Cookware Tools By Meghan Woolley / March 9, 2015 What is all the fuss about clay pot cooking? Actually, with the advent of pots made from cast-iron, copper, aluminum, and other metals, clay pots went into decline. But in recent years, they’re becoming popular again, and rightly so. People value them for their looks, the flavor they lend to food, and their health benefits. Some cooks, however, find clay pots to be overly complicated and finicky. If you’re interested in trying out clay pot cooking, then read on because the following includes plenty of details about why you might want to use a clay pot, the advantages and disadvantages of cooking with one, and how to start making delicious meals with clay cookware. What Is A Clay Pot? As you’ve probably guessed from the name, clay pots are made from earthenware clay. They have a number of unique properties that distinguish them from metal pots. The first is that clay is porous. This means that moisture and heat circulate through the pot during cooking. The most unique thing about clay pot cooking is that you soak the pot in water before using it. Then, while cooking, the pot gradually releases steam. This cooks your food in a particularly moist way, and it means you can use less liquids and oils when cooking. Clay pots are also slightly alkaline, which will reduce the acidity of foods (such as tomato sauce) you make in it.Types Of Clay Pots There are a couple of different kinds of clay pots. Some are made for stovetop cooking and can handle higher temperatures. Others are made to use for baking in the oven, similar to a Dutch oven, and are not meant for use on the stove. Most stores will market their clay pots as either “for the oven” or “for the stove.” If you decide to get a clay pot, it’s important to get the appropriate one for the recipes you have in mind and that you only use it as it’s meant to be used, or you risk cracking it. Glaze Or Sans Glaze? If you’re looking for a clay pot, it’s important to look at whether or not it’s glazed. A glaze makes the pot easier to clean and care for, and you don’t have to season it. Unfortunately, it also takes away the primary benefits of clay pot cooking: the absorption of water, circulation of steam, and alkalinity. Basically, a glaze covers up the porous surface of the clay. The clay pot will still absorb heat well and cook food evenly, but you’ll lose most of the other benefits. Some clay pots are made partially glazed (for instance, along the bottom of the pot but not on the inside of the lid). This can be a nice compromise if you want some steam but aren’t crazy about having to season and soak your pot. Health Benefits Of Clay Pots There are many people who absolutely love cooking with clay pots. One reason is for the apparent health benefits they give. The primary health benefits of clay pot cooking come from its ability to circulate steam throughout cooking. This provides plenty of moisture and means that you can cook with less oil and fat. You can even cut all the fat off of a cut of meat before cooking it; the steam and the meat’s own juices will keep it plenty moist. Clay pots also help foods to retain all of their vitamins and nutrients because they create a closed cooking environment. Ditch The Metal Some people also claim that cooking with a clay pot is better for you than cooking with metal pots and pans. Aluminum, in particular, is often criticized for potential health risks. In the 1960s, people proposed a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, the Alzheimer’s Association has published that no scientific studies have confirmed this link, and “few experts believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.” While the health risks may be minimal, a clay pot can be a great alternative for people looking to minimize their use of metal pots. Clay's Affect On Flavor & Texture Cooking with a clay pot does a couple of things for the flavor and texture of the food you’re cooking. Because of the steam, meats stay moist and tender. A clay pot can cook delicious whole chickens, pork chops, corned beef, pot roasts, and other slow-cooked meals. Meats will come out juicy and flavorful, and because most clay pots are large, you can cook any vegetables alongside them. Clay pots are also very popular for baking artisan bread. The porous clay will absorb some of the moisture from the surface of the loaf of bread without allowing all the steam to escape the dough. This results in bread with a really crispy crust. If you’re a bread baker, you know this can be difficult to accomplish in the oven. A clay pot makes it easier to produce the perfect crust and comes out with consistently great results. Seasoning A Clay Pot In order to use your clay pot and keep it in good condition, you’ll need to season it, similarly to