A Tale of Two Dutch Ovens: Redux

Remember this post? The one where I lament that my Mario Batali dutch oven was, essentially, a $100 piece of crap, while my $140 Le Creuset was a thing of beauty? Well, I thought I would re-visit the LC, now that Big Blue is coming up on 2 years old, and introduce you to the latest member of the family: the 5 and 1/2-quart gorgeously graphite Staub cocotte.

As you can see from the photo above, time has not left Big Blue unscathed: after hundreds upon hundreds of uses of the 6 and 3/4-quart wide round oven (I probably use this pot 3 to 4 times per week), I have given up on trying to maintain a pristine interior, as I found that even Le Crueset’s own cleanser is harsh enough to wear away the enamel coating. You can see some pale spots amongst the stains: these are spots where the enamel has worn away a bit, caused by scrubbing too aggressively with said LC cleanser I suspect. I expect, in time, that these may develop into hot spots, but so far there has been no obvious effect on performance: I haven’t noticed any decline in the non-stick qualities of the interior or anything burning onto those particular areas. The bottom has lost a bit of its luster: as Le Crueset recommends, I rinse the pot with white vinegar after cleaning, and that does help to restore a bit of shine, but it is not equivalent to the stain-free, shiny sides. There are also some scratches evident in the interior: entirely my fault, and a result of using my immersion blender (with metal foot) in the pot.

The outside of the pot is as beautiful as ever (notwithstanding my fingerprints): nary a chip or a scratch to be seen. Naturally, we take very good care of it, but there have been some heart-stopping smacks against the enamel sink now & again that had no impact (ha!) at all.

And that other dutch oven, sitting so quiety (and blacky) on the right? That would be The Staub, acquired just over a year ago as a replacement for the Craptali. I love The Staub: it’s my go-to pot for soups & stews, and especially nice when I need to brown a big piece of meat and then braise it for hours. And while the interior looks a bit bumpy and strange in the photo above, as far as I can tell, the interior surface hasn’t really changed since the day I got it. Although enamel, Staub interiors are different from Le Crueset; they have a textured, “honey-comb” surface, designed to be more non-stick, while the LC interior is smooth enamel.

One thing I have found is that the Staub can be frustrating to clean: because of the black and textured surface, when wet, everything looks spanky & clean, and once the water starts to evaporate, you find lines along the sides or edges where you need to scrub again. Also, the Staub may be even more persnickety in the taking-care-of department: if you do not dry the interior right away, it can develop a whitish film in spots (just visible along the rim below). It doesn’t appear to affect performance, and it disappears instantly if you apply a little oil, but still: alarming the first couple of times you see it. I generally wipe the interior of the Staub down with a bit of flaxseed or walnut oil after washing, which keeps the interior shiny & black (the photographs here are post-cleaning but without any oil) and seems to have improved the non-stick surface over time.

As for the outside of the Staub, it is equally as gorgeous as the LC: it looks brand new. And while the care & feeding of the inside may be a bit more finicky than for Big Blue, once swiped with oil, it also looks brand new. I’m sure there are stains in there, but the black surface hides them well.

It may not be fair to compare the two pots, however: Big Blue gets used much more often, and under high-heat and heavy-stirring conditions. The Staub I use probably 3 – 4 times a month, mainly for low- to medium-heat applications like cooking beans or braising meat. The Le Cruest is my workhorse, especially in the summer, and it shows: the Staub has it easy in comparison.

I honestly have not found there to be any signficant difference in performance between the Staub and the LC, although I do tend to use the two pots in different ways: Big Blue is my preserving pot, and as such gets heavy & high-heat use in making jams, jellies, butters & sauces. The Staub is my bean pot, my braising and stew pot. Soups I will make in either one, depending on how big a batch I’m making. The braising spikes and the tight-fitting lid on the Staub do, in my opinion, make it the better candidate for braising. The wide profile of the LC makes it perfect for making jams & jellies, while I sometimes prefer to make thick sauces or butters in the Staub, as the higher walls prevent excessive splattering. But those are really differences related to the shape of the pots, rather than construction or materials. I haven’t noticed any differences in heat distribution or retention, non-stick qualities, ability to sear meat, or other cooking performance.

So, if I had to (twist my arm!) buy another Dutch oven, which brand would I get? While I might lean ever-so-slightly towards Staub, simply for the lack of staining in the interior, I suspect it would come down to the shape of the pot I was looking for, availability, price, and finally color (although I do lust after the whimsical Staub chicken coq au vin cocotte). Either brand is a great investment, in my opinion: it’s hard to believe I cooked for so many years without one. Just do me a favor: save your pennies for an LC or a Staub: Batali is for the birds.

