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- From stews and roasts to chowders and chillis, a cast-iron Dutch oven is a worthy kitchen addition.
- We tried popular direct-to-consumer brand Finex's new take on the classic for a range of dishes.
- While it lacks the fine finish of other brands, we're in love with its handles and heat retention.
I've tried more cast-iron cookware brands than I can recall while on the kitchen beat here at Insider, and I've always preferred more affordable brands. Apart from aesthetics, there's not enough difference between the $350 options and the $50 ones for most people. No matter what you spend, cursory maintenance is all it takes to make your cast iron pot last a long, long time.
This is a roundabout way of tritely saying "Enter Finex," an incredibly expensive brand of cast iron cookware. While I'm naturally a skeptic when it comes to pricey cookware, I thought I'd give it a try and see what you get in a $350 cast iron Dutch oven.
First impressions of the Finex Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Just pulling the thing out of the box, I immediately realized what was (arguably) wrong with almost every piece of cast iron in my kitchen. Why hadn't anyone thought to make thick and agile cast iron handles before Finex? These stainless-steel coil springs are the substantial kind you'd find on heavy-duty equipment and outdoor grills in public spaces. They're smooth and rigid, so there's no give, and far as we can tell, little likelihood that they'll ever become dislodged.
They are a definitive alternative to most cast-iron pots and pans, which generally have perplexingly scant handles that make grabbing hold of them (with or without an oven mitt) somewhat precarious, especially for those with weaker wrists.
The other thing that caught my eye was the octagonal design, which simplifies pouring as opposed to a single- or dual-spout design, or no spout at all. This might not matter to some, but it does make pouring that much easier, especially if you're passing it around the dim light of a campfire.
Still, I have to remind you that you can get the same size 5-quart Lodge, Victoria, or Camp Chef Dutch oven that will work every bit as well for about a tenth of the price. Those may not necessarily become family heirlooms you'll pass on, and the small handles can be tough on your wrists. But that's the classic Dutch-oven design, which no one is in any real position to knock.
That said, Finex offers something decidedly more accommodating. Some, like myself, won't take that lightly: decades of repeated wrist injuries have left mine in rough shape, and Finex's design offers relief where others do not, which might be the best thing about this piece of cookware.
Just like with most any piece of cast-iron cookware, you'll want to season this Finex's Dutch oven pretty well, even though it's already pre-seasoned with flaxseed oil. You can read our guide to seasoning and caring for cast iron here. You'll also do yourself a favor by cooking something exceptionally oily or fatty for your first use (bacon, for instance, is ideal).
The finish is surprisingly a little on the rough side, and in serious contrast with what I've seen from similarly-priced pans from Smithey and Stargazer, in which you can almost see your reflection. Instead, it resembles the finish on the more affordable brands like Lodge, Victoria, and Camp Chef. That's probably the only upsetting part about these ovens. I would have thought (and hoped) that for this price you'd get something much more machined.Baking no-knead bread
I hadn't made bread before, so if anyone was going to screw this up, it was going to be me. But lo and behold, a little oil before the dough went in and we had bread in 45 minutes flat.
I can't say it's any better than when I've watched friends bake in cheaper cast iron or All-Clad stainless steel, but it did the job and cooked perfectly evenly. The crust was perfectly crunchy all the way around from top to bottom. I'll chalk that up to the extra weight, as at 12 pounds, this thing weighs almost double what Lodge's version does. Either way, I'm done buying bread from here on out, but that might say a little more about the virtues of no-knead bread than it does about this oven.Cooking smoked trout chowder
I had a pile of trout fillets that needed use after I'd smoked them, so I made a chowder to test how sautéing bacon, onions, garlic, and a few other vegetables and herbs worked out. I had very little trouble with ingredients sticking, and although it let a lot of steam out when I over-cranked the heat, you really don't want to do much heavy boiling in cast iron anyhow. Apart from searing, these types of ovens shine with "low and slow" cooking.Preparing bouillabaisse (or something like it)
Because everyone recommends against prepping anything with a heavy tomato base in cast iron, I decided to do just that to see how bad it could get. I also left it in the fridge for another two days. While I had a bit of scrubbing to do on the lid, the oven itself was pretty easy to revive with a quick rinse and a fresh coat of oil as I'd treat any piece of cast iron.
Otherwise, the heat retention throughout both cooking processes was impressive, to which I'll also credit the extra weight. Once up to temperature, I dialed the flame back a bit and did not have to adjust anything over the course of an hour.
Compared with my Lodge and Victoria ovens, which tend to get a little too hot a bit more easily, this was appreciated. Is it worth the roughly $360 price jump? No. But it did its job, and when I needed to move the Finex, I didn't burn my fingers to oblivion. In fact, at low-and-slow temps, I found I could generally grab the handles with my bare hands. Just note that while the rapidly cooling coils are great on the stovetop, they're screaming hot (as you'd expect) out of the oven.Cons to consider
This pot has some downsides, and it's important to acknowledge them before buying one.
Firstly, and mainly, it's not finished nicely. While the iron is much more solid than what you'll find with cheaper options we recommend and mention above, it's not what I'd expect for the price. Is that really a problem? Certain things like flapjacks and cornbread will not come out as smooth, but it's still going to sear a steak (or anything else) every bit as well.
While the rapid-cooling handles alone are the greatest standout, they don't really matter if you're mostly putting your Dutch oven in the oven. Still, they're easier than most to grab (see the Smithey pan above for contrast), even if you have to use a mitt to do so.How long it will last
Cast iron is hardy stuff no matter the quality, but the better stuff is almost entirely indestructible and this pan can take about all you can throw at it.
Finex's cookware comes with a "good forever" guarantee, and claims they'll repair or replace the product if you encounter any problems.
If you manage to damage this Dutch oven, though, we'd be shocked. A tiny bit of care goes a long way with cast iron, and this one should last no less than a couple of generations.
For a little guidance, here's the brand's guide to use and care of cast iron, and our own tutorial on how to clean and season cast iron.
If you'd like to shop around for models, have a look at our guide to the best Dutch ovens.The bottom line
If you're looking to save money, look elsewhere. You just don't need to spend this kind of money on any cookware, period. If you're looking for something to stand proud in your kitchen or around the firepit for many decades to come, you have a bit of money you want to spend, and you also want something that's a little easier to handle than your average Dutch oven, Finex's Dutch oven is a great choice.
That aside, Finex's take on the Dutch oven is a lot easier to handle than most if not all other options (again, especially for those with weaker wrists), and it cooks bread, stews, and roasts right there with the rest of them. And maybe this is just me, but I think it's a whole lot better looking.
Pros: Great heat retention, heats evenly, shape is great for pouring, quick-cooling and easy-to-grab stainless-steel spring handles
Cons: Not the finest finish, heavy, expensive