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Orange Le Creuset Dutch oven, sitting on ivory tablecloth with top half off South China Morning Post via Getty Images

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How the Le Creuset Dutch Oven Rose to Icon Status

Explaining the history of (and obsession with) the cultishly beloved kitchen essential

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The Le Creuset Dutch oven is that candy-colored cast-iron pot every food obsessive seems to own. Useful for cooking all kinds of dishes, from braises to loaves of bread, these heavy-duty pots are prized for their easy-to-clean enamel, even heat conduction, and tight-fitting lids. They’re famously expensive — the 5.5-quart option will still set you back $350, while the 13 quart is $560. They’re hailed by professionals as the unequivocal gold standard — every other option is perceived as second-best — and the conventional wisdom for the “serious” home cook seems to be: If you’re buying a Dutch oven, you should be buying a Le Creuset. Which begs the question... why?

Where it came from:

While generally referred to as Dutch ovens in the U.S., Le Creuset’s version is technically a French oven, also known as a cocotte. The company’s Belgian founders, Armand Desaegher and Octave Aubecq, basically invented the modern, enamel-covered style in 1925 when they paired the Dutch method of casting metal using sand molds (rather than clay) with layers of colorful, high-quality porcelain enamel. Traditional Dutch ovens were developed to cook over an open flame; some versions even include legs for this purpose. But Le Creuset’s take — featuring large looped handles; a wide, flat bottom; and smooth enamel covering both the interior and the exterior for easy upkeep — was perfectly designed for frying, braising, stewing, and baking in a home kitchen. With postwar French home cooks increasingly interested making dishes like boeuf bourguignon, made famous by chef Auguste Escoffier a generation earlier, the brand took off.

Early Le Creuset pieces were all enameled in a deep red-orange, inspired by the color of molten iron and known as “volcanique” in France (and later “flame” in the U.S.). Now available in over 100 hues and sold in 60 countries worldwide, Le Creuset Dutch ovens are still hand-forged in Fresnoy-le-Grand in much the same process as they were almost 100 years ago. And flame remained one of the most popular colors, favored by chefs from Julia Child to Nigella Lawson.

Pink Le Creuset Dutch oven sitting open on a stylish table with a roast chicken inside
A Le Creuset Dutch oven sitting pretty
Le Creuset

Explaining its iconic status:

Le Creuset has remained relevant since its founding with a mix of smart product design and even smarter marketing. On top of the simple fact that the pot lasts for decades, the brand has built generations of loyal customers with a famously generous warranty program and by continually introducing new colors and products. A long list of celebrity endorsements, from people like Marilyn Monroe and Julia Child back in the day to Jennifer Garner and Taylor Swift today, has further boosted brand buzz and made it feel aspirational. Design collabs and limited-edition models are frequent, meaning fans have reasons to stay interested and excited about the product, even as the selling point remains that they last for decades and rarely need replacing. In lieu of buying a new one, you can now buy bakeware, dinnerware, utensils, and even salt and pepper shakers to match your Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Stack of red Le Creuset Dutch ovens of different sizes
A stack of red Le Creuset Dutch at the company’s factory in Fresnoy-le-Grand, in northeastern France
AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, its broad design appeal and hefty price tag have turned the pot into a ubiquitous — and highly recognizable — status symbol. If you’ve ever flipped on a cooking show, stepped inside a Williams-Sonoma, browsed a wedding registry, or paged through a food magazine (or a fashion, technology, or architecture magazine, for that matter), odds are you’re familiar with LC’s characteristic shape and ombre facade. In the words of Nate Collier, Le Creuset’s director of marketing and communications, “You think of it as a simple piece of cookware, but even the silhouette of our Dutch oven is recognizable. You could show someone a line drawing without any color, and most people that are familiar with cookware would be able to tell you that it’s specifically a Le Creuset Dutch oven.”

While there are plenty of copycats at both ends of the price spectrum, from the similarly priced Staub to more affordable upstarts like Milo, few other cookware brands or products seem to elicit the same emotional response. When I asked in a few cooking- and shopping-focused Facebook groups — including one including chefs, food media types, and recipe developers — just what makes Le Creuset the superior Dutch oven, dozens of perfect strangers immediately wrote back. A few people praised alternatives, saying they found their Staub, Lodge, or off-brand Dutch oven to work just as well (or better). But most people shared impassioned, paragraphs-long replies detailing their personal experience with the Le Creuset pots, like how they acquired their favorites (a beloved aunt, at a garage sale) or how they ruined their first one (10 years of everyday use, a clumsy husband). Plenty of folks shared tips for saving on the real deal, like buying vintage, stalking the aisles at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, or hitting a factory discount store.

My inbox was so full, it might as well have been a page on LeCreuset90.com, a website where thousands of fans wrote in with stories and pictures celebrating their LC Dutch ovens for the brand’s 90th anniversary. Online reviews strike a similar tone of evangelism. Forums on sites like Serious Eats, Chowhound, Reddit, and the Food52 hotline light up with hundreds of comments sharing personal takes on the price tag, advancing opinions about which size or model to buy, and debating Staub vs. Le Creuset (the Staub camp claims superior browning, while LC devotees prefer the pale interior enamel in order to better monitor the fond). Some people literally write their LC Dutch ovens into their wills.

It would seem that the adulation and loyalty is partly justified based on quality alone. While several magazines and sites have reviewed and compared the product, from the Wirecutter to the Strategist to Epicurious, America’s Test Kitchen has the most convincing explanation for why Le Creuset is its top pick that I’ve found to date: “At 13.7 pounds, it was the lightest of the cast-iron models, yet it was still heavy enough to conduct heat well. With a broad, light-colored cooking surface; low, straight sides; and large looped handles, it was also exceptionally easy to use.”

Ultimately, Le Creuset enjoys a halo of status from sitting atop the retail category as the best of the best: It’s got cachet as a heritage name brand and has a now-iconic look that would be noticed anywhere. At the same time, its very legitimate, expert-tested quality ensures it keeps its status as The Best — even as new, lower-priced competitors continue to emerge. “It’s like, do you really wanna buy a $50 piece of something over and over again, or do you wanna invest in something and know that you’re gonna have it for a long time?” says Collier. “As that sentiment is growing more, even at the younger end of the consumer spectrum, we feel confident that people will recognize the quality in the lifetime guarantee.”

And if for some reason it doesn’t last a lifetime? Le Creuset will replace your Dutch oven for you — the brand’s legacy depends on it.


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