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USA Enamel™

Unveiling the Craftsmanship: USA Enamel™

By: Lodge Cast Iron / June 6, 2023

USA Enamel™ is the only collection of colorful enameled cast iron made in the USA today—and that’s something we’re pretty proud of. But creating this history-making line has been equal parts science and art. Read on to learn more about the craft that goes into enameling cast iron in the United States, the Lodge way.

USA Enamel

A colorful legacy: A brief history of enameling

Enameling is a process of applying glass to another material—in our case, cast iron. But for centuries, enameling has been popular for making jewelry, dishware, and other colorful treasures. 

In the world of cookware, some manufacturers of cast iron were beginning to experiment with coating cast iron as early as 1890, when nickel plating first arrived on the scene. And in the 1920s, enameling with glass became not just feasible, but popular, too. Essentially, this took the great performance of cast iron cookware and added a protective, non-reactive layer to the cookware. And just as exciting? Enameling made for a new era of beautiful, brightly colored cookware.

Enameling Process

The journey of enameling cast iron

In our over 125-year history, Lodge has pioneered the use of cast iron cookware and seasoning. But it wasn’t until the launch of USA Enamel™ that we were able to bring the process of enameling to our own hometown of South Pittsburg, TN.

Like all our seasoned cast iron pieces, USA Enamel starts in our Foundry. The enameled dutch ovens are made from an iron core, cast in the same Disamatic sand molding machine we use for our skillets, grill pans, and more. From there, it goes through grinding and cleaning to remove gating, bumps, and sharp edges—all of which are normal in the sand molding process. The rough iron pieces are then moved to our Enameling Facility and cleaned one more time to prepare them for the hours-long enameling process to come. 

USA Enamel

Applying the enamel to iron

The enameling process starts with a frit, which is a glass powder that we add to a water-based solution to create a clay. This clay is aged in a temperature-controlled section of our Enameling Facility, then added to a specialized pressure pot and transported to our spray booths. Air pressure turns the clay into a fine aerosol which our spray technicians artfully apply to each piece of iron. “As much as this is science, there’s also art to it,” says Kevin Rusch, Enameling Operations Manager. “Each piece being hand-crafted requires just the right touch to complete it to the high standards that we hold.” This is especially true in the spray booths, where the technicians have dialed in on a unique process that helps bring consistent, brilliant color to each dutch oven.

From there, the pots move down the enameling line—their next stop is a dehydration oven, where they are cooked at a low temperature that removes all the water from the enamel coating, leaving behind a powder coating we call the bisque. After a quick dressing of the exposed iron rim, the ovens and lids make their way to the furnace.

USA Enamel

Mastering the furnace: The heart of the enameling facility

One of the focal points of our enameling facility is a 148-foot-long furnace made of over 100,000 moving pieces. Designed in Italy, it’s one of only six in the world—and the only one of its kind in the United States. Curtis Ratcliffe is the Maintenance Electrician in the Enameling Facility, and knows the inner-workings of the furnace better than anyone else—he’s even had to go through the cold furnace four times to hand-level the ceramic rollers inside and repair insulation. “I’m honored to say I’m the one who gets to take care of her,” says Curtis. 

The oven can reach up to 1652˚ Fahrenheit—though we don’t need to keep it that hot to fire enamel. “When she’s cooking, she’s glowing bright red in the middle,” says Curtis. It takes the pots 45 minutes to move through the furnace, during which time the bisque is fired into the bright, glossy, glass coating that makes each piece of USA Enamel centerpiece-worthy.

“One of the most fascinating parts of the process is as it’s getting fired in the furnace,” says Kevin. “The piece really glows to a bright orange color, and as it comes out of the furnace, you see that final color and you can really appreciate the design, the finish, the craftsmanship that went into it.”

USA Enamel

American pride in every pot

Once the cooked and cooled dutch ovens are out of the furnace, they’re inspected by hand using our rigorous quality standards. Some don’t make the cut—and we take that as a point of pride. But those that do meet our standards are accented with stainless steel knobs and hardware—all by hand—and then packed into their cartons. We add pot protectors and a Use & Care booklet to each carton, and then send the enameled dutch ovens to our distribution center across campus. And from there, they get shipped to you.

For Kevin, Curtis, and so many others on the team, the years-long journey to bring enameling to South Pittsburg has been a labor of love. Says Curtis: “My favorite part of this entire project has been going from such still, quiet mornings to the amazing production standpoint we’ve come to. And seeing all the enamel exiting the building that we have created, and worked so hard to do, in beautiful red, white, and blue.”

Shop USA Enamel™

The USA Enamel™ Dutch Ovens are made to stand out with intentional, timeless design paired with incredible, oven-to-table performance.

Contributed By: Lodge Cast Iron

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