An Expert Guide to Cast Iron Pots
Nothing beats the consistency of cast iron! Kitchen Expert Jacob Cummings lists his favorite cast iron pots and why they should have a place in your kitchen.
Table of Contents
- A Quick Look at My Favorite Cast Iron Cookware
- Dishes I Make With My Cast Iron Cookware
- How I Chose My Cast Iron Favorites
- The Best Everyday Cast Iron Pot Brand: Lodge
- The Best High-End Cast Iron Pot Brand: Le Creuset
- Other Honorable Mentions
- Care and Maintenance
- Casting a Suggestion
A Quick Look at My Favorite Cast Iron Cookware
Here’s two of my favorites that check all the boxes for cast iron pots. Both of them are basic, no-frills workhorses. They can do the heavy duty labor of breakfasts, casseroles, side dishes, main dishes, and cornbread.
Low cost and incredible durability make this pot a no-brainer for anyone who’s on a budget or doesn’t want to have to worry about taking care of expensive cookware.
The Le Creuset is expensive and does require some special care. It’s elegant, colorful, and this dutch oven is a proud heirloom at the dinner table that can live beyond your lifetime. (And it more than likely will.)
Dishes I Make With My Cast Iron Cookware
I’m not a world-class chef, but I love pushing the limits of what I can do with my cast iron pans by bending tastes and textures. I also cook with the lid on and off, one or the other depending on the requirements of my chosen dish. For me, the skill of a Dutch oven is understanding the nuanced processes of venting steam or locking in moisture and flavor.
Dutch ovens are perfect for slow cooking. The flavors are preserved with the low temperature, and food becomes wonderfully tender over time. Both bean and beef chili are just two slow-cooked stews that work amazingly in a Dutch oven.
With a Dutch oven, you can boil the potatoes, mash them in the same container and then toss the whole thing in the oven covered in cheese with the lid off to get a crispy and flavorful crust. Yes, crusty taters are a thing, and you should definitely try it one time.
Yes, pancakes are also a thing in a Dutch oven, which technically makes them more like oven cakes (or even, pot cakes). Regardless, Dutch oven pancakes are fun because the tight-fitting lid locks in the moisture while it bakes, producing moist and crispy pancakes.
There’s nothing like steamed-fried eggs hot out of a 1 to 2qt dutch oven. While the egg fries in the shallow puddle of butter or vegetable oil, it acquires a crispy texture. The top of the whites and yolks cook gently under the trapped steam. This results in a tender egg, runny yet crispy.
How I Chose My Cast Iron Favorites
For me, a perfect Dutch oven is durable, has consistent cooking performance, and doesn’t break the budget. I love anything with big handles and a decent capacity, too. Here is a further breakdown of my cast iron standards.
Low-End vs. High-End Dutch Ovens
Just about any high-end or low-cost Dutch oven will have incredible versatility, a looped handle on both sides, and be able to do all of the same things. They’ll both be able to sear, bake, slow-cook, fry, braise, and sauté, all with similar performance.
The main benefits of a high-end cast iron pot will be the refined finish of all the edges and cooking surfaces. Especially with enameled cast iron pots, the porcelain coating will have a higher durability that will be more scratch resistant and include a lifetime warranty.
Budget cast iron cookware might have a number of unrefined details. Most of them will not pose an issue to their performance. However many budget options have a rough underside, which can scratch glass induction cooktops. If you use an induction cooktop, it’s worth considering the higher cost options!
Small vs. Large Dutch Ovens
The standard Dutch oven has a capacity of 4 to 7qts and is perfect for baking bread or feeding a family of three to five. It’s also roughly the same size as a skillet and can work great for sautéing vegetables and cooking eggs the same as you would with a skillet.
Smaller cast iron Dutch ovens have a one- to three-quart capacity and heat up quickly on any stovetop. Their smaller size makes easy work of baking small breads, rapidly cooking one to two cups of rice or searing ingredients for a side dish. These dishes will be great for feeding 1-3 people, but quickly become too small for larger groups.
Large Dutch ovens are eight to 15 quarts in capacity and are amazing for roasting chicken, baking pizza, and simmering generous stews for a dinner parties for a dozen people or more. The drawback for Large pots is they will take more energy and time to get hot, and will require even more time to reach even heat distribution.
The Best Everyday Cast Iron Pot Brand: Lodge
While my favorite Dutch oven is the smaller capacity two-quart option, I do actually recommend people start with the five-quart. It’s great for anyone who’s feeding three to five people and might want some leftovers.
But in this article, I’m talking about the two-quart capacity, which can be enough to easily feed three. It cooks smaller amounts of food faster than large pots, it’s easy to handle, and it’s less work to clean. For quick meals, it’s my first choice mostly because it’s a fun piece of cookware, and I value having fun when I cook.