how you need to season a cast-iron pot. Seasoning the clay pot strengthens the clay and keeps it from cracking on the stovetop. If you season your pot properly, it will become durable and likely last for a long time. Without proper seasoning, however, there’s a high risk of the pot cracking. There are a couple different methods of seasoning. Clay pots have existed for a long time in different cultures, and there are likewise different established practices. The basics are the same, however, and primarily revolve around “hydrating” the clay. First, you’ll need to soak it (some people suggest plain water, while others suggest milk). Then you rub all the unglazed surfaces with a clove of garlic. Some sources also suggest coating it with olive oil. Next, fill it about ¾ of the way full with water and either leave it on the stove on low heat or put it in the oven for 2-3 hours. Once it cools, your pot should be seasoned and ready to use. Check out this helpful video: How to season a clay pot Soaking A Clay Pot As previously mentioned, steam coming from the porous clay is what gives a clay pot many of its distinctive benefits. In order to accomplish this, it’s necessary to soak the clay pot before cooking. The process is pretty simple. Before putting in the ingredients, simply submerge the entire pot (base and cover) in cold water for about 15 minutes. This usually isn't much of an inconvenience, as you can do it while you’re doing prep work for your meal. Not all clay pot recipes require soaking, so make sure to check before you start cooking. Getting The Temperature Right Clay pots can be a little tricky when it comes to temperature. If the temperature changes too quickly, they can crack. Therefore, when cooking with them, you need to raise the temperature gradually. For oven cooking, this means not preheating the oven before putting the pot in. Instead, you place the clay pot in a cold oven and allow the temperature to rise slowly. The stovetop can be a bit more complicated. You need to start it on low heat and gradually increase the temperature, usually staying at medium heat or lower. Depending on your stove, you may need to use a heat diffuser. A diffuser will spread out the heat from the burner so that it heats the pot evenly. Bram Cookware, clay pot designers and craftsmen, recommend diffusers for both electric and gas cook-tops. If there is too sudden a change in temperature, the clay pot may crack, even if it has been seasoned properly. Cleaning Clay Pots Because clay is porous, you cannot clean a clay pot using soap or normal dishwashing detergent. The soap will soak into the clay and end up leaching into the next meal you cook in the pot. Instead, you need to clean a clay pot using hot water and a stiff brush. Baking soda works well for cleaning clay pots. You can use baking soda for stubborn stains. You can also use baking soda if any flavors or odors are lingering in your clay pot. Particularly when the pot is new, strongly flavored dishes (such as seafood or curries) may seep into the pot and end up changing the flavor of the next dish. This problem will diminish the more you use the pot. Depending on what you cook, clay pots can be challenging to clean, even with a brush and baking soda. Advantages And Disadvantages To sum up the features of a clay pot, here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of cooking with one. PROS CONS Moist and tender meats Takes time to prepare (seasoning) Crispy bread Must be used with gradually increasing temperatures Less oil and fat needed Risk of cracking Avoid the potential health risks of metal Difficult to clean Beautiful for cooking and serving Can't use to sear at high heat Long lasting (if properly cared for) Even heat distributionClay Pot Cooking Right For You? It all depends on your style of cooking and what you hope to get out of your kitchenware. A clay pot is a beautiful way to prepare a meal and can make bread and meat dishes delicious. If you bake bread and slow-cooked meat dishes (such as whole chickens and pot roasts) frequently, you’ll probably get a lot of use out of a clay pot. If not, you might find that it spends most of the time in your cabinet. A clay pot can also be very helpful if you’re looking to cut some oil and fat out of your diet without saying goodbye to your favorite dishes. However, a clay pot can also take some extra time and care. You have to be careful to season and soak it properly and not to introduce temperature changes too quickly. There is a risk of accidentally cracking your clay pot. If you’re willing to put a bit of effort in though, a clay pot can be a very rewarding kitchen tool. Have you have ever used a clay pot or tried one out after reading this post? Please share your experiences with us below. We want to hear from you.