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Finally springing for a cast iron Dutch oven. What to get?

  • t

I know this has been discussed a lot here, but I can't find anything recent. I'm finally springing for a cast iron Dutch Oven. What should I get (brand, size, shape, anything else...) Very important: where can I get the best deal? Quality matters. I want this to last for life. Price is also important.

I mostly cook for one and like to do the cooking on weekends and prepare dishes to refrigerate or freeze and eat later in the week, month, or year.

Thank you for your advice.

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  1. When I started cooking for myself, my braising pan was a 1 1/2 qt pyrex baking dish with lid - and an 8" cast iron skillet that matched the pyrex lid. Later I got a cast iron 'chicken fryer', a deep 10" skillet with lid, about 4 qts. Now for 2 people I mostly use 3 qt dutch ovens. One is a 10" hard anodized aluminum one that can also be used with coals ('camp oven'), the other a stainless steel Chantal (from TJMaxx) that I can use on my induction burner. I don't see why any of those should not last me lifetime (provided I don't drop the glass lids).

    1. I would get an oval 7 - 8 quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven.If you get a Le Creuset, it will cost you approximately $200. If you get one of the secondary brands, it will cost approximately $50. I have both and frankly I can't justify the expense of a Le Creuset. Other chow hounders will certainly disagree. Walmart and Target sell Tramontina.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Hank Hanover

        I don't see any 7 quart enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens from Le Creuset for under about $275. I'm looking on the Le Creuset website and on amazon.com. Where can I get one for the $200?

        1. re: taos

          Sorry. Even more reason why I can't cost justify a Le Creuset.

          As far as shape, I like my oval but I primarily use it in the oven. I use the oven for heat and temperature control. The times I have used it on the stovetop it hasn't given me any problems like hot spots but I could see why a round one would work better on the stovetop. An oval works better for a pot roast in my opinion.

          I originally suggested a 7-8 quart. A 6.5 to 8 quart would be fine too. Even smaller if you are only cooking for two.

          1. re: taos

            I have neve spent $200 for a single LC. Recommend to go to LC outlet store or check out WS outlet. Also, one day home sale at bloomies offer good deals. I got my 6.75 qt WIDE round for $139 at outlet very recently (discontinued color) . Another large one, 6.75 qt oval, i spent just $110, but it is quite a while ago (discontinued color) . So, there are places you can get a good value in terms of LC and there are almost always people posting good deals here.

            America's test kitchen recommends 7.25 qt round LC and I agree it is the most versatile shape for all-round purpose ( especially if you do braising a big chunk of meat) but size and shape are personal choices based on # of family members/guest etc, or what you cook. Also, the size of stove top of your range matters. therefore, others says the round shape is a safe play or for all-round cooking purpose, I would say.

            1. re: hobbybaker

              I'm not sure that Cooks Illustrated recommends the LC without reservation - I do know their BEST BUY distinction went to the 6.5 qt. Tramontina, sold at Walmart for under $50. This forest green Dutch oven is what you'll see them using on both the ATK and CC shows. I bought one several years ago ($40 at the time) after reading their Almost No-Knead Bread 2.0 article. My other ones are a 4qt enameled Martha Stewart and an antique black one. All work fine. By the way, I am cooking for one, as well. You'll still need at least a 4qt to have enough room and thermal mass for braising meats successfully. I've been cooking for 40 years.

              Cookware obsessives can get really carried away with accumulating various sizes and colors of cooking equipment - fine if you are into collecting, but irrelevant if your main interest is in the cooking rather than the looking. I bought the Martha, on sale, because I learned that raw cast iron is undesirable when cooking acidic foods, although I had been doing so, without dissatisfaction, for decades. I could have done without it. The only reason for the Tramontina was that a larger one is needed for making bread. If I could only have one, it would be the Tramontina. Treat it with care and it won't chip. Even if it does, it's still usable.

              1. re: greygarious

                I have 5 pices of LC but they are not simply just for collection. They are constantly used because I use some of them not for braising. I use the smallest 2.0qt for grains/rice, which cooks better than the same size stainless sauce pans because of the heavy lid. I use 3.5qt for curries, soups, Mac & cheese etc as I am usually cooking only for two. 6.75 qt are simply too big for the purpose although they are perfect for the meat I use for braising . ( I decide which of 6.75 qt I use depending on the shape of the meat. ) I know I won't be happy with the 5qt size because it is either too small or too large for my pusposes. But, it is me. Others surely have different opinions.

