A braiser (also known as a braising pan or braiser pan) is one of the most versatile pieces of cookware you can find in the kitchen. It may seem like we say that about a lot of things, but it's simply the truth. Just what is a braiser, exactly? Well, think of it this way: If a Dutch oven and a large skillet had a baby together, you'd get a braiser. A braiser resembles a Dutch oven, except that it's shallower and wider. It's perfect for—you guessed it—braising, which is a combination cooking method using both wet heat cooking and dry heat cooking.
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But a braiser isn't just good for braising. You can also use it for stewing, steaming, slow cooking, shallow frying and even searing. You can get creative and use a braising pan to prepare chili, stews, curries, casseroles and even bread pudding. Most braisers are also oven-friendly, so the possibilities are numerous.
What Exactly Is Braising?
As mentioned above, braising is a combination cooking method that uses both wet and dry heat and involves both open-pan and covered cooking. When braising, meats or veggies (or both) are browned at high temperatures in an open pan, then allowed to simmer in cooking liquid, such as oil, with the pan covered. Braising is similar to stewing, but uses less liquid. It works wonders when you need to tenderize tough cuts of meat into melt-in-your-mouth morsels.
Without going into too much detail, when you braise meat in a simmering liquid, the collagen in the meat melts into gelatin, which bastes the meat and tenderizes it. Braising is especially well-suited for collagen-rich cuts of meat like chicken legs, pork shoulder, beef short ribs and lamb shanks. Some of the most popular dishes that involve braising include Chinese pork spare ribs, coq au vin, oxtail soup and beef pot roast, among many others.
When it comes to braising, the key is to take your time and cook the meat slowly. Generally, the longer you cook, the more flavor you'll be able to unlock (however, it's definitely possible to overdo it, which can dry the meat out). While it depends on the cut of meat, braising can easily take one to three hours to produce that fork-tender result. But it's worth it.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Braiser
Size: Unless you're comparing it to a mini Dutch oven, most braisers are going to be roughly half the size of a Dutch oven. Since braising pans are shallower, they have a smaller capacity. The average braiser clocks in at approximately 3 1/2 quarts, whereas some Dutch ovens hold as many as 7 quarts. The wall height of braising pans is also roughly half the wall height of Dutch ovens (approximately 2 inches versus 4 inches, on average), so the comparatively shallow design of a braiser compared to a Dutch oven may limit you to cooking less bulky foods.
Shape/Design: Braisers can be round or square, and either shape works fine, but it's worth noting that a squarer design offers a bit of extra cooking room that a round pan doesn't have. A squarer design is also ideal if you want the braiser to double as a casserole dish for serving. Additionally, braising pans with slightly wider cooking surfaces generally require less cooking time for certain liquid-heavy recipes because they allow liquid to evaporate more quickly than narrower pans. The flavors, as a result, are more concentrated.
Handles: Handle designs vary, but since you'll likely need to transfer the braising pan at least once, you'll want handles that are easy to grip even while wearing oven mitts. Some handles are also designed to stay cool during cooking, or at the very least, remain safe to touch without protecting your hands, even if they get warm. Looped handles that are safe to touch with your hands are probably the easiest to grip because you can hook your fingers around them. Other handles might be more of a flat protrusion from the rim of the pan, and may be a little more slippery.
Lids: Like many Dutch ovens, some braisers have a self-basting lid with nipples or spikes on their undersides that are designed to drip condensation back onto the food. However, there doesn't seem to be any real measurable benefit to these features, so you should be able to get the results you desire with or without a self-basting lid. It's just something to keep in mind, in case it appeals to you.
Materials: For braising pans, cast iron is usually the material of choice, owing to its durability, heat conductivity and cooking versatility—you can generally use it on the stovetop, in the oven, on the grill, and even over an open flame. While cast-iron is normally the most difficult material to maintain, many cast-iron braising pans are enameled (i.e. glazed), eliminating the need for maintenance. Other common braising pan materials include stainless steel, hard-anodized aluminum and ceramic. These tend to be lighter than cast-iron braisers, making them a bit easier to handle, but they often run a bit thinner, as well, which can decrease the estimated cooking time.
What You Already Have: It's worth taking into account what cookware you already have before purchasing more. While braisers are absolutely useful, if you already have a Dutch oven, it may seem redundant to purchase a braiser, even though they're not quite the same. There definitely is overlap in what they're good at. If you've already got a cast-iron skillet, a saute pan or a Dutch oven, and don't have a lot of extra space, you may not see much benefit from adding a braiser. On the other hand, if you're purchasing cookware for the first time, a braiser can meet many of your cooking needs while generally taking up less space than a Dutch oven.
