You know you want a cast iron pot, but you’re torn. Do you go for the natural versatility of the Dutch oven or do you choose a braiser? Both offer durability, functionality, and fantastic food, but your choice will depend a lot on the type of food you’re making. Let’s look at what each can do to see which one you should choose.
What is a Dutch Oven?
Dutch Ovens use cast iron to create a consistent heat for cooking foods for longer periods of time. Bare cast iron requires a seasoning process before use to make it nonstick and it can’t be in the dishwasher or cleaned with soap. Enameled cast iron is naturally nonstick and can go in the dishwasher and use a standard soap.
Dutch ovens have taller sides for deeper cooking. It looks more like a standard pot or sometimes an oval with a tight-fitting lid meant to keep moisture in. It’s excellent for simmering or for cooking whole cuts of meat when you need an even moderate temperature.
What is a Braiser?
A braiser is made of the same material as your dutch oven, but it has a much different shape. The sides are shallow, and the top has much longer sides to accommodate whole cuts of meat. It’s intended to braise instead of simmer or cook in just its juices. They’re also better for searing and browning than a typical dutch oven.
Braising is a more specific type of cooking, but the end result is very similar. You get a more tender cut of meat with better browning and no uneven spots. The broad base allows more contact with your heat source, so your meats brown nicely without having to be moved around frequently. You won’t have as much space for liquid, however.
What Options Do I Have?
Both Dutch Ovens and braisers come in a few different shapes and sizes. Depending on how many people you’re cooking for, your chosen size could vary, but keep in mind that the bigger you go, the heavier your cooking tool will be.
Cast iron is a delicate balance between having enough space for your dish and reducing weight so that you can maneuver the dish around. Both braisers and Dutch Ovens have recommended serving sizes, and you can potentially go one step up if you want leftovers regularly or batch cook.
Both also come in round and oval options, but there’s no difference in cooking performance. Round is an all-purpose shape that gives you lots of room to arrange food and any liquids inside, but the oval is suitable for larger, whole cuts of meat.
Cooking with a Braiser
Your cast iron braiser needs to be preheated before cooking so that you get an even temperature. The braiser can go in the oven or the stovetop, but you need to be sure you’re allowing enough time for preheating.
The lid fits tightly onto a braiser, making it possible to keep in the juices of whatever meat your cooking so that things brown nice and even. You don’t need as high of heat as you would a traditional metal pot so keep that in mind.
Use a braiser if:
- you’re primarily browning meats.
- you don’t want to simmer with so much liquid (braising).
- you want to sear meats evenly without having to turn the meat over.
Cooking with a Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are excellent for simmering tough cuts of meat and veggies or creating soups and stews. Their taller sides give you more space for liquids, and you can stir much more comfortable along the sides. The lid still fits tightly like a braiser, however, keeping that liquid in the pot where it belongs.
You still need to preheat the cast iron, however, before beginning to cook. Set your stove or oven to a lower heat and allow the cast iron to heat for about ten minutes prior to cooking to allow for even cooking and heating without cold spots. And like your cast iron braiser, too high heat can affect your enamel coating.
Use the Dutch Oven if:
- you simmer your foods or need to use more liquids
- you want an all-purpose cooking tool
- you create soups and stews.
Which Should I Buy?
I love both tools for cooking a wide range of dishes, but if you’ve only got the budget for one, go for the Dutch Oven. It’s more versatile and familiar and should give you a bigger range. Unless you’ve read this breakdown and decided that the majority of your dishes fall in the braiser wheelhouse, a dutch oven is your best bet.
If you’ve got the budget for one high end and one affordable alternative, my money would go towards a higher-end braiser because fewer companies are doing this style of kitchen tool and you have a better chance of finding a well-made braiser with more established brands. Many companies have come into the budget dutch oven arena, so spend your money on that braiser and get quality yet affordable dutch oven.
Eventually, if you do a lot of cooking, it will be well worth your efforts to upgrade both to quality pieces because they’re well worth it. Your cast iron cookware will last for generations if you take care of it.
Both a dutch oven and a braiser are essential kitchen tools for many cooks, both professional and otherwise. Finding the right tools allow you to expand your options, putting excellent food on the table, and helping you save money and eat healthier. While you certainly don’t have to cook healthy dishes, many people find that getting comfortable in the kitchen helps them create new lifestyles for themselves.
If you only choose one, I’d go with the dutch oven, but I think you’ll soon find out that both would be essential in your kitchen. Make sure you purchase the best quality you can in your budget range and begin experimenting with all your new cookware options. It’s a wonderful thing.