                All of my DO has different colors because I bought all of them at sale - discontinued colors at outlet stores or one-day home sale at Bloomies. I don't pay MSRP $200 just because the color is new! I wish I could but I would rather buy the discontinued color and use the difference to upgrade my knives, for example...
                My DOs are all LC as Staub was kind of not accessible and more expensive. It was hard to find STAUB locally and I usually don't want to buy DOs from online retailers. I am an old-type to see the pot in person, lift it, and make sure the inside enamel is fine.

            2. re: taos

              Second Le Creuset dutch oven. Go to a Le Creuset outlet if you live near one. It can go in the dishwasher, under the broiler. Not sure about the grill and definitely NOT the microwave . . . You can even have it re-enameled if you ever need to. Not sure what size I have (26 or 28 on the bottom). It's round. Size is perfect for 1-2, cooking ahead and freezing.

            3. re: Hank Hanover

              I have four enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens and the oval one is the one I use the least often. It's only about 6 quarts, not 7 or 8, but the size isn't the problem. The shape is. When on the stovetop, the heat is concentrated on the the center of the pot so meat doesn't brown evenly and requires far more attention from me than the round pots. I'll use it for something like a pork loin or perhaps a leg of lamb, but that's about it. I use the round Dutch ovens a few times a month; it's not unusual for me to go more than a year without reaching for the oval one.

              1. re: JoanN

                I have four round ones, 3.5 qt, 4.5 qt, 5.5qt, and 7.25 qt. I use the 5.5 most often. I agree with Joan N on the oval configuration. I use my 6.75 oval basically for braising a whole chicken.

                I have an extra, brand-new 5.5 qt round in Indigo. See my profile to get in touch.

              2. re: Hank Hanover

                I think some will disagree with you, while many here have agree with your view in previous posts.

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  At Bed, Bath and Beyond you can get Fontignac (i think it is around that size), which is also made in France for $100. Use your 20% off coupon, which they always have and it is a better deal, obviously. I've had one for almost a year now, and i use it 3-4 times per week, with no problems.
                  More info

                  Not the same brand, but I saw a 6.5 quart round one for 69.95 today at the Costco. It was Kirkland brand, but made in France. It had an aluminum knob on the lid. Anybody used these before? Only one color that i saw, sort of orange.
                  Also, Tuesday morning sometimes has deals on LC.(they look to be discontinued colors)

                  1. re: TroyTempest

                    Hi TroyTempest, I bought one in January 2011. I've used it to make pot roast and short ribs. The oven has been performing great so far. Nice even heat and consistent performance so timing the done-ness of the food has worked out very nicely. I'll say so far so good. It's easy to clean and has a good heft to it.

                2. Get a Lodge or one of the Cabela's offerings.
                  They will last several lifetimes.

                  When you get a chance, check out the antique
                  stores in your area for Griswold or Wagner.

                  I think I have six and always go to the no-name
                  I picked up at an antique show for 20 bucks.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Johnny West

                    Thanks. I should have mentioned in my first post that I'm looking for enameled cast iron. I have nothing against bare cast iron for some uses. But for this use, I want enameled because it will be easier to maintain (I have and use a bare iron skillet and know what it takes to maintain). I am willing to pay the difference in price.

                    1. re: taos

                      Yes, you should have specified enameled cast iron, may be even expensive enameled. There are many, many threads about the major brands.

                      1. re: paulj

                        I'm sorry. By the time I realized my omission, it was too late to edit the post. I hope you will forgive me, eventually, someday.

                  2. The first thing you need to ask yourself is what are you going to be braising: Whole chickens? Chicken pieces? Rolled steak? If you cook things with height to them, you will need a traditional dutch oven, as opposed to a wide round or braiser. That will also determine the shape: If you cook chicken pieces, a round is good. If you braise a rolled steak, an oval is better. The second thing you will need to ask yourself is, how big of a steak or whatever will you be cooking? Since you cook in bulk you will probably want to buy a larger size, but remember, those suckers are heavy. I can't lift more than a 6.75 qt.

