As the wintery nights set in, is there anything better than cooking up a big stew for the family from the comfort of your cosy, warm home?
Combine that with lockdown 2.0 - and the prospect, perhaps, of another one next year - and one might find themselves in need of a casserole dish.
Robust, long-lasting and versatile, this is an essential piece of kit for one-pot lovers and batch cookers alike. And though often expensive, a good quality dish is sure to last a lifetime… or even outlive you.
Casserole dishes come in all shapes and sizes, whether you’re cooking for yourself, your significant other or the whole family.
As a good benchmark, a 24cm / 4 litre dish will comfortably feed at least four, and from there you can scale up or down (though we’d recommend always going for a bigger pot than you need).
The shape is surprisingly important, too, depending on what you’re cooking: oval is better for meat joints but round will make stirring a breeze. Check which hob the pan is suitable - hob or induction, or both - and whether it can go in the oven. Ideally, opt for one that is good for all three.
The material is equally vital. Cast iron, the most traditional, is more expensive but will last for decades. A good cast iron pan will ensure your food is evenly cooked and the moisture locked in.
Enamel coating will help you avoid burnt bottoms, while raw cast iron will need regular seasoning - it’s up to you how much faff you’re prepared to put in. Meanwhile, non-stick metals and ceramic options are just as effective and cost half as much but last half as long. And remember: plastic non-stick coatings are best avoided.
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Le Creuset toughened non-stick shallow dish with glass lid
Thanks to Le Creuset’s signature non-stick coating, this casserole dish makes the food you cook in it healthier, as there’s no need to add extra fat. This also means it’s one of the easiest dishes to clean that you’ll ever come across and can withstand the use of even metal utensils. The glass lid excellently seals in moisture and flavour and also lets you check on your casserole while it’s bubbling away. The shallowness of the pan makes it perfect for when a deep dish just won’t do but is still big enough to cook for six - and flashy enough to impress your guests too. Any Le Creuset will set you back a few hundred, and often you’re paying just for the brand, but put it this way: you probably only ever need to buy one Le Creuset pan in your entire lifetime. And if you do, this is a great choice.
Staub 24cm round cocotte
If you’re inspired by French cuisine and you’re looking for an investment that will serve you for years to come, a Staub cocotte is the one for you. This cute round number in black cast iron is not only sure to match most of your other kitchenware, but it’s also extremely easy to use, whether you’re searing meat, simmering stews or even cooking up a cold desert. The specially crafted lid perfectly and evenly distributes moisture while the enamel coating on the inside is especially durable and we found it ideal for particularly crisp searing. The 24cm diameter and 3.8 litre volume makes it the ideal pot for dinner parties. It is surprisingly light but also a little slippy on the bottom, making it somewhat of a balancing act when stirring depending on your hob.
Lakeland hard anodised bell shaped 16cm casserole pan
At just 16cm across, this wide-based casserole pan from Lakeland is perfect for two people and is equally at home on the hob (including induction) as it is in the oven. The soft grip, ergonomic handles keep cool to touch but make it easy to lift and carry while the bell-shaped, spoon-friendly base makes stirring as easy as… casserole. The pan itself will be a handsome addition to your collection with its soft sheen, charcoal colour and stainless steel accents. But it’s not all good looks: the heavy-gauge aluminium offers ultra-fast heat conductivity and superb heat distribution, making sure your creations are evenly cooked with no hot spots.
ProCook cast iron casserole dish
Any fan of ProCook knows their kitchenware is built to last a lifetime, and this cast iron casserole dish certainly feels like the real deal. At 24cm across and with a 4.7L capacity, it is the perfect vessel not only for slow-cooking stews and casseroles but even roast joints. The graduated red exterior, matte black interior, stain steel knob and ergonomic handles make for a pot that is as stylish as it is utilitarian. Only time will tell if this dish can live up to its 25-year guarantee, but during our testing, it was a true workhouse of the kitchen. With quality that rivals the top brands on the market, it’s also exceptional value for money.
Le Creseut cast iron round casserole dish
Le Creuset’s round casserole dish truly does live up to its name “the queen of the kitchen”. A culinary classic, it’s been loved by chefs around the world for nearly a century. Naturally, it looks amazing: it’ll up your Instagram game or, if you’re as lame as us, your kitchen credit if you leave it out for your guests to ogle. The pan is certainly versatile, it can be used on a range of hobs, agas and even the barbecue for a range of dishes, whether it’s a bolognese, a leg of meat or bog-standard casserole (although nothing is bog standard when it comes to Le Creuset). It’s perhaps not as mobile as the shallower Le Creuset on this list, as it’s heavy and the handles can get too hot to touch. While it can go in the dishwasher, we’d recommend sticking to handwashing to prolong the durability of the enamel, which is super easy to clean and can handle most utensils.
Denby Halo cast iron 30cm shallow casserole
The versatile shape of this casserole dish from kitchenware staple Denby is what makes it truly stand out. The 30cm shallow dish is not only beautiful but perfect for everything from slow-cooked casseroles to hearty soups to an impressive paella. The 3.8L capacity can feed four to six so it’s a great size for a family or a get-together with friends. On technicalities: it’s suitable for all oven and hob types, the tight-fitting lid helps to seal in the moisture for even cooking, the tough enamel surface inside and out is easy to clean and it’s dishwasher safe. Oh, and it comes in four gorgeous colourways with fancy names like “Pomegranate” and “Pavillion”, so why not get a matching set.
Robert Dyas cast iron casserole pan - 22cm
Robert Dyas has a reputation for selling absolutely everything you could ever need for your home, and with this trendy orange casserole dish, it doesn’t disappoint. Sure to add a pop of colour to your kitchen, the pan is as stylish as it is practical: the lid has a stainless steel knob that makes it easy to lift off while the cast iron material allows you to slow cook to your heart’s content whether it be on the hob or in the oven. At just £49.99, this cast iron dish - which is just as good as some of the higher end entries on this list - is arguably a steal and one that you’ll reap the benefits of for years.
Wilko casserole dish grey 24cm
Lightweight, a great size and easy to clean, this 24cm number from Wilko is sure to cook up a storm. Don’t let the weight fool you though: it’s deep enough to cook a filling meal for the whole family and with sturdy stainless steel handles is a breeze to move from stove to table. It’s suitable for all hobs, including induction, but to develop those flavours even further, feel free to whack it in the oven up to 220C. The non-stick surface is surprisingly durable and at just half the price of most other brands, it doesn’t only match on quality but it’s a bargain, too.
The verdict: Casserole dishes
While the market has certainly expanded in recent years to allow high street brands to compete with kitchenware heavyweights like Le Creuset, the French manufacturer’s shallow casserole dish with a glass lid was our favourite for a multitude of reasons: it’s an ideal size and shape to handle a range of different dishes, it’s easy to clean and looks darn cool too. At the other end of the budget is Lakeland’s 16cm number, which is ideal for when you want something a bit more compact.
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