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Old 03-19-2016, 05:48 AM   #1
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Dutch Ovens - Why Cast Iron?

Recent threads on Dutch ovens got me thinking (dangerous, I know!). Why use cast iron?

I have a 6 qt. Lodge CI Dutch oven and a 8 qt. Lenox tri-ply stock pot. The shape of the Dutch oven is more convenient for a lot of things, but the tri-ply is better for others, such as making roux. Tri-ply is quicker to respond to changes in the burner. It would seem that for most things, the thermal conductivity of tri-ply would make it a better choice (not to mention the weight). I'm trying to think of why the thermal mass of CI would be of an advantage in a Dutch oven (other than making bread).

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Old 03-19-2016, 06:25 AM   #2
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Would you put coals from a campfire on top of your Triply lid or put it on a jet cooker to get it white hot for blackening?
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Old 03-19-2016, 07:03 AM   #3
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Would you put coals from a campfire on top of your Triply lid or put it on a jet cooker to get it white hot for blackening?
I wouldn't do either with an enameled CI Dutch oven. I realize that a CI pan is good for searing, but that's usually done with a fry pan, not a Dutch oven.
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Old 03-19-2016, 08:24 AM   #4
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Cast iron is great for holding steady heat for dishes that braise or simmer for a long time, like soups, stews and braised meats.
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Old 03-19-2016, 08:44 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by tenspeed View Post
I wouldn't do either with an enameled CI Dutch oven. I realize that a CI pan is good for searing, but that's usually done with a fry pan, not a Dutch oven.
You didn't mention that in your OP.
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Old 03-19-2016, 11:13 AM   #6
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Cast iron is great for holding steady heat for dishes that braise or simmer for a long time, like soups, stews and braised meats.
This^^

Using a cast iron dutch oven for braising meats, either on top of the stove or in the oven will maintain the heat more consistently than a more conductive material will. I use both of my dutch ovens a lot, despite the awkwardness of manhandling heavier pots. They simply do a better job for stewing and braising.

The only time I've ever burned anything to the bottom of one of them is when I got distracted and forgot to lower the heat when it started to boil. As long as I pay attention initially, I can let even a tomato based sauce or stew simmer for hours without an worries about burning. The same is difficult to impossible with more conductive pan, especially on an electric range top where the element is cycling on and off.
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Old 03-19-2016, 11:49 AM   #7
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Cast iron as cookware has a long history. It predates stainless steel, try-py, teflon, etc. It was originally used with open fires in colonial kitchens or out on the move.

Over the years, other materials have been introduced that have other beneficial properties. With gas and electric stoves and ovens, maintaining even heat throughout the cooking process is no longer an issue that relies on cookware material. Stainless triply brings other qualities to the game.

I do not believe two identical stews, pot roasts, etc., one cooked in a stainless try-ply pot and the other in cast iron (enameled or not) would taste different.
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Old 03-19-2016, 12:54 PM   #8
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I simply like the old school weight, ruggedness, and feel of cast iron. I think many folks feel this way too about CI and like to stick to tradition and what has always worked.....
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Old 03-19-2016, 01:17 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Andy M. View Post
Cast iron as cookware has a long history. It predates stainless steel, try-py, teflon, etc. It was originally used with open fires in colonial kitchens or out on the move.

Over the years, other materials have been introduced that have other beneficial properties. With gas and electric stoves and ovens, maintaining even heat throughout the cooking process is no longer an issue that relies on cookware material. Stainless triply brings other qualities to the game.

I do not believe two identical stews, pot roasts, etc., one cooked in a stainless try-ply pot and the other in cast iron (enameled or not) would taste different.
+1
The only place I truly see cast iron has an advantage is in its versatility, and I'm talking about seasoned cast iron, not enameled. And I'm not convinced that searing is best done on cast iron, due to its poor thermal conductivity. I have found that cast iron develops hot spots, or in the case of my gas stove, a hot ring where the flame touches the metal. This creates places on the meat that are nearly burned by the time the remainder of the meat is properly seared. If I want an even temperature on the cooking surface, I have to use a diffuser under the pan/pot.

The true advantage of my cast iron, bet it my dutch oven, or any of my pans, is that they are virtually stick free, and can be placed over a camp-cooking fire, and they are nearly indestructible.

The real benefit of my cast iron, to me, is nostalgia. I'm using the same kind of cookware that my Dad used, my Mom used, my Grandparents used. As they have all passed on, it helps me sort of keep a thread in place between us until I get to meet them again when I pass from mortality. The fact that I know how to keep it properly seasoned, and that it is very functional, and that I can pass it all down to my own children, who would really like to have it, well, that's all gravy. I guess the idea that I will hand it down is right up there with the pots and pans helping me to remember my own parents and grandparents.

As Andy stated, there are other pans out there that will perform as well, or better at many things. Earthenware pots are probably better for stews, beans, soups, and slow-cooked sauces; while the quick heat exchange from heat source to food will give a better, more even sear using clad copper, or ceramic coated aluminum, if a higher heat is maintained under the pan. SS is great for soups, eggs, anything boiled, acidic, or alkali foods, and iff you know how to use it, is nearly stick free for frying things, while using with a little bit different technique will give you great fond for pan gravies. And for SS to work, it must be triply, or have an encapsulated bottom with a middle portion made of a highly conductive metal such as copper, or aluminum. Otherwise, it suffers from the same hot spot problems as does cast iron.

Learn the pros and cons of every pot and pan you have, and choose accordingly. I use my CI the most, followed by SS, and finally, hIgh quality non-stick coated aluminum.

That's my honest answer, and info to the best of my knowledge.

Seeeeeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
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Old 03-19-2016, 01:54 PM   #10
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Seeing my beautiful Le Creuset enameled cast iron in my kitchen makes me happy. Therefore, my food is happy and tastes better. That's my story and I'm sticking to it
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