Some kitchen tools a good cook simply cannot live without. A good French oven is on the top of my list.
And I will be honest. I don’t just like this piece of cookware. I LOVE it!
My French Oven is the go-to piece in my kitchen that I use over, and over, and over.
You may know this cooking utensil as a Dutch Oven. And yes, we could argue about where it originated all day. And yes, in France it is called a cocotte, not a French Oven. (Because of course, in France, they mostly speak French…)
But no matter what name you call it, this baby produces some of the best food you will ever taste. I find it a truly fundamental kitchen tool that is one of the most flexible pots in my stockpile.
A French Oven is the original slow-cooker — for luscious & nurtrient-rich dishes.
They have all of the great qualities of the old fashioned cast iron you probably known and love. But they are enameled over the cast iron. And in the better pots, the enamel is very thick. And quite beautiful.
One of the reasons this is such a versatile pot is that thanks to the enamel you can use it on the stovetop no matter what kind of stove you have — gas range, Jenn-Air grill, electric coil burner, glass-top or ceramic smooth-surface, or modern induction. You can even use it on your barbecue or in your smoker!
And then, if that were not enough. Once you’ve seered on the stove top, you can stick it directly into a pre-heated oven. The range of heat in it can withstand depends on the maker of the pot. The two best ones, Le Creuset and Staub, can work in freezer temperatures all the way to upper ranges in the mid-500 degrees. (Not immediately, of course because that would damage the pot.)
Enameled cast iron needs to be heated slowly.
Unlike old raw cast iron ware, since these are enameled, you never have any problems with rust — at least as long as you don’t have huge chips in the pot’s enamel. And that means you can soak the pot overnight — so any burned-on goo is easy to remove the next morning with almost no scrubbing.
And yet you still have all of the great qualities of cast iron including the high heat seering that cast iron does so well. And you have the even heating and long heat retention that cast iron does so well. The combination of cast iron and enamel lets you braise or seer the outside of your dish at a relatively high heat on the stovetop and then you put the same pan directly into the oven, with or without a lid, at a lower temperature for slow cooking or roasting.
All in one pot. In one beautiful pot.
And if that were not enough, clean up is simple.
Usually, after you soak the pot a while, you can wipe off any crust with a damp dishcloth.
And for those stains that don’t come off immediately, you simply use Baking Soda. It’s cheap. It’s almost always handy in your kitchen. And a tablespoon of it will clean and polish the most stubborn burned on stains without hurting the beautiful finish on your pot. And without giving you scrubbing elbow.
The best makers of these enameled cast iron pots produce them in a wide range of sizes. Le Creuset and Staub, pretty much considered the Bentley and the Rolls Royce of this ilk, make enameled cast iron cocottes from 2.5 quarts up through 9 or 10 quarts. Most are round. Some are oval. All in this upper end are built to enjoy decades of wonderful meals and memories.
I’m going to be reviewing what I consider to be the best “average” pot size — the best first purchase if you don’t already own a French Oven. Each manufacturer makes slightly different sizes in this mid-range, but I’m aiming at between 5-quart and 6-quart capacity. That’s big enough for a good-size chicken and some vegetables.
Ultimately, you want to measure your burners and match the bottom of the pot’s size as closely to the size of the burner you plan to use it on as possible. That is the surest way to determine the best pot size for enameled cast iron. But I’ve never seen your stove. So I’m going with the average here.
Be aware when you are shopping that some prices include shipping and some don’t. And at the weight of this pot, you are probably looking at $50 to $75 in shipping charges. So don’t let a seeming great deal shock you on check out. Check the shipping status of the pot before you get that far down the road.
At the end of this article I’m going to give you links to some of my most favorite French Oven dishes. And you will find a section on this website specifically for French Oven dishes that I’m just beginning to populate. So be sure and check back from time to time. I’ve converted a lot of my grandmother’s old french dishes to more precise measurements that “a small handful” and a “really healthy pinch” — which took a while since some of them were hand scrawled in French.
And also at the end of this article I’m going to give you links to the absolute best pot cleanser money can buy.
But first the important part.
Let’s look at some pots.
You will find that some fairly well known brands like Tratamonia and Cuisinart did not make the top five list. Partially that is because of my recent personal experiences with both products. And partially it is because several well-known companies in this arena have had a plethora of bad customer reviews over the past few months. Reviewer comments and some of my experiences match. But another reason is that there are a couple of fresh faced up-and-comers in the marketplace that offer high quality wares at incredibly good prices.
Here are my top 5 picks out of all of the many French Ovens and French Oven knockoffs on the American market today.
OK, I’m betting your first reaction was that you’ve never heard of this company. I hadn’t either until very recently. But it’s a company to watch and it appears to be a real player in the cast iron market.
