Pot vs. Pot
A Dutch oven - a heavy, lidded pot good for slowly and evenly cooking soups, stews, and pot roasts - is a kitchen essential. Those made from enameled cast iron retain heat well, and the enamel is both nonreactive (safe with acidic foods) and attractive. The department-store version may not look that different from a discounter's steal, but in a battle where size, strength, and shape matter, which one is the top pot?
French cookware maker Le Creuset refers to its pot as a "French oven," even though the rest of the world would call it a Dutch oven. The name doesn't matter so much, but the pots can be tested and compared in ways that do matter.
First is cooking surface area. The more area you have, the more food you can brown at once, minimizing time-consuming batches. Testing the pots by preparing beef stew, it took three batches to brown 3 1/2 pounds of beef cubes in each one, since the pots are almost equal in diameter. You also want even cooking. In neither case did drippings in the pot burn, and the finished stews were almost identical in flavor and consistency. White rice also cooked evenly in both pots. Neither showed spots of under- or overcooking.
On the downside - literally - were the Chantal Talavera Dutch oven's handles. They slope slightly, and feel less comfortable than the Le Creuset's straighter handles. And the Chantal's lid is domed in such a way that the condensation on its underside often splashes when the cook lifts the lid from the pot. Design considerations aside, though, Chantal performs on par with Le Creuset. If you don't mind the extra weight and can live with the handles, the $276 you save with the Chantal will buy a lot of sponges to clean up those dribbles.
LE CREUSET FRENCH OVEN
Capacity: 7 1/4 quarts
Cooking Surface: 9 1/2 inches across
Weight: 13 pounds
Cost: $336 at Bloomingdale's, The Mall at Chestnut Hill, 617-630-6000, bloomingdales.com
CHANTAL TALAVERA DUTCH OVEN
Capacity: 5 3/4 quarts
Cooking Surface: 9 inches across
Weight: 14 pounds 10 ounces
Cost: $59.99 at Marshall's, marshallsonline.com
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