Too often the dutch oven is overlooked when it comes time to buying the essential pieces of cookware needed in a kitchen. This amazing, multi-purpose pot should be a cornerstone piece when you are getting ready to stock your kitchen. Many buyers look at cookware sets that have two frying pans, two pots of differing size and one big kettle-like pot that is often called a dutch oven. While that is fine for a starter cookware set a serious cook wants a serious dutch oven, not a big pasta pot.
What The Heck Is A Dutch Oven?
Costing about the same as a decent pair of jeans, a dutch oven is at its core a heavy, thick walled cooking pot with a very tight lid. These pots have been used for hundreds of years for all types of cooking and can be made of cast iron, stone, ceramic or aluminum. Some English speaking countries call them casserole dishes because casserole means pot in French, but the basic construction is the same. Modern materials have allowed dutch ovens to be constructed with different metals that can be enameled, but whatever material is used, it must by durable.
Americans have a long history with dutch ovens and the most common material has been cast iron. Revolutionary war hero Paul Revere is credited with adding legs to the pot, allowing it to stand up among the coals and eliminating the need for a hook to dangle the oven above the fire. Old West lore has the dutch oven being used at campsites for everything from beans to stews to making homemade hooch for the cowboys. A dutch oven truly is a versatile kitchen tool.
Campers have used dutch ovens for years. Cast iron pots don’t require soap and water for cleaning, you simply wipe out the pot with grit and a towel (real naturalists use leaves). Because cast iron holds heat so well and for so long, cooks at a campsite can leave food in the oven and let it cook in its own juices. The results can be spectacular and most dishes are simple to assemble.
Using A Dutch Oven
Most dutch ovens will require some seasoning, especially if they are made from cast iron. The best way to season a new oven is to fill it with boiling water and wash and rinse thoroughly. Dry completely and let it set for a couple of hours. Coat the inside of the pot (and the inside of the lid) lightly with vegetable oil. Set the oven upside down on a baking sheet and put into a 500 degree oven for about an hour. Let cool completely and then store in a cupboard that has good air circulation. Oil can get rancid if it is in a tight, airless cabinet. Don’t put the lid on the pot, set it aside or angle it on the pot so that air can circulate.
Cleaning a cast iron dutch oven is simple but more time consuming. You can’t put cast iron in a dishwasher and you generally don’t want to use harsh soap. Wash out the pot with very warm (not hot) water. You can use a little gentle dish soap if there are spots that need deep cleaning but a well seasoned pot will release most stuck on foods. You don’t need to re-oil your dutch oven after every cleaning, but it pays to keep it seasoned.
Enameled metal dutch ovens don’t need to be seasoned and they can be cleaned with soap and water. You may find that metal dutch ovens don’t hold heat quite as well as cast iron.
Cooking With A Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are amazingly adaptable to just about any food that can be cooked in a traditional oven. They are very well suited to long cooking periods and are excellent for foods that require slow cooking. Stews and soups are naturals for a dutch oven, as are recipes that call for slow roasting meats in liquids. Casseroles are naturals for a dutch oven and there is an entire industry based on desserts that can be created in a dutch oven.
Don’t overlook other dishes that you can prepare with a dutch oven. There are many excellent bread recipes that turn out wonderful treats using this utensil. Hot cereals taste better from a dutch oven and you can prepare an entire breakfast using this wonderful kitchen utensil.
The Top Dutch Ovens
#1 The Lodge 6 Quart Enamel Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Lodge has been an industry leader in cast iron kitchen utensils for years and this very well made enameled cast iron dutch oven continues in that tradition. The construction of this pot is unique. Not only is it made from cast iron, it also has a porcelain enameled finish, giving the pot an extra level of strength and heat control. The porcelain enamel finishing is a type of glass bonding on top of the cast iron. This forms an exceptionally strong surface that resists almost all problems that can come from cooking long periods of time at high heats.
This dutch oven works very well on the stove top for braising, frying or sauteing. You can also use it in the oven for roasting or baking, the surface can handle any type of heat and ingredient without having harmful reactions. Cooking foods heavy in acids can be a problem for some materials but not this oven.
This pot has a capacity of 6 quarts, a generous size that will handle almost any recipe. At 10 3/4″ wide and 4 1/2″ deep its dimensions are fairly standard for most dutch ovens.
The lid fits very tightly and has a good sized grab knob. The bottom of the pot is flat, making it easy to use your dutch oven for browning meats or stirring stews on a burner on your stove top.
-Very well made. The cast iron is solid and durable and the porcelain enamel finish gives that surface a smooth texture that is easy to clean.
-Great colors available. Because of the enamel finish the colors are bright, even after many uses in the oven.
-Tight fitting lid. This is a plus when you want the pot sealed and liquids kept in the oven. Some lids are loose, steam escapes and the results are unappetizing.
-Harsh detergents can scratch the enameled finish. Cast iron is practically bulletproof but when you add an enamel finish you can add chips.
-Not made in the USA. Most Lodge cast iron pieces are made in America but this product comes from China.
#2 Lodge 5 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven
This dutch oven is a classic, a throwback to the type of cooking pots that our ancestors used. It’s basic, it’s durable, it’s indestructible and will last longer than you thought a kitchen pot could possibly last.
Everything about this dutch oven screams tradition. Lodge is a premier American manufacturer of cast iron kitchen utensils and this classic pot is their all-time best selling unit. It’s pre-seasoned at the the factory, meaning that you just need to rinse it out with warm water and you are ready to start cooking some fabulous food memories.
