Need to know
- There are Dutch ovens for all budgets, from about $30 for a cheap pot from Aldi or Kmart, to more than $800 for premium brands such as Staub, Chasseur and Le Creuset
- Our kitchen experts have tested and reviewed 14 of the market-leading cast-iron pots, including non-coated cast-iron models
- Price is not always an indicator of quality – our experts and members of the CHOICE Community help you decide which to buy
A good, solid cast-iron casserole dish (also known as a Dutch oven) is one of those kitchen items you have for years, lovingly cooking a multitude of warming winter dishes in it, before passing it down through the generations.
Some people have just one trusty pot, others have three or four in different colours and sizes, and they come with vastly different price tags.
At the top of the range are the premium, cult brands such as Le Creuset, Staub and Chasseur (which can range in price from $580 to $885 for a 28cm round cast-iron dish); there are cheaper mid-range brands such as Baccarat (around $300); and then budget options from Ikea, Kmart and Aldi that can cost as little as $30.
Do you really need to spend hundreds of dollars to get a good-quality Dutch oven?
So what's all the fuss about the premium brands and do you really need to spend hundreds of dollars to get a good-quality Dutch oven? Our kitchen experts have tested and reviewed eight of the market-leading cast-iron pots. Plus, we asked a few of our CHOICE members what they thought.
Choosing a cast iron pot over stainless steel or copper
Firstly, what's all the fuss about cast-iron pots and why would you consider one?
A cast-iron pot can withstand high temperatures up to about 260°C (or around 200°C, depending on the material the handle is made out of), whereas a stainless steel or copper pot is usually only oven-safe up to 190°C.
This means that with a cast-iron pot, you can start cooking something on the stovetop, then pop it into the oven to finish it off – which makes it great for dishes like casseroles and braises where you need to sear meat or other ingredients first before roasting.
A cast-iron pot can withstand high temperatures up to about 250°C, whereas a stainless steel pot is usually only oven-safe up to 190°C
Another advantage cast-iron pots have is that they're compatible with induction cooktops. They distribute heat very evenly and are great for versatile cooking tasks, from searing foods and slow cooking to baking bread.
The only disadvantage is that they can be quite heavy, so may not be suitable if you have mobility or dexterity issues, and they can be difficult to clean if food gets baked on (see our cleaning tips, below).
Cast-iron pots, or Dutch ovens, are perfect for winter comfort cooking.
Cheap brands vs premium cast-iron pots
With such a huge price difference between cast-iron pots from brands such as Aldi and Kmart and high-end brands such as Staub and Le Creuset, what do diehard users of these types of pots say?
"We bought a budget Kmart cast-iron pot for $29 about five or so years ago and it has been a great companion in the kitchen," says one CHOICE Community member. "The only thing we have noticed is that the enamel lining the inside of the pot has significantly discoloured over time… but apart from this, it has been well and truly a good pot."
I have an Aldi and a Kmart Dutch oven. I've had them for more than five years and they both get a good workoutCHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair
Our kitchen expert Fiona Mair agrees: "I have an Aldi and a Kmart Dutch oven. I've had them for more than five years and they both get a good workout.
"I have noticed that after a year they did lose the smooth interior coating which helps to prevent sticking of food such as rice or pasta. If I'm cooking a soup or casserole I have to stir it constantly, even on a simmer, to ensure it doesn't stick.
"As they age, staining does become more obvious and they become trickier to clean. They are cheap enough that you could replace them every few years, although you have to consider the impact that has on the environment in terms of unnecessary waste.
"They are recyclable though, so that's good news if you would rather opt for a cheaper pot that you can then replace."
CHOICE expert Fiona Mair assessed 14 different brands of Dutch ovens to help you decide which one is right for you.
Warranties for cast-iron Dutch ovens vary from none at all (Kmart) or five years (Aldi) through to 30 years (Kitchenaid) and even a lifetime (Le Creuset, Staub, Chasseur and others). The Ironclad Co backs their products with a 100-year warranty.
Should you buy an Aldi cast-iron Dutch oven in their Special Buy sale?
Each year, Aldi sells a range of cast-iron cookware, including French pans, roasters and Dutch ovens under the Crofton brand, as part of its Special Buy sale.
This year's range will be sold from Wednesday 19 July and will include Dutch ovens in navy blue, red and white for $26.99 each. They're suitable for all stovetops including gas, electric, glass ceramic and induction, and come with a five-year warranty.
Often selling out fast, it's not only the super-cheap price that has won the range fans. We asked a few CHOICE staff members who have bought the Aldi cast-iron pots in the past whether they felt the purchase offered value for money.
CHOICE staff offer their thoughts
CHOICE staff member Laura has owned an Aldi Dutch oven for 12–18 months, using it two to three times a week. She says she is "absolutely" satisfied with the purchase, although she has noticed very recently that some of the red coating on the outside has chipped off a little.
"I haven't used any of the premium brands so I can't compare it, but it works well, heats evenly, looks good and does the job it's supposed to do," she says. "No complaints."
