Monday Funday

Dutch Ovens

By • October 29, 2012 • 52 Comments

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Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: what class of Dutch oven belongs in a First Kitchen?

Dutch Ovens 1

In this modern, consumer-based world, there are a few items that simply say, “I made it.”

There are, of course, Ferraris, Rolexes. There are Birkin bags and Cartier watches, Prada shoes and Hermès scarves. 

Yeah, these things would be nice. 

But in the world of heat and fire, salt and smoke, the world of cutting boards, sharp knives, tattered cookbooks and ceramic bowls -- to me, the world that really matters -- a Le Creuset Dutch oven is that ultimate “I’ve made it.”

It’s ironic, then, that Dutch ovens -- the perfect vessels for cooking beans, stews, tough cuts of meat, things that are economical, things that last, things that every student should be making every week -- are so damn expensive. Sure, they’re durable; they can handle both the stove and the oven. Sure, they’re large; they can feed 2 for a week.  

But does a Le Creuset belong in a First Kitchen?

Yellow Le Creuset

While there may not be anything as well-respected as a Le Creuset, there are certainly other options. First, Dutch ovens can come in both raw cast iron and enameled cast iron. While I shied away from enameled cast iron in my first post -- the stuff was too expensive for a simple cast iron skillet -- here, enameled may be key. Since the seasoning of a raw cast iron pan can wear away with acidic ingredients, the range of recipes I could cook in it is limited. There goes the sauces, the stews, the juicy tomatoes, the long glugs of wine. For this investment, I want to cook anything I want -- without the fear of my day's worth of work tasting like metal. 

Blue Le Creuset

Le Creuset -- and its $299 price tag -- isn't the only option. Cook's Illustrated has high praises for the Tramontina 6.5 Quart Dutch oven, which is $72. But if I'm going to make an investment, does it make sense to go for the one I'll want, eventually, in my third and fourth and fifth kitchens?

Should I go for the Le Creuset -- even if I haven't "made it?"

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

Tags: first kitchen, kitchen confidence, dutch oven, dutch ovens, le creuset, tramontina

Comments (52)

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about 1 year ago nivale

Emile Henry. Absolutely no question about it. You can apply direct and indirect heat. I use over Le Creuset everyday.

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over 1 year ago Davo Shoals

I found an original dutch oven set - 2qt and 8qt(from Holland) at a garage sale for $10! It's the one that's blue with flowers... Like Le Creuset, its enameled. I treasure it. If I ever get rid of it, I'll be at the Le Creuset store the next day. Truly on the short list of absolute musts for every kitchen with a cook.

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over 1 year ago Fozzable

I just got my first Le Creuset dutch oven at the age of 42 and I regret not buying it earlier. If you've got parents who can spring for it as a birthday/holiday gift, I recommend it. If you're on your own, haunt garage sales, ask friends, and look around. they're worth it. they can do anything and you will, like good furniture, have them forever. They will last longer than the latest electronic gizmo, to be sure. I got mine at the Le Creuset outlet for less than $200 after the sale.

that said, I remember being a poor college student, and I lived for many years blissfully ignorant and (mostly) successful in a basic stainless steel dutch oven which doubled as a stock pot.

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over 1 year ago SBMCW

One can assume that for a first kitchen owner you will have (college?) friends that will be getting married. If they are good friends then you will want to get something special and long lasting perhaps even having a heirloom quality for their nuptial gift. As has been noted, Le Creuset Dutch ovens can be a bit pricey. This is how I handled this conundrum. Buy a Le Creuset set of some number of pieces and determine which pieces would make a good wedding gift(s) or as a quality house warming gift for a good friend in their first new home. Use the single item retail cost to set the value of the gift. What is left over after you break up the set you keep for your first kitchen use at a price that would be well below even the sale price. Very often Le Creuset sets are on sale via the internet (for God’s sake wait for free shipping). A side benefit would be any visit to said friends would include a meal cooked in the Le Cresuet pot hopefully. (read that as not burnt). At the end of the day what friend would ever complain about receiving a Le Creuset Dutch oven.

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over 1 year ago maria s.

@Lukshen. Martha Stewart had a big recall on those pots. (I found this out at a Le Creuset outlet of all places.) If you bring it to Macy's they will give you your money back. As to the safety factor? I really don't know. As to the question of investing in a dutch oven. You will use it for years. I've had some of mine for 20+.