With these considerations in mind, here are our top picks among the best braisers in 2022:
1. Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Braiser (3.75 Quarts)
Le Creuset is well-known for its elegant and high-quality cookware, so it's probably not a surprise that this braiser is the most expensive on the list. However, it's not getting by on name recognition alone; the quality is top-notch. Made from heavy-duty enameled cast iron that's both resistant to wear and tear and excellent for heat conductivity, the pan offers a capacity of 3 3/4 quarts. It's compatible on all cooktops and its large composite knob on the lid withstands temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's oven-safe to a large extent. It features a domed lid and large looped handles that are easy to grip (even with oven mitts) and 45% larger than those on previous models.
One thing to keep in mind is that it's not dishwasher-friendly, and you should avoid putting it under cold water while it's still very hot. Other than that, there's no special maintenance or seasoning required. It's available in multiple colors (but we're partial to Caribbean).
2. Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Casserole Pan (3.6 Quarts)
This 3.6-quart braiser from Lodge is, in many ways, a considerably more affordable version of the Le Creuset braiser. Like its French-made counterpart, it's made from enameled cast-iron that's durable, good for heat conductivity and doesn't require any seasoning. It's also compatible on any stovetop and oven-safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The main difference (other than in price) is that its looped handles are slightly smaller than Le Creuset's, so it may not be quite as easy to grip. Still, it's built to last decades and represents a great value.
3. Made-In Cookware 10-Quart Stainless Steel Braiser/Rondeau Pot
For home cooks who want the benefits of stainless steel and a very generous cooking capacity, Made-In Cookware's new 10-quart rondeau pot (another term for braiser) takes the cake. Made in Italy, it boasts a five-layer stainless steel clad construction that not only ensures even and consistent heating, but also offers more surface area for cooking than any home kitchen braising pan we've seen, thanks in part to its higher-than-average sidewalls that measure 4.4 inches tall. Plus, compared to its cast-iron counterparts, it wins the heat resistance game by a country mile, as it's oven-safe up to a whopping 800 degrees Fahrenheit. It features large, looped steel handles on the sides, as well as on the lid for easy gripping.
4. Anolon 5-Quart Cast Iron Braiser
If you liked what you read about the Le Creuset and Lodge braisers, but wanted to see more cooking capacity, this braiser from Anolon may pique your interest. It offers an above-average 5-quart capacity while retaining the merits of enameled cast iron, and its price sits somewhere in between the other two models (closer to the affordable side). Its stain-resistant black matte enamel interior is easy to clean and perfect for searing and browning. The built-in side handles aren't huge, but sufficient enough to get a solid grip, while the stainless steel handle on the lid is large enough to easily grip while wearing oven mitts. It's broiler- and oven-safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, boasts excellent heat retention and doesn't require any seasoning.
5. Staub 3.5-Quart Braiser With Glass Lid, Cherry
Staub's 3.5-quart braiser is another solid entry in the cast-iron braiser game, but this time, features a glass lid that makes it easy to keep an eye on what's cooking. Made in France, its smooth enamel bottom is compatible on all stovetops, and its black matte enamel interior allows for exceptional browning. Featuring large, built-in looped handles for easy gripping, it's oven-safe up to an above-average 572 degrees Fahrenheit (sans the lid). The pan is also safe to store in the freezer and, conveniently enough, is also dishwasher-safe, unlike some other cast-iron models. However, hand-washing is still recommended if you want to extend its lifespan.
6. Bruntmor 3.8-Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Square Braiser
Thanks to its corners and tall sidewalls, this square braiser from Bruntmor manages to offer just a bit more cooking capacity than the average braiser. Its shape makes it ideal for deep-dish casseroles, and it's roomy enough that you may even be able to cook a whole chicken. Made from enameled cast iron, it features a nonstick coating that holds its own even against the stickiest of foods, so cleaning is a cinch. Its wide, square, looped handles are easy to get a grip on while wearing oven mitts, and the braising pan and lid are safe in the oven up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The braiser is available in four different colors.
7. Le Creuset 4-Quart Toughened Nonstick Braiser
Le Creuset lands another spot on the list with its nonstick braiser. Made from durable hard-anodized aluminum, it features a triple-reinforced and PFOA-free nonstick surface that makes cleaning easy. Offering a 4-quart capacity, the braiser comes with a glass lid that allows you to keep an eye on your food and its generously-sized looped handles are easy to grip. It's compatible on all cooktops and oven-safe (sans lid) up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above-average for nonstick cookware. Though a quick wipe down is probably sufficient, the pan is also dishwasher-safe, just in case.