Let me start by saying: This was not a scientific experiment. This was one little mouse in her kitchen with 2 pots and 8 lbs. of short ribs.
If you want science, check out Cook’s Illustrated exhaustive test. (Nitpickers, please pick nits over there.)
When it comes to cast iron, to a lot of people, there’s Le Creuset and Staub, then there’s everybody else. They’re the Rolls Royce and Bentley of cast iron cookery. Of course, they also both come with hefty (think $200+ in many cases) price tags.
So when a couple of folks asked me recently what kind of cast iron they should buy, I wasn’t sure what to say.
Dutch oven love
I love my Le Creuset dutch oven. It’s actually the only one I’ve ever had. I picked it up on a super sale at Marshall’s maybe 15 years ago for well under $100. (Get the same pot today on Amazon.com for $279. Yikes, right?)
That said, it felt totally irresponsible to recommend that anyone go drop almost three hundred bucks on a pot, when a less expensive brand would do just as well.
Or would it?
And so I decided to test a few for myself.
Over the last few years, a handful of more economical dutch ovens have cropped up at stores like Target. They’re colorful and enameled and every bit as heavy as my Le Creuset. Lodge, my favorite maker of non-enameled cast iron skillets, happens to be one of them.
So, I e-mailed Lodge to see if they’d be game for a comparison. Less than a week later, two shiny, new Lodge pots—one green, one blue—arrived on my doorstep. (Thank you, Lodge!)
I wanted to test the pots by cooking something that I’ve made a zillion times before in my Le Creuset, so I’d be able to tell just how the Lodge model compared. I picked short ribs, something I make probably 2 dozen+ times every fall & winter. I followed a slight variation on my Guinness-Braised Short Ribs.
Now, cooking short ribs is one of those ineffable acts of culinary magic.
I mean, start with meat that’s tough as nails. Simmer it slowly in a covered pot for a few hours. The low, slow cooking breaks down all that tough, fibrous fat and tissue. And…voila! Succulent, moist, fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your mouth meat + velvety broth that just might be the pinnacle of comfort food.
I’ve been braising short ribs for years, and it never ceases to impress me.
I got 8 lbs of ribs, and planned to cook 4 lbs. in each pot.
The Reigning Champion
In one corner, we have my big red pot, a 7 quart Le Creuset. She’s a tried-and-true kitchen veteran with 15 years of service.
Aside from a little discoloration on the interior enamel and a few exterior scratches, she performs just as valiantly as they day I brought her home. I love her dearly. We’ve been through thick and thin together. I’ve lugged her from apartment to apartment all through my 20s and early 30s. She’s cooked for happy and not-so-happy occasions. There’s just something so nice about a big, heavy pot bubbling away on the stove.
Am I overly sentimental? Without a doubt. Would I save Big Red if my house were on fire? I might think about it for half a sec. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that another pot could perform as well.
Now, Lodge was kind enough to send me two pots. One was a 6-quart green pot from their L series.
(So pretty, right?)
I’m a sucker for little design details, and love the stainless accents on the handles and the swirly handle on the lid.
You can get her in Apple Green on Amazon.com for about $84. The same model in Liberty Blue goes for about $65.
The other was a 7.5 quart pot in Caribbean Blue from their Lodge Color series. This baby is just about $90 on Amazon.
This one has a more traditional dutch oven design, like my Le Creuset.
The Match Up
I decided to pit the blue model against my Le Creuset. Both are cast iron. Both are enameled. Both have domed lids with heat-resistant handles. Not exact duplicates, but close enough for my purposes. (After all, I’m making short ribs here, not splitting the atom.)
In case you’re (rightly) thinking I might be biased towards my Le Creuset, I had a team of testers ready to sample and compare my short ribs, including the Barking Sous Chef (who you can see presiding over the proceedings in the background below).
With my kitchen full of cast iron, I hit the butcher to pick up the ribs. Eight pounds of meat later, I was ready to start cooking.
The first part of braising short ribs is to sear them in oil, which creates a ton of flavor.
I got the oil nice and hot in both pots, then added the meat (in batches…crowd a hot pot, and your meat will steam, not sear).
I got a good, brown sear from both pots in the same amount of time.
I flipped the ribs and got consistent results from both pots on all sides.
When the meat was seared on all sides, I added it all back to the pots (remember, I seared in batches)…
…then dumped in the Guinness.
I turned the heat to high to bring the liquid to a boil. Both pots started to bubble at about the same time.
Once they reached a boil, I added in the rest of the ingredients, then knocked the heat way down (so the liquid would just hold a simmer), and covered them.
Heat Resistant Handles
After about an hour on the stove, I peeked under the lids. The Lodge handle was actually cooler to the touch than my Le Creuset. One point for Lodge.
The finished ribs
I cooked the ribs for just a hair under 3 hours.
The pots really were virtually identical. The ribs from each were tender, with the meat falling off the bone.
There was about the same amount of liquid left in each pot.
We had a small party to feed a handful of our hungriest, carnivorous friends, and all agreed: Both batches of ribs were absolutely delicious, and folks couldn’t tell the difference between those cooked in the Le Creuset vs. the Lodge.
In the end, the Lodge performed just as well as my tried-and-true Le Creuset. I highly recommend the Lodge pot. It did the same work that my Le Creuset did, at a fraction of the cost. If we had a money tree in the backyard, I’d have cabinets full of Le Creuset and the like. However, until then, if I needed new cast iron now, I wouldn’t think twice: I’d definitely go for a Lodge.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not retiring Big Red. Let’s just say that she has a new baby brother, and he fits in really well with the family.
*Please note that Lodge donated the pots for this post. My opinions, however, are strictly my own. The Lodge pot really did perform just as well as the Le Creuset. I don’t endorse anything I can’t get behind 100%.