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Dutch ovens: enameled cast iron vs stainless steel

I'm a mom of two little ones just starting to work on my domestic abilities (I was an engineer and private pilot in my past life) and I want to be able to fill my babies with hearty meat dishes when they older and ravenous so I decided on purchasing a Dutch oven. But I am trying to weigh pros and cons between a Le Creuset 7.25qt round French oven and an All-Clad d5 brushed stainless 5.5qt Dutch oven. I don't have any experience with Dutch ovens-- only crockpot experience, let alone enameled iron vs SS ones. Would love to hear thoughts from all the good cooks on this site. Thanks in advance!

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  1. My first thought is that if you go the enameled cast iron route, you don't need something as big as 7+ quarts, certainly not to start with; 4-5 quarts is much more useful and (equally if not more important) manageable to move from stove to oven and back, and to wash. It's still going to come in at around ten pounds.

    I have no experience with Dutch ovens made of stainless-ply; it's hard for me to imagine that they're as even-heating as enameled cast iron in an oven, but they do have the advantage of being able to be washed in the dishwasher, of being lighter weight, and of not being susceptible to chipping if banged around. You are the best judge of how important those features are. (My Copco Dutch oven is unchipped after 40 years of frequent use, but it wouldn't have lasted a year that way in the households of friends who move more briskly in the kitchen than I do.)

    My second thought is that spending the kind of money stores want for Le Creuset is unnecessary. If budget is at all a concern, consider used enameled cast iron of good quality: LC, Copco, Descoware. It abounds on online sites.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ellabee

      Wow, it's only been a day after posting my question and I'm really blown away by all of this support; this is fantastic.

      About the sizes, I happened to stop by the Le Creuset outlet near my home and told the rep that I wanted to accommodate 4-6 people (me, my hubby, my two kids about 10 years from now, and possible guests or leftovers) with the Dutch/French oven and she highly recommended the 7.25qt over the 5.5qt round. This is the only reason I had 7.25qt in mind. I'm not inflexible with considering a 5.5qt at all if it meets me usage needs. And, with the stainless, I wanted to match my other pots and the 5.5qt AC d5 is the only size available in that line. Your point about manageability from stove to oven and back and washing is something I am definitely interested in. I tend to handwash everything right now, unless we have a party. So, the washing differences between the two ovens aren't too important for me. And thanks for the budget tips, it's good to know.

      1. re: ellabee

        Love the Descoware- I've scooped up 4 pieces on EBay for very fair prices. I also enjoy the fact that they are Belgium-made & a little worn (meaning used & enjoyed).

        1. re: bevwinchester

          Thank you for sharing. I'll have to look into Descoware.

      2. Aside from the size difference, I think you will find the stainless steel cladded (All Clad) Dutch Oven to be just as good as the Le Cresuset Dutch Oven. The Le Cresuset Dutch Oven is more traditional, but it only has a few advantages over the stainless steel counterpart.

        Both cookware will be fairly nonreactive toward food, but the enameled surface will be even more nonreactive than stainless steel.

        In term of stovetop cookware, the stainless steel cladded cookware will response faster and will have a even heating surface (due to the aluminum inner layers). The stainless steel surface also can take a lot more physical abuses than the enameled surface. It is much easier to chip an enameled surface than to rip out the stainless steel layer. As such, you can freely use any metal utensils in the stainless steel cladded Dutch Oven. Finally, it is also much easier to clean the stainless steel surface to a shiny sliver color than to restore the enameled surface to its original white color.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Yes, I've had to replace an enameled cast iron Dutch oven because I damaged it. The SS is almost indestructible.

          1. re: drongo

            Thanks for sharing. I've read some people saying their pot chipped even though they didn't burn the pot; that does concern me.

          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I enjoy this idea of taking physical abuse. I'm really looking for a workhorse when it comes to a big pot and I don't want to find that I end up with a chip even if it is replaced with a complimentary lifetime guarantee. As far as appearances, I'm not concerned with the pot looking brand-spanking new, as long as it can be cleaned using what I consider the normal washing routine -- dish liquid, baking soda, hot water. I want to buy it and forget it so I really appreciate this attention to various considerations. +1 for SS.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Agree on all points, CK. I have LC 5.5 Dutch oven and while it's a work horse, it's hard to heft around while loaded with food. It doesn't clean up as well as s/s does.

              I have the AC large braiser, and it does a great job for long slow cooking in the oven. I would think the AC D/o would fare just as well, be lighter in weight and easier to clean.

              If I could have a do-over, I would purchase the AC 5.5 D/o. I just wish they made a few different sizes.

              1. re: breadchick

                Nice to hear your experiences and preferences. Thanks. Another +1 for SS.

              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                "Finally, it is also much easier to clean the stainless steel surface to a shiny sliver color than to restore the enameled surface to its original white color."

                So true. My Lodge Dutch oven is stained pretty badly from the last stew I made in it. I worked on it pretty hard, but it's not coming out.

                1. re: Kontxesi

                  Bare CI can be cleaned by putting it your oven on self clean cycle. I do this once per year with mine and then simple re-season them,

                  1. re: law_doc89

                    It's a Lodge enameled, actually. I didn't mention that, did I....

                    I do have a bare CI skillet and wok, though. I put them through that treatment occasionally.

