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June 22, 2015 3:53 PM   Subscribe

David Lebovitz visits the Le Creuset factory in Fresnoy-le-Grand, France.
posted by a lungful of dragon (45 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating, but I had to pause here:

They explained that cast iron works by absorbing the various fats and greases that are cooked in it into tiny pores in the metal, which helps create a sort-of nonstick surface (except to those of us who have tried to make fried rice in ours), and it’s not exactly hygienic

First, please. Second, Le Creuset makes cookware with bare cast iron cooking surfaces. Such as the ones pictured in the articles and the ones I own myself. So... what?
posted by cmoj at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is just the pot calling the kettle... rainbow-hued.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:19 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wife and I look for Le at thrift shops. I found one with no top the replacement lid was an eye popper, better to buy new.

I love this cookware and don't use it, we just watch all the cooking shows and drool. I found a nice pot on discount for 80$. Still, to rich for me. I loved this article ALFOD, thanks for posting it.
posted by clavdivs at 4:27 PM on June 22, 2015

How good is Le Creuset cookware really? I've never used it, but it's always seemed overpriced to me, plus the colors are all horribly ugly, so it'd have to be a lot better than pretty much anything else for me to bother.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:29 PM on June 22, 2015

Durability. It does come in oodles of colors.
posted by clavdivs at 4:31 PM on June 22, 2015

I've literally just sat down from taking my 29cm oval Volcanic Orange out of the oven, where I was using it to make sourdough.

If I had my druthers, I'd have gone for a smaller, round one in a different colour. But I bought it brand new on ebay for £50, and I see the going price on their website is £190. Shit, I thought it was an extravagance at £50. I'd usually expect a whole set of pots for that money.

But for making sourdough, I've never found anything better. And it's big enough to roast a chicken, or make stew for a whole legion of people.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:31 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

How good is Le Creuset cookware really?

It's excellent and durable and it heats with extreme evenness and I am so MAD THAT I LEFT IT ALL BEHIND IN SPAIN WHEN I MOVED BACK TO THE US sob
posted by poffin boffin at 4:36 PM on June 22, 2015 [16 favorites]

I can't really speak to value, since mine were gifts but I've been very happy with my Le Cruset stuff, durable, heats evenly, does whatever I ask it to. I do like the colors, though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:37 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

How good is Le Creuset cookware really?

I have an oval dutch oven that my mom gave me when I moved out. My parents had gotten it as a wedding present, I think. I use it pretty much every time I make a stew or long-simmering dish, it's had 50 years of wear, and, while it's a bit discolored on the inside, it's still going strong. I expect it will outlast me, easy. It's heavy, which makes it a little awkward to swing around (and a pain when I change apartments), but it heats evenly, holds heat very well, and, once you get the feel of how it reacts to flame, it's almost impossible to burn stuff in it. Oh, and it works equally well on a burner or in the stove. I don't think you need a lot of it, but you can't go wrong with a heavy pot or two.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:42 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have on oval dutch oven my wife got me for my birthday about 10 years ago. It is, after the saute pans, the second most used cookware item in our kitchen - the wok *might* beat it out. It is fantastic for making stews, and any sort of braising really. It holds heat incredibly well. I would not feel bad buying one of their dutch ovens, although I just looked at the current price of them, and wow, I think I need to go thank my wife again...
posted by combinatorial explosion at 4:49 PM on June 22, 2015

...and the (I'm guessing here) lapis blue is a nice vibrant change from all the stainless steel.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 4:51 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

What Cooks Illustrated says is that the Lodge enamel cookware is almost as good as Le Creuset.

I have a giant Le Creuset ding-and-dent stockpot, and it's very, very nice. It heat evenly (no hot spots) and holds a temperature well; it's large and deep enough to cook a very large soup or stew but its diameter is such that it's easy to work with, unlike my other tall and narrow stockpot; the lid fits tightly and really holds heat and moisture inside well; it's stovetop-to-oven unlike pots with plastic parts so that I can sear and then cook in the oven. If I didn't have a ding-and-dent Le Creuset, I would probably get a Lodge one - still spendy and not near as pretty, though.