Uno Casa is an American-based company that appears to have started with old-school raw cast iron cookware, camp stove cookware, tortilla presses, and pasta rollers. And now enameled cast iron. Their product line is limited to only three enameled cast iron pieces, but the quality of what they make is high and the price is low — which makes for a great combination from a consumer point-of-view.
Right now the only French Oven (Dutch Oven, whatever name) they have on the market is this 6-qt Uno Casa Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven available on Amazon. It only comes in one color — bright fire engine Red. But then that’s how Le Creuset started out, with one bright color. For Le Creuset it was their iconic orange called Flame…and my, my how that has changed.
But you can snatch this Uno Casa cocotte for between $50-$60 with free Prime shipping and free returns. And it even comes bundled with a silcone mat, two silicone pot holders, and a cookbook for that price.
Everything but the cookbook is the same Uno Casa bright Red.
The interior of this pot seems to be largely copied from Staub with the same matte black surface and “rain bead” lid to encourage circulation of slow moisture during the cooking process. But the outer shape of the Uno Casa pot and the size and curvature of the handles look a more reminiscent of Le Creuset. I mean like very much like Le Creuset.
Looks like they took the best of two worlds and married them. Smart.
This pot is rated up to 500 degrees, has a metal knob on the lid (which most cheaper brands do not), and ample easy-to-grab handles.
The one person I know who purchased a French Oven from Uno Casa absolutely loves it. She raves about how it is a perfect cross between the top two brands at an unbelievable price. I guess time will tell how it fares and if the quality of the manufacturing really measures up the A-team.
But the price is certainly something to take note of for the apparent quality.
And my friend does not appear to the be the only fangirl Uno Casa has. It gets rave reviews on Amazon.
It seems to be the season for newcomers.
One of the other recent entries into the French Oven market in the U.S. is advertised under the Crockpot label. The company is actually a subsidiary of The Rival Company based in Kansas City. But newcomer or not, Amazon customer reviews seems to rate this pot highly.
The Crockpot 5 qt Enameled Cast Iron French Oven shown here is in a color Crockpot calls Pistachio. And I have to say I find it really yummy. At least visually.
I have not actually owned or cooked in enamelware by Crockpot, so I can’t speak to use firsthand. But Amazon reviewers heap praises on this French oven. That might be largely based on the price — which ranges between $50 and $100 depending on the color and the week. Or it may be because Crockpot prominently advertises that its products are manufactured in the U.S.
But then, it may be because both of those are true and they combine to make an excellent product.
Regardless, the Crockpot French oven comes in at the low end of the price spectrum and it has a stainless steel knob, oversized easy-to-grasp double handles, and it’s oven-safe to 500 degrees.
Crockpot makes their French Oven line in a 3-qt round, a 5-qt round, and a 7-qt oval.
The color line is really lovely although it varies by size. This 5-qt round comes in Aqua, Burgundy Wine, Denim Blue, Pink Blush, Slate Gray, Sunset Orange, and Teal Ombre, as well as the Pistachio that is shown here. The other sizes are offered in different colors.
Just a few years ago you simply could not find this quality of enameled cast iron at this price in the U.S. We are seeing an impressive change.
Lodge’s version in this picture is a deep teal color they call Lagoon Blue. The Lodge 6 qt Enameled Cast Iron French Oven is available on Amazon in a wide range of colors. And I must say it is a beautiful lineup: Red, Blue, Caribbean, Desert Sage, Indigo, Lagoon, Black, Oyster White, Sandalwood, and Storm Blue. There is not one of them I wouldn’t love to have in my kitchen.
Prices on this size of Lodge vary, but almost all of them usually come in just shy of $100.
Unlike many of the European lines, Lodge does not seem to make an oval French Oven, only round ones. But they have a pretty good variety of sizes. There’s a 1.5-qt, 3-qt, 4.5-qt, 6-qt, and 7.5-qt.
As recently as three to six months ago, it was next to impossible to find Lodge cast iron in stock on Amazon. I’m not sure why that was, but almost everything on the Amazon website had a Not Currently in Stock moniker. But suddenly, Lodge appears to be back in full swing.
This is a sturdy, quality line with a big list of fans.
The main thing that holds it back, at least to my taste, is that the Lodge pots are heavy even compared to heavy pots. I find that fairly widespread in the low-to-moderately priced enameled cast iron cookware.
The beauty of the next two pots is that somehow they have an exceedingly high quality of construction, premiere qualities of heat distribution and heat retention, yet are lighter than the less expensive competitors.
Le Crueset enameled cast iron pots are made for a lifetime, actually for more than a lifetime. I’ve seen them passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter in France. Often the more beat up the pot, the more cherished.
