Whether your Le Creuset obsession is longstanding or just getting started, a vintage find is such a thrill—but there's a trick to making sure you're getting the right pieces.

By Stacey Ballis
October 21, 2020
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Credit: Steppenwolf / Alamy Stock Photo

When my husband and I married almost 10 years ago, we had a lot of integrating to do. When two middle-aged people merge lives and households, there is the need to take stock and edit. And while the kitchen posed unique challenges for two passionate home cooks (how many eight-inch chef’s knives does one home need?) one area that needed no editing was the Le Creuset collection. Both of us had been collectors our whole cooking lives, and our combined accumulation was well over 20 pieces. You would think this would be plenty, but over our decade together we have strategically added to the array, often with vintage pieces we have found at antique stores and flea markets.

Vintage Le Creuset is a particular pleasure. The enamel slightly matte and smooth as a river rock with years of use, the edges a bit soft and rounded. You can find discontinued colors or styles, source items that are beyond your reach financially when new but are totally manageable with a little age on them. Every find feels like a win. Whether you are in search of a specific piece to fill out your collection, a special gift for a cooking friend, or just looking to buy your first piece to see what all the fuss is about, smart vintage shopping can be a godsend when it comes to these lifetime investment pieces.

The reason Le Creuset is such a cult favorite of cooks is, first and foremost, the quality. When properly cared for, these pieces are a one-time investment in good cooking, lasting for decades when many pots and pans feel nearly disposable. The company has been making premium enameled cast iron and stoneware cooking products since 1925, and a shocking number of older pieces are still in active use all over the world. I have a pot from the 1950s that is still going strong despite being nearly 20 years older than I am.

But where to start?

When it comes to seeking vintage Le Creuset, the most important thing to assess is the interior enamel. It is essential that this is not chipped away on the areas which will touch food. Exterior enamel missing isn’t an issue, as long as you remember to properly wash and dry the piece to prevent rusting where the iron is exposed. Ditto little chips around the upper edge of the pot where the lid has struck over the years. But if the interior enamel lining has been breached on the bottom or sides up to about an inch from the top, then it limits what you can do with the pot. 

Credit: Keith Morris / Alamy Stock Photo

If you are making sourdough or no-knead breads, these damaged pots can be had for a song, and will work perfectly fine as baking vessels for your loaves. But if you want to be able to use them for soups, stews, and braises, stick to the ones that have an intact interior lining. Wash by hand and dry thoroughly before storing and you will have these pieces for your whole cooking life, and likely to hand down to a next generation as well.

For me, some of the unique pleasures involve finding pieces that aren’t made anymore. I once purchased a small cast-iron bean pot at a flea market in Paris and schlepped it home in my carry-on, because the company only makes it in stoneware now. Its bottom-heavy pear shape, little ear side-handles and lid with pinch-style handle are utterly charming.

Look for the pots designed by Raymond Loewy in the late 1950s, sleek space-age shapes and styles that are gorgeous objects in addition to being useful cookware. Pots with the original-style integrated loop handles instead of the more modern knobs are particularly lovely, as are the fat-handled or black handled pots, and many of the older pots had lids that doubled as skillets, which is more bang for your buck. Vintage is also the way to go for the largest pots, which can run as much as $675 when purchased new. But an oval 15.5 quart goose pot is a shockingly useful thing to own, especially if you love to entertain or feed a large family—goose or otherwise.

Once you start exploring the magical world of vintage Le Creuset, it is easy to fall down an obsessive rabbit hole. So, start with sizes, shapes and functions that best fit the way you cook, and colors that please your eye or suit your style. And for me, while it can be fun to scroll through sites like eBay and Etsy to see what is out there, my favorite purchases are always the ones I come across organically while strolling a market or poking around a dusty store, a flash of deep poppy orange or French blue peeking out from behind a pile of old magazines or stuck in the corner of an old display case. Those pieces feel a bit more like they found me instead of the other way around and are the ones I find I use the most often. 

That little Paris bean pot? Turns out it isn’t just ideal for a small pot of beans to serve myself and my husband, but also for a lunchtime reheat of soup for one, and a perfect portion of rice pudding for four. And anything that is served from its belly is somehow even more enjoyable for its history, both the life that preceded my discovery, and the new purpose I have given it in my kitchen.