Picks

Don’t Spend a Mint on Le Creuset When This Option Is Just as Good

Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Lodge.

Last spring, shortly before COVID sent the world straight to hell, my wife and I pulled the trigger on a small but crucial kitchen upgrade: We bought a new Dutch oven. Our old enameled stalwart, which we’d bought from Macy’s for about $50, had done its job admirably for years. But it was beginning to show signs of our abuse. Some chips here and there. A mass of scratches and discoloration at the bottom. Parts of the candy-apple-red exterior had somehow blackened during my forays into bread baking. The pot was beat to hell, and the time had come, finally, for a replacement.

But which brand to buy? The best known makers, Le Creuset and Staub, sell beautiful vessels that will cost you the rough equivalent of a small down payment on a home. They are wonderful if you have money to blow and yearn for a fancy French showpiece on your stove. For most of us, however, a less expensive option will do just fine.

In the end, we opted for a deep-blue, 7.5-quart number from Lodge, the country’s oldest manufacturer of cast-iron cookware. The pot retails for almost $90 online, so it isn’t cheap, but it is worlds less expensive than its French competitors. Our decision was not based on any particularly in-depth consumer research. We’ve owned one of Lodge’s 12-inch skillets for years, and my wife decided to check out the brand’s enameled line after she noticed someone on Instagram praising it as a good deal. It has turned out to be an excellent, even essential, addition to our arsenal of pots and pans during these past several months of coronavirus cooking.

I’m aware that telling someone to buy Lodge is a little like recommending a Honda Civic. It’s not really a hot, counterintuitive tip. We’re talking about a trusty, well-known, reasonably affordable brand that you will find in pretty much any good kitchen goods store. But the company’s enameled products generally get a bit less love than its regular cast iron products do. Why? I’m not sure, though I suspect it has something to do with the fact that they’re made in China, whereas its main line of seasoned skillets is forged at a foundry in Tennessee. Regardless, it has been everything we hoped for, and more.

If you have never owned an enameled Dutch oven, you may be wondering what the fuss is about. The answer is that it is the ultimate tool for braising, the perfect pot for soups, stews, ragu, short ribs, and really any project that requires a combination of searing and slow cooking. The cast-iron body maintains consistent heat well, whether you’ve cranked the stove up high to brown some chicken thighs or turned it down low to simmer them in broth. But thanks to the glossy surface coating, I find it easier to care for than normal cast iron—you can wash the pot down with soap, and you also don’t have to worry about rust or reseasoning. Plus, it looks nice, which means that if you’re short on cabinet space, you can store your pot atop the stove and give your kitchen a decorative pop of color. They’re workhorses and show horses.

The Lodge checks all these boxes. I’ve also found that even by the standards of normal enamel, it is miraculously easy to clean. No matter how deeply or grossly crusted it is with leftover food—one brisket recipe left our pot’s interior looking like a blackened bomb site—it never takes more than a minute to scrub. We’ve had one batch of red beans and rice that did, unfortunately, leave the bottom with some permanent, faint mottling, but overall, after six months of vigorous testing, it’s held up excellently. And when you are cooking constantly, like a lot of us have been over the past half-year, having a go-to pot that cleans up effortlessly is very much a blessing—which is why we also bought Lodge’s enameled casserole dish.

I have at least some anecdotal evidence that professional cooks agree with our assessment. Before the coronavirus crisis shut down indoor dining, my wife and I got dinner at Maydan, a critically acclaimed spot in D.C. where the cooks work around a giant, flaming hearth in the middle of the restaurant. There, I spied at least one Lodge Dutch oven looking pretty atop the grill.