A Tale of Two Dutch Ovens

Note: For an update to this post, and some discussion of the new Staub, check out A Tale of Two Dutch Ovens: Redux.

The hullabaloo of the holidays is behind us and a foot of snow is blanketing the hillsides here in New York. It’s the perfect time for soups, stews, long, slow braises that keep the kitchen warm and smelling delightful all day long, right? Well, maybe you already have your trusty Dutch oven all primed for a long & snowy winter. Or maybe Santa left one for you under the tree (or beside the menorah or the Kwanzaa table). Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve decided to peruse the post-holiday sales and pick one up for yourself. Well, just in case you think one of those bargain brands looks like a real deal – think again.

The picture above shows my two Dutch ovens: the one on the left is a Mario Batali 4-quart that I bought at my local kitchen store for about $100 back in February of 2009. At the time, it seemed like a sweet deal to me: enameled cast iron, just like the Le Creuset versions that were about $275, with braising spikes in the lid, an oven-safe handle and in my favorite green. But the very first time I used it, and Tai washed it, a chip appeared in the handle (for which I berated him mercilessly; poor, long-suffering Mr. Tai). The chip in the handle has since expanded, and other minor dings & pits have appeared on the bottom and sides of the pot, despite excessive care in handling and cleaning.

Though they make me crazy, the real problem is not the chips in the external enamel; the real problem is the pitted, cracked and stained surface on the inside of the pot. I’ve tried every enamel-safe cleaning remedy known to man: overnight soak, vinegar soak, Bon Ami, various nylon scrubbies, even a simmer with water + Tide (Le Creuset’s advice for removing tough stains). And despite all of my care and attention, the enamel on the bottom of the pot wore away inside of a year; the pits & cracks opened up into craters, creating hot spots in the surface and essentially eliminating the non-stick surface. I’ve since given up on “maintaining” the non-stick interior and attacked the stained bottom with Soft Scrub, Bar Keeper’s Friend, everything, really, short of a Brillo pad. The picture you see is the cleanest it gets; you might be able to tell from the lack of shine that there is no hint of non-stick surface left.

And the Dutch oven on the right? Le Creuset, of course. Back in August (2010) I stumbled upon a sale unit on Amazon: $140 for the 6 and 3/4 quart wide Dutch oven (all because the box was damaged and they couldn’t re-sell it as “new”; it’s a great idea to take a peak at the “used” category on Amazon now & then, because often the items aren’t actually used as much as simply an open or damaged box). I’ve only had it for about 5 months now, but it’s been in heavy rotation: jams, butter and sauces galore over the preserving season, stews, braises & fricassees since. As you can see above there is the slightest bit of discoloration so far (oh, tomato jam, how you vex me), but for the most part, the interior and exterior surfaces are pristine.

So, how can I compare one Dutch oven that is only 5 months old to another that is approaching 2 years? Simple. First, and most importantly, I know that the problems with the Batali oven started instantly (with the handle chip) and that within 6 months or so of owning it I was unhappy with the interior surface. By one year of use, it looked much like it looks now. And while I still use it, because it does conduct heat extremely well, it has dropped out of heavy rotation since losing it’s non-stick enamel surface. Secondly, Le Creuset is Le Creuset for a reason. I know that with proper care this Dutch oven will last a lifetime (or more). My only other LC piece is a small frying pan that I found a at an antique shop in Pound Ridge: it’s from 1960 and still looks fantastic. The non-stick surface is to die for and it is now my go-to pan for cooking eggs. Thirdly, I know how to treat enamel. I’ve been cooking on enameled Chatal cookware for 20 years now. (I asked my Mom to split the cost of the cookware set with me, as a Christmas present, in 1990, when I got my first real apartment. She thought I was crazy at the time, because the set was $500, a lot of money for a just-out-of-college temp secretary. Now she marvels that I still have them and still use them every day.) And while they’ve taken plenty of abuse (I’ve attacked the surfaces with Brillo for time to time, have definitely banged on the metallic rims too much), they’ve held up fantastically. You can see a little discoloration of the interior but the non-stick surface is still in good working order on all of the pans, 20 years in.