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over 1 year ago Lukshen

I have a question. I bought a Martha Stewart dutch oven at Macy's and normally use it for baking bread. There is a 1" diameter chip in the enamel. Is it now unsafe to use for soups and stews?

Button-butteryumcopy

over 1 year ago ButterYum

Since the base is cast iron, you should be fine. Wash and dry it immediately after use, and coat the chip with a little oil to keep it from rusting.

Moi_1

over 1 year ago QueenSashy

Since I "made it", I have been cooking with Le Creuset and Mauviel. Before I "made it", I cooked with Lodge and $10 IKEA stainless steel. And as much as I love my red Le Creuset and my Mauviel, they did not make me a better cook. But they do make me happy. And that was worth the investment.

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over 1 year ago Davis Bliss

As much as I would LOVE a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, it's a little rich for my budget right now. That being said, two of the first pieces I purchased for my kitchen were the Lodge cast iron 5qt Dutch Oven & 12'' Cast Iron Skillet and I am very happy with them. I have
used the dutch oven to make many soups & stocks, braise meats, bake steel cut oats just
to mention a few ways I've put it to good use. It cleans up easily, and if anything should
mar the seasoning, it's easy to re-season with vegetable oil & kosher salt. I have not
found that anything I've cooked in either to have tasted metallic, and I've even made risotto in the 12'' skillet. There is also something so BASIC & kind of earthy about cast iron that really appeals to me!

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over 1 year ago Davis Bliss

As much as I would LOVE a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, it's a little rich for my budget right now. That being said, two of the first pieces I purchased for my kitchen were the Lodge cast iron 5qt Dutch Oven & 12'' Cast Iron Skillet and I am very happy with them. I have
used the dutch oven to make many soups & stocks, braise meats, bake steel cut oats just
to mention a few ways I've put it to good use. It cleans up easily, and if anything should
mar the seasoning, it's easy to re-season with vegetable oil & kosher salt. I have not found that anyth

Open-uri20130723-4684-1ka4o81

over 1 year ago Davis Bliss

As much as I would LOVE a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, it's a little rich for my budget right now. That being said, two of the first pieces I purchased for my kitchen were the Lodge cast iron 5qt Dutch Oven & 12'' Cast Iron Skillet and I am very happy with them. I have used the dutch oven to make many soups, braise meats, bake steel cut oats just to mention a few ways I've put it to good use. It cleans up easily, and if anything shouls mar the seasoning, it's easy to re-season with vegetable oil & kosher salt. I have not found that anyth

Stringio

over 1 year ago benwolkweiss

My wife got a present of a Cuisinart bright red dutch oven from my mom and its great. It was much less than a Le Creuset and when I compared it to my mom's Le Creuset, I didn't find any real difference. They were about the same weight, the Cuisinart might have even been a bit heavier. I suggest checking out a Home Goods store or TJ Maxx as they usually have really great deals on expensive kitchen items like this.

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over 1 year ago Adam E

For me, the pleasure of cooking is as much visual as tactile, gustatory, etc. I honestly feel happy every time I see my beautiful blue Le Creuset gratin dish (a Christmas present from my mom), and there is nothing like the admiration of dinner guests when I bring it to the table bubbling with something delicious.

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over 1 year ago Gretchen @ Backyardnotes

My vote is for a Staub. I bought one for my daughter a few years ago and she is thrilled with it. I bought a Lodge enameled Dutch oven eight years ago and the enamel began chipping off about two years ago so now it is used exclusively to bake bread. I plan on buying a Staub. If it were still available, I would also suggest a Dutch oven (with a lid that doubles as a saute pan) made by Calphalon about 25 years ago. It is still an excellent piece of kitchen equipment and well seasoned.

