An Expert Guide to Dutch Ovens

A cast iron dutch oven is one of the most versatile pieces of cookware you can own. Kitchen Expert Jacob Cummings looks at his favorites and all the essential features.

Dutch oven on a picnic table

Photo by Jacob Cummings

What Is a Dutch Oven?

A dutch oven is a small cast-iron pot with handles and a tight-fitting lid. It is a classic staple of the kitchen that has been used for centuries across the world in both the oven and the stovetop.

Renowned for its versatility in cooking just about all recipes imaginable, the Dutch oven is able to go from searing meats and vegetables with the lid off, to slow-cooked soups, stews, tender chicken, and baked bread with the lid on. Home cooks and professional chefs love them, as the lid is amazing at trapping splattering oil when frying and distributing the condensation across the food.

  • Great for stews and slow-cooked meals
  • Baking bread, especially sourdough
  • Browning ingredients and then cooking the rest of the meal in the same dish

Dutch Oven vs. Stockpot

Dutch ovens come in all sizes, but it’s typical to see them in smaller options under 10 quarts. Stock pots usually hold more than 10 quarts. Because of this, stock pots are often the better option for making large quantities of stock and broth—where the liquid and the vegetables create more volume than the average meal.

Dutch Oven vs. Slow Cooker

Slow cooking is simple to do with a dutch oven and can give similar or better results than a modern electrical slow cooker. Slow cookers have their own heating element, which is nice, but they can’t braise or fry. Slow cookers are great at making a tasty stew that retains moisture and flavorful juices from every ingredient. Dutch ovens can work the exact same, but they require being placed into an oven with the lid on. It's like an oven within an oven, containing all of the moisture within itself. While a slow cooker is perhaps a little more convenient, a dutch oven is way more versatile and will certainly last longer.

Are All Dutch Ovens Resistant to High Temperatures?

Any cookware made with cast iron will be incredibly resistant to high temperatures with a melting point of around 1500°F. Broiling can reach temperatures above 550°F, and standard cast-iron cookware will be great for this. Enameled cast iron often has a lower heat limit of 500°F and is not recommended for broiling.

Is Food Cooked in a Dutch Oven Healthier?

The nutrient quantities of cooked food depend largely on the ingredients used, and the temperatures at which they were cooked. Dutch ovens are capable of producing low-temperature, slow-cooked meals that can retain many nutrients of the food. They are also capable of being cooked at high temperatures which can destroy nutrients. So the health of your food depends more on the quality of ingredients and process than it does on the material and design of the cooking implements.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Dutch Oven?

With a few exceptions, a quality dutch oven is made with one piece of cast iron. It will be heavy and the material will be thick. There are raw-metal dutch ovens made by a variety of manufacturers that are high-quality and very affordable. They will come pre-seasoned, and should you ever need to re-season them, the process is simple and easy to do.

Other manufacturers have enamel-coated dutch ovens that do not need to be seasoned, are durable, and are easy to clean. All dutch ovens will have handles, but a good one will have handles that are comfortable to pick up with oven mitts because the material will be hot. The lid will be tight fitting, which will limit the amount of moisture that is allowed to escape while food is cooking.

What Shape and Weight Should a Dutch Oven Be?

The most common dutch oven shape is similar to a saucepan with a round cooking bottom and higher walls for holding saucy foods or pasta. But it’s also possible to find a dutch oven in oval shapes, and the Finex options are octogonal. Dutch ovens are available in sizes from one quart all the way up to 13+ quarts and beyond. The most common size is dive quarts, which is perfect for roasting a small chicken and cooking stews for 3–5 people.

1. Staub Round Cocotte

Product image of Staub Round Cocotte

This elegant, round Staub dutch oven is five and a half quarts and has an enamel finish that is highly durable and available in over a dozen colors. The enamel coating means it is dishwasher-safe, however, the general consensus is handwashing enamel cookware is the better way to avoid chipping and rusting and to prolong the life of the enamel coating.

The underside of the tight-fitting lid is textured to help distribute condensation across the food as it cooks. However, the shape of the lid is not my favorite for baking bread, as it hangs lower than other options in this article.

