Timing is everything: I was in for two pleasant surprises the day I went to buy my new Dutch oven. Williams-Sonoma was having a 25 percent off sale on all cookware so First I was able to afford a 9 1/2 quart (9 L) Dutch oven instead of the 6 3/4 quart (6.33 L) I thought I was getting (left). Second I saved enough I was additionally able to afford this Le Creuset trivet. I went over my budget by $2.00.
You may have noticed I just called it a French Oven. That is what Le Creuset call them, but I will use Dutch Ovens throughout this article. Other than the improvements to the pan mentioned here, the information in my original blog entry DUTCH OVENS, is still valid. To my surprise, I ended up using my Dutch oven more than I ever expected. I regretted the idea of not getting a bigger one. The price of the 6 3/4 quart (6.33 L) model was $280 or $298 with sales tax but Christmas is coming so I decided to use Christmas money for it. I budgeted $300 for it. I had already done my research and knew I wanted another Le Creuset, so it was a matter of where to get it. I decided to go to Williams-Sonoma in tax free Salem, NH. It was an extra five minutes drive vs. the closest one in Massachusetts, but I wouldn’t have to pay the sales tax. When I got there I found that starting that very day and lasting for a week, Williams-Sonoma was having a 25% off sale on cookware, including Le Creuset. Since I had looked at the pans online a week earlier, I saw nothing about the sale. So instead of going up one size from 5 quart to 6 3/4 quart (4.75 L to 6.33L), I was able to get the 9 1/2 quart (9L) model. Plus if you act now.... Sorry I was going into Infomercial mode there. Plus I was able to get a very handsome looking enameled cast iron trivet in a matching color and I only had to kick in $2 above and beyond my original $300 budget. I like the idea of the 9 1/2 quart (9L) model because I love soups and stews made in the Dutch Oven. I often make a double batches which often don’t fit in my 5 quart (4.75L) model and some of these double batches came perilously close to the top of my 8 quart (7.5L) stock pot. With the 9 1/2 quart (9L) Dutch Oven I will have a bit of a comfort zone. I also like the idea of the matching trivet which has rubber feet to protect the table. The Dutch Ovens look very nice and I could see myself serving from them on occasion. Also even if I don’t serve from the Dutch Oven, the trivet will protect my kitchen countertop too if I have to move a hot pan off the stove. So the whole experience was kismet.
The handles on the new Dutch Ovens (left) are 44 percent larger than the previous product line (right).
OK, so what is new and improved on the Le Creuset Signature series? The biggest day to day change for me was the enlarged handles - 44 percent larger according to the Williams-Sonoma website. These Dutch ovens aren’t light, the 5 quart (4.75L) pan weighs 11 pounds (5 Kg) with the lid and the 9 1/2 quart (9L) pan weighs 9 1/2 pounds (4 1/3 Kg). Then there is the weigh of your food on top of that. The handles on the old model make it tough to get even two fingers inside the handles, particularly if you are wearing thick gloves. The new handles are wider and also project further from the pan. This makes it both easier and quicker for you to get a good grip on the pan. Now that I am going to be using a bigger and heavier version of this pan, I really like the new handles.
The new pans are the same light beige color on the inside, but they are now said to be dishwasher safe and have a more durable interior finish.
The pan is now said to be dishwasher safe too. They still recommend hand washing, which is what I intend to do). To me the fact that the pan can stand up to the harsh environment of the dishwasher tells me they have improved the quality and durability of the enameled cast iron finish both inside and out. After 2 1/2 years of steady use, my existing pan was starting to get a little discolored. This is normal and I was about to try some cleaner put out by Le Creuset to see if it really could get the pan looking like new again. I am hoping the new pan will be both easier to clean and easier to keep looking like new. In addition to saying it is dishwasher safe, the interior finish was said to be improved so I think my hunch that the improvements allowing the pan to be dishwasher safe also point to this better caliber of finish.
The new phenolic knobs are good to 475 degrees (245 C) vs 375 degrees (190 C) for the older models. I will probably not need to buy the high temperature stainless steel knob for my new Dutch Oven.
Another change is to the lids. It is said that stabilizers were used in the lid to help it retain it’s shape better and as a result give a better seal. A better seal means better moisture retention while braising, which these pans already excel in. This improved lid is even more important on a larger pan, whose lid will go out of shape easier. The other big change to do with the lid is the new and improved knob. The old line of pans can with a black phenolic knob (think heat resistant plastic) that was good to a temperature of 375 degrees (190 C). The new phenolic knob is good to 475 degrees (245 C). The 375 degrees (190 C) was just a bit too low for use in the oven where you may need to set a temperature of 450 degrees (230 C). I bought the $12 metal replacement knob for the 5 quart (4.75 L) pan, but I don’t think I will for the new pan. Using the pan in the oven, you will always be presetting the heat and if the oven is working properly you won’t exceed that heat. While I did set the oven to higher than 375 (190) when using my first Dutch Oven, I never set it higher than 450 (230). So for oven use I don’t think the metal knob will be necessary, plus the phenolic knob doesn’t heat up as much when the Dutch Oven is being used on the stove top. While I do use the the Dutch Oven out at the grill, my original reason for buying it actually, I would only be putting it out on the grill to add smoke and so the lid wouldn’t be in use.
So there you have it. If you haven’t looked at Dutch Ovens for a while, you may have missed the improvements that Le Creuset made to their product line. While the Le Creuset Dutch Ovens were already great to begin with, these improvements are all solid improvements and not just insignificant bullet points on a list. I am looking for a new soup or stew to make in my new 9 1/2 (9L) Dutch Oven to break it in. I can’t wait to both make it and eat it.