Serious Eats/Taylor Murray

A tagine is a traditional North African cooking vessel, as well as the name of the braised dish that’s cooked in it. This versatile pot has a conical lid that lets condensation drip back down to the bottom of the pot, keeping braised dishes moist as they slowly cook. While it can be set-and-forget cooking, a tagine does require some care. “Traditionally, tagine pots were placed over an open fire or a bed of charcoal at very low heat. Due to their clay composition, it’s essential to keep the heat low to prevent the pot from cracking,” says Nargisse Benkabbou, a Moroccan food expert, cookbook author, and executive chef at L’Mida Marrakech. 

To find the best tagines, we spent 12 days testing six of them. We evaluated tagines made from a variety of materials (fired clay, glazed ceramic, and cast iron) and priced from $30 to $306. We cooked two braised meat dishes in each one, one on the stovetop and one in the oven, to see which performed the best and were the easiest to use.

The Winners, at a Glance

Though a bit on the smaller side (it supposedly holds enough food to serve two), this gorgeous tagine has traditional Berber designs and is hand-cast and glazed in Morocco. The clay imparts an earthy flavor to the food cooked in it, and the steam vent hole releases just the right amount of moisture—keeping food moist but not soggy.

This large tagine is great for cooking bigger meals and is coated in a durable and easy-to-clean ceramic finish. It’s also dishwasher-safe and available in a few pretty hues.

This cast iron tagine is very similar to the Uno Casa below, except it has a steam vent in the lid. While not strictly necessary, this feature can deepen the flavor and enrich the texture of the final braised product. Cast iron is durable and easy to cook with, too.

This tagine offered the best of both worlds with a durable and temperature-diffusing cast iron base and glazed ceramic lid. Braised lamb and chicken came out succulent and perfectly cooked, and we liked that the lid was easy to remove.

The Tests

Serious Eats / Taylor MurrayChicken and Dried Fig Tagine Test: We cooked a chicken and fig dish in the tagine to see how well the pot could cook a basic recipe designed for a tagine. Lamb Shank Tagine Test (Winners-Only): The tagines that did well in the previous test went back into the oven for a second round. In this test, we cooked a lamb shank tagine and evaluated the final flavor and texture of the dish. We noted the quality of the sear on the lamb and checked for any cracks in the tagine. We also noted how easy (or not) it was to handle the tagine going from the stovetop to the oven. Cleanup Tests: After cooking each dish, we cleaned the tagine by hand. We took notes on how easy this was to do and if any soaking or scrubbing was needed.

What We Learned

Steam Vents Concentrated Flavor

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Some of the tagines we tested had holes for venting steam, and some didn’t. Those that didn’t leave behind more liquid in the final braise. According to Benkabbou, “The vent is designed to let some steam escape, preventing the tagine from becoming too watery. I personally prefer more robust and intense flavors, which means less watery consistency, so I believe the vent is essential. If desired, the vent can be temporarily covered with foil to keep in more moisture.” Ultimately, making the choice between a tagine with or without a steam vent hole may come down to a matter of personal preference. 

Terracotta Imparted Its Own Taste

During our testing, we found there were some distinct disadvantages to cooking with terracotta (i.e. clay) if viewed from a strictly objective standpoint. Terracotta is prone to cracking and has to be treated with special care (for example, gradually raising the heat instead of starting on high) to avoid breaking during cooking. This type of tagine has to be seasoned before use, too, which usually consists of soaking them in water (for around 24 hours), rubbing them with oil, and baking them at a low temperature. This wouldn’t be so hard if not for the challenge of finding a good way to soak the tagines (unless you don’t mind sacrificing your kitchen sink or bathtub for an entire day, you’ll have to find a vessel or container large enough to complete this process). 

Despite these challenges, terracotta tagines are preferred by many cooks. “My perspective on tagine cookware is very personal,” says Benkabbou. “Glazed clay offers a more traditional and more authentic cooking experience. Some say that it releases a distinct, earthy flavor to dishes during the cooking process.” Terracotta can be a great choice, and if you want to go with this kind of tagine, it’s best to read up on how to care for and maintain the material.

Clay Offered Great Heat Distribution, While Cast Iron Offered Durability

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Clay or ceramic are the most traditional tagine materials and offer great heat distribution. They are often hand-painted or glazed and may require seasoning before use. Note that they are generally not dishwasher-safe and can crack if exposed to high heat too quickly. When you’re cooking with a clay or terracotta tagine on a direct heat source, like a glass or induction stovetop, this risk increases. If this is the case, you might want to invest in a diffuser, which channels heat to the tagine without being in direct contact.

Cast iron is more durable and versatile. This type of tagine is usually more expensive but is good for those who want a multi-purpose pot since it can be used on a stovetop without a diffuser, and some can go straight from the freezer to the oven.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Tagine

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray / Grace Kelly

When buying a tagine, first consider the material; as noted above, clay and ceramic are traditional and offer good heat distribution, while cast iron is more durable and versatile. Choose the material that you feel the most comfortable using and maintaining. You’ll also want to ensure that the tagine is compatible with your type of stovetop (gas, electric, induction) or if you’ll need to invest in a diffuser.

Next, consider the size. A smaller tagine (around eight to 10 inches in diameter) is often good for personal use or cooking for two, while larger tagines (12 inches or more) are more suited for family meals or entertaining guests. Some tagines are decorative and only meant for serving, so double-check this to avoid being heartily disappointed!

As we mentioned, the jury’s out when it comes to steam vent holes. For a more robust and traditional flavor, go for a tagine with a steam hole. For a tagine with a bit more moisture, choose one without.