Basically, heavy enamel cast iron is really good. My goal is to slowly replace all my other pots with Le Creuset or Lodge. I have one other vintage French enamel tiny saute pan from the thrift store and I use it all the time - it's heavy and solid, unlike some of that sixties thin enamel that you see.
posted by Frowner at 4:56 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Le Creuset is definitely the best of enameled cast iron cookware. That said, it really isn't thick enough to compete with, say, a heavy stainless rondeau with a 7mm aluminum base when it comes to evenness of heat or searing ability. I own several pieces (I have a ridiculous amount of cookware) but don't use them very often compared to my other pieces with a similar shape and intended use.
posted by slkinsey at 5:03 PM on June 22, 2015

I love the Le Creuset casserole we got as a wedding present back in the day, cooks beautifully every time. Now I know it's made of railroad tracks; extra awesome.
posted by threecheesetrees at 5:16 PM on June 22, 2015

I don't think they sell uncoated cookware. I actually think it's a black enamel.
posted by JPD at 5:21 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I adore Le Creuset. I have the grill pan and a Dutch oven and oh my god, are they amazing.
posted by Kitteh at 5:23 PM on June 22, 2015

What Cooks Illustrated says is that the Lodge enamel cookware is almost as good as Le Creuset.

Yeah, but the enamel Lodge is made in China (according to wikipedia). I’d rather my money went to a country with better laws.
posted by D.C. at 5:28 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love my Dutch oven and my 12" frying pan. The latter is the secret weapon behind my pork tenderloin bonanza. The build quality is great and they look fantastic, too.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:32 PM on June 22, 2015

Wow! I just went down the rabbit hole of expensive cookware looking up rondeau options. I didn't expect to get that expensive ($600.00 for a saute pan).

Anyway, I love LC dutch ovens for moving from the stovetop to the oven. The heat is always even and never burn.
posted by Benway at 5:33 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dang it, I really wanted to know more about the enameling process but the author got all hand-wavey at the company's request.

I've ogled Le Creuset but inherited a couple Lodge pieces that are holding up great. I also have a small cast-iron skillet I found under a south Alabama farmhouse about twenty-five years ago. It's probably more than a hundred years old and it cooks eggs just dandy.

There's something fundamentally satisfying about cooking in hot iron.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

What Cooks Illustrated says is that the Lodge enamel cookware is almost as good as Le Creuset.

Yeah, but the enamel Lodge is made in China (according to wikipedia). I’d rather my money went to a country with better laws.

Oops, apparently Le Creuset isn’t exclusively made in France. From the article: “Six hundred people work in this particular factory. They have other facilities around the world, including in China and the United States.”

Oh, well.
posted by D.C. at 5:38 PM on June 22, 2015

We have one piece of Le Ceuset - our Sunday bacon pan. We do bacon method and it is superb, qed. We love this thing - it's heavy, cooks really well and (most important to me) will last forever - it's a beautiful thing imho. But just the one.
posted by parki at 6:00 PM on June 22, 2015

I think Lodge has some US production again, and as for the Le Creuset, most of the actual enameled stuff is French as far as I can tell. They also make some (very good) ceramic and other stuff from China.

I prefer to buy stuff made in situations with fair compensation for labor, but I'm not totally comfortable with recommending that everyone who wants cast iron cookware should be prepared to pay $300/piece. It's not like there's a lot of fantastic non-cast iron and non-teflon (which is a feature for me) US-made cookware that's super affordable as an alternative, although there is still some US production. I paid through the nose for a couple of US-made cake pans at the yuppie store, and even the yuppie store clerk couldn't believe I was willing to spend that much. I mean, they're super nice, but still.
posted by Frowner at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lodge only produces a couple raw cast iron pieces in its US foundry; if you're looking for USA made cast iron, you really want to go with them, or Finex. which is all USA produced, and they treat their workers…really fucking awesome; they're normal middle class folks. Like, that live in Portland. Insane. For enamel cast iron, you're only real options are Staub and Le Creuset, which are both made in France. Le Creuset's non-cast iron pieces get farmed out to other countries. They make stock pots and kettles and stuff, that are just for fashion so super rich folks can have all their cookery match. The build quality of their stuff coming out of other countries is pretty hit and miss.

How good is Le Creuset cookware really?

