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Jul 27, 2014 09:36 AM

Le Creuset always scorches tomato sauce

I made a batch of meatballs in tomato sauce this morning. I use my biggest pot, a 13 qt Le Creuset casserole. I use a commercial #10 can of ground tomatoes. Every time I use it, no matter how careful I am, the center of the pot above where the gas burners come in contact with the bottom of the pot scorches and deposits a black burnt tomato residue. I have to move the pan around & simmer less so I won't impart a nasty flavor in the sauce. The pot is old and the interior very slightly discolored from use. Anyone else have this problem and do you have a solution?

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    1. You have found the pots' hot spot. When I was in college (Home Ec. Ed major) we had to test pots and pans by cooking vanilla pudding in them to locate hot spots. Cast iron is susceptible to them because in casting occasionally a bubble will form that is not visible but it leaves a weak spot and that is where it is going to form. Do you have a flame tamer? It can help to distribute the heat evenly. The Ilsa flame tamers mentioned in the other reply is just what I had in mind. I have 2 of them and use them frequently.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Candy

        My guess is that the poor conductivity of cast iron is culprit.

        I read about 'hot spots', but I doubt the casting bubble explanation. A bubble can't be more than a mm in diameter (i.e. less than the thickness of the iron). It might weaken the iron, but I don't see how it would produce a hot spot. If anything it would make a cold spot, since air in the bubble is less conductive than iron. And the spot couldn't be much bigger than the bubble itself.

        The pot interior directly above the flame is always going to be hotter than surfaces further away. With enamel coated cast iron that effect will be greater due to its poor conductivity. A large pot and volume of sauce can exaggerate the effect, since you need enough heat to keep the whole thing simmering, but all that heat has to pass through middle 6" of the base.

        possible solutions:

        - heat diffuser
        - put it in the oven
        - stir more frequently and thoroughly

        1. re: paulj

          If I am busy and don't want to stir, I put it in the oven at whatever temp gives me the simmer I want. About 200F or so for my oven.

          1. re: paulj

            Hey, paul: "My guess is that the poor conductivity of cast iron is culprit."

            +1. Any "bubble" in the casting is likely to be tiny, and would correspond, if it were noticable, with a tiny (i.e., pinpoint) hotspot.

            While the OP's gas hob may be contributing in a minor way to this (it is an expansive 13Q oven after all), IME tomato sauce is just viscous enough to highlight CI's poor performance on the stovetop--there aren't active-enough convection currents forming, too much of the heat stays right at the flame, and ascorchin' we will go. Caramelized onions are much worse, but tomatoes are bad enough...

            I recently turned to a heat diffuser in making a marmelade prep which expressly forbade stirring--and I'm glad I did. This was even considering I was using a very heavy Belgian copper preserve pan and a triple-ring gas hob. It really removes worry that, as the sugar % goes up, there'll be a scorch where the flame is licking...


        2. It's the nature of the beast. There are countless posts about the poor heat distribution and hot spots in cast iron. Our larger gas hobs are twin burner or inner and outer ring, whatever and they do a better job of distributing heat across the bottom of the pot. 13 qt is one heck of a cast iron pot, so it's going to be difficult to keep a simmer and not burn where the flame hits the pot. If I made a batch of sauce (gravy to us old Italians) I would probably look for a large pot or sauce pan with a disk bottom to more evenly distribute heat.

          BTW, what's the diameter of the 13 qt casserole?

          2 Replies
          1. re: mikie

            Diameter is a little under 14". I have a smaller anodized aluminum similarly shaped pan but it's about 7 quart that I use for smaller batches. I don't have any problems with that one.

            1. re: zackly

              The anodized aluminum transfers heat a lot better, but is also doesn't have as much sauce in it, so you could use a lower flame to still get the sauce to simmer, thus making it less likely it will burn on the bottom.

              I think you have multiple issues going against you in this case. One; the diameter of the LC is too large for the hob, two; the cast iron doesn't conduct the heat well enough, three; the amount of sauce you are trying to make is more than the size (diameter in this case) can handle, thus you are putting more heat into a concentrated area when you are trying to get the contents to simmer.

              I think regardless of the pot construction, you are going to have issues with this volume of pasta sauce on a regular gas hob. Kaleo made a comment on convection currents and how the thick sauce just isn't going to move much. I believe that's a component of your problem.

          2. I use a Berndes non stick (not teflon) pot and don't have these problems. I have a Le Creuset pot that I've used for braises like short ribs but I have to be careful to keep the heat on the low side. I would not use it for tomato sauce.

            1. You have a few options:

              1. Use a different pot. Aluminum will work well.
              2. Put le creuset in the oven to simmer
              3. Put the pot onto of a griddle or inside of another pan.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Pwizduo

                Wouldn't I be better off with a commercial weight aluminum pan that cost 25% of what the Le Creuset set me back? Like this one?

                Why all the love for enameled cast iron? I cooked in French restaurants for years and only once saw enameled cast iron and these were terrines.

                1. re: zackly

                  Yes you would be, the aluminum disperses the heat much better through out the pan which prevent's scorching.

                  Tomato sauce is acidic which means it will leech slight quantities of the aluminum from the pan (just as it would with raw cast iron) and over time cause pitting. Unlike iron, I don't find that aluminum gives a perceptible off taste and pitting isn't a huge issue in a stock pot.

                  1. re: zackly

                    Hi, zackley: "Wouldn't I be better off with a commercial weight aluminum pan..."

                    Yes, of course. Emphasis on the word 'commercial'.

                    "Why all the love for enameled cast iron?"

                    The God's honest truth is a combination of convenience, marketing, Francophillia, and color affinity/identification (ever wonder why oil companies use the colors they do on their signs?). Add a nod to the linings' non-reactivity, but that is mostly a post-hoc rationalization.

                    OK, everyone please flame me now and get it's good to let the anger go...


                    1. re: zackly

                      <Wouldn't I be better off with a commercial weight aluminum pan that cost 25% of what the Le Creuset set me back? >

                      You might be, but as others have already noted, tomato sauce is so viscous that there are few, if any, convection currents in the sauce. What's on the bottom will sit on the bottom. I think the pot you linked will scorch, because the pot isn't the sole issue. Me, I'd probably go with the cheaper option of a flame tamer, or put the pot in the oven.

                      1. re: DuffyH

                        Or once everything browned/sweated/ sautéed, I will pour it all in my crock pot. All day simmer no problem. If I want a "quicker" sauce like for lasagna, then I keep it in the Le Creuset

                        I love my Le Creuset, but I run into this problem, partially due to me ruining the enamel finish cleaning up the burnt spot once a little too aggressively.

                      2. re: zackly

                        <Wouldn't I be better off with a commercial weight aluminum pan that cost 25% of what the Le Creuset set me back?>

                        Most likely yes.

                        <Why all the love for enameled cast iron?>

                        Because it looks pretty.

                        < I cooked in French restaurants for years and only once saw enameled cast iron >

                        Look likes the previous employers figure out.

                        1. re: zackly

                          Well I guess in restaueants sometimes tgere too heavy to bang around and can break. Once in a while I see them I smaller restaurants but for sauce and meatballs you might not need them.