Really, the only piece of kitchen equipment required for braising is a heavy-duty Dutch oven, sauté pan or stockpot with a tight-fitting lid. A good choice is one made of cast iron—whether it’s plain or enamel-coated, the even and consistent heat conduction and retention of cast iron make it ideal for braising. Plus, long periods of time in the oven or on the stove don’t harm it at all. But a heavy-duty stainless steel pot or sauté pan works great, too, as does your slow cooker! If using a slow cooker, make sure that it’s no more than two-thirds full when all the ingredients are added (less than that is okay too—the steam created will also help the braise cook). Regardless of the vessel you choose to use, keep these things in mind before you braise:
- For everyday braising needs, a pan, pot or slow-cooker in the five- to six-quart range works just fine for most people. Make sure it’s big enough to hold the ingredients in a single layer. However, a pot that’s too large may cause liquids to evaporate more rapidly, so monitor the braise’s progress during cooking to make sure there’s still liquid inside. If it starts to get dry, add more stock, broth or water.
- Check for a tight-fitting lid. This is critical to a braising recipe’s success as well as an indication of the quality of the pot’s construction. A tight lid keeps steam inside the pot for more even cooking and moisture retention. If the lid on your pot isn’t as tight as it should be, you can wrap the base of the lid with heavy-duty aluminum foil (keep the handle exposed so you can remove the lid easily), pressing down on the lid firmly to mold it to the edge of the pot for an air-tight seal.
- If you’re using a Dutch oven or stockpot, be sure it has two large handles on the side that are either securely riveted or are cast in metal as part of the design of the pot. A pot full of ingredients can be extremely heavy so it’s critical that the handles are sturdy and safe. Also, be sure the lid can be grasped easily so getting inside the pot during cooking is simple. If you’re using a sauté pan, the handle should be sturdy as well. And in all cases, make sure that the handle material is ovenproof—plastic and wood will not hold up to the prolonged cooking times.
- Cast iron pots come coated in enamel or uncoated. If you’re buying a new cast iron pot, consider an enamel-coated version. Although more expensive than uncoated cast iron, it doesn’t impart an off-taste and is easy to clean either by hand or in the dishwasher.