dutch oven: stainless steel clad vs. enameled cast iron

nugentcnJanuary 31, 2011

I tried posting this last night, but something must have gone wrong.

Tramontina makes two very nice sets of tri-ply SS clad cookware. One set comes with an enameled cast iron Dutch oven and cast iron skillet, and the other comes with SS clad Dutch oven and skillets. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Does one have more versatility over the other? I hear about Dutch ovens for soups, stews, chili, and casseroles but we've been pretty happy with our crock pot for these kinds of things, so I'm not even sure what I would make in the Dutch oven. Any advice will be appreciated!

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Cast iron is way superior for slow cooking over stainless, or a crock pot for that matter. Stainless just does not simmer in the flavor like cast iron does.In addition, cast iron heats evenly, and will hold the heat in once removed from the oven or stovetop. The enameled cast iron also makes superior all day simmered spaghetti sauce.

I tried some very expensive stainless Dutch Ovens, including All-Clad....and sent them back. Staub and Le Creuset make the best enameled cast iron, and Lodge makes the best "regular" cast iron. Stainless is O.K. for boiling pasta or for making stocks. Even so, many times I use one of my huge enameled cast iron pots to make stock in.

Stews and chili are just plain richer in taste when simmered in cast iron. Ditto for slow braised pot roast in the oven. I gave my crockpot away.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 9:50PM
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Thanks, sandy808. You mention the improved taste of things in cast iron. Is this true for enameled cast iron also?

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 2:50PM
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I can't speak to enameled cast iron Dutch oven versus clad stainless steel Dutch oven.

As for cast iron skillet versus clad stainless skillet, they would be ideal for different tasks.

Cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, but will hold (store) a lot of heat. When you put a cast iron pan on the burner, it will take a significant time to heat up and may have hot spots while it is heating. After a while (on my burner, 2-3 minutes), it will be evenly hot. When meat is placed in the pan, the pan will stay hot because it has so much stored heat. This makes cast iron great for searing and browning. After the cast iron pan gets seasoned with oil, it is also practically non-stick, if you wash it properly (no soap). However . . . cast iron pans do not change temperature quickly. If you cook something more delicate than a ribeye and it starts to scorch, turning down the heat won't quickly cool down the pan. Rapidly getting to a particular temperature is a bit tricky. They are heavy, so flipping and tossing is hard.

Clad stainless steel is almost the opposite. The aluminum inside is an excellent conductor of heat, but does not hold much heat. So the pan will heat up quickly on the burner, and cool quickly when you lower the flame, it is responsive. You can get the desired temperature - say, a medium-low heat - right away, and the pan will have an even temperature without bad hot spots. But when you put the cold meat on the pan, the pan cools down quickly, until the burner brings the heat back up. So it is not as good for heavy searing. Stainless steel is sticky, protein (meat, fish, egg) sticks immediately and stays stuck until it gets browned and releases. Even then, bits of crusty food are left on the pan. That is a good thing - it is ''fond'', the foundation of a pan sauce - but if you weren't planning to make a pan sauce it can be a pain. You can avoid stickage by using plenty of oil, of course. If you get a stainless pan really hot, food and oil will scorch onto it, making for a cleaning job.

Basically, you should have both, and use each for what it is best at. I use my cast iron pan at full-hot, for searing meat mostly. I use my clad stainless for more medium and low heat cooking, or at high heat if I want fond. If I could only have one, I'd get the clad stainless.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 12:22AM
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Thanks, johnliu. That was really helpful!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 10:11PM
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I disagree that cast iron "simmers in flavor" or makes for richer tasting foods vs. stainless steel dutch ovens or crock pots. It's a nice, romantic notion, but not really true. I have both, and foods taste the same. Nobody could tell if tonight's chili came from the stainless or the cast iron.

Here's a good discussion on the pros & cons of dutch ovens, cast iron & otherwise in the link below. Bottom line: the cast iron holds more heat when used on a stove top. Sometimes that's desirable, sometimes not.

Here is a link that might be useful: cast iron vs. stainless

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 11:05PM
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Thanks, awm03!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 3:32PM
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