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    Updated on Apr 10, 2020. Posted on Apr 10, 2020

    A Great Dutch Oven Doesn't Have To Cost You Hundreds

    Cast your eyes at all that quality cast-iron.

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    Pop quiz! What’s well-seasoned, heavy as heck, and the most versatile thing you can buy for your kitchen? The answer is a Dutch oven.

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    Seriously, between frying, braising, searing, and stewing, no other cookware comes close. But which one is worthy of your time and dime? We tested a variety of Dutch ovens at every price point, judging each by weight, size, ease of cleaning, and overall cooking efficiency. What we discovered is that these multipurpose pots provide serious utility no matter the price, meaning you can find one for under $50 that’ll boost your kitchen cred or throw down hundreds for an heirloom piece built to last a lifetime.

    Bruntmor Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven

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    Look, you can drop upwards of $350 on a fancy-schmancy Dutch oven. Or you could spend a whole lot less for the Bruntmor enameled cast-iron Dutch oven which, at just under 16 pounds, sears and braises like a champ. This thing is reliable. It’s got all the hallmarks of a pot six times its price. And after whipping up enough meals to feed basically all of BuzzFeed’s employees and their mothers, the Bruntmor scored close to our mid-priced winner.

    If this is a new cooking frontier, the first thing you need to know is that Dutch ovens are available in both traditional raw cast iron and enameled cast iron. This is especially true within the budget price range, with raw cast iron generally costing less than its enameled counterparts. While you can expect the same versatility from Dutch ovens constructed in either fashion, there are some important tradeoffs to know before making your decision.

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    The main difference between raw and enameled cast iron is maintenance. Whereas enameled cast iron is ready to use out of the box, raw cast iron requires extra care, even though it often comes preseasoned. This is accomplished by “seasoning” the pan with a cooking fat (like vegetable oil), then baking the pan in the oven on high heat to bond everything together to create a protective coating. The seasoning also helps defend the pan from rust.

    After washing, raw cast iron must be immediately dried (to prevent rust) and lightly oiled and heated through (to maintain its coating). It’s not much more work, but it’s still more work. On the flip side, enameled cookware is much easier to care for. Not only is it easier to clean, it also won’t chip as easily as raw cast iron.

    Of course, enameled Dutch ovens also come in a variety of colors, as opposed to raw cast iron, which is typically black. It’s also worth noting that enameled Dutch ovens do not hold up to intense heat. That means raw cast iron is the only choice for campfire cookouts. If you’re buying strictly for home use, enameled is definitely the way to go.

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    The first important feature that separates the Bruntmor from other Dutch ovens at this price point is hiding on the underside of the lid, where you’ll notice ridges instead of a flat surface. In Dutch-oven parlance, this is called a “self-basting” lid: those little protrusions are said to be crucial in collecting steam, so moisture can drip back down on whatever you’re cooking. Bruntmor borrows the lid construction from high-end French cookware maker Staub, but achieves nearly the same results at a fraction of the cost. Add in a tight seal that locks in heat, and we found that you can cook at a lower heat setting and still maintain a steady, rolling simmer.

    At 6.5 quarts, this thing can feed six to eight guests with enough for seconds, or help couples prepare several days’ worth of meals in one shot. We recommend getting at least a 5-quart Dutch oven for cooking main dishes — smaller Dutch ovens are better for cooking side dishes. The Bruntmor’s capacity is certainly overshadowed by both our $$ and $$$ winners, which means you won’t sacrifice a ton of space if you stay in the $ range.

    But keep in mind: The smaller the capacity, the smaller the cooking surface. The Bruntmor lost a few points for a cooking surface that’s just over 11 inches in diameter. For stew, we ended up searing a pound of beef (cut into 1-inch cubes) in 2 1/2 batches, which added significant time to the recipe. On the positive side, the Bruntmor’s 7-inch walls are high enough to prevent food splatters. Wide handles also make the Bruntmor easier to transport than other Dutch ovens we tested, which all have small, ill-conceived grips.

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    If you’re really looking for a deal, our runner-up in the $ price range, the enameled cast-iron Dutch oven from AmazonBasics, lost to the Bruntmor by a surprisingly narrow margin. We preferred the Bruntmor for its size, heft, and heat conductivity; simply put, it browned and braised beef better.

    No matter which of these Dutch ovens you choose, you’ll be able to whip up a wide range of grub that’s nearly as excellent as what you could make with models in higher price ranges. The key word here is nearly: overall cooking experience only got better as we moved up in price range and size, the latter being especially important for cooks who want to get the most versatility from the cookware they buy.

    Get it from Amazon for $50.

    Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Casserole

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    If you’re going to move up in price range, you may as well score a Dutch oven with more capacity, higher sides, and a larger surface area on which to cook. At least those were our thoughts, since the only way you’ll be able to leverage a Dutch oven for tasks like roasting a whole chicken is to reach for a pot with enough space inside for, well, a whole roasted chicken.

    Those willing to spend a little more for a Dutch oven should opt for our $$ winner from Cuisinart. With 7 quarts of space and enough interior surface to sear and stew a large roast, this Dutch oven may seem family-sized, but it’s worth it for anyone in search for a truly all-purpose pot. It’s perfect for pasta dishes, whether boiling it on your stovetop or baking it into casseroles in your oven. It’s also ideal for searing proteins and turning them into spectacular braises. And it’s just as useful for whipping up a pot of chicken soup with plenty of leftovers.

