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Mar 11, 2010 03:17 PM

Best size for single all-purpose dutch oven/braiser/enameled cast iron thing?

I've been lurking on Chowhound for a while and have taken advantage of oodles of good advice provided here. I'm wondering if folks might be able to give me their opinion on the single-most usefully sized piece of enameled cast iron cookware?

I'm replacing old, dying, nonstick pots (on a budget), and I need one more, but I haven't a clue what to get. I've been poking through Molly Stevens's All About Braising, and she recommends a 5-6-qt dutch oven, but then whole slew of recipes suggest a 3-4-qt braiser (as well as other sizes).

I already have a standard 12" skillet, too many small pans and pots, and one 4-quart round Descoware dutch oven, and recently bought one 9-quart round Le Creuset dutch oven so I can continue to make soup in extraordinary quantities.

I can purchase one more pot, and I need that one pot to do everything the 4- and 9-quart pots can't, especially braise its way through this braising book. (I've never been able to braise, and damn it, I'm determined to get it right.) I'd also like to bake no-knead bread and use it for medium-sized soups and dishes, if possible, so I was originally considering a dutch oven in a size between the two I have, but I've read a lot about the advantages of braisers, and now I'm not sure what to do. My 9-qt is too big for general recipes, I'm not sure if the 4-qt is big enough, and although a lot of people recommend that if you can only buy one piece, buy a 5/5.5-qt, I don't know if that would be different enough from the 4-qt to be advantageous. My brain is starting to hurt.

So I'm wondering if you had to choose one all-purpose piece (preferably to go with a 4-qt and 9-qt), what style would it be and what size?


ETA: Sorry, I forgot to mention: I'm cooking for 2, but we eat like 4 and like leftovers (hence the soup in extraordinary quantities), so anything smaller than 4-qt is silly for us. I'm hoping to be able to make standard recipes, which tend toward 4-6 servings. Food-wise, we're all about easy and unfancy: inexpensive meats (both cuts and whole) and lots of veggies. Thanks again.

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  1. Pondering, as you may notice from my past posts, I cook alot with Molley's book, almost two recipes weekly basis during autum/winter, and whenever someone ask me about DO, it is almost my magic word "Start with the Molley's book!".

    Do you have a sturdy 3-4 qt saute pan? If so, you can use it for the recipes asking for a 3-4 qt braiser. Did you go through the first chapter? Really? She mentioned that clearly! Those recipes are for "Shorter" braising, so any sturdy SS Saute pan can handle them if you can put it in the oven.

    Also, the molley's recipes requireing 5-6 qt (longer braising), you can make it with your 4 qt round if you buy a bit smaller roast and adjust other ingredience. I made several those recipes that way even in my smaller 3.5 qt round. Your 4 qt is flexible that way. Based on my experience, you can still have a leftover for 2 for the next dinner or lunch. Why don't you start this way so that you know which recipes you like to cook more often, then buy new DO based on the molley's rec? You have the best guidebook with you why don't you start to use it!

    I would go through the book (I mean REALLY go through. The way you talk imply me that you did not go through whole chapters. You maybe done with only "Chicken" not to "Pork or Lambs"! ) and think about which recipes you want to cook more often than others. Use post-it and figure it out. Go to the "Homecooking" board here and check archive with "CTM all about braising". A lot of people posted their cooking results as this book was 2-3 times chosen the Cook Book Of The Month. Read through the posts. that way you surely know which ones you and your hus like best, then you will know which cuts of meat you will cook more often. Then, figure out which pot is best for you. I cannot tell you which recipe you guys likes, right? You notice my posts saying, "Today I cook with my LC of xxxx qt, and adjusted this and that":)

    You cannot adjust the size of your pot but you can always adjust the amout of ingredience. Be creative. Braising is a very forgiving method of cooking. Nothing difficult:)
    Start with your existing 4 qt, it is more versatile than you think. Use it first! If you have a saute pan, why don't you use it for short braising recipes? Start actually cooking than thinking, that way you will know what you need next!

    P.S. You can use your 4 qt for KNB. I use my 3.5 qt for that. I know many people have/start with 5.5 qt, but I am not sure it is the ideal pot do everything. It is too big for KNB in my opinion, but people do use it KNB, too. There is no only one answer, which is correct:) So, to me, there is no single all purpose DO. In case there were such a ONE, why LC or Staub make so many varieties? Why not they make only the ONE? That is why I have four and I know people have more than 10!!!! However, 9 qt is a monster to me. I don't think I can lift when the pot is full:)

    Good luck for your search and enjoy your cooking!

    22 Replies
    1. re: hobbybaker

      Thanks for taking the time and effort to respond so thoroughly, hobbybaker. I really appreciate it.

      I've been reading Molly's book in bits at the library for a few weeks, but I only just got my own copy yesterday, but funny enough, I was doing just what you said: marking which recipes I want to make to see where the commonalities lie. Unfortunately, it seems I want to make everything!