Things to Know:
- Two quarts is perfect for couples and small families, or pair it with a five-quart to make the perfect side dish!
- Versatile on any type of cooktop, oven, or campfire, the two quart is an ideal size for storing in tight cupboards or the camp kit.
- Because it’s traditional cast iron, the cookware is prone to rusting if not regularly maintained or properly seasoned.
- Relatively lightweight and very durable, Lodge has an unspoken lifetime warranty on all of their products.
The Best High-End Cast Iron Pot Brand: Le Creuset
Chefs worldwide depend on the reliability of Le Creuset cookware to meet the needs of their heavy-duty kitchens and various cooking surfaces. Many would advise, Le Creuset is the best cast iron pan you can go with. Unfortunately, the cost of these are quite high compared to my other favorites, and because of that, I struggle to say it’s my absolute favorite.
Things to Know:
- Easy maintenance means this will not rust and does not require seasoning. While it is dishwasher safe, Le Creuset recommends hand-washing with soap and a gentle scrubbing device. Avoid using steel wool as it can scratch the coating.
- Lighter in weight than comparable options, this cookware is still very heavy. Thankfully, the pot has a large looped helper handle on either side of the pot, big enough to grab with oven mitts.
- Great for acidic foods and stewing, the enamel coating prevents rusting and metallic flavor from entering the food.
- Incredible durability in the scratch-resistant porcelain enamel combined with a lifetime warranty gives this particular cookware a solid reputation.
Other Honorable Mentions
If you’re looking to venture out into some other great options, I have a few favorites here that either have innovative multi-function lids, coil-spring handles, or just all-around rugged designs.
Staub Cocotte: Le Creuset’s Match
These are more expensive than low-cost options but do not cost as not as much as Le Creuset. They’re available in a number of colors and are made in France. While the performance of this cookware will be similar to other enameled cast iron, here are a few things that set them apart from other options:
Things to Know:
- Many cooks and professional chefs agree: Staub cast iron has a superior lid design that does a better job at locking in moisture and heat in the oven while also having improved self-basting.
- The lids and handles are oven-proof unlike some of the handles available on other high-end cookware that are only good to 350°F.
- With thicker walls and cooking surface, this Dutch oven is heavier than other comparable options, but it also has better heat distribution and heat retention!
- Staub cookware has a lifetime warranty against chipping, rusting, or any defects.
The Lodge Double Dutch Enameled Oven: Low-Cost Versatility
The lid on this is innovative because the underside can be turned upward and placed on a cooktop or in the oven to function as a grill plate. This versatility makes the Lodge Double Dutch Enameled Oven an amazing pot for searing a steak in the lid while sautéing other ingredients in the pot before placing the lid back on the pot upside down. Such a setup integrates the fats and juices into a slow-cooked beef stew, or really, whatever you happen to be cooking.
Things to Know:
- Enamel coating is durable and great in the oven up to 500° F, but it’s not ideal for use in the campfire!
- This oven is a fraction of the cost compared to high-end options while producing similar results.
- The grill plate is large enough for a decent piece of meat, maybe two. But it’s not enough space to comfortably grill for a group without having to do the cooking in stages.
- Easy to clean and scratch resistant, Lodge enameled cookware has a lifetime warranty.
Finex Dutch Oven: A True Legacy Cookware
The heaviest of all the cookware listed in this article, Finex has set out to make heirloom pieces that have a remarkable and timeless presence in the kitchen and when serving hungry mouths. I love handling their pots because of the comfortable spring handles!
Things to Know:
- These have spouts for pouring in six positions, making it easy to drain these pots without having to do much shuffling.
- It’s great for pies because the spatula easily fits on the sides. But some folks say they prefer the look of round pots.
- Made in Portland, Oregon with pride, this cookware not only has a lifetime warranty, these are guaranteed forever (in other words, innumerable lifetimes).
- They’re great for high heat campfires and the open flame because the handles are made with stainless steel springs that cool off quickly and stay cool longer.
Care and Maintenance
If your cast iron has rusted, don’t worry! There are a few easy things you can do that only take minutes. Worst case, you need to re-season the pot, which is just a matter of a few simple steps and a little vegetable oil. Check out the article on how to re-season your cast iron skillet.
Casting a Suggestion
At the end of the day, any cast iron cookware you choose is going to be amazing; it’s really hard to go wrong! Mostly, preference, maintenance, and budget should be your determining factors when choosing one. But I hope this article lent some clarity on your search. If you’re looking for some more help or want some recommendations on the most specific best cast iron cookware fits, please feel free to reach out to a Curated Kitchen Expert!