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Mar 18, 2011 08:45 PM

Dutch Oven: Anachronism / Ignorance

It's a puzzler, that big shiny red 6 quart enameled cast iron dutch oven taking up my counter. Is The Red Beast significantly better for anything I might do then cookware I already have?

I know that many people love them. But in my ignorance it isn't obvious why that might be, or whether this beautiful beast will be worth it's size, weight, and trouble in my limited space apartment. I don't use red meat, but enjoy fish, chicken, vegetables, etc.

For soups, I have a relatively inexpensive domed stockpot that holds about 4 quarts - some might call it a stainless dutch oven, as well as a large stockpot with a heavy bottom.

My well seasoned cast iron skillet is a long time favorite. Though slow to heat because cast iron is such a poor heat conductor, it's fantastic for searing, can be heated very hot, no worry about cracking, chipping, or staining, and cleanup is a snap.

For rice, a heavy bottomed saucepan with a good sealing lid works well.

There is also a good 10 inch, and a fair 12 inch, stainless saute pan - they get a lot of use - even for sauces and soups

That big shiny Red Beast enameled dutch oven can go from stove to oven - but so can every other piece I own except the largest stockpot. In the oven, it would heat and slow cook with great eveness. But because it is cast iron, it is a poor conductor of heat, making energy transfer much less efficient then stainless - in other words it will burn up a lot more energy to do the same job. As for temperature stability, in an oven, the temperature is stable anyway.

On the stovetop, with it's wasteful slow inefficient heat conduction and monster weight, why would I choose it over one of the stainless pieces I already have?

In addition, given it's weight and the vulnerability of the vitreous enamel, it looks like cleanup of The Red Beast would have to be handled with care.

So what can the Red Beast do to make it worthwhile for this non beef eater? Would a crockpot be more useful?

Thanks for reading, and for your tolerance of my ignorance...


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  1. "But because it is cast iron, it is a poor conductor of heat, making energy transfer much less efficient then stainless "

    Cast iron is no more poor at thermal conduction than stainless steel. It may have a huge heat capacity due to its mass, but it is not because of thermal conductivity.

    If you have a dark color enameled Dutch Oven, it will actually absorb heat much better than the shiny stainless steel cladded cookware.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Chemicalkinetics - your point about the darker color of the enameled cast iron versus stainless is well taken with regard to its potential to absorb radiant heat.

      Of course, in an oven there is both radiant and conductive heat transfer - I have no idea about the relative contributions of each.

      Moreover, while both CI and stainless materials are both poor heat conductors, the CI is much thicker in every place. I imagine the radiant heat advantage would have to be very large to overcome the effect of the increased wall thickness.

    2. Well, it doesn't matter if you eat red meat or not....and it seems like a poor heat conductor, but that's the point.~ it retains the heat and doesn't heat up or cool down fast. Less burning, more caramelizing.That said it depends what you like to cook.
      I have one ( smaller). its beautiful for slow rendering of goose or duck fat ( for confits), or very slow curries that require long periods of caramelization, frying of spices. it retains a more even temperature over long periods of time. it also can take acidic foods ( like fruit butters) that cast iron fails at. Slowly cooked butter chicken with your own homemade ghee? confit-yummmmm.
      For rice, its better for risottos.

      but if that's not your style of cooking, your other quality cookware will do just fine, and I am sure you could donate the red beast to someone who would like such a heavyweight..

      hope this helps!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jenni899

        I'm starting to really like The Red Beast... Too much thinking - decided to just try it. As I write, a bunch of onions are on their way to caramelizing. It looks like a great start!

        1. re: Harryr

          Well , keep trying, you may find it is great for such things..caramelized onion and sweet potato soup..etc! .if not..there are foodies who would love to inherit such a beast. I have given away 2 and kept my favorite sizes. its not just for pot roasts (ugh).
          good luck and happy cooking.

      2. I don't find a dutch oven to be a cookware necessity. That said, it is nice for braises and oven-cooked stews due to its heat capacity. Other pots can also do this job, but a ECI dutch oven seems to do it especially well. It can also work up a fairly nice fond, comparatively speaking, so that might be useful if you want to make a pan sauce after searing something (though to be honest, I use other pans for that).

        The main thing I use a dutch oven for is bread - usually the no-knead variety. That's the one thing for which I haven't found a suitable alternative to a CI or ECI dutch oven.