What Is a Dutch Oven and When Should You Use It?
A Dutch oven is, without a doubt, one of the most versatile pieces of cookware you can own. But what is a Dutch oven, exactly? What do you cook in one — and how do you know which one to buy? Let’s dig in:
What Is a Dutch Oven?
A Dutch oven is a thick-walled, lidded pot. This type of sturdy cooking vessel has been used for centuries to slow-cook soups, stews, sauces, and breads.
Dutch ovens come in cast iron, enameled, aluminum, and ceramic varieties. Traditionally, though, they’re made with seasoned cast iron.
Related: 18 Delicious Dutch Oven Dinners
Dutch Oven History
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Dutch oven’s history can be traced back to the Netherlands. Pre-17th-century pots and pans were typically made of expensive materials like brass and copper and, at the time, the Dutch were the world’s top cookware makers. An English inventor realized cast iron was a much cheaper alternative, but he needed to use a Dutch process to make the molds work. That’s why the pot continues to be called a “Dutch oven.”
Dutch Oven vs. French Oven
The difference between a Dutch oven and a French oven is the material used to coat the interior of the pot. Dutch ovens are made completely of cast iron, while French ovens are coated with enamel. Of course, this is only a technicality and which one you use is a matter of personal preference — most recipes that call for a “Dutch oven” will work just as well in what is technically a French oven.
Buy it: Lodge 5-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $39.99 (was $73), amazon.com
Dutch Oven Uses
If you don’t have a quality Dutch oven, it’s time to invest in a good one immediately. Not only does it come in handy for making all sorts of recipes, it’s super versatile when it comes to where you cook — you can use it to cook on the stovetop and/or in the oven. Here are some of our favorite ways to use Dutch ovens (but let us know if you think of more):
- Soups and stews: Dutch ovens are ideal for cooking things low and slow, which makes them perfect for the meaty soups and stews you love making in the wintertime. Plus, they hold a lot of liquid.
- Braising meat: The heavy material heats up evenly and retains high temperatures well, so you’ll be able to braise meats (and veggies!) to tender perfection.
- Bread-making: The Dutch oven’s thick walls and heavy lid create a steamy environment that keeps the dough nice and moist and helps it rise.
- Camping: Yes, there are Dutch ovens made specifically for outdoor cooking! You can’t use just any old Dutch oven for this purpose, though. Find one that’s specifically designed to be placed over a campfire — like this one from Walmart.
Dutch Oven Types
While most Dutch ovens are roughly the same shape, they come in a variety of colors, sizes, and materials.
Consider these factors when you’re choosing the Dutch oven that’s best for you:
- Bare cast-iron Dutch ovens have stood the test of time for a reason: The material retains a consistent heat for a long period of time, which makes it perfect for cooking something low and slow. However, anyone who has owned a piece of cast-iron cookware can tell you that proper maintenance is a must. It requires special cleaning (do not throw it in your dishwasher) and seasoning to remain functional, so only invest in one if you’re ready for that kind of responsibility. If you do take care of your cast iron, though, it’ll last a lifetime.
- Enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens (which, yes, are technically French ovens — let’s not get too caught up in the details) have surged in popularity in recent years. This is because they have all the benefits of traditional Dutch ovens, but they’re much easier to maintain. You’re probably familiar with Le Creuset’s take on the classic cookware staple. The French manufacturer’s best-selling product has become something of an icon because of its durability, versatility, functionality, and downright good looks. The one downside that comes with enameled cast iron is the high price tag (these babies can cost you upwards of $300). That said, you get more than your money’s worth in the long run.
- Ceramic Dutch ovens are lighter than other types, so they’re much easier to handle. They offer all the benefits of the bare and enameled cast iron, except for durability. They’re much more likely to crack when dropped or when subjected to extreme temperature changes.
Definitely think about how many people you regularly intend to feed using your Dutch oven. Most brands offer products in a range of sizes, from super small to absolutely massive. Le Creuset’s Round Dutch Oven, for instance, comes in nine capacities: The smallest (1-quart) serves one or two people, while the largest (13 ¼-quart) serves nine or more. If you’re unsure, you may want to go with something in the middle. The 5 ½-quart size, which makes five or six servings, is a good option for most people.
Where to Buy a Dutch Oven
Buy it: Le Creuset 5 ½-Quart Round Dutch Oven, $360, lecreuset.com
You can buy a Dutch oven pretty much anywhere that sells cookware. Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, and Williams-Sonoma are all great options. If you’re thinking about investing in a great Dutch oven that will last a lifetime (and we really think you should), you should consider purchasing directly from the manufacturer. That way, there are no lingering questions about quality, legitimacy, or warranties. Le Creuset and Lodge both produce top-notch Dutch ovens, so you may want to start there.
Related: How to Clean Cast Iron