Think of a cast iron casserole pot and only one name is synonymous with it: Le Creuset.
Famed for its brightly coloured enamel kitchenware, these "French ovens" began life nearly 100 years ago, in 1925.
Since then, the pots have grown to become a real status item of the kitchen – the “you’ve made it” trophy product you’ve been given or have saved up for. Of course, then, you won’t want to hide it away in a cupboard – it’s likely to be proudly displayed on your worktop or hob.
For years, the French brand dominated the market, much in the same way that French food was seen as the epitome of sophisticated cooking, and, for managing to reign so long, we take our chefs’ hats off to you, Le Creuset.
Because of the brand’s reputation, we’ve long been led to believe that not all cast iron cooking pots are made equal.
But more affordable options are made of the same material and do the same thing – cook your food. And yet they’ve never quite attained the same hype.
What there is no doubt about, though, is the usefulness of these pots. From cooking up casseroles to searing meat, slow-cooking practically anything, whizzing up soups and baking sourdough – you can do it all in one of these, whichever brand you choose.
Giving Le Creuest a good old run for its money is Aldi’s much-loved – and previously sold out – range of enamel cookware, which has once again come back into stock. This time around it’s a Mother’s Day special edition in a pastel pink colourway.
As part of the supermarket’s Specialbuys range, this year’s drop includes a 26cm casserole dish (£24.99, Aldi.co.uk) and a 30cm shallow cast iron casserole dish (£24.99, Aldi.co.uk), which are both just a fraction of the price of their branded counterparts.
We’ve put the two brands head to head to find out if there really is a difference.
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Le Creuset cast iron round casserole dish, 26cm
I inherited a Le Creuset from my aunt, who I doubt used it very much. It was in pristine condition, despite being almost 30 years old. Now, I use it fairly often and while it’s a little less box-fresh, it’s remained in pretty good nick in the seven years that I’ve had it. Mine is the classic volcanic orange colour, which is still available along with eight other colours on John Lewis & Partner’s website, or 13 on the Le Creuset website.
The brand has self-named this product "the queen of the kitchen" and it’s hard to disagree. From making soups to cooking vats of pasta, to its namesake purpose of slow-cooking casseroles, it’s a wonderfully easy dish to use and clean (the latter being just as important as the former). But that’s hardly a USP that other brands can’t replicate.
What Le Creuset does do is make its cast iron lighter than other brands. How? We’re not sure, and we won’t try to be an expert in the field, but it’s certain that both the lid and the dish are noticeably less weighty than Aldi’s alternative.
The second other main difference is that the bottom is raw cast iron, and not enamelled, unlike the Aldi version. But we noticed little difference in the cooking quality between the two dishes, with both providing even heat on the same gas hob.
The Creuset is also versatile, being fine to use in the oven and under the grill, as well as on top of gas and electric hobs. Modern versions of this dish can also be used on induction hobs, but we’re not sure our exact older model can.
The 26cm version is the second to largest size Le Creuset does. It’s certainly big, and is great for bulk cooking, feeding large families or catering dinner parties (when that’s allowed again). But of course, it’s still fine if you’re cooking for smaller numbers – it’s better to size up than to struggle with overflow, in our opinion. You will pay a premium for the larger the size, however, as the smallest 20cm pot is £80 less. It’s also available in five other sizes that increase in diameter by 2cm, up to 30cm.
The dish is not something I’d have ever bought in my 20s (when I got it) owing to the price, but it’s done me well so far. I imagine it will keep going for another 30 years at least, as Le Creuset guarantees the product for 100 years. Although how anyone verifies the age of it, I’m not sure.
There’s no doubt it will always remain a stalwart of its category and a real go-to wedding gift – it just has to be someone you really like.
Buy now £280.00, Johnlewis.com
Aldi cast iron casserole pot, 26cm
Aldi’s range of casserole dishes sells out time after time, and for good reason: they’re affordable and good quality for the price. This model is a whopping 11 times cheaper than the Le Creuset dish. Yes, 11.
When it comes to comparisons, there really is little hiding the fact that this is an almost identical dupe. It has been designed by Kirkton House, the supermarket's in-house team, which you’ll see branded on the bottom of the cookware. There’s even the same decorative line detailing on the top of the lid, albeit with only two instead of Le Creuset’s three – the knock-off Adidas stripes of the cooking world, if you will. The other difference, of course, is the lack of Le Creuset branding.
While other companies have opted for solid and even matte, colours for their casserole dishes, Aldi has gone the whole hog by taking full inspiration from Le Creuset’s famous, shiny, ombre shades. Although this is slightly more muted, the gradation of the colours is still quite visible.
Inside is white, and we only cooked with wooden or silicone utensils so as not to scratch the pots.
We also found it easy to clean. Although the brand says not to put it in the dishwasher, we lazily went ahead and found it came out sparkling and still intact. Similarly to its counterpart, this dish works in the oven and on top of gas, electric and induction hobs, but with the addition of halogen.
We found the lid and pot were both heavier than the Le Creuset versions, and thus required a little more effort to lug from the hob to dishwasher. Plus, if we were pushed to find a fault, the finish is a little rougher around the edges.
We can’t say for certain that it will last a lifetime, and Aldi doesn’t offer up any sort of guarantee, but we think with careful use and care, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t last decades. After all, cast iron is a seriously heavy-duty material that is made to last. The only downside is the fewer sizes available, and the lack of colour variation. Other years have seen Aldi release more varied shades, including grey, red, blue and purple, so we hope to see these again soon, for those who are not fans of pink.
Buy now £24.99, Aldi.co.uk
The verdict: Le Creuset vs Aldi cast iron casserole dish
There’s little difference in the performance of these pots. Both are easy to use on a variety of hobs and in the oven, too. They’re easy to clean, and we found both fared well upon being bunged in the dishwasher. The only limitation is that Aldi’s casserole pot is available in just one size.
If you really want to be an all-singing, all-dancing home cook – or at least masquerade as one – you’ll likely want to go for the “real deal”. We think the Le Creuset versions are ever so slightly better made, with a better finish – and they come with a 100-year guarantee.
But for students or anyone who’s not bothered by brands, you absolutely will not be disappointed with the performance of this Aldi dish.
Unless you drop it on something else very solid, we can’t see it breaking. As long as you take care of it by not using metal utensils, thoroughly cleaning it each time and lifting it, not dragging it, across gas-topped cookers, it should last a long, long time. And, for £25, who can argue with that? Not us.
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