Clay cookware might seem delicate, but like cast iron, it can go from stovetop to oven to table. Unglazed clay can also be seasoned to retain flavors, and since clay is more porous than iron, it's better at retaining moisture. It requires proper care (most unglazed clay should be soaked in water before use) and it can be difficult to clean, but for anyone used to cooking with cast iron, it's got a lot of similar benefits which can outweigh these minor inconveniences.
La Chamba Casserole Dishes from Mimi's Mercantile
Each piece of La Chamba pottery is handmade and fired in the kiln using traditional methods which give it its black color. The smooth unglazed finish comes from hand-burnishing the pot with stones. You can find it at online shop Mimi's Mercantile, where this La Chamba 4 Quart Grand Casserole is $70.
Egyptian Terra Cotta Bean Pots from Bram
Clay pots are traditional cooking vessels of the European, Middle Eastern, and North African nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and those countries continue to produce some of the most beautiful and functional clay cookware.
Bram storeowner Ashrf Almasri was born and raised in Egypt, and Bram is the Egyptian word for a "clay pot." His store stocks a well rounded selection of glazed and unglazed cookware, including bean pots, casserole dishes, and tagines. This Egyptian 4-1/2 Quart Terra Cotta Bean Pot sells for $92.
Cazuelas from the Spanish Table
The word 'cazuela' refers to hearty Spanish or South American dishes made with meat and vegetables. The cookware, of the same name, can be used to serve paella, casseroles, or tapas.
The Spanish Table
Their dense terra cotta cazuelas are kiln-fired at 2000 degrees and can dry out, so they need to be soaked in water before first use and occasionally after that to keep their moisture. These glazed versions can go from stove top to oven to grill. Shown: 10-inch Cazuela with Lid, $32.50
French Painted Tureens from Claybourg
Traditional French clay cookware is hand-painted with colors that are frequently found in Provencial palettes: earthy yellows, greens, blues, and reds.
Claybourg imports traditional hand-painted and glazed tureens and faitout dishes from France. Like most clay cookware, it can go from stovetop to oven to table. It's also much brighter and more ornate than most of the options listed here, which makes it a great gift it you're trying to wow a friend. The Oval Clay Faitout with Lid is $89.
Schlemmertopf Clay Bakers at Sur La Table
Manufactured by the Scheurich company in Germany, Schlemmertopf products are made from 100 percent clay with a glazed base.
Sur La Table
The most popular Schlemmertopf products, in the US at least, are clay roasters that allow meats and vegtables to stew in their own juices. Sur la Table sells the Schlemmertopf Clay Baker ($35 - $65). The glazed base is designed to keep the cooker from absorbing odors and to make it easier to clean.
Emile Henry Clay Cookware at Williams Sonoma
The Emile Henry company originated in French Burgundy in the 1850s. It remains a family business, and their products continue to be made with Burgundy clay coated in a scratch-resistant glaze.
While Emile Henry products are available at many stores (including their own US webshop), Williams-Sonoma has a nice selection of their clay cookware (and they also carry other brands, like La Chamba). This Tagine ($125) has a glazed interior, it's dishwasher-safe, and it makes both an elegant cooking and serving dish.
Romertopf Clay Bakers at Fantes Kitchen Wares
Unlike Schlemmertopf's clay bakers, Romertopf's are made from entirely unglazed stoneware. They require immersion in water every once in a while to keep them in good shape, and — like cast iron — they shouldn't be washed with soap.
Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop
Based in Philadelphia with an impressive online shop, Fante's has a wide variety of clay cookware, including both Schlemmertopf and Romertopf. They also have extensive guides on how to clean and care for clay cookware. Shown: Romertopf Clay Bakers, starting at $40.
Clay Cookware from Solay
While most clay cookware imported into the US comes from Mediterranean countries, Solay imports mainly from South America — they carry La Chamba from Columbia and other clay cookware from Chile.
Their inventory of clay cookware includes unglazed earthenware casserole dishes, pie plates, loaf pans, bowls with handles, tagines, bean pots, and even steamer pots. Shown: Solay Gourmet Pomaire Large Clay Loaf Pan - Certified Fair Trade, $35.
• Cooking Beans in a Clay Pot: A Review of La Chamba
• Ceramics Guide from Fante's Kitchen Wares
• Clay Cooking 101 from Bram
• Where to Find Clay Pots Online | The LA Times
Photo: Faith Durand | The Kitchn