Another CHOICE staff member Emily owns both a cast-iron French pan and a Dutch oven from the Aldi range that she uses about once a month.
"I'm very satisfied," she says. "Food cooks pretty evenly and heats up pretty quickly. I find food tastes nicer when I cook on cast-iron versus other pans. The coating hasn't come off in the time I've used it, although there are some stains I've struggled to remove and a couple of scratches from when I used a metal spoon.
I find food tastes nicer when I cook on cast-iron versus other pansEmily, CHOICE staffer
"I do try to hand wash the pots and pans after they've cooled, but on rarer occasions have thrown them into the dishwasher. They were very affordable and I've found them to be very good value for money. More so if you stick to the care instructions provided."
CHOICE staff member Peter says: "We have an Aldi cast-iron cooking pot and it's been very good. I think we probably have had it for at least five years, but recently the handle on the top of the lid broke – and I'm going to have to chase a replacement handle, as it's not repairable.
"We also have a Le Creuset pot, which again we've had for a long time. No problems with the lid handle on that. The Aldi one was substantially cheaper, but generally works pretty well."
Aldi sells its range of cast-iron cookware, including Dutch ovens, about once a year. Image: Aldi.
Should I splash out on a Le Creuset or Chasseur casserole dish?
If you can afford the initial outlay of cash, a high-end Dutch oven can last you 20 years or more before it shows signs of wear and tear, even becoming a family heirloom.
This is especially true of non-coated cast-iron pots – because they don't have enamel, the surface won't chip or discolour so they can last a lifetime.
Products from brands such as Le Creuset usually come with lifetime guarantees, so you can always replace it if you have issues. They also have added features, such as interchangeable knobs you can switch between depending if you are cooking on a stovetop or in the oven.
This Lodge Dutch oven doesn't have an enamel coating on the interior or exterior. Instead, the cast-iron is seasoned with oil.
Enamel-coated vs non-coated cast-iron Dutch ovens
Thinking of going old-school with a non-coated cast-iron pot? While they don't have the same aesthetic appeal as some enamel-coated Dutch ovens, they certainly have staying power: if you care for one, it'll last you a lifetime. Some brands even have a lifetime guarantee or 100-year warranty.
They require some work to keep the seasoning up to scratch, but they're virtually indestructible and they can be used in the kitchen and on the campfire or barbecue. (Seasoning is a layer of oil that's heated to form a protective coating on the cooking surface, which helps prevent food from sticking.)
Unfortunately if you're keen on one of these Dutch ovens, you're unlikely to be able to pick one up on the cheap: the ones we tested cost between $205 and $450.
Before you drop $200+ on a non-coated cast-iron Dutch oven, check our reviews to find the best Dutch oven and casserole pots.
Aldi sometimes sells budget cast-iron Dutch ovens as Special Buys.
Colours and styles
Another selling point of more expensive brands of enamel-coated Dutch ovens are the colours and sizes available.
CHOICE kitchen expert Chantelle Dart says: "The Kmart pot is available in just one size and shape and a few colours – the Aldi range is similarly restricted. So, if you don't like those colours or they don't fit with your kitchen, you're stuck.
"In contrast, Chasseur and Le Creuset, and even mid-range brands that cost a couple of hundred dollars, offer much more choice when it comes to colour. They are constantly releasing pots in on-trend, must-have shades that can fit with both modern and traditional kitchens."
CHOICE tip: You can often pick up heavily discounted pots from premium brands because they are in "last season's" colour range – if you don't have your heart set on a particular shade, it's a great way to pick up a bargain.
How to choose the right size
And what's the most versatile size if you just want to buy one Dutch oven? Chantelle recommends one with a capacity of about five to six litres (roughly a 26cm round pot): "It's versatile and great for a family of around four, or for cooking a meal for two and freezing the leftovers. You'll get good use out of it."
If you have an induction or ceramic cooktop, consider the size of your cooking zone before you buy. It's best that you choose a pot that fits well with the size of the heated zone for better cooking efficiency.
The Kmart Dutch oven.
What CHOICE testing says
We saw varied results in our testing of eight market-leading cast-iron pots. As is often the case, price is not always a reliable indicator of performance. CHOICE members can access the full reviews.
Although we're unable to recommend it, the Kmart cast-iron pot did perform comparatively well in many of our tests. For example, it scored an impressive 95% in our bolognaise sauce test (we use this to assess the Dutch oven's ability to slow cook while maintaining a low temperature for a long period of time and its ability to brown the meat evenly).
How to clean your cast-iron casserole pot
Just like your non-stick pans, you shouldn't put your cast-iron pots in the dishwasher – it can cause the pot to rust and lose the seasoning on its enamel coating.
Let the pot come to room temperature then rinse out with hot soapy water. For stubborn stains, fill the cooled pot with hot soapy water and leave to soak.
If you need to, scrub with a stiff-bristled nylon brush or sponge to clean. Don't use metal cleaning pads or scourers as this will damage the enamel.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.