Santa Claus obviously read my earlier blog about my misgivings about our “almost-as-good” Dutch oven, and delivered a Le Creuset replacement. After using it for a couple of months and doing some side-by-side comparisons, I say if you want to save money, save the $40 for the Chinese knock-off. Save up for the French Oven (as Le Creuset has renamed their Dutch oven, predictably). If you are thinking about a lifetime of cooking, the Le Creuset is worth the extra money.
For those who are keeping score, my knock-off from China is branded Chefmate, Target’s store brand. Cook’s magazine recommended it a few years ago, and it quickly disappeared from most Target stores in my area. I’ve since seen other brands (and Cook’s has recommended some other brands) that look very similar and are priced about the same or a bit more — including Mario Bataglia and Martha Stewart. I suspect the alternate brands are made in the same Chinese factory, or at least to the same specifications. I noticed on chef Mario’s show (Molto Mario) that his dutch ovens have the same brown scuz on the bottom that mine developed. Obviously his crew can’t get that mess out of there, either.
In addition to that unsightly scuz, there’s a noticeable difference in the way the two pots cook. While the $40 pot works well, the French pot is almost fool proof. With the imitation pot, you have to watch a little more closely when cooking on top of the stove to avoid scorching some foods. The directions with the Chefmate recommended wooden or synthetic spoons and utensils. Le Creuset doesn’t care.
The Le Creuset has a very smooth finish inside and out. The knock-off has a slightly bumpy finish, especially on the interior. I suspect that’s why we get more sticking and the unremoveable brown build-up.
The Le Creuset is dishwasher safe; the Chefmate is not. I wash both pots by hand anyway, partly because they are a little too big for the dishwasher rack. You’ll see a lot of the quality differences when you wash the pots. The Le Creuset is far and away better, as well as easier to wash because of its smoother finish.
I would go so far as to say that if you can afford only one good pot or pan, make it a Le Creuset French oven. You could, at a pinch, use it for all your cooking — simmering, baking, roasting, even frying and sauteing. The shape is versatile enough that you can even fry eggs in it, as long as you are careful not to burn yourself on the high sides when turning the eggs.
Santa brought me the 7 1/4 qt. There’s a slightly smaller size that would probably work for most families, and it’s a bit cheaper. I must hasten to add, at my daughter Laura’s prompting, that you need the 7 1/4 qt. if you want to make Paula Deen’s Bobby’s goulash. Laura made BG in our smaller Chefmate and celebrated when she graduated to the larger size Le Creuset.