If you are in the market for your own Dutch oven and are interested in other brands, do check out the comments on the original post: many readers commented on various brands including Martha Stewart, Cuisinart, Chantal, Lodge, Tramontina, and others.

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27 comments

  1. I have dutch oven envy after reading ;) I have been pinning for a Le Crueset for years now, but make do with an incredibly versitile cast iron lodge. Nice to know how the enamel cookware wears over time.

  2. I love the post! I too have a $100 Batali piece that I don’t use much. I have a lovely Le Creuset, but added to it a Staub last year. The Staub is the current favorite in my kitchen. I just wish I had big bucks to buy more!!

    • Mountain Rose

      Yes, once I bought Staub, there is no going back. I had Lodge and was happy with it for quiet awhile with no chipping or problems. My two Staubs are my kitchen favorites.

  3. Kaytee

    I’m so glad to see that your Le Creuset is so stained. I bought mine in November and have been trying to keep in spotless. I got some stains that I couldn’t clean off, so now I feel better. I absolutely love that pot!

    • I honestly think that mine would be in *better* shape, enamel-wise, if I hadn’t been quite so obsessed with trying to keep it spotless. Now I like to think of the stains like wrinkles: evidence of a live well-lived!

  4. EL

    My impression is that the newer enameled Lodge pans and dutch ovens are probably like the Staub from what I see here, with the textured enamel interior. I got a lodge frying pan for cooking bacon and love it for that. It does clean well, but as you said, it is difficult to tell if you’ve really gotten it clean. In addition, it does stain (it’s just harder to see), but it doesn’t affect the non-stick surface.

    I also have both Copco and Well Equipped Kitchen dutch ovens and like them both. They have the white (actually cream) smooth enamel interiors. I mostly use them for soups and braising. Both have had stains and also burnt food in them. I take care of the stains by bleaching — especially after making anything with black beans. Or especially after my friends reheat soup on high in my Copco. They both clean very easily.

  5. Love this post! This is exactly my thoughts on the two–I love them both, but they both have their quirks. I’ve noticed food in jars uses her le creuset for jamming; I haven’t done so because I am never sure if that is worn away enamel or some baked in savory flavor that I don’t want in my jam, ha! I’ve been using my staub to bake bread in, which has worn away at its pretty exterior (it’s totally functional, it’s just “weathered” looking) and I have yet to figure out how to get that off. Any thoughts? I should just plunk down for a bread baker, especially as my Staub is a bit too small.

    • I will use a Brillo pad very lightly on the outside of my enameled steel Chantal pots & pans; works great to get off those stubborn brown cooking stains without scratching the enamel. Of course, enameled cast iron is somewhat more delicate, but you might give it a whirl on a small spot on the underside and see how it goes.

    • sfsourdoughnut

      For a bread baker, I use an inexpensive Paula Deen maroon oval ceramic 2.5 qt covered casserole from Walmart for $26 (http://www.walmart.com/ip/Paula-Deen-2.5-Quart-Oval-Covered-Casserole-Dish/13425085). I bought this after I noticed that cast iron (both Lodge and Le Creuset) burned the bottom of the bread before the interior and top could cook. I heat the ceramic casserole and lid on the oven rack set to 525 degrees (it darkens as it heats). I then open the oven, slide the rack out, put about a tablespoon of corn meal sprinkled across the bottom of the casserole (which I’m told is unnecessary), place the 750g-900g of bread in, slash it, put the heated lid on, reduce the heat to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30-40 minutes. I remove the lid, reduce the heat to 350 and back for another 10-15 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 205-210 degrees (an espresso milk thermometer works great for taking a bread’s temperature…just don’t leave it in the oven as the plastic melts!). The lid contains the moisture from the bread, creating steam. No pan oil or seasoning in the casserole please! The casserole surface gets so hot the bread pulls away from the sides immediately. I’ve never tried it without the corn meal on the bottom, but I imagine it would work just fine.

  6. Pingback: {weekend reading} Pink Lady’s Slipper Edition | FROM SCRATCH CLUB

  7. I have a LARGE Lodge dutch oven (bare cast iron) and I cannot imagine making corn chowder or brisket without it. It may be heavy, but it does its job flawlessly, and my biceps have never looked better!

  8. Gail

    I have had a large Mario Batelli white dutch oven for about 8 years and have used it many times. It still looks like new and I have only used soap and water to clean it. It cooks all of my meat dishes and stews beautifully. I love this pot and HIGHLY recommend his cookware.

    • I’m glad you’ve had such good luck with your Batali, Gail. I wonder if, years ago, he had higher quality manufacturing, and then shipped jobs overseas, or simply scrimped on quality, to increase profits? Or maybe I was just unlucky and ended up with a lemon. Either way: my Batali is a planter now!

