Tell me why I need an enameled cast iron Dutch Oven ... or not
So I've been cooking just fine for many years without an enameled cast iron dutch oven. Or so I thought. But after reading this board for a while, I'm starting to think that not having one is like going out with no clothes on or, serving dinner without wine. Supposedly the enameled cast iron dutch oven (or french oven? that's the difference?) is perfect for stews, and braising, soups, and even the occasional ham and cheese on rye.
Is it? Do I really need one? What can I do in the enamleled cast iron that I can't do in my 12 quart anodized aluminum stock pot?
And does the brand matter? I went shopping this weekend saw that the Le Chateau brand was a lot more expensive than a no-brand name that was just marked "Made in France."
My friends and relatives all seem to have one of these, though they are split among enameled and non-enameled. Frankly, I'm not thrilled about the non-enameled because it took me a while to get my CI skillet seasoned just right and I had the advantage of being able to cook a lot of bacon and other good-for-seasoning stuff in it.
So tell me, will my life be improved forever in ways I never imagined with an enameled cast iorn dutch oven?
A necessity? I don't know, but ours has become my favorite kitchen pal. 2 years ago, we received the flame orange, 4½ qt. Le Creuset round French oven for our wedding. Since then, it's been our main pot. We've made tons of soups, boiled pasta, beans, sauteed greens, braised chicken thighs, short ribs and so on. Sure, it "spreads heat more evenly and retains heat longer than other cookware...The non-reactive enamel coating doesn’t require seasoning..." I find it also quite easy to clean. But beyond that, I've become quite, er...fond of it. (I've attached an action shot of it with a gigantes, spinach and sun-dried tomato concoction.) We lent it to our neighbors so they could make coq au vin, and I was counting the days until I could get it back. I unabashedly heart this pot.
It's all about "need" versus "want". I don't need one but after seeing my friend use hers to make tasty roast chicken and lamb shanks, I really want one.
My suggestion would be to by an inexpensive enamelled dutch oven and cook up a batch of pot roast, chili or stewed chicken. The advantage is that you can do high heat at the start, and then go low and slow, all with the same pot. The heavy construction helps keep nice and even, and a heavy, well-fitting lid will keep the moisture in.
If you find the results underwhelming, well, you aren't out to much money. If you love it to death, you can ALWAYS get the premium French ovens (Le Creuset, Staub).
I love my plain DO for chili and stews, but totally get that seasoning is too much monkey business for a lot of folks.
Mike summarized the pros pretty well. If you've cooked successfully for several years without one then I'm sure you can continue to do so. Pots and pans and spoons and knives are just tools. What matters is the cook and their skill. A skillful chef could make a pot roast in your aluminum stock pot that would be delicious. A poor chef will not do well with the most expensive Le Creuset, etc. Millions of dollars have been made by cookware companies by convincing cooks that their product will give better results. Want better results? Take a cooking class.
Enameled cast iron like Le Creuset is heavy especially when you get to 7 qt and above. I suspect many don't see much use because of the chore of cleaning. Although they clean up quite easily. As has been pointed out there are many less expensive 'models' out there due to the popularity of Le Creuset. Check out Martha Stewart's Macy line for example.
Best of luck with your decision.