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.
Like we explained in our review for the best cast-iron pan, 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.
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.
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.