Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Building a well-stocked kitchen with adequate tools, utensils, and cookware often leads to “this or that” questions. Should you buy an air fryer or a toaster oven? Sheet pans or cookie sheets? Food processor or blender? If you cook regularly, you may also be considering whether to invest in a Dutch oven or braiser. These two pieces of cookware are made from the same material, and even by the same brands, but there are some key differences and they aren’t (for the most part) interchangeable.

Before I dive into Dutch ovens and braisers, a quick housekeeping item: I am specifically talking about enameled cast iron pans. Although you can find bare cast iron versions of both, they’re less common and versatile. There’s no stainless steel equivalent of these pans, but you can sometimes use a stockpot in place of a Dutch oven, and a sauté pan instead of a braiser. Neither of these options will have as good heat retention, but they’re decent substitutes. 

That taken care of, here’s the TL;DR: There’s no clear answer as to whether a Dutch oven or braiser is better. Sorry! But after studying them both, you’ll be able to identify which is better suited for the way you cook.

When Should You Use a Dutch Oven?

Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Of the two, Dutch ovens are better-known and more common in non-professional kitchens. This is in large part owing to their versatility. With a heavy, thick bottom and tall sides, Dutch ovens can be used for making soup and stew, steaming or boiling vegetables, and simmering stock. “They’re great for recipes that ask for heat retention,” says Bernard Janssen, the Executive Chef for Staub. “Like slow-cooked dishes, soups, chili, tomato sauces like Bolognese, and stews.” Low-and-slow cooked dishes are well suited for Dutch ovens, says Sara Whitaker, the Director of Category Marketing for Le Creuset: “Braisers are crafted specifically to turn tough cuts of meat and fibrous vegetables into tender and delicious dishes.”

The high walls of a Dutch oven make them ideal for baking bread—you’ll get a better rise, explains Janssen—and deep frying safely. You can also sear and braise in them but that takes us into more complicated territory, so I’ll bookmark that idea for now.

Dutch ovens are available in a variety of sizes, although the most common (and I think, useful) size is five to five-and-a-half quarts, which is roomy enough to serve five to six people. This capacity makes them ideal for any cooking technique that relies on a lot of liquid, which brings me right back to the concept of stews and soupy things. It’s far and away the best genre of recipe for a Dutch oven to shine (though a stockpot can be used instead).

When Should You Use a Braiser?

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

A braiser has a similarly heavy bottom, but unlike a Dutch oven, it has a wider base and much shallower, angled walls. The handles are often roomier too, to account for the slightly more awkward shape. The larger cooking surface area makes it a great choice for searing anything: You can fit in more without crowding the pan. Although the sides of a braiser are not as tall as that of a Dutch oven, they are higher and more pronounced than the walls of a skillet

The combination of a wide base and not-too-tall, not-too-small walls makes it a good vehicle for cooking methods that rely on an initial sear, followed by a moderate amount of liquid, as in a braise (imagine that). Janssen identifies coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and braised short ribs as key candidates for a braiser. “The domed lid of a braiser circulates steam to lock in moisture and flavor,” adds Whitaker. Braisers are also great for quickly reducing sauces and tossing saucy things, like pasta. And yep, you can definitely use a braiser for a baked pasta dish, too. Although you could do all that in a Dutch oven, the shape of a braiser keeps things loose and well-sauced—not to mention, evenly heated through.

Which Is Better?

Serious Eats / Will Dickey

“When deciding which piece would be most useful, it really comes down to what kinds of things you like to cook and how many people you typically feed,” says Whitaker. “Someone who spends a lot of time cooking large one-pot meals or soups and stews should invest in a Dutch oven. Those who enjoy preparing recipes that involve roasting or braising meat should opt for a braiser.”