This brand-spanking-new Le Creuset 5.5 qt French Oven is pictured in a beautiful blue-green shade they call Marine.
But it comes in a wide variety of colors, most of which are replicated across the Le Cresuet line in everything from salt shakers to chef’s skillets to nesting bowls to serving platters to coffee cups. You can be as matchy-matchy or as peacock-splay-of-colorish as you like with Le Creuset. And they make a huge array of kitchen tools and utensils to mix and match.
Le Creuset was founded in Fresnoy-le-Grand, France in 1929. There is a lot of French pride in their pots. And it is difficult to find a French cook who doesn’t own at least one. One of my friends in Bordeaux has one of the original Le Creuset cocottes in the signature orange color called Flame. It came into her husband’s family as a wedding gift the first year the Le Creuset plant opened. She still uses is almost every day.
Ah, the stories that pot could tell…and the meals it’s cooked for sure!
But that’s the kind of construction you find in a Le Creuset pot.
It is important to note here that prices you find on these Le Creuset pots on Amazon vary — a lot. Not only from day-to-day, but sometimes from hour-to-hour. I won’t proffer a guess as to why, I’m just sharing the fact.
In general, you will find this size of Le Creuset French oven for around $300. But expect there to be a $75 range on any given day, either direction. Prices vary wildly based on color. If you have your heart set on matching another piece in your kitchen, just know you may have to pay a premium for it. Of course, one of the beauties of Le Creuset is that they don’t discontinue colors. They add some. And they change the colors of their advertising focus. But they don’t discontinue them.
And because of that there are so many gorgeous colors in the Le Creuset product line that it is fairly easy to find one you like that you can mix in.
The colorful exterior enamel and the bright white, smooth interior enamel were early trademarks of Le Creuset — a French manufacturing company that has been in business for almost a century now. The cocotte was its original star and the company built an empire on it.
There is an on-going debate which company is #1 and which is #2 when it comes to enameled cast iron. Each of the top two have ardent supporters. Ardent, vocal supporters I might add.
But anyway, I’m staking my claim on the TRUE #1…
This Staub 5.5 qt French Oven in a deep, rich red Staub calls Grenadine is my absolute top-of-the-heap pick for #1.
Many Americans have not heard of Staub. But it is the main competitor to Le Creuset, both in France and worldwide. Staub (pronounced like the English word “STOP” except with a “B” on the end instead of a “P”) was founded in Turchkheim, France in 1974. It largely catered to commercial kitchens originally. Staub makes commercial stoves and kitchen ranges, high-quality ceramic bakeware, tableware, and a wide variety of well-constructed cookware.
The original signature Staub cocotte (still manufactured today) had a multi-dimensional high-gloss exterior enamel with a matte black interior enamel — very unlike the smooth white interior of Le Creuset. It also had a unique bubbling on the interior of the pot lid intended to stimulate “rain” during the cooking process to produce maximum moisture. The Staub enameled cast iron line was designed specifically for commercial kitchens. The matte black interior enamel tends to brown things more quickly and evenly than the smooth, light interior of Le Creuset.
You will find, like with Le Creuset, prices vary wildly on Amazon. And often stock varies pretty wildly too. As of the date of this post, the amount of available Staub stock on Amazon is extremely low. I’m not sure why that is.
On most days, Staub runs a little more than Le Creuset for the same size of pot. But that is not a hard-and-fast reality. Some days that’s not true. In pricing the two brands over almost 10 years, I can say I have found no discernible pattern or apparent reasoning.
So why do I rate Staub #1?
I have to admit it’s a close call between the Le Creuset and the Staub.
The Le Creuset is lighter but still has the great heat distribution that Staub does. And in most comparisons that difference in the amount of weight it takes to hoist the empty pot would be the balancing factor with quality pretty much equal.
But then the Staub costs about $100 less than the Le Creuset in this pot. But then on top of that, Staub has other attributes that make up for the difference in weight. At least to me.
The French part of me could easily simply say because Staub’s cast iron line is steadfastly still made in France. But that may be more the cause of my reasons than one of my actual reasons.
The summary is that I love the way Staub cooks, looks, and feels.
That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.
And yes, all of those may be because Staub cast iron is made in France. That I cannot say for sure.
I am not going to say I don’t like Le Crueset. I have several Le Creuset pieces and I love them. Some pots I actually like better in that line than in Staub. But for baking bread or cooking chili or for any dish that requires frying, seering, browning, or braising — I want Staub.
So what’s the ultimate verdict?Table could not be displayed.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t share this. Some people claim Staub French Ovens are harder to clean than Le Creuset French Ovens because of the difference in the interior surfaces. But I own both and I don’t find that to be true. The interior surfaces are very different indeed. But I don’t find one easier to clean than the other at all. They just take slightly different cleaning methods.
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