  9. SuSu

    I had a tough decision…LC or Staub. Staub won my heart! Don’t know how I ever cooked without it. I keep the inside of my cocotte clean by using vinegar coupled with dish detergent and hot water. If I cook on high…you can see a smoky film after cooking. You don’t see it until you dry the inside. I found that the cleaning combo I mentioned totally removes it. Staub is wonderful!! I want more to add to my cookware. So sad that I bought so much All-Clad. :-)

  10. Elena

    Thank you very much for the info about the white residue on Staub enamel after washing. Yes, it spooked me a lot after I washed my first Staub cocotte. I immediately jumped on the computer to Google if it was only mine pot or some known problem. I was relieved that I didn’t do anything wrong and I went to check Japanese Staub website (as I know that Japanese are fussy about cleaning) and yes, they say it is simple to clean with vinegar solution. Now I use citric acid solution (cheaper than vinegar) and my pots are squeaky clean. I used to use citric acid for stainless steel all the time, but never thought that it could be used for enamel too.

  11. Rochelle

    I think part of the problem that your Le Creuset stained so badly is the use of high heat. Unfortunately high heat causes that type of damage. Cast iron heats so efficiently, and holds that heat, so high heat really isn’t needed. The interior of the Staubs stain also over time. There are some photos of the damage on the net. Seems neither one is perfect. The Staub is heavier, and scratches on the colors that use an underglaze show white where the underglaze is exposed. I like the lighter interior, and the lower weight of the LC as well as the happy, bright colors. I really enjoyed your article comparing the two.

    • It’s funny they say 752˚ as if that’s something that’s really beneficial. I have Lodge skillets and 1 dutch oven and when I want to strip and re-season, I put the pan in my oven and turn on the self-clean cycle. That’s well over 900˚ for 3 hours.

      The fact is you’re not cooking at 750˚ – most home ovens don’t go that high. If you’re cooking in a commercial wood-burning oven that goes that high, it’s mainly pizza you’re making. Sure the pot can withstand that heat, but you can’t use it as a dutch oven at that high heat because the lid is glass and is only safe to 400˚. It’s a strange marketing ploy, IMO, because cast-irons already withstand higher temps.

  12. Very nice post ! I have 5 cocottes, 4 from Staub and the last purchased is a LC; this last one is quite new and not yet compromised in the enamel.interior I totally agree with your review. I find the LC more handy than Staub, both for weight and handles and really less frustrating in cleaninng
    On the other side, Staub drops on the heavier lid grants a better performance in keeping moistured your preparation.
    I bought an origial steel knob for my LC and replaced the phenolic lid knob.
    In short, I prefer LC for recipes requiring more presence and operations, while Staub for self-cooking preparations and oven
    I use Staub 24 cm cocotte also for Jim Lahey’s no knead bread (500g flour).
    It’s a pity that here in Italy LC has a narrower choice in colours and the cleaning product you suggested is not available.

  13. Jack

    I have several Staub pieces — if you develop that white film, baking soda and water along with a Scotch Brite Stayclean Scrub sponge will literally have it looking factory new. NOTE: THIS IS NOT THE ABRASIVE GREEN AND YELLOW SCOTCH BRITE. It’s a purple sponge with a forgiving texture on one side that WILL NOT SCRATCH YOUR DISHES OR POTS. Baking soda is the trick. No need to oil. No need to live with the white staining. Removes stubborn grease stains. And that is what they are: grease stains. Always best to do this before it builds up too intensely. Some would argue that it helps keep the pot “non stick”. My pot is non stick in it’s natural state without the stains. Now you can have your Staub free of stains AND non stick. :) Also, just a note where you mention Staub uses a “honey comb” treatment on the inside. This is a version of Staub where you can opt for a hexagonal pattern on the bottom of shallow braisers. The kind of Staub cocotte that you have does not have the “honey comb” hexagonal braising surface.

  14. Chuck Warriner

    I bought my Staub Dutch oven at Williams Sonoma, after comparing the Staub and LeCreuset for price and durability. In doing some online research, my first question was answered: get the largest one you can carry!. The salesperson who helped me in the store was sold on Staub, particularly for the interior surface, and comparing the prices between the two, I just couldn’t make myself spend the extra money for the LeCreuset. I am totally happy with my Staub, and have since purchased a smaller oval Dutch oven that’s great for small roasts and pretty much anything that doesn’t take the capacity of “Big Red.” I’m sure I’ll get slammed for saying this, but I use a nylon scrubber to remove any food residue from the interiors of the pans, and then put them in the dishwasher. Big Red is at least 4 years old, and still looks (and cooks) brand new. Totally sold on Staub!!

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