What Is a Braiser, Do I Need One, and Which One Should I Get?
We’re all cooking up a storm these days and, if you’re anything like me, you’re making comfort foods — like pot roast and smothered pork chops — all the time. And you’re probably also investing in some new tools to make your life in the kitchen a little bit easier. All of this brings me to braisers! Maybe you’ve heard of them before? (You’ve at least seen them in Kitchn’s one-pot-pasta recipes!) And maybe you have a recipe for braised chicken in wine sauce that you love? But you don’t actually have a braiser, or really fully understand what they are)? Well, I’m here to help you sort out whether or not it’s worth spending a chunk of change on yet another piece of cookware.
What Is a Braiser?
A braiser is a hefty pan (usually enameled cast iron) with a lid and handles on either side. It looks like a classic Dutch oven, only the walls are shorter and a bit more rounded on the bottom. Sometimes the lids are made of the same material as the pan and sometimes they’re glass, which allows you to see what’s happening inside (although they tend to get steamy!).
A braiser is — surprise, surprise — designed to be used for braising. Need me to back up even more? Braising is a cooking technique that first involves browning food and then simmering it in a small amount of liquid. Braising results in very tender meat (or veggies!) and deeply flavored sauce.
Braising involves two cooking processes (searing and simmering), and a braiser can be used for both. First of all, it’s wide and shallow enough to use for searing without the steaming you can get from a high-sided pot. At the same time, it’s also deep enough to hold a small roast, chops, or chicken parts as well as vegetables and enough liquid to cover them partway for simmering. Braisers can safely be used both on a stovetop burner for browning and in the oven to continue cooking.
Do I Need a Braiser?
Maybe not. It’s highly likely that you have other pieces of cookware that you can use in your kitchen. If you have a deep skillet or sauté pan, you can use it for braising. You just have to make sure it has a tight-fitting lid and is oven-safe. You can also brown, let’s say, meatballs, in a skillet, and then transfer them to a Dutch oven or a baking dish to braise them in tomato sauce. And I’ll confess to browning a brisket in a fry pan and then placing it in a roasting pan, adding the remaining ingredients, and covering it tightly with aluminum foil for braising it in the oven.
However, if you find that you’re braising all the time, you will find it convenient to have a dedicated piece of cookware that checks all the boxes. Many braisers are made of enameled cast iron so that they get good and hot for browning and then hold in heat well so that they simmer steadily. With their colorful exteriors, they also look great when you bring them from the oven to the table.
The Best Braisers to Buy for 2020 and Beyond
Le Creuset Braiser
The Best Braiser
This pan has all the attributes you love about a Le Creuset Dutch oven without the high sides. For browning, it holds in heat. And for simmering, it maintains a steady temperature. It has the brand’s iconic styling and comes in 18 gorgeous colors (classic flame, Mediterranean blue, the new gray-ish sea salt, and more!). While it’s available in a variety of sizes, I suggest you go for the largest one, which holds 5 quarts and gives you a very wide surface for browning without crowding (this keeps meat from steaming). The lid is domed, which gives you extra height to accommodate a small roast. The handles offer a good grip, and the knob on the lid stays cool enough on the stovetop to grab without a pot holder when you want to remove the lid for stirring. But be forewarned: The lid is Heavy. And just like the Le Creuset Dutch oven, this braiser is pricey and you’re paying in part for the name and the look.
Anolon Vesta 5-Quart Round Braiser
The Best Budget-Friendly Braiser
If you’re not too particular about color, this more reasonably priced cast iron braiser is a fantastic choice. While it only comes in red and a bronze-y taupe called umber, this is one good-looking piece of cookware. It has enough room to brown off a load of short ribs or lamb shanks and a lid with a handle that stays cool enough to lift without a pot holder.