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Why you need it: A Dutch oven is perfect for braising tough, inexpensive cuts of meat because it traps cooking liquids, in effect self-basting meat until it’s fork-tender. And it’s a workhorse for the time-pressed chef: Not only can you leave stews and soups to cook on their own (no need for constant stirring) but you can also serve right from the pot at the table.
What to look for: A cast-iron Dutch oven, which comes in either matte black or a colorful enameled finish, is the best choice, but it requires a certain degree of muscle to lift. “Heavy materials, like cast iron, cook more evenly than lighter ones,” says New York City–based chef Daniel Boulud. Aluminum Dutch ovens are lighter and thus easier to move, but because they have a thinner cooking base, you’ll have to stir foods frequently so they don’t burn. Look for a bottom that’s about the same thickness as the sides for even heat distribution.
RS pick: Staub’s La Cocotte enameled cast-iron eight-quart round Dutch oven ($260, surlatable.com) is ultra-durable.