Lastly, a tagine’s lid should be conical, as this helps circulate moisture within the dish and the lid should fit snugly to ensure that the moisture circulates effectively. Some tagines come with handles for easier lifting.

The Best Tagines

What we liked: There was no doubt that this tagine did impart some flavor to the final dishes. The clay also seemed to do a better job at moderating the steam build-up inside of the pot. Even with a steam vent, we didn’t notice an over-reduction of the sauce in the lamb shank tagine recipe. Handling the pot was easy thanks to a lip around the edge, which allowed us to get a good grip on it. It’s also lightweight and the design is gorgeous enough to be a centerpiece on your table.

What we didn’t like: The seasoning process is a bit tricky. You have to find a vessel or area large enough to completely cover the entire tagine for 24 hours. So, unless you don’t mind giving up your sink or bathtub for an entire day, you’ll have to find a special container to complete this task (like a bucket). Luckily, it really only needs to be done once. We also found that this tagine was just shy of being big enough for two servings. When we completed the chicken test, we could only fit two legs inside it, and in the lamb test, only one shank could comfortably sit inside. Also, the lid did crack a bit during the seasoning process but that’s fairly normal for this material, and it didn’t affect the cooking. 

Price at time of publish: $60.

Key Specs

Weight: 5 lbs, 12.5 ozDimensions: 10 inches wide, 7 inches tallCleaning: Hand wash onlyNeeds seasoning: YesVent hole: YesSerious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: The glazed ceramic construction is much more durable than traditional clay and, it’s also easier to clean than uncoated cast iron. It can withstand much higher temperatures and temperature fluctuations (it’s oven-safe up to 500° F). The smooth surface was much easier to clean and dishwasher-safe, which was a huge plus. This particular size (the 3.7 quart) is large enough to feed a family without overcrowding the pot. 

What we didn’t like: The larger size coupled with the smooth edge and no lip made it a bit tougher to grasp when placing it in and out of the oven. The price is definitely on the higher side as well. While this tagine does need to be seasoned, the process involves just simmering milk in the base which is nowhere near as much work as it is to season a terracotta tagine.

Price at time of publish: $146.

Key Specs

Weight: 8 lbs 3.2 ozDimensions: 13 inches wide, 9.5 inches tallCleaning: Dishwasher safeNeeds seasoning: YesVent hole: NoSerious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: This tagine has a vent hole, which some say contributes to a more flavorful final dish. Given that more steam will exit the pot, make sure to take extra care that your dish does not overreduce. The cast iron base was durable and won’t crack while subjected to the same temperatures as a clay or terracotta tagine. Plus, it’s induction-compatible so it will work on whatever type of stove you have.

What we didn’t like: The surface of the cast iron was rough, which caught sticky food residue; we had to soak and scrub to get it clean. The steam vent hole may reduce the liquid in your recipe more than you’d like.

Price at time of publish: $60.

Key Specs

Weight: 10 pounds 4.7 ouncesDimensions: 12 inches wide, 8 inches tallCleaning: Hand wash onlyNeeds seasoning? NoVent hole? YesSerious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: As with the Kook Tagine, the Uno Casa has a hardy, uncoated cast iron base with a ceramic lid. The lid does not have a vent hole so the steam can build up inside the pot. This contributed to a faster overall cook time on our chicken and lamb since it sort of functioned like a pressure cooker. The lid was easy to grab and lift off. As a bonus, this tagine comes with a double-ended pot holder. This one is also induction compatible and will work on gas or electric as well.

What we didn’t like: The pebbled surface of the cast iron was a bit trickier to scrub than the smooth surface of the enameled ceramic or glazed clay pots we tested. This may get better with time as the cast iron builds up a seasoning. Without a steam vent hole, some liquid bubbled up around the edges of the lid during cooking.

Price at time of publish: $60

Key Specs

Weight: 9 pounds, 9.5 ouncesDimensions: 12 inches wide, 8 inches tallCleaning: Hand wash onlyNeeds seasoning: NoVent hole: NoSerious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

Kamsah Hand Made and Hand Painted Tagine Pot: While beautiful, we could hardly fit one whole recipe in this pot. Trying to get a spoon in to stir the food was even more difficult.Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Moroccan Tagine, 2.5 qt: The price is extremely high and we didn’t find that that equated to any better results than some of the pots that were dramatically cheaper. Plus, the lid arrived broken and cracked, which can’t bode well for this tagine’s longevity.

FAQs

What can you make in a tagine?

In a tagine, you can prepare many dishes, from succulent chicken stews to melt-in-your-mouth lamb tagines sweetened with apricots and enriched with almonds. While there are many traditional dishes that can be cooked in a tagine, this vessel can be used to make anything you would cook in a Dutch oven, from rice dishes to pork spare ribs.

What is the best tagine?

Determining the “best” tagine depends on your specific needs, preferences, and how you intend to use it. Different tagines have unique features that might make them more suitable for certain users. Our favorite traditional tagine was the Verve Culture Moroccan Cooking Tagine. The best glazed clay is the Emile Henry Made In France Tagine and the best cast iron tagines are the Kook Moroccan Tagine and Uno Casa Tagine.

Why We’re the Experts

Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. She has written numerous reviews for Serious Eats, including on enameled cast iron skillets, carving knives, and vacuum sealers.We tested six tagines by making two different tagine recipes to examine how they cooked various low-and-slow meat dishes.We spoke to Nargisse Benkabbou, a Moroccan food expert, cookbook author, and executive chef at L’Mida Marrakech, to get background information on tagine cooking prior to testing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *