How we tested
When we tested braisers, we gave top marks to the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 3.5-Quart Round Braiser. This pan browned food evenly and offered a generous cooking surface that kept food from overcrowding. We also loved the lid’s secure and sizable stainless-steel knob and the pan’s large looped handles that were helpful when picking it up and moving it into and out of the oven.
However, this pan weighs more than 12 pounds when empty, which could be too heavy for some. Also, those who primarily cook for two could find it too big (it easily fits recipes that serve four). The good news is that the company also makes two smaller options: the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 2.25-Quart Round Braiser (about $215) and the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 1.5-Quart Round Braiser (about $200). We wondered if these two pans offered the same heat retention, durability, and versatility as their larger counterpart, so we used them to make Chicken and Rice for Two, meatballs, and Easiest-Ever Pulled Pork from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Dinners for Two. In addition to washing each pan by hand after every test, we whacked each pan around the rim 50 times with a metal spoon and slammed the lid down onto each pan 25 times, checking the enamel coatings for chips and cracks.
Like the larger model, both the smaller braisers impressed us with their cooking abilities by turning out thoroughly browned chicken thighs and pork and evenly seared meatballs. With its 8.5-inch-wide cooking surface, the 2.25-quart model easily accommodated the two-serving recipes we made, and its 1.75-inch-high walls contained foods as we stirred, seared, and flipped. The cooking surface of the 1.5-quart braiser was about an inch smaller, which meant that we had to brown food in more batches. In addition, the walls on the smaller model were slightly shorter, which resulted in pieces of onion and splashes of broth landing on the stovetop as we stirred.
We also wanted to know if both the smaller braisers were as easy to use as our full-size top pick. The lids of each had stainless-steel knobs, and like in our original testing, we found these knobs to be large enough to securely grasp even when using oven mitts or a dish towel. The 2.25-quart model had sizable handles that were easy to grasp and made transporting the pan into and out of the oven a cinch. However, the 1.5-quart braiser’s handles got in the way of its functionality: They were more than an inch narrower than the handles of the 2.25-quart model and therefore too tiny to easily grasp. Instead of being able to grasp the insides of the handles with an oven mitt, we had to settle for holding onto the edges of the handles, which felt less secure.
When it came to assessing cleanup and durability, though, we found that both these smaller braisers excelled: They were easy to clean and withstood being whacked with a metal spoon 50 times and having their lids slammed down 25 times without a single chip.
So which of these braisers is the right model for you? If you often cook recipes that yield four servings, we recommend the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 3.5-Quart Round Braiser. But if you mostly cook for two, we recommend the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 2.25-Quart Round Braiser. It produced well-browned food without crowding, and its handles were roomy. It also weighs about 3 pounds less than the 3.5-quart braiser, so it was easier to lift. The browning ability of the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 1.5-Quart Round Braiser was on par with those of the two bigger pans, but its narrower handles made it less easy to use, and its smaller cooking surface and capacity limited its versatility; this pan would be best for those who are cooking for one. It can also function as a pretty (but pricey!) serving vessel for baked dips or appetizers such as artichoke dip or baked Brie.
- Test the 2.25- and 1.5-quart versions of our favorite 3.5-quart braiser, priced from about $195 to about $215, both made from enameled cast iron
- Make Chicken and Rice for Two
- Brown meatballs all over
- Make Easiest-Ever Pulled Pork from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Dinners for Two
- Wash each pan by hand after every test
- Whack each pan around the rim with a metal spoon 50 times
- Slam the lid down onto each pan 25 times
Cooking: We evaluated the finished food, noting if the braisers were able to brown food thoroughly, cook food evenly, and evaporate moisture adequately.
Capacity: We looked at whether the pans were able to accommodate the recipes we made in them without overcrowding.
Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to monitor browning, pick up and move the pans, and lift their lids.
Cleanup: We looked at how easy the pans and lids were to clean.
Durability: We evaluated whether the pans were able to withstand being whacked with a metal spoon and having their lids slammed down repeatedly without chipping.