Need to know
- There's dutch ovens for all budgets, from around $29 for a cheap pot from Aldi or Kmart, to more than $700 for premium brands such as Staub, Chasseur and Le Creuset
- Our kitchen experts have expertly tested and reviewed eight of the market-leading cast-iron pots
- 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 (or 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 there's the premium, cult brands such as Le Creuset, Staub and Chasseur (which can range in price from $580 to $720 for a 28cm round cast-iron dish); there's cheaper mid-range brands such as Baccarat (around $300); and then budget options from Ikea, Kmart and Aldi can cost as little as $29.
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 the big deal over cast-iron pots and why would you consider one?
A cast-iron pot can withstand high temperatures up to around 250°C, 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 around 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 and 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 the 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."
Aldi sometimes sell budget cast-iron dutch ovens as Special Buys.
Should I splash out on a Le Creuset or Chasseur casserole dish?
In contrast, 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.
Products from brands such as Le Creuset usually come with lifetime guarantees, so you can always replace 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.
My cheap Kmart one was chipped around the base, lid and rim within a few uses. It does the job but it's nowhere near the same quality as a Le CreusetFrom 'Aldi Mum' Facebook group
On the Aldi Mum's Facebook group, some shoppers shared their experience of the cheaper Aldi dutch ovens versus more expensive brands. While some agreed the Aldi cast-iron pots are a brilliant bargain buy, many said they didn't perform as well as high-end versions.
"I don't rate them in comparison to the Chasseur or similar," says one shopper. "At first you think they are ok then over time they become stained and very hard to clean."
Another shopper commented: "I have a Kmart pot and my Mum has a Le Creuset. Both get used frequently, both hand-washed. My cheap Kmart one was chipped around the base, lid and rim within a few uses. It does the job but it's nowhere near the same quality as a Le Creuset. Mum's is still perfect after 12 years."
Colours and styles
Another selling point of more expensive brands are the colours and sizes available.
CHOICE kitchen expert Chantelle Dart says: "The Kmart pot is available in just one size, shape and colour – a royal blue – and the Aldi range is similarly restricted. So, if you don't like that blue or it doesn'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 colours. They are constantly releasing pots in trendy 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 around 5 to 6 litres (approximately 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 comes in one colour and one size.
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 did perform comparatively well in many of our tests. For example, it scored an impressive 95% in our bolognese sauce test (we use this to assess the Dutch oven's ability to slow cook while maintaining 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.