                    Staub and LC are the two most expensive brands. They are made in France and come with lifetime warranties. Martha Stewart, Lodge, etc. are all cheaper, made in China, and I don't think the company will send you a brand new oven 20 years from now if you crack the lid. Browsing amazon will give you the best idea of the price ranges and sizes.

                    My MO is to shop the best stores and buy where the deals are. To wit: my dutch oven is Le Creuset, but I got it at the 50% off section of the clearance rack at Tuesday Morning. Price: $40.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: E_M

                      Lodge Cast Iron is not made in China... their family owned company is in South Pittsburg, Tennessee & their web site is www.lodgemgf.com. Visit their web site to see all they have to offer, including enameled cast iron. I am 56 & have my grandmother's Lodge collection. I used it everyday when my sons were growing up & I was cooking for a 4 man household. I love it & added to the collection with the enameled dutch ovens & rounds. Now, my sons fuss about who is getting what in my will... LOL.

                      1. re: Buttons522

                        Their enameled cast iron IS made in China but the bare cast iron is made in the USA. I emailed the company a year or so ago and that is what they told me.

                        1. re: Buttons522

                          Lodge enameled ones are definitely made in China. This information is on their website. They are good. If we are talking about decent quality enameled Dutch Ovens which are NOT Le Cresuet and Staub, then Lodge Color and Tramontina and Chefmate are the three names which come up the most.

                      2. I think you will find something around 5qt to be a very usefull size. That's our most used enameled dutch oven. You can fit a chicken, 5 lb roast, a gallon of soup, etc in this size pot. We have found that one dutch oven can do a lot of different cooking tasks that may have been done in a number of different pots and pans. If you want something to last, go with LC or Staub, both made in France and the best quality of the lot. To the best of my knowledge all the others are made in China and according to a sotre owner are too easily chipped to even bother to carry in the store. If you don't mind chipped edges you can save a bundle on the China stuff vs the French brands.

                        1. If you are talking about bare cast iron, then I think Lodge is a reliable brand. As for size, I think 4-6 quart is a good size, but it really depends how many people/meal you are trying to cook for. I do think anything below a 4 quart is too small, except for special occasions. Now, assuming you do want to get a Lodge Dutch Oven, keep in mind that Lodge offers several version. There are the Logic, Pro-Logic and Signature. The Signature line is attractive but significantly more expensive. Between the Logic and Pro-Logic, I like the Pro-Logic because it is more ergonomics. I have a 5-quart Logic and a 4-quart Pro-Logic.


                          Hope this help.

                          Edit: I just realized that you want an enameled cast iron Dutch Oven. Well, the suggestion for size still hold. I have and own two enameled cast iron, but I cannot really recommend them. In fact, I started off with two enameled cast iron Dutch Oven and switched. Sorry, I cannot be more helpful.

                          1. I bought a Martha Stewart one years ago and it works fabulous. Now this is the enamel coated, I would say Le Creuset knock off LOL. But I paid $40.00 and like I said I have used it for gumbos, stews, pot roast, I even fried chicken in it one day. I want to get the smaller size next when a color I like comes up at Macys.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: juli5122

                              Given the way one cooks in a Dutch Oven, I seriously doubt there are short comings with Martha Stewart or Paula Dean or any of the many other celeverty chef brands or Lodge, etc. that Chem referenced, with regard to cooking performance. That is, any of these are likely to cook similarly, I don't think that's ever been brought up as an issue. Someone correct me if I'm incorrect on that point. However, the issue has always been quality, quality of craftsmanship, quality of raw materials, and quality of construction. The most common problem being they tend to chip much more easily than either of the two French brands, Le Cruset and Staub. I suppose if one is exceptionally careful you can get years of service from one but I have not found that off brands of most things are as durable and regardless of care seem to chip or crack prematurely.

                            2. I don't think you can go wrong with either the Lodge or others that have been mentioned here so far. You don't have to spend a ton of money to get a serviceable piece, IMO.

                              You mentioned that most of your cooking is done for 1. Based on that, I'd think anything over 5 qt. would be overkill, even if you're making leftovers to freeze for later.