              3. Also, a well seasoned black cast iron dutch oven is fine to use if you don't store acid foods in it. It also allows a higher temperature for browning,enameled should never be on a burner above medium heat. Much less expensive. We have both kinds,prefer the plain Lodge cast iron for browning.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Raffles

                  Is tomato sauce considered an acidic food? Also, the idea of seasoning a cast iron is daunting to me, primarily due to the time commitment and the frequent monitoring of when the pan would need to be re-seasoned; perhaps a misconception on my part? I've only just started reading about "how to season a pan".I also worry (maybe illogically) about rust. Does your Lodge cast iron take some considerable care outside of washing?

                  1. re: motled

                    Tomato sauce is acidic, yes. So making tomato-based sauces and simmering them in a bare CI dutch oven is a bad idea. Even boiling water in bare CI can remove the seasoning on a new pan.

                    I know some consider CI to be the epitome of cookware, but as far as I'm concerned, it is not the ideal material for dutch ovens. SS or enameled CI would be better choices simply because of versatility and ease of maintenance. Anything you can cook in a bare CI dutch oven, you can cook in a enameled CI or SS dutch oven, but not everything you can cook in the latter two can be cooked in a bare CI one.

                    And for the record I love bare CI. I own many pieces of it, including a dutch oven, which I only use to cook bread.

                    CI is not really a pain to maintain when we're talking about bakeware and things such as skillets/griddles, but when it comes to saucepans, soup pots, etc... I'm not so sure because of the problems with sauces and acidic ingredients. Tomato-based stews? Forget it. Wine-based sauces? Best not to.

                    I don't know about you, but I do a lot of French and Italian cooking which involve much wine and tomato, therefore bare CI is the last thing I'd choose. On the other hand, if you don't do a lot of cooking involving tomato or wine or vinegar etc... then a bare CI oven would potentially be fine for you.

                    1. re: Sirrith

                      Thanks for helping me understand the various limitations or personalities of CI vs SS and enameled CI.

                      Tomato-based stews and wine-based sauces are a must for my 'Dutch oven' so that certainly helps me rule out bare cast iron. Forward progress, whew!

                      1. re: motled

                        Note that I'm not saying that a tiny bit of wine/tomato will strip the seasoning immediately, but if you are making tomato based dishes that are going to stay for, say, an hour or so in the pot, you will definitely notice problems.

                2. I have cast iron (both au naturel and enameled) Dutch ovens and an All Clad SS Dutch oven. I use the cast iron more often, but I think that's just a matter of habit. And my 3-qt cast iron Dutch oven fits in my Breville countertop oven, which is convenient.

                  I don't think even heating is a big deal once the Dutch oven is in the oven -- but may be important if you're using it on the stove top before or after the oven. Ck's post points to this.

                  One point to perhaps consider is that the cast iron is quite a bit heavier than the SS for the same capacity (at least for the ones that I have). I have a big dent in the floor from my largest heavy cast iron Dutch oven (clever & evil cat pushed it off the table).

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: drongo

                    <And my 3-qt cast iron Dutch oven fits in my Breville countertop oven, >

                    Really? I don't realize how small the 3-qt is.

                    1. re: drongo

                      I also have a clever cat. I'll have to keep an eye on him to make sure he's not evil as we have wood floors that dent easily. Another +1 for SS.

                    2. I have 2 cast iron Dutch ovens made by Cousances and purchased over 30 years ago. Cousances was sucked up by Le Creuset sometime in the early 80's, I believe. Anyway, the larger one is plain cast iron and the other (actually called a Doefeu) is enameled. While both are still performing well, the large one looks much better. The enamel on the smaller one has discolored. I guess my point is, if I were you, I'd get a plain un-enameled cast iron one in whatever size you prefer. Le Creuset or possibly one by Lodge. Smaller investment and see how you like cooking with it. You can always go "fancy" later. jmho

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: grampart

                        Our un-enameled cast iron pot is a Griswold we got used on eBay. We have a few of the LC enameled and Lodge enameled. The LC are overpriced . The Lodge was inexpensive (think China) but is holding up well. The Griswold is 65 years old and like new.

                          1. re: Raffles

                            Based on the reports of chipping of Lodge compared to LC, I highly doubt LC is that overpriced. Cooking performance may be similar, but come back in 10-20 years and then see how well the Lodge has fared compared to the LC. I think that is the main reason to spend more on the top brands for ECI: longevity.

                          2. re: grampart

                            Based on your and Raffles feedback, it sounds like plain un-enameled cast iron is great. My concerns would be knowing what not to cook in it, care, and rust. I'm not concerned about discoloration, unless it affects performance. Thanks for sharing your Dutch oven experiences. Do you know how many quarts your two Dutch ovens are?

                            1. re: motled

                              7.5 and 5.5. The Lodge ones are pre-seasoned if that is a concern. In truth, I never worry about the acidic factor.

                              Check this one
                              http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-L10DOL3-P...

                              1. re: grampart

                                Thanks for sharing. So when you say you're not concerned about the acidic factor, are you making tomato-based stews and wine-based sauces with regards to Sirrith's advice on bare cast iron?

                                1. re: motled

                                  I am and have been for many years. I may have iron rich blood, but can't say there's ever been a problem.

                                    1. re: grampart

                                      I knew that but hadn't ever seen an article on it! Thanks !

                                      1. re: grampart

                                        Great information. Thank you for sharing the wealth!

                                    2. re: motled

                                      It is easy to keep the CI seasoned, just wipe it down with oil after cleaning.Heat for a minute on burner,done.
                                      Just don't store acid foods in it.

                                      1. re: Raffles

                                        Okay, I think I'm understanding the routine for regular use with a CI. Not so bad. Thanks for sharing!