      I don't have a usable 3-4-qt saute pan at the moment (mine's a nonstick that isn't long for this world), so I figured that if I had to, I'd use the 4-qt dutch oven via the parchment paper trick, but I've yet to determine if the surface area will suffice or if, as you said, I'll need to make adjustments. (If only I could build a parchment paper box inside my 9-qt!)

      Very good to hear that you've had success with the KNB in a smaller pot. My apartment oven is pretty lousy, so I've yet to successfully bake much in it. And with baking so particular, it's a relief to hear that 3.5-4 works w/o a problem. Thank you.

      I confess I kind of love my 9-qt monster (thank you, LC outlet). Soup is forgiving and rarely cares what size pot you use as long as there's enough space to stir. I think I've been particularly concerned, braising-wise, about the need for surface area space: while I could always cut a piece off a chicken or buy a smaller roast for a 4-qt pot, a number of interesting-looking (short-braise?) recipes require space enough for chicken parts or oxtails or pork chops to lie in a single layer (but not so much space that the food steams). Which makes sense, of course, but which is where my brain may be hung up.

      Thanks so much for your insights and recommendations, hobbybaker. I'll see how the 4-qt works out for a while, and maybe try double-reciping in the 9-qt. What's the good of a big pot if you don't fill it, right? :)

      1. re: Pondering

        Sorry, if I sounded like teasing you on your 9 qt. It is no way of my intention:)

        Doubling is not necessarily works for braising a roast. Your 9 qt might still have too much space around the meat.

        However, you can adjust the hight by using a parchment, as you mentioned. so, now I am thinking that your 9 qt might be good for a chicken recipe such as Morrocan chicken or goan chicken by just adjusting the hight. It might be also right for some of the pork recipes, which requires a shallower pan because 9 qt has enoughsurface and you can adjust the hight ! Good Creativity!

        Also, for a typical DO, not a buffet/casserole or shallower DO, people often want to start with 5.5 round or 7.25 round. It is a good idea to have a DO around from 5.0 to 7.25 qt, which you don't own yet. For your future addision, you might like the 6.75 oval which I have. Or 7.25 round. Or, you might like 6.5 round staub not LC. You can still use your 4.0 qt for a NKB and smaller jobs.

        Oval shape is versatile but as many people, who typically have only one DO, prefer a round shape, you can find a better bargain for oval shapes very ofen as you might noticed. That is how I ended up to start my 6.75 oval, which was unbelievable bargain for me as a first quality DO. I might want to add another round either 5.5 round or 6.75 wide soon if the price is right for me:)

        Good luck and enjoy Molley's recipe. You are right to say you want to make all. That is why so many still post their results on the Homecooking threads and the book was chosen COTM more than once!

        I made a morrocan Chicken last week. It is so heavenly good. I will cook goan chicken this weekend. It is another excellent one! If you make something soon, why don't you post your result at "Homecooking" board so that people have some good insight on how you can make the big DO versatile by using a parchement paper! I am interested and look foward to reading it soon:)

        1. re: hobbybaker

          You are making me want this book! Hobby.. later on.. if Pondering adds another piece.. what about a wide do? would that possibly fill a gap between the braiser/casserole and a DO?

          Pondering.. Hobbybaker has given you tons of good info.. hope you have fun with it all!!

          1. re: grnidkjun

            Right. 6.75 wide can be a best choice. grnidkjun, you need this book. I know you love it. I almost wish I could give it to you as a birthday present to you:) It is really the only one book if I need choose for winter/autum. but I am sure you cannot find it at our favorite TJs! Sometimes they also have good martha stewart cooking books though:)

            1. re: hobbybaker

              I may break down and purchase it off of amazon.. seems they have the best price. :)

              If you like Louisiana cooking.. try some of these.. from Ralph Brennan's.. delicious.. I have this cookbook and absolutely love it!

              I've made the ettouffe in my AC 6qt stock, an LC DO and a copper 4.5qt as well.. turned out equally well in all 3.

              1. re: grnidkjun

                Looks great. I am not familiar with the region but it must be really good as they are influenced by french. I wil put it my wish list. Good to hear about your ettouffe results. Yes. AC 6qt is really a versatile one.

            2. re: grnidkjun

              I'd forgotten about the wide ovens. Thanks, grnidkjun.

              So there's a dilemma: given both to choose from, get a 6.75 oval or a 6.75 wide round DO?

              I haven't even started cooking out of this book yet, and I'd already recommend it. You can see the author has put a lot of work into it.