Please note, I’m not saying that all of the less-expensive brands of Dutch ovens are bad, and that you should only buy LC or Staub. I’m simply sharing my one example: I loved the Batali oven when I first got it and I like many of his other cookware tools (I have, and love, the measuring spoons, cups and dough scraper). But, in my opinion, paying $100 for a pot is an investment: it should last more than a year. I have no experience with Lodge, Tramontina or (heaven help me) Rachel Ray pots. I did read somewhere that the less expensive models use only two coats of enamel, while Le Creuset and Staub use four coats, as an explanation for why the enamel on the budget brands doesn’t fare as well (but it could be complete hearsay; I can’t remember where I read it). But for my money, I’d rather wait for a sale or simply invest the extra money in a quality piece, rather than take a chance on another budget brand.

What about you? Any of you have good (or bad) experiences with your Dutch oven? I’d love to hear some input on other brands.

About these ads

50 comments

  1. I have a story very similar to yours. I had a cheaper enameled cast iron pot about four years back. I picked it up at TJ Maxx for $40 and thought I had gotten the best deal around. After about 6-8 months of regular use (nothing particularly intense), I washed it one day and a huge hunk of the enamel just flaked off the bottom of the pot.

    On the other hand, I have a small Le Creuset pot that my Mom got as a wedding present in 1970. It’s still in good working shape.

    • Fleurette

      Like Marisa, I bought a Chantal enameled cast iron dutch oven at TJ Maxx for $40 two years ago, haven’t used it very much, and last week a big chunk of the bottom fell out while washing it! I had my old Le Creuset for 35 years and got it used in the first place and it never lost chunks.

      • Omg… Never again! Le Creuset is the only way to go! Same thing happened to me and the Chantal company said that I abused it. Really? Why is it that my Le Creuset still looks amazing with the same “abuse”. You get what you pay for. A little more money for Le Creuset, but you will have it for life. Stay away from Chantal unless you like chunks of enamel in your stew!

  2. I have two Dutch ovens, both cast iron, neither lined. One’s by Nomar, which is a French brand, and the outside is enameled. It’s held up very nicely and I’ve had it maybe 10 years, but again, the inside isn’t lined. The other one is a Lodge (a href=”https://secure.lodgemfg.com/storefront/product1_new.asp?menu=logic&idProduct=3947″>this guy) and it’s lovely. I use both all the time for baking bread and making stews.

    If I was going to get a lined one, I’d go with a very good brand because I have seen far too many pans that look like your Batali. Plus, Staub’s graphite color makes me weak in the knees!

    • I’ve heard good things about Lodge and I know the Kitchn has written about the enameled Dutch oven… but I’m not sold. I’m with you on the Staub – I’m lusting after the coq au vin pot just for the chicken on top!

  3. I registered for the 5.5 LeCruset for my wedding and was so happy when someone got it for us.

    It does everything – braise, fry, bake (clafoutis!), saute, brown, stew – you name it. And it cleans up like a breeze. I do have some slight discolorization, but it’s one of my go-to pots. It’s heavy, but that just means it conducts heat better.

  4. I’ve had the exact same issues with a JC Penney knockoff. It’s now horribly stained and chipped. I will only buy the real thing from now on. You really do get what you pay for.

  5. GinkgoKnits

    My parents got a set of Chantal pots and pans as a wedding gift in the early 70s. I’ve replaced the frying pans in the last year. However, the pots are all going strong which is amazing given they are nearly 40 years-old. I can’t imagine most modern cookware being designed to last longer than five years let alone decades.

  6. I got a Cuisinart enameled dutch oven for Christmas a few years ago and I use it pretty heavily. It’s stained on the inside, but I didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to me after a few uses. I thought that’s what happened to them after normal use. I’m definitely looking into making a Le Creuset investment after reading this. There is also a chip in the handle of mine. I have used a brillo pad on it VERY lightly from time to time. It hadn’t even occured to me that the inside might chip off, and that would affect heat transfer. Probably wouldn’t taste very well either to bite into a piece of enamel that has flaked off.

  7. I have a Martha Stewart dutch oven the fiancee got as a Christmas present in 2007/8. While it’s not in heavy rotation (I’m crockpots over dutch ovens), it has seen a fair amount of use and while the bottom is a little dinged, it’s still in great shape. Oh, Martha.