That said… If I absolutely, positively had to choose, I’d pick a Dutch oven over a braiser. So would Janssen, citing its versatility. Dutch ovens can do everything a braiser can do, but I can’t say the same in reverse; making chicken stock in a braiser would be…not ideal. But before Team Dutch Oven raises their arms in victory, a caveat: There are some tasks that a braiser does better

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Braisers will almost always win out when it comes to searing, owing to the large surface area and the gently sloping, shallow sides that allow you to flip, lift, and turn meat. They’re also better for, well, braising, because the circumference allows for more efficient evaporation. Although you can roast a chicken in a Dutch oven, a braiser is a smarter choice because the low walls allow better airflow. Shallow frying in a braiser is better because it’s easier to reach in with your cooking utensils. And I will always choose my braiser over my Dutch oven for finishing pasta because it’s much easier to evenly coat the noodles without them gumming up.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If your budget only allows for one, I think most cooks would benefit from having a great Dutch oven. But I promise: Once you’ve added a cast iron braiser to your collection of cookware, it’ll quickly become one of your favorite pans.

The Best Dutch Ovens and Braisers, Tested by Serious Eats

We’ve extensively tested both Dutch ovens and braisers, and the evidence proves that pricier brands are really worth the splurge. Legacy cast iron companies like Le Creuset and Staub make sturdy, high-performing pans that will last a lifetime and then some. That said, we’ve also found a couple of standout brands for less, too.

What is there to say about Le Creuset that you don’t already know? I’m inclined to use the word “iconic” in describing this Dutch oven. This legacy brand stands up to scrutiny, with top-tier materials and an onsite factory that maintains stringent standards. It’s a sturdy pot that comes with a lifetime warranty—not that you’ll need it. Le Creuset’s proprietary enamel recipe is practically indestructible. And of course, there’s the dozens of colors to choose from!

Staub’s Cocotte has a slightly wider base than the Le Creuset, making it a good choice if you want it to do the work of both a Dutch oven and braiser. In contrast to the creamy white interior of a Le Creuset, Staub’s is black: this doesn’t affect performance, although it could make spotting burnt fond a little trickier while searing or sautéeing. This brand also comes with a lifetime warranty and has a sterling reputation for longevity.

Priced at hundreds less than the Le Creuset and Staub, Cuisinart’s Dutch oven is a worthy contender that performed well in almost all of our tests. Its enamel is more prone to chipping, and there’s a greater tendency for sticking, but it’s still solid…especially at its price point.

Full disclosure: This is the braiser I own, and it’s one of my most cherished pieces of cookware. It excelled during Serious Eats’ testing, thanks to the extra large handles and roomy surface area. I have the largest, 5-quart size, and often use it in lieu of a sheet pan for roasting vegetables. Also, obviously: It also looks sharp and is expensive.

This braiser has just the right amount of heft without being awkward to carry around your kitchen. During testing, we were thrilled to discover that the black enamel coating is virtually unstainable. Better still, it was easy to clean and required minimal scrubbing—even after searing meat. The handles are on the smaller side, but they’re angled upwards, which makes them easy to grab.

Visually speaking, this is a solid Le Creuset dupe. It has wide handles, an equally large base, and offers a respectable amount of color options. It’s three hundred dollars less, but during testing, its inclination to chip and crack made us question its longevity.

FAQs

What is a Dutch oven made from?

Dutch ovens (and braisers, too) are made from cast iron. Although you may encounter the occasional bare cast iron pot, most Dutch ovens and braisers are coated in an enamel glaze. This makes them easier to care for, and boosts their naturally nonstick qualities.

Is a braiser worth it if you already have a Dutch oven?

Yes, especially if you do a lot of searing and, well, braising. The low, angled walls and wide bottom make this pot a better option for roasting whole chickens and shallow frying. If you’re hoping to snag a braiser on a budget, the 5-quart option from Crock-Pot is a smart buy.

What’s the best Dutch oven?

After testing 20 Dutch ovens, we recommend the Dutch ovens made by Le Creuset and Staub. They’re pricey, but both offer lifetime warranties, and they outperformed the competition in all of our tests.

Why We’re the Experts

We’ve been testing Dutch ovens and braisers for years, and update our findings according to product changes and updates.We regularly use both pots in our test kitchen and our home kitchens, giving us an edge on their best uses.Rochelle Bilow has written about cast iron pots of all shapes and sizes for over a decade as a professional food writer.She has been reviewing kitchen equipment for Serious Eats since 2021.For this article, we interviewed experts at the leading cast iron manufacturing companies (Le Creuset and Staub).

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