Because of their ability to retain heat, Dutch ovens are an enduring kitchen staple ideal for braising meats and making soups and stews. They are, at their core, a fairly straightforward product ― a heavy cast iron pot with or without an enamel coating, plus handles and a lid. But with that considered, the wide price range for Dutch ovens may surprise you.
Le Creuset (founded in 1925) has long been regarded as the gold standard for Dutch ovens. But at $360 for a 5 1/2 quart pot (considered the most useful size for home cooks), it’s a pricey investment. More affordable options, sold at a fraction of the price (like the highly rated 6-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven from Lodge that sells for $60 on Amazon), raise two questions: Why are high-end Dutch ovens so darn expensive? And are they worth the significantly higher price?
With brands like Le Creuset, some of what you’re paying for is legacy.
At the top of the line, it doesn’t get more iconic than Le Creuset. Their gorgeous enameled pots have graced the kitchens and dining tables of professional and home cooks for almost a century, and the reasons behind the brand’s longevity go far beyond pretty packaging.
Eater points out that Le Creuset has remained relevant all these years because of smart product design and clever marketing. They’ve built brand loyalty by creating a product that lasts for decades (and can therefore be passed on in families to later generations), having a generous warranty, and introducing new colors and products to maintain brand buzz among its fanbase. Its high price tag and distinct shape with broad appeal have made the pot an easily recognizable status symbol, making owning a Le Creuset Dutch oven feel aspirational and therefore driving consumers to spend more in order to have this kind of Dutch oven in their kitchen.
If you ask someone at Le Creuset why their Dutch oven is the best, they’ll tell you that their cast iron products have been produced in the same French facility since 1925.
“It’s our own factory and production has never been contract manufactured,” Christopher Scinto, vice president of marketing at Le Creuset, told HuffPost. “It’s the original foundry in Fresnoy-le-Grand and there are up to 15 pairs of hands that touch the product from beginning to end, which is quite significant in an industrial process.” Owning the production process in this way means Le Creuset has a high degree of control in ensuring that all steps are carried out according to their standards.
A long history in the industry means time to perfect their craft, in their opinion. “You’re talking about nearly 100 years of design and manufacturing refinements that have continuously improved the product,” Scinto said. “It’s been optimized for aesthetics, durability and superior performance.”
Finally, Le Creuset claims better raw materials give their Dutch ovens an additional edge. “Whether it’s the enamel and its composition, the pigments and oxides that make up that enamel, or the cast iron itself, there’s a continuously monitored process that is extremely rigorous performed by sometimes third-generation people who have worked in this factory, as well as PhDs to ensure that the product lasts a lifetime,” Scinto said.
Nate Collier, director of marketing communications and culinary at Le Creuset, said the brand’s cast iron is tested to make sure the formulation is just right before it’s poured into a mold, an extra step in quality control that may not take place in more speed-driven factories.
Varying prices in the Dutch oven category can be attributed to several factors.
Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications for Cuisinart (the maker of America’s Test Kitchen’s $69 pick for “best buy” in their Dutch ovens test) explained that there are many factors that impact product pricing, resulting in varying prices among competitors.
“The materials and processes are similar, but some are manufactured in different countries with different labor rates or tariff rates depending on the country of origin and possible weight of the product,” Rodgers said. There’s also the economies of scale that come with a larger parent company. “Volumes of products ordered and the ability to negotiate also impact the final price of the product.”
Expensive Dutch ovens don’t always perform better.
The good news is that even if you can’t afford to purchase an expensive Dutch oven, there are plenty of affordable options that will get the job done. On the other hand, if you’re ready to invest in a high-end piece of cookware like Le Creuset, you can feel confident in the fact that it lives up to the hype, consistently receiving top marks in product review tests.
America’s Test Kitchen, for example, evaluated a number of Dutch ovens. The 11 pots ranged in price from around $50 to more than $350 and were put through several tests, including cooking rice, braising beef, frying French fries, searing meatballs, simmering sauce and baking bread. Dutch ovens were rated on the quality of the food they produced, how easy they were to use and clean, and durability.
Le Creuset’s 7 1/4-quart round Dutch oven ($380 on Amazon) was the winner, with Cuisinart’s 7-quart Chef’s Classic enameled cast iron casserole ($99 on Amazon) following closely as the “best buy.” The Le Creuset Dutch oven proved to be substantial enough to distribute heat evenly without being too heavy, and its sand-colored interior and low, straight sides made it easy to monitor browning while cooking. Cuisinart’s version had a similar shape to its pricier counterpart, however its handles were a tad small and it proved less durable than Le Creuset.
Wirecutter also put Dutch ovens to the test, and Lodge’s 6-quart enameled Dutch oven ($60 on Amazon) emerged victorious. Testers noted that it performed on par with French-made pots six times the price. Standout features include large handles (which make it easier to take in and out of the oven) and a curved shape that keeps food from getting trapped in the corners. The Cuisinart Chef’s Classic casserole ($99 on Amazon) also came highly recommended, and Le Creuset was recommended as an heirloom-quality product for those willing to splurge.
When buying a Dutch oven, choose what works best for you ― and your budget.
Frank Proto, director of culinary operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, owns a number of Dutch ovens at different price points, from Le Creuset to Lodge. He prefers to use Dutch ovens with a good weight to them and an enamel coating. Proto has found enameled pots to be easier to clean, and cast iron pots without an enamel coating can impart a metallic flavor to food, especially when cooking acidic ingredients like tomatoes.
Between the higher end and more affordable Dutch ovens, Proto has noticed that the cheaper ones aren’t as heavy as their more expensive counterparts. However, in terms of cooking performance and longevity, he hasn’t seen a huge difference.
For consumers looking to purchase a Dutch oven, Proto believes that you don’t have to choose the most expensive option. “Find one that you like that’s decently weighty and heavy, especially if it’s cast iron or cast iron enamel, and that’s really it,” he said. “Make sure you take care of it; don’t let it get rusty and make sure you’re washing it properly.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.