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Apr 23, 2009 10:06 AM

Braising: Copper or Cast Iron?

I've heard so much about Le Creuset dutch ovens for braising. I own a 2.5 mm copper casserole. Will it work as well as an enameled dutch oven like Le Creuset?

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  1. Probably better, you lucky thing!

    1. The construction material doesn't matter too much really. The advantage of cast iron is that it is dense and heavy and heats slowly and evenly. Copper has fast response time and heats and cools off quickly. When you braise, you can either do it on the stove top (not my favorite method) or pop the whole thing in the oven (better, easier method). So, if you're using a copper pot, braise all you want in it but I would tend toward using it in the oven rather than the stove top.

      1. I purchased a Member's Mark 6.5 quart enameled cast iron pot from Sams Warehouse. Each time I try using it I find myself going back to my 5.5 quart 2.5mm copper stainless steel lined Falk Casserole.

        I'm not sure if it's because I have a bad enameled pot and should try something like Le Creuset, Lodge, or Paula Dean. Or maybe the copper is just better.

        1 Reply
        1. re: krbtv

          try Le Creuset, it's excellent for low and slow cooking. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

        2. Braising is done at a low temperature.
          So it won't make any difference. (But I
          presume the copper is lined with another

          2 Replies
          1. re: mpalmer6c

            Yes the copper is lined with tin. I guess it won't matter now because I decided to buy a Le Creuset dutch oven. Usually I like to sear my meats then put them in the oven. It sure will be funny if the copper works better than the enameled cast iron.

            Make sure you check out the link below - it's time sensitive:

            1. re: krbtv

              I have a Le Creuset 6 quart dutch oven and a heavy (2.5-3.5mm) 10 quart Mauviel tin-lined hammered copper rondeau. Practically, I choose between them on the basis of how big a pot I need, but comparing the two, I like the copper for browning meat or sauteeing onions or vegetables before braising, but I like the heavy tight fitting cover on the Le Creuset, which seems to speed up the cooking time a bit, not that that's usually much of an issue. I suppose I should get a few shot bags to weigh down the cover on the big rondeau, but it's hard to go wrong either way.

          2. For braising, I vote for Le Creuset, and here's why: Last Christmas I made braised beef short ribs for a group of eight. Normally I'd only use my 7 quart Le Creuset round Dutch oven for a dish like this, but it wasn't large enough for all the ribs, so I also used a large straight sided saute pan in tin-lined copper. It's 2.5 mm copper and I love it for sautes.Granted, the copper pot has slightly lower sides, but otherwise, the main difference is material.

            I couldn't believe the difference in the time and quality of the ribs between the two pots. The ribs in the Le Crueset were fork tender in roughly 2 hours, juicy and succulent - just what I was expecting. The ribs in the copper pan needed 4+ hours, and never did amount to much. They never became truly tender, and managed to become more or less dry and stringy. Not horrible, but they could have been so much more.

            BTW, I braise at low temperatures (225 - 250 F) and I use a parchment lid (inspired by Thomas Keller). This may not have been appropriate for the copper pan, but it has always served me well in the past. I think the greater mass of the Le Crueset makes all the difference.

            Just a data point for you to consider. Others may have better luck with copper.

            13 Replies
            1. re: rld

              Thanks for the information!

              What is a parchment lid? Are you saying that you did not use the Le Creuset lid?

              1. re: krbtv

                No problem.

                A lot of cooks/chefs, including Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, cover the braise with a lid made of parchment paper. (The same paper you'd use under cookies on a baking sheet). The paper sits on the food, inside the pot. It allows some evaporation, helping concentrating flavours in the braising liquid, yet it still maintains a 'wet' cooking environment. Here's a chowhound thread all about it:


                I sometimes use the parchment AND the pot lid, but more often than not I skip the lid.

                This site has a photo of a parchment lid:

                Good luck!

                1. re: krbtv

                  That's a great description. I'll add that I cut the tip of the folded triangle off (third photo) so that I end up with a small hole in the centre of the lid.

                2. re: rld

                  All things being equal such as... where the ribs came from, proportions of vegetables:meat, amount of liquid that remains in the pot while cooking, seasoning of the liquid (comes from the same batch of stock for instance), etc. the type of pot should not have much influence on the finished product. In other words, I think there's a factor there that either you may not have realized or you have omitted. Did you keep the liquid level at an appropriate height in the copper saute pan? Obviously for such a shallow pan, the liquid would evaporate faster than in a higher sided LC where there was likely a greater depth of the liquid.

                  I'm not questioning the result of your dish, but I truly don't believe that the construction material has anything to do with it. The type/depth of the pot or pan you used was probably much more at fault than the material used.