              1. re: Pondering

                I want to hear more feedback on 6.75 wide, too although I am kind of determined. Or, pondering's technique for 9qt works, 7.25 might work for me, too as 7.25 and 6.75 wide has the same diameter. I sometimes wish I had more capacity than 6.75 when I invite people and altogether more than 8 people:)

            3. re: hobbybaker

              Thanks again, hobbybaker. I was just measuring my DOs, and the 9-qt is, curiously enough, 12" across. I may need to invest in a great deal of parchment paper, but if the paper trick will work even in a pot that's 6" tall, it'll be worth it! (I'm really looking forward to trying that Moroccan chicken recipe. Anything with olives and lemons in it gets my vote.)

              Thanks for the thoughts on size and shape. a 6/7-qt seems like the likely One that would well bridge the gap between the sizes I have, but with all the issues of height, I thought I should ask folks with experience. I suspect I'll end up with whatever best bargain I can find, but the oval shape does intrigue me as an alternative to what I have. If I can manage flat items in the 9-qt and bread, small roasts, and misc. in the 4-qt, then something shaped for larger roasts and whole chickens might make some sense.

              Finding (and winning) appropriately sized Descoware that's in good shape can take some energy, but I have been quite impressed by my Descoware pot thus far, so I'll certainly be keeping an eye on eBay.

              Thank you so much again, hobbybaker. You've been energetic and enormously kind. Hope you find good bargains on what you're looking for as well!

              1. re: Pondering

                pondering, just info. if you are close enogh to WS outlet, they have a bunch of oval 6.75 qt two weeks ago. I guess you surely checked rovergal's OP of "My recruest collection grows". If not, check! Yes, you are right, sometimes a bargain LC piece decides your fate :)

              2. re: hobbybaker

                Sorry, hobbybaker, I missed some changes when I replied earlier.

                re: "Sorry, if I sounded like teasing you on your 9 qt. It is no way of my intention:)"

                Haha, not at all. Besides, the 9-qt *is* a monster! :)

                As for posting about using parchment paper in the 9-qt, will do! I'm curious myself to see how it goes, and if it works, I'd loved to let people know. And if it doesn't work, I'll turn it into soup somehow. :)

                1. re: Pondering

                  Please do so, pondering! Your results may determine my next decision on 6.75 wide or 7.25 round as they have the same diameter:)

                  1. re: hobbybaker

                    Do you know what the dimensions of either the 6.75 wide or 7.25 round is, hb? I'm having a heck of a time finding accurate dimensions for the various pots. (The LC website doesn't say, and Amazon's listings are inconsistent.)

                    1. re: Pondering

                      Are those inches? Sounds like tiny pots.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        quarts.. Pondering is looking for the inches across a bottom and inches of the sides from bottom to top

                        1. re: grnidkjun

                          Ah - gotcha, thanks. Being a little dense today!.

                      2. re: Pondering

                        Pondering, best site is WS online and next is Amazon is awfully wrong many times. I was not right. 6.75 wide is 3/4 inch wider than 7.25 round. Sorry, I was wrong but it is almost :)

                        Ruth, it is qt but we are fed up with typing qt for all the pots:)

                        Another advise for pondering: If you feel 9qt's side is too high for browning meat, use your 12 inch skillet as far as it is not a non-stick or bare cast iron. Do degrazing also with the skillet. Then, for braising process, move everything into the LC. that way, you can avoid inconvenience you might have with the 9qt's higher side:) I sometimes do this with very fatty meat, like veal breast, so that I can protect my LC's surface and keep it from being stained. Only down side is another pan to clean, but it helps me a lot:)

                        1. re: hobbybaker

                          MMRuth, I'm the dense one: I've been all over the WS site dozens of times, and never once I have noticed the "more info" tab that contained pot dimensions.

                          Thanks yet again, hobbybaker. Good point about the browning/height issue. I'd completely forgotten about that. (Drat!) So many things to keep track of!

                          1. re: Pondering

                            Glad you found it! I find it useful to look up the number on my pots when I forget what size they are.

                            1. re: Pondering

                              Pondering, Don't worry. I did not notice it until very recently. You are not alone. So, when are you cooking the morrocan chicken, or else, this weekend?

                              Ruth, that's right. I have different colors for my 4 LCs, that way it is easier for me to grabb the right size. However, my french porcelain bakeware is all in white. No info on the back. I have four of them and I always wondering how many quart/cups the specific one is. Is this right size?? ended up pouring water in it to measure. I might need to write it down on the back in a black marker :)

                              1. re: Pondering

                                I totally forgot about the more info tab too!

                2. 5-7 quarts is perfect for an all purpose dutch oven. 5.5 quart tends to get a little small if you want to cook a 7 bone chuck roast but will be fine for a boneless chuck roast.

                  If you are on a budget, you might want to consider a Mario Batalli, Tramontina or Lodge brand dutch oven rather than the $230 Le Creuset. That will save you about $150.

                  An oval will hold a larger piece of meat but the round distributes heat a little better. Frankly, you probably wouldn't notice the difference so I recommend the oval.

                  Be sure the lid fits on well.... no warping or rocking. Anything like that, take it back. A good fitting lid will be the key to braising.