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    Coated in porcelain enamel on the interior and exterior, the Cuisinart weighs in at more than 18 pounds, so if you’re known to skip arm day (or have no idea what arm day is), the heft may be a dealbreaker. Still, we found that the pot’s wide handles ease the difficulty of transporting something that heavy from stovetop or oven to table. Pro tip: Since most Dutch ovens are made entirely from cast iron, remember to always handle them with a potholder. For added safety, place it on a trivet or wooden serving board to avoid damaging your countertop.

    As with our other winners, the Cuisinart features a light interior that allows better visibility, so you can see meat caramelize (hello, Maillard reaction!) or butter brown. Meanwhile, the lid creates a tight seal to keep food piping hot even when cooking at low heat and features an ergonomic handle that’s easy to grip with an oven mitt. Plus, the whole thing is easy to clean, requiring nothing more than a quick wipedown with a nonabrasive cloth or sponge.

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    If you’re looking for a lightweight option in this price range that’s also enjoyable to cook with, the Milo Dutch oven gets honorable mention for its sleek, minimalist look. While Milo’s capacity is only 5.5 quarts, the fact that it weighs just under 11 pounds could make it a more favorable choice for cooks looking for something easier to lift. However, the Milo lost points because of its smaller handles and because the lid was not as tight-fitting as the Cuisinart’s, with an imperfect seal that occasionally spat out steam. Again, not a major dealbreaker, but ultimately enough for us to give the Milo runner-up status in our $$ price range.

    The Cuisinart’s specs simply outmatched every other Dutch oven under $100. Its 13-inch-diameter surface and 7-quart capacity allow you to cook larger batches (to entertain more guests or have more leftovers) and sear more meat at once, and its wide-grip handles and tight-fitting lid with easy-to-hold knob make it a great choice for cooks at any skill level.

    Get it from Amazon for $69.

    Le Creuset Signature Round Dutch Oven

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    For those who want to elicit envy from in-the-know home cooks and just about every chef in chef whites, the Le Creuset signature round enameled Dutch oven will do just that. Julia Child. Ever heard of her? Yeah, she used one. Even before Child’s day, Le Creuset was known as the crème de la crème of this particular kind of culinary equipment, with few challengers in sight. The 7.25-quart model falls right in the middle of what they offer for Dutch ovens, and it will yield between seven and eight servings, depending on what you make.

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    When testing Dutch ovens across all price points, we created a rating system based on a total of 100 points over nine categories. This Le Creuset scored an impressive 99, losing one point on “ease of cleaning” because it needed just a bit more effort to bring it back to pristine form. The size is perfect for everyone, from ambitious couples honing their culinary chops, to families who rely on large one-pot meals (and leftovers) to avoid kitchen burnout.

    Compared to our $$ winner, you get an additional half-pint of capacity, so you’ll be able to cook an ever bigger bird and more soup or stew than you’d be able to do in the Cuisinart. Still, if you’re spending more than $300, you need more reason than that to invest in one of these iconic pieces.

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    The perfection of the Le Creuset Dutch oven lies in its fine details: the nuances of feel, look, and a quality of food that outshone every competitor (save for its oval 5-quart counterpart, which made equally delicious braised beef but lost points because its shape is not as conducive to cooking on round burners, which most people own). Le Creuset originated enameled cast-iron cookware over a century ago, and the original foundry still produces its legendary wares. With over a dozen colors to choose from, you can find something to suit the aesthetic of any kitchen.

    Perhaps it’s the hefty price tag, or maybe it’s the renowned brand and its history, but cooking with a Le Creuset Dutch oven is a positively different experience than using anything else. It seems that every detail is accounted for with the utmost quality in mind, from the fit of the lid and the grip of its knob handle to the sand-colored interior surface’s extra durability and superior heat conductivity, which makes browning meat evenly a quick, simple process. Not a hint of steam escaped from beneath the lid of the Le Creuset we tested, and unlike other Dutch ovens’ lid handles that felt difficult to lift while wearing an oven mitt, this model’s lid had a knob that felt glued to your grip even in a thick potholder.

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    As far as cooking performance goes, this one easily bested the competition. Meat developed a beautiful brown sear faster in the Le Creuset than in any other models we tested, taking just a few minutes per side. Stock also came came to a boil quicker than expected, even over a medium-low flame, thanks to seemingly better heat conductivity and better distribution. When cooking down a stew, we noticed very little loss of liquid over the two hours. Anything that stuck to the sides while we we away easily came off with a rubber spatula every time we opened the lid, something that did not happen as easily in other models.

    If you truly want the best Dutch oven money can buy, believe the hype. You need a Le Creuset. Consider this a statement piece that is also the epitome of function, as it works on gas, electric, halogen, induction, and ceramic stovetops as well as in the oven or on the outdoor grill up to 500°F. Plus, it’s extremely lightweight for such high-quality cast-iron cookware, with the 7.25-quart Dutch oven weighing in at just 12.8 pounds, more than three pounds less than our $ winner (which is only 6 quarts). 

    Yes, we’re well aware that spending over $300 sounds painful. But keep in mind: you’ll only feel it once! After that, you (and maybe even your kids) will have the absolute best Dutch oven to provide you a lifetime of culinary joy.

    Get it from Amazon for $380.