                  1. re: SQHD

                    I'm the first to acknowledge this was not a controlled experiment and that I may be overlooking something. The truth is the results were so different, I'm not in a hurry to repeat the experiment :-)

                    They ribs were cooked in the same (electric) oven, at the same time, with the same ribs, same vegetables (onions), and the same veal stock. The ingredients were split into two pots because of the large quantity of food I was preparing. I used enough stock to reach the halfway up the ribs. They had parchment covers and I didn't use the pot lids. Evaporation was minimal (low oven temp), so I didn't need to top up either pot. The end result was that the LC ribs cooked faster and turned out better (in my opinion) than the ribs cooked in the copper pan.

                    It may have simply been the LC provided a steadier temperatures as the electric oven cycled on and off than the responsive copper pan. Or, it may be something else entirely...

                    1. re: rld

                      Interesting - even at 225-250 I think there would be some kind of evaporation, but you cooked it not me! ;-) Frankly I think that temp is a little low for braising; I usually keep a long braise going at about 300 and if I can squeeze out something on a cold weeknight in winter, I'll jack it up to 375 or so and let it rip. Not the best way of doing things but it does work for a simple pork shoulder braise or something similar. Point is, maybe the material WAS at fault with a temp as low as that as you explained: copper was cycling in temp along with the oven cycles. Who knows...

                      1. re: SQHD

                        I think the liquid released from the meat and veg made up for the evaporation. This low temp braising is a phase I'm going through - gotta keep things interesting. It's easy to do if you can braise the day before and reheat at meal time.

                        My inner geek would like to attempt this with different pots, at different temps, and in different ovens. Maybe Cooks Illustrated has already researched this for all I know!

                        Getting back to the OP, there is absolutely nothing wrong with braising in copper (or stainless, or ceramic). Ultimately, you have to pay attention to how your dish is coming along. Give it a little more time if the meat isn't tender, add a little more liquid, or whatever else it may need. That's what makes it rewarding.


                        1. re: rld


                          "That's what makes it rewarding."

                          That and the fact that you can turn out some very interesting combos without much labor in the kitchen! Often I find the simple act of prep fun and relaxing but there's always room for tossing things in a pot and letting it sit in the oven for a few hours.

                          1. re: SQHD

                            Is it true that regular cast iron pots leaves an after taste to braised meats but enameled cast iron does not?

                            1. re: krbtv

                              Think about it for a second. Think about licking a piece of bare iron. That's what a cast iron pot/pan is. You can probably imagine it tastes like... metal.

                              Now think about porcelain or glass. That's all the enamel is on a cast iron pot. It is cast iron covered by a porcelain glaze. Imagine licking a piece of porcelain or glass. It is completely inert and tasteless.

                              Now, we get into a whole different category of opinions on whether or not bare cast iron will influence the taste of foods. There are many variables here like age of your cast iron, development of seasoning on the cast iron, type of foods cooked/braised in the cast iron (acidic or not?), etc. I'm not going to get into that.

                              The take home point here is that enameled cast iron has no limits. You can throw anything you want into your LC/Staub braises and you'll be 110% fine.

                      2. re: rld

                        Thinking about this puzzle, since I've braised in heavy and light copper, Le Creuset, and cast aluminum (but never all at once) and wouldn't expect such a difference braising in the oven, particularly without metal covers, I'm wondering if it might have just been the oven's temperature gradient. Most ovens are hotter in the back than in the front and hotter on the top shelf rather than the bottom shelf, and then there may be local effects with pots on two shelves, one very close to the bottom element in an electric oven and heat reflected from one pot to another. With two cookie sheets in a household oven, for instance, it's usually a good idea to switch them around halfway through the cooking time to promote even cooking, and if I bake a sheet of rolls or bagels, I usually rotate the baking sheet 180-degrees halfway through to make up for the difference between the front and the back of the oven.

                        If the two pots in this example were in the same place for the entire braising time, I think that might explain the difference between the two. The Le Creuset may just have been in a hotter spot.

                        1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                          That's an interesting point David: How do you know the temperature is even throughout the oven? Over time, cooking many different things in the same oven, I suppose we learn what to expect and how to get consistent results. I'm sometimes surprised how differently a familiar dish cooks in a friend's oven compared to my own. I'm not talking about the difference between convection, gas, or commercial - just generic electric home oven.

                          In my example, I had the LC and the copper side by side on a middle rack in an electric oven. It definitely wasn't a high-end model, but it did have an electronic thermostat (convenient, but not necessarily accurate). After about two hours, the LC ribs were removed and the copper pan was shifted to the middle of the oven, and just kept cooking and cooking...

                          I often rotate dishes 180-degrees in the oven (like yesterday's quiche), but not with LC braises. They just seem to be cooking evenly as is. I do like using low temperatures and only using a parchment lid. I find you end reaching boiling temperatures fairly quickly in a 300F oven with the LC lid on. I like using the old rule-of-thumb of letting the braising liquid 'smile' but not boil. Braising of course is the opposite of a quick technique so I don't have a problem with braise taking most of an afternoon. It tells you when it's finished.

                          Now that it's summer, I don't really want to braise, but this discussion sure makes me want to try a few more things out!