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over 1 year ago kjrnyc13

If you can spend the money go with Le Creuset (but be prepared for the interior to discolor in a short amount of time). My mom has one and I've used it and it works wondefully.
However since I can't afford a Le Creuset, lol, I ended up getting two dutch ovens from World Market (a 5qt and a 6qt). For the price it was too good a deal to pass up (with coupons and one of their other sales I got both for around 25-30 bucks each). They look like Le Creuset knock-offs and they actually cook pretty damn well (I saw a slight difference between my mother's and my world market knock-offs; not enough of a difference to run out and by a Le Creuset).
When I have the budget to splurge on a Le Creuset I might but, if my "cheapy" dutch ovens continue to work as good as they have, and aren't damaged in anyway, then I may use that extra dough for some other cooking equipment. :)

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over 1 year ago zindc

Get a Le Creuset or Staub--get one on sale at an Le Creuset or Williams Sonoma Outlet store. I've been using my Le Creuset 8 qt. for 35 years, so be sure to get a color you like. The Staub is nice because the inside is black and doesn't discolor like the white interior of the Le Creuset.

Button-butteryumcopy

over 1 year ago ButterYum

Do you find the dark interior difficult to discern the degree of fond caramelization?

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over 1 year ago zindc

No differently than in a black cast iron fry pan.

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over 1 year ago jolene278

I have an Tramontina that I love. For me, Le Creuset seems more like a status symbol, but other people might say differently. :)

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over 1 year ago beyondcelery

I'm in my second kitchen: the kitchen that's done with roommates and shared with my husband of 2 1/2 years. I finally purchased my first Dutch oven, an enameled Lodge, a few months ago. I love it and use it all the time. But I'm also glad I waited till now to buy one. I lost a lot of good kitchen items to clumsy roommates and people who didn't understand that different tools sometimes need to be cared for differently. My beautiful Le Creuset enameled small cast iron skillet spent those years hidden in my closet, unused, because every time I took it out, someone would carry it to the dishwasher (!). I'd say wait to buy a good Dutch oven and instead look for one you don't have to worry too much about. Keep it easily replaceable and you won't alienate friends when you rush at them waving your hands in a panic as they do ignorant things with a kitchen tool you really care about. Because what's the point of a Dutch oven if your friends are afraid to come over and eat with you?

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over 1 year ago jojobeans

I had a similar experience and asked around to many people who loved cooking to see what they had to say. I didn't want to shell out for a Le Creuset... was lucky enough to find a Kirkland Signature (Costco brand) dutch oven for $20 on sale, regular price is $60. I don't think my food would come out any different and the cooking experience is just as pleasant!

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over 1 year ago spiffypaws

A good quality pressure cooker will braise in less time w/ the same result. I have a Le Creuset and a Cousances (the latter was purchased at a thrift shop for $10!!!) so I have actually tested this. I've yet to see enameled cast iron in any high end professional kitchen that I've worked in or visited, yet they manage to produce excellent food.

Button-butteryumcopy

over 1 year ago ButterYum

I have Le Creuset and Mario Batali - the Batali is just as good at a fraction of the cost.

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over 1 year ago Starryartist

i have booth too and they both cook great

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over 1 year ago fearlessem

Honestly, I own a full set of Le Creuset pieces, many of which I got for my wedding, and some of which I inherited... And while I like and enjoy them, I would still tell you to buy the Tramontina. I agree with Penny Lane who mentioned below that if you can get a product with more than 95% of the benefit of Le Creuset for less than 20% of the cost, its a no-brainer. Don't buy a status symbol, which it sound like is what Le Creuset really is to you.

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over 1 year ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

I have several Le Creuset pieces having worked as a rep for the line back in the 70s. Yes... the 1970s... so almost 40 years ago. They still look nearly new, are fabulous sure-to-be-hand-me-down pots and pans and well worth the splurge. If the enamel starts to chip, send them back to the factory for re-enameling. Keep in mind ... you can often find Le Creuset at yard sales, in second hand stores, and at Marshalls and TJ Maxx. In fact, I happen to know there's a certain Food52 Jenny who has a gorgeous deep purple Le Creuset found at a yard sale.

Mcs

over 1 year ago mcs3000

For college, my mom bought me a starter Le Creuset set: a 2-quart round + 2 quart multi-pan. I still use them. It's worth the investment. I'd also recommend a 12" Lodge skillet - like a wok, it only gets better w/ age. ps. I bought my big Le Creuset rounds dutch ovens through Broadway Panhandler. If they still do, at least once a year, they put LC on sale at a steep discount.

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over 1 year ago Socks

Important to note that Le Creuset has a lifetime warranty, which is part of the cost.