      • You know, I’ve heard mixed reviews on the Martha ovens. I wonder if at some point, they switched manufacturers (moved it to China, perhaps?). Some people have had one for years and love it, while others say it’s horrible. Interesting.

    • I have two Martha Stewart dutch ovens in two different sizes. One is about 8 years old, the other closer to 6, however, both have had 4 years of heavy use (I rarely used them before I got my own place with my fiance). When I say heavy, I mean use at least 4 times a week. Big batches of pasta, beans, stews, braises, sauting onions, brisket, roast chickens (although we’ve moved on to the cast iron skillet for roast chicken), both have had a stew which got burnt to powder (oops. We put stews in the oven now if we are heading out instead of the stove, and overload on the water.)

      It’s still in really good shape. I love those puppies. I really don’t see a reason to replace them with Le Creuset right now (although I’d love to, but these are awesome pans.). The handles are a little chipped, and the insides are a deep brown and not shinny (they started white and shiny), but it hasn’t impacted the cooking at all. They don’t have hot spots even though the stove has hot spots. Food doesn’t stick too much. They work great. They’re workhorses.

  8. Stephanie

    When I first starting making jam last summer, I borrowed my Mom’s Cuisinart dutch oven. It worked really well until a batch of blueberry jam: it stained the inside and I could never get it clean. I returned it to her with sincere apologies after I bought myself a Le Creuset at an outlet, and it’s a world of difference. It’s discolored slightly but it washes like a dream and it conducts heat so well. She has a Le Creuset now too (also an outlet purchase!) and I think the Cuisinart is going to the back of the cupboard.

  9. I had a similar experience with an enameled cast iron fry pan which eventually cracked, and prior to its trip to the recycling center, “popped” and threw a couple small shards of hot enamel across the kitchen when it was being pre-heated for a sauté. My mother, who bought this pan for me, has the exact same one and has had not trouble what so ever.

    I’m enamored of a 7.5quart Dutch oven from the Martha Stewart line that has been performing well but admittedly is stained. Le Creuset remains on my “someday” list.

  10. I’m glad you posted this. I’m planning to ask for a dutch oven like that for a wedding gift but I knew nothing about which were good and which weren’t. Now I’m going to ask for the more expensive one and hope someone buys it for me!

  11. I also have a Martha. It was a good price to begin with and was on sale to boot. I got it just after I saw Julia & Julia and bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to make the Beef Bourguignon without it! I did consider some of the higher priced selections, but wasn’t sure how long my Julia kick would last. I have to say, this has turned into my first go-to piece of cookware (after the cast iron skillet). I like them both because they go from the stove top to the oven. It’s now a year and a half old and while it is discolored, it is not chipped and so far has withstood fairly moderate use.

  12. Three years ago, I was in a similar position, save some $$’s and buy a Calphalon or Cuisinart cast iron dutch oven from Bed Bath and Beyond or buy a Le Creuset. I spoke to a sales person who told me that the comparison between the two was similar to a Yugo and a Cadillac. So I ended up purchasing the LC dutch oven from the LC store up at Woodbury Commons Outlet mall and love it. I use it for stews, pot roasts, chicken cacciatore, soups, sauces, country style ribs…you name it. Whenever simple soap won’t due to clean the pot, I use some Bar Keeper’s friend and it does the job.

    • Hi Joshua,

      So Bar Keeper’s does not harm the enamel finish? I’ve been afraid to try it on my LC as it seems a bit more abrasive than Bon Ami. (Bar Keeper’s cleans our porcelain sink like a dream, though, so I always have some on hand.)

      Kaela

  13. Nancy

    I have a complete set of Lodge cast iron (no enamel, just black), but for practicality purposes, I only use the dutch oven. The pans and smaller pots are just too heavy and clunky for every day use. I have a set of Cook’s Essentials from QVC that have worked beautifully for every day use. I’ve gotten about 5 good years of non-stick use out of my first pan before it started to wear due to extreme use and abuse. I’ve since replaced that and added onto my set. They are a hardcoat non-stick surface (meaning metal utensil safe). I know, I know, but I love my metal turner and use it for darn near everything.

