee since 1896, when English native Joseph Lodge opened his first American foundry in the small town of 3,000 residents located alongside the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains.
To commemorate 125 years in business, the current Lodge team decided to manufacture a line of American-made enamel Dutch ovens, which after a two-year delay because of Covid restrictions, is finally available to chefs worldwide.
Most chefs, from professional Food Network gourmets or restaurant owners to the home cook, often have the black Lodge Cast Iron frying pans sitting in a permanent storage spot right on the top of their stoves.
With the new eye-catching USA Enamel set of Dutch ovens, Lodge is likely to gain a similar display in kitchens across the United States.
“Two years ago, we celebrated our 125th anniversary, and with USA Enamel, we are paying homage to our long-standing history, while championing the spirit of continued innovation,” said Mike Otterman CEO of Lodge Cast Iron. “It’s an honor to now launch this collection which is the first-ever color enamel cookware collection made in the U.S.A., cast and perfected in our hometown of South Pittsburg, Tenn.”
Lodge has a small collection of enamel cookware that is made overseas, but decided to invest $8 million into a stand-alone facility at its campus in Tennessee to manufacture the first cast iron enamel cookware in the United States.
In the spirit of its American-made roots, Lodge has produced Dutch ovens in three patriotic colors – Red (Cherry On Top), White (Ivory) and Blue (Smooth Sailing).
Kelly Peterson is Lodge’s senior product marketing manager, and it was under her tutelage that Lodge, long known for its cast iron pans, went through the painstaking process of creating the first enamel cast iron cookware manufactured in the U.S.A.
Lodge repurposed an existing building at its South Pittsburg campus and hired an additional 21 employees to staff the manufacturing facility where the new USA Enamel Dutch ovens are produced. The new hires bring the Lodge Tennessee workforce to a total of 489 employees, making the historic American manufacturer the largest employer in the small town of just 3,100 residents.
The new USA Enamel operation has been a labor of love for the Lodge team, with a few bumps in the road along the way as many hours of research and development, creating the enameling building and finding skilled workers caused delays.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle of all were the delays caused by the Covid pandemic, Peterson said via email.
“Absolutely, from every angle. In terms of development, we were having to collaborate remotely on the design process,” she said. “Getting the team together to review samples was challenging to arrange with limited time in-person due to quarantining along the way.
“We were in the process of getting final equipment components and experiencing delays in those being delivered and installed. And, in general, we were working to learn a new manufacturing process with partners that were not able to travel at times.”
And there was a steep learning curve since sprayed enamel cast iron had never been manufactured in the U.S. so there was no production model to follow.
Kevin Rusch is the Lodge Cast Iron enameling operations manager, and his talented team overcame various obstacles to produce the excellent Dutch ovens worthy of the legendary Lodge name.
“Cast iron is a difficult material to apply enamel to. Wet enamel preparation and application are delicate processes, hard on systems and costly to operate and maintain,” Rusch said.
The process includes mixing, aging, spraying enamel, drying, rim material application, firing, inspection, assembly, and packaging. Lodge had to develop skilled and knowledgeable operators able to provide the consistency of many tightly controlled metrics which must be repeated exactly the same every time a USA Enamel product is constructed.
“New skill was required. There are some similarities from other industries for technique and application but wet enamel on cast iron has challenges that make it a category unto itself,” Rusch said. “Pots are processed three times, twice using an automated spray system and lastly with a hand sprayed finish to reach our high standards for appearance and gloss.
“Each piece is poured molten into a sand mold like every other piece of Lodge’s cast iron. Once cooled and cleaned, it requires grinding of gates and flashing, a task which has recently been augmented by a new robotic grinder. Each piece is grit blasted three times to ensure it is clean and has the right texture for the enamel to bond properly. Lastly, each piece is hand inspected to ensure it is ready for the enamel process.
“The enamel is sprayed wet, dried in a dehydration oven, and then fired in a roller hearth furnace to achieve its final state as porcelain enamel.”
The Lodge USA Enamel Dutch ovens come in four different sizes – 3-quart, 4.5-quart, 6 quart and 7.5 quart. These functional pots start at price range of $220 and up, depending on the size.
Lodge’s Peterson had a heavy hand in the design and development of this most unique product and was committed not only to its durability but also its exquisite appearance.
“A lot of enameled cast iron made by other brands have a similar silhouette with standard loop handles,” Peterson said. “There’s not a lot of innovation in terms of knobs and hardware, either. Nothing breaks out from the pack in a stand-out way, to me.
“Our USA Enamel Dutch ovens are made to stand out with intentional, timeless design paired with incredible oven-to-table performance. We even drew inspiration from vintage guitars to classic cars. We never wanted USA Enamel to feel like a direct replica of something made in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Our goal was to bring the innovative spirit and quality of that time to a modern audience.”
The USA Enamel Dutch ovens have a knob that is placed higher up so that if you are wearing an oven mitt you have room to get under and around it. It also has a domed lid giving chefs more room for larger roasts that may come above the top line of the vessel.
“There’s a benefit in a Dutch oven of having something with a flat bottom and more braising space and the curved sidewalls that are more forgiving when stirring. We wanted to make sure that it looks great from the inside and the outside, so taking that design and translating it to the interior is pretty different.”
If you are an owner of the famous Lodge Cast Iron frying pan, you are aware of the small amount of care it takes to preserve the seasoned finish. Some families are using these pans that are 100 years old because they only get better with age. The more you cook with it, the better it gets.
The new USA Enamel Dutch ovens are technically dishwasher safe, but Peterson suggests hand washing to preserve the piece’s finish.
“We recommend allowing cookware to cool before washing with warm soapy, water and dry promptly after cleaning. Choose a gentle dish soap and use a sponge or nylon brush. Avoid citrus-based cleaners – this can dull the enamel’s exterior gloss,” Peterson said.
By following these few simple rules to care for your cookware, the USA Enamel Dutch ovens just may last as long as that treasured Lodge Cast Iron frying pan which is often passed on from generation to generation in many families.
Peterson and the Lodge team are proud to bring this new product to market and continue the Lodge tradition of fine cookware. They are already in the process of thinking of more cookware products they can manufacture at the new USA Enamel facility.
“The product design, look and feel of this collection are iconically Americana as our seasoned cast iron aesthetic, but it has its own personality,” Peterson said.
The “personality” we are most enthused about is a classic American company expanding its manufacturing right here in America.