You don’t want to invest in Le Creuset (yet) but you’d love to have a well-performing, enameled cast iron piece in your collection for everyday style cooking. Alternately, your cast iron dutch oven is a critical part of your Thanksgiving preparations, but you only use it once a year and don’t want to spend a ton of money for something you don’t use often.
Whatever your reason for wanting a budget piece instead of an investment one, it doesn’t mean you’re willing to settle for just anything. Two famous budget cast iron options, Tramontina and Lodge, could be good options, but let’s find out which one might be the right one for you.
Types of Cast Iron Cookware
Before we get started, let’s go over some basics. There are two types of cast iron you can purchase for your cookware.
- Bare Cast Iron – Exposed cast iron is a classic type of cookware that often see camping. It offers food a complex flavor because it can absorb flavors from cooking over time, but many must be seasoned before they reach their nonstick potential.
- Enameled Cast Iron – Cast iron sometimes has an enamel coating to eliminate the need to season it and to help reduce sticking. It’s easy to care for and has become a kitchen staple.
We’re comparing the enameled cookware for both of these companies rather than bare cast iron. Enameled cast iron can be expensive, but both of these companies offer a budget option that puts it well within many price ranges.
Appearance and Design
Both lines have similar color options with classic and trendy choices. The Tramontina is slightly taller with straighter sides and a smaller base. This design could help with heat distribution along the bottom of the pot, reducing the risk of scorch and building up heat more quickly throughout the bottom. The Lodge is shallower and wider, allowing for easier stirring and better heat distribution across the middle of the pot.
The interior of both pots is a light coated enamel with a few surface imperfections that shouldn’t affect cooking quality. However, take care with both brands not to heat the enamel too quickly, or it could cause some chipping.
Handles on Tramontina are significantly smaller, which combined with the smaller diameter makes the pot easier to store. The downside is I never feel like I have a really good grip on them when I’ve got oven mitts on. The Lodge handles feel more sturdy, even if you sacrifice some storage space to make room.
Finally, the lid fits a little more snug on the Lodge than on the Tramontina, allowing less moisture to escape. Depending on how you cook and what you cook, this could be both negative and positive. For me, I prefer to keep more moisture in the pot.
Both are safe in the dishwasher and the oven as well as the microwave (if you can fit them in ). I still recommend hand washing your dutch ovens to help preserve the enamel, especially with some of the surface imperfections. You may have to buff out scratches from the light surface, but it does make it easier to check on the status of your food.
The build quality of both is very good for such affordable cookware. The enamel is sturdy, and the cast iron for both feels heavy. Lodge enameled cast iron is manufactured in China which might be a dealbreaker for some of you. The company ensures their agreement with the overseas manufacturers are solid and ensure the cast iron is excellent quality.
Tramontina isn’t as forthcoming about manufacturing, but all signs point to Chinese factory locations. Again, this may be a dealbreaker for some of you, but the build quality feels a lot like some of the more expensive brands, albeit heavier than Le Creuset.
The handles and knobs are sturdy (although on the small side for Tramontina), and they can withstand higher cooking temperatures even within the oven. Overall, for budget cast iron, both feel sturdy and have few imperfections aside from some surface imperfections.
Here’s where it gets good. How do they perform in the kitchen? Let’s break it down.
Using this cookware on the stove resulted in an even heat and a well-performing cook time. You always want to make sure you aren’t heating cast iron too quickly (keep it on low), and once I preheated the Tramontina, it cooked well without scorching.
It has a slightly lower temperature rating for oven cooking with the top on, so that doesn’t win out with Lodge. However, it does allow a little more moisture to escape from the top, which could result in heartier stews and a better result in some dishes. If you’re cooking meat, however, you may need to check the moisture levels more often.
Lodge gives you more cooking space for things like stirring and stir-frying. It required a slight bump in temperature on the stovetop to reach the right temperature to cook meat, and but once the temperature was right, it worked great.
The top fits a little more snugly, resulting in more tender meats and better soups. The heat rating is slightly higher than Tramontina, so you’ve got some flexibility there. Overall, I like the shape of the Lodge a little better because I have more space to stir without getting food everywhere, and the lid keeps in moisture.
The Verdict – Lodge
I think you’d be happy with either piece of cookware, but if I had to choose, the Lodge wins by a hair. The better fitting top helps keep moisture in and makes cooking rougher cuts of meat easier, which is one of the reasons for having an excellent dutch oven. I also like that the heat rating is slightly higher with Lodge, so I don’t have to remember to turn the oven down.
Go for the Lodge if:
- You often cook tougher cuts of meat
- you have larger hands or prefer larger handles
- need a higher oven temperature
Choose Tramontina if:
- you prefer a thicker stew
- you don’t have a lot of space for storage
- you like a more loose lid.
Either option is going to give you a reliable dutch oven for a fraction of Le Creuset’s price. They’re made pretty well and have lots of usage options. Lodge was the slight winner overall for me, but I also think if you invested in Tramontina, you wouldn’t be sorry about it.