    • I find myself using the larger of my cast iron skillets for baking more often than anything else… for corn break there really is no other substitute. Though an unseasoned pan would undoubtedly produce less than amazing results. Good cast iron is a relationship… at first it may not be life changing, you have to work at making things that leaving a lasting memory… but with time, attention, and a little bit of love… it can take your breath away.

  14. I bought a large cobalt blue Lodge dutch oven this past summer because it was on sale on Amazon and had pretty good reviews (It was only $50 and pretty). I’ve braised at least a half dozen pork shoulders in it, made jam, several batches of caramel and it still looks pristine on the inside. It hasn’t been terribly long, so I can’t say it will stay this way forever, but for now, I’m a happy girl.

  15. I’ve been trying to get to the LC outlet this month; they’re having a sale. The Dutch oven I bought over ten years ago is still going strong, discolored, yes, a few enamel dings *just* started showing on the handles, but other than that it’s a real trooper. I use that thing SO much, for long periods of time, or at high heats. That said, I’ve been curious about other types. That Tramontina got rave reviews, but it’s been out of stock I think since them. I wonder what folks think of that.

  16. My pride and joy is a hand-me-down le creuset Dutch oven circa 1974 and still going strong. In an interesting side note, I once worked in a kitchen store that sold le creuset which, incidentally, have a lifetime guarantee. If yours happens to have a chunk of enamel which comes free in the normal course of things, then they’ll take it backhand give you a new one. Now THAT’S quality!

  17. bridget

    We’ve been using our Lodge enameled dutch oven for 1 year on medium rotation, and it seems to be holding up well. We use it in the oven and on the stovetop.

    I have been wondering if the cast iron cookware at Aldi is worth buying – it’s pretty cheap. I bought one piece and will see how it holds up. If it’s still looking good, I may buy another piece next year.

  18. Heather

    We have a 5.5 quart LC and a smaller Paula Dean dutch oven that was bought for us. Both have been serious work horses for the last year +. Both show slight discolorations from tomato based dishes, but other than that nothing! I’m glad that we haven’t been plagued with the same problems you have, as we are regularly making a veggie friendly version in the smaller pot while the bigger one is doing the meat version.

    I know that the Test Kitchen ranked Lodge’s cast iron frying pans as the best value and placed it right behind LC.

  19. Pingback: A Tale of Two Dutch Ovens (via local kitchen) « Glutenfreehub

  20. avecelan

    This is such a great comparison. I am shopping for some new Staub and/or Le Creuset pieces and I am sometimes tempted by the more inexpensive brands. Not anymore!

  21. Great post. I am a huge Le Creuset fan, being lucky enough to receive two great pieces for our wedding presents. I now collect vintage Le Creuset and am linked to the same Le Creuset offical blog post as you!

    I’m so glad you provided us with the information on the Batali. I also have the same measuring spoons, which are great, but am so glad you educated your readers and helped them avoid spending their hard earned dough. $100 is a lotta money!

  22. I got my LeCreuset stockpot and most of my stoneware at a Dillard’s that was closing for a serious steal (I got 6 pieces for $75.00!). Loved them so much that I started watching for sales on the enameled cast iron and finally found a 3.5 quart one at a TJ Maxx store. Since then I have found 3 LeCreuset outlets within 2 hours of my home near Cleveland, Ohio. When we vacation, I make sure I visit them on the way to get new pieces. Anyone who wants to purchase them at budget prices, this is definitely the way to go. I will not even consider purchasing other brands.

  23. Stephanie

    Okay…so I got two dutch ovens for a wedding gift. A Batali or a Martha Stewart. The Batali is a 4 quart and the Martha is a 7 quart. I was thinking of keeping one and taking back the other and get some Calaphlon pans. It sounds like you got some good use out of the Batali. Should I factor in size? Is it better to have a 4 quart or 7 quart? should I keep both.
    By the way just stumbled on your website when researching the Batali, and am trying a second recipe of yours tonight and planning on making a third next week. Love it!

