If you're looking for an easier way to prepare some of your favorite stews and more, a Dutch oven makes all the difference: They’re not just pretty to look at — they also heat evenly, retain a steady temperature and can easily go from stovetop to oven. But do you have to spend a fortune on one of the pricey, famous French-brand name ones that go for $300 and up?
To find out, we pored over hundreds of reviews on Amazon to find one at the intersection of rave reviews and sane price point. We found it in the Tennessee-made Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. It has more than 5,000 five stars reviews — and it’s $45. We repeat, $45.
Lodge Enameled 6-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $45, Amazon
Eager to try, we ordered one to test it out. After cooking a few recipes, we have to admit, it really lived up to the online reviews. Here’s what we found:
1. It comes in gorgeous colors.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: A lot of people like the pricier models out there because of their lovely colors. And to be fair, a lot of people leave their Dutch ovens out on the stove, so they should look good. Lodge offers more than a half-dozen cheerful colors, such as red, turquoise, poppy and green as well as more neutrals, like white and gray (some colors are a bit pricier than the $49). In person, the colors held true, and they have a beautiful finish.
2. It browns food beautifully.
Compared to the pricier French model I also used in the kitchen, the Lodge did an identical job caramelizing a big batch of onions, and the stone-colored enamel interior allows you to monitor the browning. The cast iron heated quickly and evenly — and its weight and generously-sized handles made it easy to carry across the kitchen, without feeling like I might drop it on my foot.
3. Cleanup was a cinch.
After caramelizing a batch of onions, I was a little nervous when I looked at the pan, with delicious-looking but hard-to-clean bits at the bottom. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to clean it all up in about 15 seconds — with just a few passes of a sponge, it looked good as new.
4. It's easy to handle.
Weight-wise, at just over 14 pounds, the 6-quart Lodge sits in-between the 6.75-quart Le Creuset (13.2 pounds) and the 6-quart Staub (16.9 pounds). Make no mistake, it's not light, but the handles, that are nicely sized and well-shaped, make it easy to lift out of the oven.
More than 5,000 other online reviewers have raved about the Lodge Dutch oven, too: One commented on how the enamel was thicker than another brand's that had scratched, while another swears by it for bread. One person, who admitted to "snobbery" about her cast iron pots, said she "overcame" her bias as soon as the pot arrived and she braised a whole chicken in rosemary, pears and leeks. "There is absolutely NO difference in the performance of this pan," she wrote. "It's fantastic!"
If you are interested in other Dutch oven options, see best sellers from some of our other favorite sites below.
Walmart Best Seller: Lodge 7-Quart Dutch Oven, $27, Walmart
Wayfair Highest Rated: Le Creuset 6-Quart Dutch Oven, $360, Wayfair
For more cooking tools we love, check out this ode to the pressure cooker and why you need one, this round up of slow cookers and this knife that Anthony Bourdain can't cook without!
This article was originally published on November 30, 2017 on TODAY.com.