                              I picked up a nice 5 qt Cuisinart at Marshall's for $49, and it serves me well for stews, braises and no-knead bread. We're a family of 4 and this size is enough for just about anything I throw at it. Just braised a 3.5# roast with LOTS of potatoes, turnip, carrots & onions in a veal stock last night for our family, and that DO was filled right up. It was enough for the meal and lunch leftovers the next day.

                              By the way... I finished the braise on the wood stove while a nice loaf of no knead bread baked in an 8 qt. stainless stock pot.

                              Heaven... :)

                              1. I have never understood why some dutch oven users select enameled cast iron. Except for that fact that it's somewhat easier to clean, I don't see any reason to spend the amount of money I see on their price tags. The enameled surfaces are also subject to chipping - another disadvantage IMO.
                                My suggestion would be this one:
                                I have one that I use for stews, soups, deep frying, bread baking, etc. and it's wonderful. If you get one, give Lodge a call and see if they will send you three or four of their rubber lid rests (they're little rubber pieces that clip over the edge of the dutch oven pot so that, when the lid is resting on the dutch oven during storage there is a air gap between the two pieces) to allow for air circulation during storage periods.
                                Unless you intend to use your DO over an open fire or hot coals, don't buy one with legs on it. They're difficult to use on an oven rack. I have found some of those at yard sales and, if they're a good price, cut off and ground down the legs - but that's only cost effective if the price represents a steal.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: todao

                                  I'm a cast iton dutch oven fan....I won 2 Lodge cast iron ovens with legs on them for camping and they are great. I think if you are confortable cooking with cast iron, a non enameled one would be just fine, but most people aren't,

                                  For indoor cooking, I own a smaller LeCreuset and a large Martha Stewart one. I actually think the Martha Stewart one is nicer than my French one - it's really well made. I got it on sale at Macy's.

                                2. You know, I have a vintage wagnerware dutch oven that I inherited. Its aluminum I believe.
                                  After using this, I just dont get the fascination with the $200+ pieces of cookware. It works great. I even use it for deep frying.

                                  I like my cooking toys and Id love to have a large staub, but the prices are too high for me-even if its a lifetime piece.

                                  That being said, I like the staub products a bit more than the le cruset. They just seem to be a bit more hefty, and I do think the spikes help with a true braise.

                                  1. If you buy the Martha one, save your receipt and box. My sister has one about a year and she heard a pop while heating. A big piece of the enamel popped off in a sheet from the bottom of the pan. At first they wouldn't give her money back, but she had the original box which said "life time guarantee" so they did. She bought a Le Creuset @ TJ Maxx for $150. She loves it. My DIL also has a chip on her Martha dutch oven. I don't know if that is an isolated thing but keep your paperwork.

                                    1. I bought an enameled lodge a couple years ago, it has provided my family many delicious meals. My only concern is that it is heavily cracked on the bottom after many sessions of moderately-high heat searing of different cuts of meat. It has not yet began to actually chip, but I am afraid it will do so soon. I am not sure what I will buy next if it does begin to chip. I keep my eye on the thrift stores in my area for something old, otherwise I will either get another lodge and try to "baby" it a bit more, or I will go with one of the more expensive options.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: dowlf

                                        For high heat searing bare cast iron is a better choice than enameled. Same, I think, for no knead bread which requires a hefty preheat.

                                      2. How many you're usually cooking for should dictate how big your dutch oven will be... 4.5 -5.5 quarts will generally be large enough if you're cooking dishes for up to 4 people. I just picked up a lightly used 5 qt Martha Stewart enameled D.O. on eBay for $29, shipped. I've got a couple of Le Creuset pieces as well, but I can't say there's any difference in quality. Check back in 10-15 years & maybe I'll feel otherwise.

                                        There have been a bunch of 2.75 qt Martha Stewart Dutch Ovens on eBay lately for $15-20 shipped. I can't vouch for the quality, but for that cheap, it's probably worth the gamble. No, you won't be able to cook a whole chicken in a pot that size, but you could certainly make plenty of decent meals for 1, + leftovers . It's a decent size for baking if you're into the No-Knead Bread method, too.