We use an enamel cast iron dutch oven for at least one meal a week. It never gets put away. It in fact, does not actually have a place to be put away in. Until about a week ago, we used that bright blue Lodge buddy. Its great. It worth every penny, and you can find them on sale pretty easy or find places that will take a coupon for them. If you need a dutch oven, you could do worse I'm sure. Yeah, they are made in China, and this is a bummer…but not everyone can afford a dutch oven made in France….I sure as hell couldn't.

About a week ago, we were gifted a Le Creuset. It is notably nicer. For fucking sure its nicer. First off, its actually lighter, but still disperses heat better. The handles are more ergonomic. The inside of the cooking surface has less curve around the bottom (where the lodge is almost shaped like a saucier, not a deal breaker, but it is an annoyance, and i'm glad Le Creuset doesn't have the same problem). It is objectively nicer…but is it worth the price difference in kitchen performance? Probably not. Is it better from a labor stance? Most probably (since we don't really know how well Lodge audits its supply chain, but you get what you pay for).

I'm stoked we have one…but there's no way I would have bought one for myself, as the Lodge dutch oven was perfectly usable, and utilitarian.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I love my Lodge stuff but damn I am always salivating over LC. It's so pretttyyyy.

One day when my pocket book is much bigger, I will get me orange some le creuset.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:55 PM on June 22, 2015

How good is Le Creuset cookware really? I've never used it, but it's always seemed overpriced to me, plus the colors are all horribly ugly, so it'd have to be a lot better than pretty much anything else for me to bother.

I love the colors, but I also love mid century architecture and goofy 1970s graphic design. If you prefer the 1980s, you won't like the Le Creuset colors.

But for cooking, it is spectacular. As others have said, for going from stovetop to oven and back it works really well. Based, I think, on an AskMe recommendation, I bought a larger enameled cast iron pot at Walmart, I don't remember if it is Lodge or Martha Stewart or what, and it is distinctly less nice than the LC pots I have. It's not bad enough to get rid of, but if I was doing it over I would save longer and get the nicer pot instead.

As people have said, they get the weight and heat distribution right, and the tops fit well. My experience is that the cheaper stuff doesn't get the details right, though it is perfectly functional in terms of cooking.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 PM on June 22, 2015

In terms of value, it looks like the 3.5-quart round french oven that I use the most costs about $130. I have used it at least weekly for about five years now and it shows no wear at all. That works for my personal cost/value ratio, but the reality is that you can get the same cooking results for less money, though with less careful design and probably heavier.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:34 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have the same French over that Dip Flash mentions, and it is worth every penny. They make wonderful stuff.

My pair of orange LC soft boiled egg cups are my favorite things on earth, just in terms of beauty and all-around uselessness.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:58 PM on June 22, 2015

It is with pride of ownership and shame at extravagance that I tell you we have the goose pot - never cooked a goose in it, but it is nonetheless an amazing piece of cookware.
posted by ersatzkat at 8:05 PM on June 22, 2015

Yeah, but the enamel Lodge is made in China (according to wikipedia). I’d rather my money went to a country with better laws.

The reason I ended up buying the real thing was because previously, I'd bought a knockoff from Tesco that was a fraction of the price and was obviously made in China.

Within a year, the enamel inside the pan had shattered -- just through normal oven temperature use.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:05 PM on June 22, 2015

I have a Le Creuset crepe pan that I bought over 30 years ago, possibly the first "nice" cooking item I ever owned. Still as wonderful today as the day I got it. Perfect crepes every time.
posted by gimonca at 8:47 PM on June 22, 2015

I have a couple of Le Chasseur items. They're very well made, made in France, and in fact I just checked and they've been going one more year than Le Creuset (1924 not 1925). Yet for some reason they don't appear to be "iconic". Why is this, I wonder?
posted by wilful at 8:55 PM on June 22, 2015

Le Chasseur has pretty limited distribution; part of the reason Le Creuset is so 'iconic' is because they've been around in North American markets longer. I would venture a guess that their timing coincided with a boom in the popularity of French cooking, again, at least in North America. People are able to attach a certain nostalgia to them that you don't really see with Staub or Le Chasseur. There's a couple really good German and Japanese brands kicking around out there too, but you don't really see them outside of really specific markets.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:12 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my strength training milestones is to be able to hold this goddamn 13" Le Creuset skillet of mine horizontally at the handle with one hand for long enough to wash it in the sink.
posted by invitapriore at 9:17 PM on June 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

In the interest of gathering further cookware porn started in an Ask of mine, please do expound more on those German and Japanese brands, furnace.heart
posted by romakimmy at 11:10 PM on June 22, 2015

When I moved to London nine years ago, we found a housewares company closing out in a nearby shopping centre. For £100 we got two saucepans and two frying pans in a recently-discontinued shade of blue (essentially the mefi-background blue, for those of you who chose the Unprofessional theme). Best money I've spent.

