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.