Solid and extremely sturdy, this is a heavy duty cooking tool that will be able to handle just about any dish that you want to try. 5 quart is not the largest sized dutch oven available but it is sufficient to handle most dishes, including a good sized roast. At 10 1/3″ in diameter and 4 1/2″ high this pot is of typical dimensions.
-Heavy duty cast iron with no chemicals added to the material.
-Seasoned at the factory with vegetable oil. You should still wash and season again before the first use but a good seasoning is already on the surface.
-Made in the USA. Lodge makes most of their cast iron products in Tennessee.
-A tight fitting lid. This is important. Lighter weight materials can warp, leading to a loose lid and a poorly sealed oven.
-Only 5 quart capacity. Other dutch ovens are 6 or even 7 quart capacity. This may be a bit small for an over sized piece of meat or a large recipe.
-The lid is very heavy. Granted, it’s made with cast iron but you need to make sure you have a solid grip when you remove the lid.
#3 Crock Pot 7 Quart Artisan Dutch Oven
Best known for their iconic Crock Pot slow cooker, The folks at Crock Pot began making heavy duty cooking pots like this excellent dutch oven, with very good results. Made with heavy duty cast iron, the oven is then glazed on the outside for a beautiful color and treated on the inside and the lid with a non-stick surface that makes clean up easy.
Crock Pot calls their lid a self-basting lid. It’s a fancy way of saying that the lid is very tight, creating a nice seal and keeping moisture in the oven while you are cooking or roasting foods. The oversized handles on the side make it easy to left the pot out of the oven or move on the stove top. 7 quarts is a very generous size, you will be able to create just about any dish in a dutch oven this size.
Starting with the rust free, sturdy and rugged cast iron, everything about this dutch oven says durability and quality. The inside of the pot is treated with a strong non-stick surface which makes cleaning up even the messiest of dishes quite easy. You can’t put this in the dishwasher, it still needs to be hand washed, but the clean up is faster than a basic cast iron pot will offer.
-A full 7 quart capacity. Yes, it’s a larger dutch oven than others and may take up a bit more room but that extra capacity will come in handy.
-Treated with a durable non-stick surface. While the oven itself is cast iron, it does have a surface treatment that makes clean up much easier.
-Oversized handles on the pot. Again, this unit is larger than some others but you will really appreciate the large side handles whenever you need to move a hot dutch oven.
-The ceramic coating will always be prone to chipping. If you take good care of the oven it will be fine but ceramic can chip.
-The lid is also ceramic coated and can chip. Lids get dropped all of the time, you may find a nick or two on the underside of the lid.
#4 Le Cresuet 5.25 Marseille Dutch Oven
This outstanding, yet expensive, dutch oven by Le Creuset has to be considered the royalty of kitchen utensils. Le Creuset was the first commercial company to make ceramic coated cast iron cookware almost 100 years ago and they have a well deserved reputation for exceptional quality and outstanding design.
Although this dutch oven is a bit smaller in size at 5.25 quarts, it is deeper than some other pots. This make it easier when you are frying foods, the taller sides help keep splatters down to a minimum. The lid is domed shape and is engineered to help keep liquids and steam in the pot.
Durable cast iron forms the skeleton of this dutch oven, then Le Creuset adds a tough and durable ceramic finish to the entire unit. The interior enamel is treated to avoid staining or discoloring, a common problem with ceramic enamel surfaces. While the discoloration doesn’t effect the flavor of the food being prepared it does make the pot look old. A signature design feature of most Le Creuset cookware pieces are the large, rounded handles and these are very evident with this pot.
-Le Creuset. The name itself brings up a sense of high quality and cooking excellence.
-Ceramic enamel coating on cast iron. The outside is a distinctive blue and the inside surface stays light and stain free.
-The signature wide side handles look nice and, more importantly, are very helpful for moving the dutch oven.
-Price. Le Creuset is a premium brand name and you will pay a premium price for this dutch oven.
-Capacity. 5.25 quarts is on the small side and can limit what can be prepared in this pot.
-Only rated to 375 degrees. This is enough for most recipes but sometimes you need to be at 400 degrees.
Best Dutch Oven Buying Guide
Should you have a dutch oven in your kitchen? Absolutely! Should it be cast iron? Yes, but there are other options that may be cheaper. There are some aluminum dutch ovens that are also used as pasta pots that are versatile and inexpensive. You won’t be able to use them for recipes that call for long, slow cooking periods in the oven but they will work fine for making soups or stews on the stove top.
Prices for a good quality cast iron dutch oven will range from an average of around $40 to a top-end premium price of $200. There are some quality differences at each price level but at the core you are buying a cast iron 5 or 6 quart pot with a lid. It’s easy to find a good quality cast iron dutch oven for $40 and a ceramic coated cast iron oven for $65.
What Utensils Should You Use?
Never use steel or aluminum utensils with a cast iron or ceramic coated cast iron dutch oven. It’s easy to grab an wire whisk to give the pot a quick stir but that light aluminum can cause some serious damage to the surface.
There are arguments for both wooded utensils and silicone coated utensils. The arguments tend to come down to personal preferences, both are fine for cast iron. Wooden utensils require seasoning and are usually hand washed while silicone is easy to clean and can be tossed into the dishwasher. There are some plastic utensils available but these are best avoided. They shred and can leave bits of plastic in the bottom of the pot.
Will A Dutch Oven Rust?
Rust is an enemy of cast iron and it can show itself on your dutch oven. It is often the result of putting the pot in a cabinet while it is still damp and the cabinet is airtight. Don’t panic, the pan is not ruined. Simply rub the rust off, wash with warm water (you can use a bit of soap but it’s not necessary) and season again. If there is a lot of rust use some steel wool to gently sand the rust away. Wash and season and you are ready to cook again.