The cooking style is very different from a thinner steel pot, and many complain that it makes cooking on a gas hob feel like electric in many ways: it takes longer to heat up, but the heat is distributed evenly.

The saucepans are my favourite: the glazed inside surface is resistant to just about anything. Aside from the ring of exposed cast iron where the lid meets the pot, everything is enamelled and glazed and protected from rust. Alas, we were careless with the larger frying pan, and its unprotected iron skillet surface began to pit after a few years. The smaller frying pan is still in good order (probably because it's easier to hold up and clean/dry).

But being able to pull a cast-iron pot into the sink and soak the inside overnight is almost magical. I will admit to running a bead of soap over the exposed iron with my finger when I do this, though. Once bitten...
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:30 PM on June 22, 2015

I have two brown Le Creuset Dutch ovens, one oval, one round, inherited from my mother in law. I think they'd be at least thirty years old and they're fantastic. Having said that, I was after a shallower casserole dish with a lid and went shopping. Le Creuset came in at a whopping $699 (this is in Australia where we pay triple for everything.) I found what looked to be be an identical bright blue cast iron enamel dish under the Classica brand for $100. So far it seems to performing just as well as the Le Creuset. Now I imagine Le Creuset are actually better, but seven times better to justify the price, I doubt it. I really would have loved to get one but I can't justify that kind of money. Even if I bought it cheaper overseas, the shipping for something that heavy is insane.
posted by Jubey at 12:23 AM on June 23, 2015

You have a point Jubey, while these high end enamelware items are worth celebrating, you can get fantastically durable and functional items from Aldi for 1/10th the price. Really much better value and accessible for all, which should be celebrated.
posted by wilful at 4:48 AM on June 23, 2015

What Cooks Illustrated says is that the Lodge enamel cookware is almost as good as Le Creuset.

Included to agree, there are some refinements in LC, a more even heating, handles that feel great in the hand, great colors, but the Lodge stuff works just as well for 90% of what her going to do.
posted by The Whelk at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

please do expound more on those German and Japanese brands

Oh man, I'll have to do some digging; its been years since I've given up trying to score some of them (due to budget, and availability). Chantal used to make really good enamel cast iron in Germany, but their production seems to have shifted around, and its not clear where they make their stuff. They might still do their cast iron there. Even the stuff I saw just a couple years ago still had a Made In Germany tag on it, but it really is unclear now.

I know that AGA makes some pretty legit cast iron in the UK.

I might be off on the Japanese claim; it looks like most of my old bookmarks just have those as raw cast iron, not enamelware.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:16 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Le Creuset was our favourite cookware for many years and we still have a few pieces around somewhere, including a terrine and a wok.

But then we discovered old, tinned copper pans, and now everything else is gathering dust under the sink...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 7:59 AM on June 23, 2015

I've got a couple of their pans, both heavily chipped. I've contemplated blasting the iron clean, applying a high-temp enamel, and seeing if I can repair them in a kiln, but not sure its worth the effort, or if it would even work. Maybe some pyroceram or pyrex in the mix?
posted by Blackanvil at 10:02 AM on June 23, 2015

I do drool over these when we go to their outlet shops, but I'm pretty sure the Lodge enameled dutch oven is going to outlive me. Maybe I will treat myself to one of the sauce pans one day.
posted by almostmanda at 10:03 AM on June 23, 2015

I could have sworn that LC had a lifetime warranty on their enamel. Check to see, Blackanvil.

I have lodge, Costco, LC and Staub. If money is not an issue then Staub but for practical purposes any of them will do.
posted by jadepearl at 4:21 PM on June 23, 2015

There is some spectacularly beautiful Japanese cast iron but not enameled iirc
posted by JPD at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2015

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