  24. Betty

    I have a Le Creuset, Tramontina and Lodge, (different sizes) and really don’t see any difference. Even my LeCreset has a stain, I do see that it’s lighter and thinner than the other 2. As long as you don’t bang them around and take care of them (no thermal shock or banging utensils or banging while cleaning) they should all last. But I treat all of mine like china, knowing they can chip.
    For the price difference, I really don’t see spending for the expensive ones. I can buy a lot of cheaper versions that do the same thing IMHO.
    Some cooking magazine rated Tramontina and Lodge as best buys.

  25. Mark

    If you can find Descoware or Cousances dutch ovens (ebay) in good shape, then you will have discovered the finest enameled covered cast iron dutch ovens ever made. The Descoware is 1/3 lighter than its comparable Le Creuset counterpart. The Gleisemelle process of bonding the enamel to the cast iron was at higher heat and more labor intensive, resulting in more chip-resistant cookware. I have many pieces that are 50+ years old and without chips . . and I use these pieces weekly. To maintain the white enameled interiors, approx a half cup of bleach mixed with water in the interior to about one inch below rim level. Place with lid on in 200 F oven for 25 minutes, remove let cool another 10 minutes. Rinse with warm water. Staining gone. Do this a couple times/year at most, not after every usage . . and enjoy. Addl, both companies were purchased by Le Creuset in the 60’s or about, but Le Creuset mass produces and the best of what these two companies had to offer is no longer part of the equation. If you bid right, you can occasionally get one of these pieces for under $50.00. Now you have something very special.

    • Thanks for the tip: I have seen Descoware skillets, but not Dutch ovens I don’t think. But I will scope it out! Curious about the bleach though.. that much bleach does not harm the enamel surface? I’ve found that even the Le Creuset-specific cleaner has been damaging the surface of my blue pot, so I’ve basically given up on maintaining it stain-free.

      • Jenn

        I have a Cousances that I bought in France 10+ years ago. It’s holding up like a dream – no staining, gorgeous color, no chips. I love it.

        As an aside, when I packed my bags on that trip a friend picked up my luggage, grunted, and asked if I had bricks in there. “Nope: cast iron” was my response!

  26. Betty

    I have a Tramontina, Lodge and LC dutch ovens, different sizes, all are stained. The LC is smallest and used the least too. I was really disappointed it stained so quick. I to treat mine like china, they are stored with protectors between lids and each other. They all seems to work as well as the other. I would like to try a Staub with the black interior to avoid the stains.

    • I keep meaning to update this post, as I now have a Staub and a stained LC. The LC for the most part, *works* just as well as before, but the Staub’s insides are definitely prettier.

    • Mountain Rose

      Staub is wonderful. Dark inside so no staining problem and little dimples on inside of lid that aids in cooking. I have two of them and the results are wonderful. Color and styling of Staub look wonderful on the table. The results are great when used on top of stove or in the oven.

  27. Patrick

    I am in the midst of a very unhappy tale with le Creuset. My Dutch oven’s enamel has chipped off into the food. Not very happy about ingesting enamel and or metal. I have contacted them and they so far are saying they will do nothing. I cannot even get them to speak to me. I have contacted French office and so far they have not got back to me either. At the time of my complaint the retailer had three ovens with the same problem. It seems to me a bit of a worry that at one moment in time one retailer had three ovens with the same problem. How many more must there be world wide over a long period of time. I am really disillusioned with LC and am looking for some commercial alternative, maybe copper, not sure as yet. I will report back with the outcome.

  28. Eboni

    I’m working class, Caribbean background and my family have been using bare cast iron pots that are DECADES old with easy cleaning, no sticking abd great flavor. My white upper class boyfriend and his family however insist on using Le Creuset, and after a couple years of use the enamel is all flaking off into the food… They ate too thin and hardly see round bottomed pnes where you can cook your spices in hot oil before adding food to the pot. Ditch the pretentious, pretty enamel altogether.

    • I love my cast iron skillet, but seasoning is not the easiest thing in the world. I use my large LC to make jam, which wouldn’t be a good idea in a seasoned cast iron pot, since the acidic fruit would strip the seasoning. So, there are good reasons for enameled cast iron, but I agree that bare cast iron pots are a great budget option.

  29. Jane

    Found two yellow cast iron at local thrift store only markings I see are on the lid knobs it looks like a cursive g any idea of what brand this is

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,585 other followers

%d bloggers like this: