Mexican clay cooking pot (Mole pot)
mole pot: photo by

Mexican Pottery Cooking Pots

Here are some examples of various traditional pots used in Mexican cooking. Mexican pots are made of earthenware or "clay" or in Spanish "barro".  The pots maybe glazed inside or out (or both)  then fired over low heat.  The results are earthy, stunning and a pleasure to use.

Article by: Barbara Bowman

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The Clay

Clay has been traditionally used in Mexican cooking because the clay imparts a specific flavor to the foods that can't be reproduced in a metal pot. Due to the documented health hazards, lead glazed clay pots are not recommended for use. Only pots stamped "safe for food use" should be used for cooking.

Product of "lead free" pottery represents a very small percentage of pottery production in Mexico.  Look for products marked "lead free" or "minimal levels of lead, food safe".   These products are approved by the U.S.D.A. and must not exceed the allowable limits for lead.  Pots marked "lead free" may actually contain small, allowable amounts of lead. 

Prepare Clay Pots For Use

You should use a simple seasoning process before you use the pot. Fill the pot with water and place it over a direct flame. If you have an electric stove then you should use a diffuser or buy a small portable gas burner. Allow the water to boil for a few minutes then remove from the heat and discard.

How To Use Your Clay Pot

In Mexico these pots are used over a direct flame. As we mentioned above if you have an electric stove then you should use a diffuser or buy a small portable gas burner.

Avoid rapid temperature changes. As with all clay cookery you should not move a cold pot to a hot flame or vice versa. Allow the pot to warm to room temperature before use. The pots are fragile and should be handled carefully

Lead Glazes

Although Mexican peoples have been using these pots for centuries you should be aware that the glazes most commonly contain lead. The FDA recommends that you never cook, OR store foods in these pots as foods can absorb the lead when exposed to lead in the glaze. This is particularly true with acidic foods such as orange, tomato and other fruit juices, tomato sauces, wines, and vinegar.   

**Important: The FDA Requires that any pots that contain lead be marked "for decorative use only".

photo by gourmetsleuth:  chirmolera - pottery grinding bowl

Ollas, Cazuela
cazuela - for stews and sauces

Clay Pot Care

Always allow the pot to cool before you wash it or you may crack the glaze and spoil the pot. After use soak the pot in warm soapy water then scrub as needed with a non-abrasive pad. Make sure to rinse the pot well and allow to air dry. If you don't use your pot very often then you may want to use the "seasoning" process each time before use.

Rick Bayless mentions that some cooks suggest rubbing the unglazed pot exterior with a clove of garlic to eliminate some of the "earthy" taste. Many cooks would agree however that the reason to use the pot is for that very reason.

Never, ever put your clay pot in the dishwasher!

Credits And Resources

Mexican, Healthy Ways With A Favorite Cuisine

Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking: by Rick and Deann Bayless

Mexican Beverages: Our page dedicated to the varieties of traditional Mexican Beverages.

Beverage ollas

olla for beverages

Natural Color Clay Pots

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Mexican Recipes

About Earthenware

The low-firing process produces a softer more fragile pot. This type of pot releases heat very slowly and therefore is very desireable for cooking things for long periods such as beans, soups, stews and sauces.

Pot Uses

Mole is traditionally made in very large, wide, double-handled cazuelas. Some of these pots are huge at least 2 feet or more across.   They're just beautiful but quite difficult to ship safely so they may be hard to find depending on where you live.

Mole (moh-Lay) - A sauce that varies in content depending on the region.  The traditional red mole contains chilies, garlic, nuts, tomato, spices and chocolate.  It is important to note that the amount of chocolate is very small and enhances but does not overpower the sauce.  The sauce is served with turkey or chicken.  Mole does not use the Mexican flavored chocolate but instead a dark bitter, unspiced version.

Frijoles (beans) are cooking in tall ollas with a lid.

Mexican Pottery Bean Pot
mexican pottery bean pot

Buy Mexican Clay Pots - Lead Free


Dark Clay Pots from El Salvador
These beautiful hand made clay pots are from El Salvador.  The pieces are made lead free from natural regional clay.   The finish is made from Nacascul berries which are made into a resin and applied while the pots are red hot.  Their rich, dark finish is naturally food safe.

Dark clay cooking pots el salvador
dark clay pots and comales from el Salvador