Braising is a cooking method that helps you get the most bang for your buck. By using both dry and wet heat, it can make cheaper cuts of meat fall-off-the-bone tender for incredibly tasty meals. But to do this successfully, you need a dedicated braiser, which is a wide, shallow pan with a tight lid that browns food before it simmers in liquid to finish cooking. Most chefs agree that cast iron braisers are the most durable, high-performing option. They also retain heat more effectively than braisers made of other materials, so they can keep your meals warm when they're on the table.
Having trouble sorting through all the options? Our buying guide has all the tips you need to find the best cast iron braiser for your kitchen. We've included some specific product recommendations, too, including our top pick from Le Creuset, which can hold up to five quarts and cleans up easily.
Considerations when choosing cast iron braisers
Cast iron braisers are typically used for cooking meat. In particular, they work well for turning tough, inexpensive cuts of meat into deliciously tender meals. A braiser is also ideal for making stews and can be used for a variety of other one-dish meals. Because it's both stovetop- and oven-safe, you can bake, roast, simmer, and fry in a cast iron braiser.
To braise your favorite meat, sear it on your stovetop in the braiser, add broth or stock, cover it with the braiser lid, and bring it to a simmer. Next, move the braiser into the oven and allow the food to finish cooking. You can add veggies and other ingredients before you place the braiser in the oven.
Cast iron benefits
While braisers are also made from other materials, there are several reasons why cast iron models are so popular:
Cast iron cookware can withstand extremely high temperatures, so it's oven-safe and compatible with induction cooktops. Cast iron braisers retain heat very well, which allows for effective searing and crisping of foods. Cast iron cookware offers a nonstick cooking surface if it's properly seasoned. Cast iron braisers are highly durable, so they can last for years in your kitchen. Cast iron is less expensive than many other cookware materials.
You can find cast iron braisers in a range of sizes, with most falling between three and six quarts in capacity. A more compact braiser works well if you're cooking for one or two people, but for a family, you'll usually want a braiser that's at least five quarts in size.
If you want to use your cast iron braiser as soon as you get it, opt for a pre-seasoned pan. That saves you the trouble of having to season the cast iron yourself, though you'll eventually need to re-season the braiser as you use it.
Don't want to deal with the hassle of seasoning and re-seasoning your cast iron braiser? Opt for an enameled cast iron braiser. These models feature an enamel coating over the entire cooking surface, which is nonstick but doesn't require seasoning. Choose an enameled cast iron braiser with high-quality enamel, though, to make sure the coating doesn't chip or wear down too quickly.
Some cast iron braisers have heat-proof handles, which have a protective coating to prevent burns. Not all braisers with heat-proof handles are oven-safe, though, so they may not be as versatile as other pans.
A braiser's lid should fit snugly to help trap the moisture inside the pan. Some lids have a traditional handle on the lid, while others feature a knob.
You'll typically pay between $30 and $400 for a cast iron braiser. Those that are under $100 usually aren't the highest quality or most durable. Options that are not pre-seasoned are generally the most affordable.
Q. What else can I do in my cast iron braiser besides braising?
A. While a braiser is obviously designed for braising, you can also bake, roast, fry, and saute in it. It works really well for one-pot meals such as casseroles, too.
A. You should never wash cast iron cookware in the dishwasher because it may cause rust and remove the seasoning that provides the nonstick surface. Keep enameled cast iron out of the dishwasher, too, because it may wear down the enamel coating.
Our take: A top-of-the-line braiser that combines form and function thanks to its aesthetically pleasing design and high-quality construction.
What we like: An attractive brasier that goes effortlessly from the oven to the table. Holds five quarts, making it ideal for a family. Compatible with all types of ovens and stoves. Offers easy cleanup.
What we dislike: Fairly heavy pot, which can make handling difficult.
Our take: A well-designed braiser that maximizes all the benefits of cast iron while limiting the drawbacks.
What we like: Extremely durable and easy to clean. Boasts an attractive enamel finish that doesn't require seasoning. Domed lid accommodates big cuts of meat.
What we dislike: Relatively small size doesn't work well for large meals.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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