Chris_in_oslo

over 1 year ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

Heavy cookware that will last a lifetime? Probably not a great idea until you know you won't be moving often or far. Expensive treats? Even when you're established, they should mostly come as treasured gifts.

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over 1 year ago tinyapartmentchef

I saved up and bought my le creuset at an outlet for about half the retail price my junior year of college. I haven't regretted it since and plan to use it for years to come. So, in the end, I'm glad I saved and splurged for the le creuset instead of buying a version that I planned to replace in a few years.

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over 1 year ago Panfusine

I picked up an enamelled 4 qt Fagor chicken fryer from Open Sky for about 40$ (with some credits earned..) Fell so in love with it that I indulged in a Le Creuset Combination Set (pan with an an omelet skillet for a lid) and a smaller saucepan. So in love with it and use it every single day.. Its totally worth treating yourself! As Verna Bharghava says - nothing more annoying than some one with a Le Creuset who doesn't use it at all!

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over 1 year ago vernabee

I too, am waiting till I've REALLY made it. But I will second the vote for Lodge. While it is a cheaper alternative, it is a great, even heating pot with a nice tight lid. You can switch out the heatproof lid handle (it takes up to 425 degrees) for a Le Creuset one if you need to cook dishes higher than 425, too.

I'll be honest though, there's nothing I find more annoying than a person who owns a Le Creuset and doesn't cook at all ;)

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over 1 year ago lloreen

Hold out for one on sale. I have seen them half price at various times over the years...or second hand. If you can afford it, it is a nice investment. But if your choice is between the pot and the food that goes in it, buy something cheap and save up for Le Creuset sometime later. I have a pot from Target (Martha Stewart line - about 80) that works just fine.

Twittah

over 1 year ago documentngdinnr

I have been searching for a Dutch oven for my first kitchen for 3 years. I can't justify the price tag of Le Creuset when Lodge also sells enameled cast iron Dutch ovens for a fraction of the price. I'm still too cheap to convince myself that $70 is a worthy investment, so I continue to rely on old pots I got from my grandmother's kitchen.

But if I could, I would definitely go for the Le Creuset.

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over 1 year ago Skyler

In 1959 my mother's best friend married a Parisian man. His family were of modest means and unable to travel to the US for the wedding. Six months later, she received a wedding gift from them. She describes opening the crate to find an "ugly,yellow,heavy pot big enough to bathe a baby". Fifty three years later she still uses her le creuset weekly. She was generous enough to gift me my first piece for a wedding gift...but happily chose red!

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over 1 year ago The Mary-anne

Go with the creuset....I'm a big believer in quality vs quantity ... And this is the littl black dress of the kitchen. A true work horse that is a pleasure to see working it's magic on your stovetop. Also a great choice for health concerns as the enamel does not leach into the food :) just make sure that it will fit on your stove! Really, these pots are big and can crowd out the other burners on even a standard stovetop. Also you can find seconds for far less ... If you find a good cleaner though let me know as mine are quite battle scarred insidevand out. Ps this is our go to wedding gift...hoping to gift the cooking bug.

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over 1 year ago Louisa

You can also find used ones on ebay.
I've had mine for years, and considering how long that's been, they turn out to be good value.

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over 1 year ago smslaw

Lodge makes perfectly fine enameled cast iron dutch ovens which sell for much less than Le Cruset. Although an American company, Lodge's enameled CI comes from China. They still make cast iron pots in Tennessee, though.

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over 1 year ago Penny Lane

1) "While I shyed away from enameled cast iron in my first post..." The word is shied, not shyed.
2) "Le Creuset -- and it's $299 price tag -- isn't the only option..." The correct form for the possessive is its, not it's.
3) Spend your time learning how to cook - your cooking skills are what will impress people, not the price point of the tools that you use. Both Lodge and Tramontina offer solid enameled Dutch ovens with about 95% of the performance at 1/6 the cost ($50 to $300). Focus on your skills now, then worry about the fancy-pants items down the road.

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over 1 year ago iguanachef

I have been cooking quite some time but had not gotten into heavy braising and such where I needed or wanted a cast/enamel dutch oven. As my skills improved and my creations called for such I started looking at them. I am still choking at the cost of a staubb or Le Cruset. So I have gone against my normal mode which is buy the best you can afford. I went with a Sur La Table 5 qt for my first cast/enamel pot. under $50 on sale. If I find I am using it more or want to upgrade I can always go get the Le Cruset. So how do you cook? How often will you use it and does it justify the cost. Happy Cooking!

