Frugal Product Recommendation: Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

I don’t recommend products often. In fact, other than books or free software, I don’t think I’ve recommended you buy anything. Today, all of that changes. If you’ve decided that you’re going to start cooking more as part of a new frugality kick, then you may be realizing that you need some extra pieces of cookware. If you’ve been cooking a while, you may be lusting for a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Unfortunately, the best of them – Le Creuset – are very pricey.

Tramontina/Chefmate Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Enter the enameled cast iron Dutch oven from Tramontina/Chefmate. It was recommended two years ago by Cook’s Illustrated as the best bargain alternative to Le Creuset (which was rated the absolute best if money is no object.) The 5 quart pot they recommended promptly sold out – and why wouldn’t it at around $40?

I requested the $60 6.5 quart cast iron Dutch oven for Christmas, and now I hear it will soon be vanishing, too. It’s currently available at Target, Amazon, and Wal-Mart. If the pot becomes unavailable, the Lodge Logic 6 quart is a good alternative.

How to Make It Completely Oven-Safe

There are two minor disadvantages of the Tramontina. First, you do need to season the edge. It will take an hour, so it’s not a huge issue, and it will prevent rust. Second, the label says it’s only oven safe to 400 degrees. In actual fact, it’s the plastic knob that causes the problem. You can choose one of two fixes: remove the knob completely (but good luck getting the hot lid off the pot), or go to the hardware store to buy a metal drawer knob and a shorter screw. I needed a 1-inch screw to replace the one the knob came with. Now you’re set for up to 500 degrees. You can also buy a stainless steel Le Creuset knob.

What’s It Good For?

A good cast iron Dutch oven can be used for many wondrous things. Here are just a few of them:
French onion soup (It calls for a 7 qt oven. I plan to halve the recipe instead.)
No-knead bread 
Soup stock
Pot roast
Mac and cheese
Anything that cooks slowly
Keeping food warm

Cast iron retains its heat for a long time and heats more evenly, but it also heats more slowly than your typical cast household stock pot. That’s why it’s best for winter comfort foods, and not so good for summer sautés. However, if you’re making 4th of July chili, this pot is your best friend.

I’m making the French onion soup this weekend, and then I’m thinking it might be time for another batch of chicken pot pie. Mmm, I can’t taste the deliciousness now.

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