                                        1. We prefer Staub over LC and other brands because of the interior. Our 2.75 Qt Staub cocotte is perfect for two and cost $99 at WS. For $200, WS has an oval 4.25 Qt, an oval 5.75 Qt, and a round 5.5 Qt. There's no need to pay full retail for Staub. WS and SLT sell it at a discount. Amazon too.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: KansasKate

                                            I have a 2qt sandpot (traditional Chinese clay, about $10) that is great for braising a 2 lb piece pork shoulder. A good match between pot size and the contents means you don't have to add much liquid.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              What is so good about sandpot -- beside being tradtional?

                                              I have a mid size one for soup and a very small one for my making "sandpot rice (with Chinese sausages and salted duck...etc)" That said, clay is a poor heat conductor, so what is the rationale using them in this modern days?

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                May I suggest you checkout Paula Wolfert's new Clay Pot Cooking book?

                                                One advantage is that it shows you don't need to spend $200 to get a great braising vessel. :)

                                                Poor conductivity just means that it takes a long time to heat up. Once hot the temperature of the pot can be quite uniform. Of course this uniformity matters more when used on a burner, than in the oven where the heat comes from all sides.

                                                Wolfert tries to explain why clay pot cooking is better, though some of her explanations sound more mystical and traditional than scientific. She quotes a 19th c French novelist:

                                                "Take an earthenware casserole that we call in the Perigord a poelon. If you don't have one, use a thick copper casserole. But frankly nothing is as good as clay for all sorts of slow simmered dishes. The clay maintains even heat and doesn't brutalize all the good things you entrust to it. Never cook in iron, enamel or aluminum. these are the work of the devil!" (p xii)

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  >>>>She quotes a 19th c French novelist:

                                                  "Never cook in iron, enamel or aluminum. these are the work of the devil!" (p xii)<<<<

                                                  Well, _that's_ convincing.

                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                    Hey; if a 19th century french novelist said it, it has to be true. :)

                                                  2. re: paulj

                                                    :) I don't have $200 pot anyway, but I was just thinking about my bare cast iron Dutch Oven vs my Clay pot. My Dutch Oven was probably $40 give or take and my sandpot (clay pot) maybe $15-20 (I cannot remember). So it is cheaper. Neither heats up very fast, but the cast iron is still faster.

                                                    :) Work of devil to cook in iron huh? I guess the human race was corrupted during the first of Iron Age.

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      The rest of Wolfert's introduction (on the google link) is interesting reading, even if you don't buy her final quote.

                                            2. I just recently bought my first enameled cast iron dutch oven. I really wanted a Le Creuset but couldn't justify the $200+ price. I saw some at TJ Maxx Home Goods, but it's marked as seconds. Besides, I plan on using it occasionally based on what I cook.

                                              I ended up buying a Sur La Table 5 qt. I like that it fits perfectly over my largest burner. It's very sturdy, made in China, and my first project - french onion soup cooked beautifully. I had a tiny bit of staining from the french onion soup but came off in a snap with boiling water and baking soda. Only time will tell how it performs but I like it so far, on sale for $80 and I had a gifcard from Christmas I used.


                                              1. My cooking pattern is pretty much the same as yours (make a big batch on the weekend and freeze the leftovers), and I've found my 5.5-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven (round) to be the perfect size. If you make a batch of beef stew, lentil soup, chili, gumbo, or whatever, you'll get five large portions -- one to eat and the other four to freeze for later.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: tanuki soup

                                                  We have a 7 qt Martha Stewart enameld cast iron DO that we purchased last year this time on sale at Macy's. Think it was about $50 to $60.

                                                  It works as it is supposed to. No interior chips. One small exterior chip which was our fault for banging it around... however it's not used much, we prefer using a 5 qt Emerilware stainless, disk bottom, tempered lid dutch oven. I think we paid about $30 for it on sale at Macy's.

                                                  I think it does most of what the enamled cast iron DO with some advantages (faster response time, easier to simmer, more even heating, and much easier to handle because of the less weight).

                                                  For bread in my opinion it's easier to use a baking sheet and a separate pan underneath (with water) to create steam. Much easier than handling a hot heavy cast iron DO.

                                                  I do covet a 12 inch rondeau. Perhaps like the Vollrath Optio below for larger items.