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Cookware 101: Braisers, Dutch Ovens, and Slow Cookers

Which tool to use when to make delicious stews, chili, and more long-cooked meals.


The universe of cookware is overwhelming, with a vast number of sizes and shapes of pots and pans ranging from tiny butter warmers to multi-gallon stock pots. Without a culinary school degree, deciphering which to use when can seem impossible!
For low, slow cooking jobs like braises and stews, recipes may call for braisers, Dutch ovens, or even slow cookers. The one thing they have in common: a tight-fitting lid that keeps liquid from evaporating over the long cook time needed to break down tough cuts of meat, beans, and hearty greens, keeping everything moist and tender. Here's how to choose the right tool to make your next meal a snap.
Dutch oven: Sloping, deep sides make the Dutch oven a whiz for stews that cook down tough cuts of meat over time; it's also a surprise tool for baking! Pre-heat the pan, lid and all, in the oven for at least half an hour. When it's good and hot, place your bread dough in and put the lid on to bake. The hot cast iron creates a miniature bread oven within your oven, ensuring a crisp, golden crust.
Use it for: Chianti marinated beef stew, Pot roast
Braiser: With shallow sides and a wide, flat bottom, the larger surface area of a braiser is designed to let you sear large pieces of meat like short ribs or lamb shanks, then cover with liquid, put the lid on, and let it cook. The shallow sides won't hold much liquid - think gravy, not stew - but the rounded shape keeps your meat perfectly moist as it cooks.
Use it for: Lamb shanks with escarole and radicchio, Dutch daddy pancake
Slow cooker: If you want to have a long-cooked stew ready for dinner the minute you get home from work, the slow cooker is your miracle solution. Because it's an electric appliance, it can be left to work while you're out of the house, and can be programmed to turn off or keep food warm once the cooking time is done. It will work for braises, stews, and more, though if your recipe calls for searing meat, you'll have to do it in a separate pan on the stovetop.
Use it for: Slow cooker beef and kabocha squash stew, Slow cooker brownies

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