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over 1 year ago johndiggity

If this is really an issue, then you are probably cooking for all the wrong reasons. Spending $300+ on a Dutch oven isn't going to make your food taste demonstrably better than the $40 Lodge or Tramontina options. If you care about what other people think about you when they visit your kitchen then yes, you should buy one. But again if that's the case, the brand of Dutch oven you own is probably the very least of your problems.

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over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

I've been spending Hurricane Sandy scrubbing my copper and Le Creuset pots (pictured above). 10 years old, and they look like new. That blue one -- blackened areas no more! Their resilience is wonderful, so worth the investment.

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over 1 year ago The Mary-anne

What's your cleaner for inside and or out? Mine need both and elbow grease doesnt seem to cut it :(

Me

over 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Associate Editor of Food52.

If I'm not mistaken, Barkeeper's Friend is the magic wand Amanda used.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Hey -- sorry for the delay. In my pot-cleaning frenzy, I somehow missed this! Yes, Barkeepers Friend is my new bff. It works incredibly well on enamel and copper. Wear gloves! I learned about it on the Food52 Hotline -- love Food52ers!

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over 1 year ago cathrynspry

Oooh, I agree that a Le Creuset Dutch oven is a sign that one has arrived in the culinary world as an adult. But I think as a college student I would spring for the less expensive, yet still aesthetically pleasing, Tramontina and put the Le Creuset on the Christmas wish list.

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over 1 year ago KimKAJG

For first kitchens and little money, WalMart sells a fine enameled cast iron Dutch oven

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over 1 year ago BTVSgal

My mom bought me a Le Creuset 5 1/2 for my 22nd birth day. I have always loved to cook and I am now 27 about to turn 28 this Xmas. It is the best present I have ever gotten. I love cooking soups, and slow roasts. It still looks brand new. A great place to look is Tuesday Morning. They are not as expensive there...

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over 1 year ago artisan02

There are also various Le Creuset outlet centers around the country where such dutch ovens can be found at a significant discount. And twice a year (maybe more) they have a big sale, where such pieces can be found at an even more substantial discount. I mean, it might be $100 or more less than full retail.

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over 1 year ago gsa

The author appears to present Le Creuset cookware as some kind of trophy, which is fine if that is how you keep score, but maybe does not fully account for some of the foodie aspects of the brand.

From a trophy point of view, I believe, it is better to buy high-end vanilla beans or saffron (and learn how to use them) than it is to buy a piece of Le Creuset (and learn how to use it). But, one person's trophy is another person's waste.

From a foodie point of view, I believe, it is better to buy a crockpot and/or Lodge cast iron cookware (less than $35) and learn how to use them, than it is to start out with Le Creuset (assuming that there is other stuff you have to buy with your limited funds). But, it is true, after your First Kitchen, you may not be satisfied until Le Creuset is part of your life and your cooking.

When you tell your parents what you want for your birthday, make sure that you specify different sizes of Le Creuset french ovens, e.g. 3 1/2 qt as well as the standard 5 1/2 qt, preferably round vs oval. The stuff can be handed down from generation to generation, as if you did not already know that.

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I have a Le Cruset that we use ALL of the time for just about everything - but you might also consider Lodge. I have a roasting pan from them that I absolutely love, and it has the bonus of being Apple Green and really the quality is excellent. You do need an enameled one, stat, like before Frankenstorm has really got you in it's clutches. Because that will be low-n-slow weather. Assuming you keep power.

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over 1 year ago jamcook

Over the last few years, my son has been setting up a first kitchen too. I gave him a cheaper enameled cast Iron dutch oven, and he uses it ALL the time. After 2 years , this had started to chip and stain.I am getting him a big, real Le Creuset for Christmas.. Mine have lasted for years, and since he uses it frequently I thought it was the time for the real deal. It sort of depends how and what you cook.. If you don't think you will use it much..get the cheaper one, and spend the money left to buy other things you might use more. If you love to stew and braise and roast and do it a lot and serve a lot of people get the le creuset..I think the bigger mistake is o get one too small to be really useful. Hope this helps.