Enamel cast iron is great for rice because the enamel coating will reduce any leaching of flavor that might be caused by the seasoning or metals. All Staub products are protected with a lifetime warranty.

Great For:

  • Pot roasts in this enameled cast iron will look beautiful on the table and will be easy to clean up
  • Tomato sauce and other acidic dishes are best in enameled cast iron because the metals will not leach into the food while it is cooking—thus preserving the flavor
  • The 5.5-quart capacity is perfect for bringing straight from the cooktop to the dinner table, capable of serving 3–5 hungry people

2. Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron Pot

Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron Pot on a tree stump

Photo by Jacob Cummings

This low-cost enameled cast iron dutch oven is available in five sizes and 12 colors. These dutch ovens are regarded to be as good as the fanciest, most expensive Le Creuset, but sometimes people admit they aren’t completely satisfied with the overall fit and finish of Lodge products in general.

I personally have no complaints about the quality of Lodge products, but I agree. Once you’ve owned Le Creuset or Finex, there’s maybe no going back. If you want cookware that you don’t have to worry about, not only because it’s highly durable, but also because it’s easy to replace, then look no further. The Lodge dutch oven is recommended for a maximum high-heat temperature of 500°F.

Great For:

  • Lodge products are made in America, are low-cost, and highly durable
  • Enameled cookware is great for sending the leftover straight to the fridge, right in the pot
  • Lodge is the best shape for baking, as the high-clearance lid will not hinder rising bread

3. Le Creuset Signature Dutch Oven

Le Creuset Signature Dutch Oven on the stove

Photo by Jacob Cummings

The most premium and original enameled cast iron dutch ovens ever made come from Le Creuset. They’re available in 21 colors, seven sizes, and are protected by a lifetime warranty. This cookware is refined and polished on every surface. The design is timeless and intended to last more than your lifetime. I don’t know why, but cooking in Le Creuset makes me happy–that’s enough for me to love these.

Great For:

  • Massive handles look great and inspire you to handle this dish with confidence, with or without oven mitts
  • Per quart, Le Creuset is the lightest in the industry, but it’s still pretty dang heavy
  • Enamel is easy to clean and will look amazing on the table in one of 21 available colors

4. Lodge 5-Quart Double Dutch Cast-Iron Oven

Product image of Lodge 5-Quart Double Dutch Cast-Iron Oven

One technological advancement in the last few hundred years of dutch-oven cookware includes the design of making the lid also function as a skillet or a grill. The 5-quart Double Dutch Oven is great for any cooktop or oven, and it’s convenient to pack along camping trips to cook on top of the fire. With a lid that serves more than one purpose, you can save weight and space in the cupboards and the camp kit.

Great For:

  • Campfire-ready, you can sear ingredients in the lid before throwing them into the saucepan to make a hearty, warming stew
  • Versatile and low-cost gives you three options with two pieces of durable cookware
  • Five-quart capacity is enough for two with plenty of leftovers or a party of 4–5 hungry people.

5. Finex Dutch Oven

Product image of Finex Dutch Oven

In all of the history of the dutch oven, Finex is an evolutionary newborn; it has the most innovation that we have seen in dutch ovens. Function follows all of the form with spring handles that not only look great but cool off faster and are more comfortable than traditional cast iron handles that get way too hot. The octogonal shape provides pouring spouts from many angles while also giving you a flat spot on the wall of the pot to dig a spatula in without a single awkward moment.

Made in Portland, Oregon, these dutch ovens are finished and polished in every essential way. The lid leaves plenty of room for the largest baked loaves of bread. By rotating the lid, you can choose between a vented or sealed enclosure. Also note the beautiful, stainless steel knob.

Great For:

  • The most evolved dutch oven is easy to maintain with a CNC-polished cooking surface that can put non-stick pans to shame
  • Stainless spring handles look great, are more comfortable than traditional handles, and remain cooler to the tough longer and sooner
  • Lifetime warranty that Finex reassures you—it’s good absolutely forever

What Are Common Mistakes When Using a Dutch Oven?

Dutch ovens can be very heavy, especially when loaded up with food. Add the high heat retention of cast iron, and you can have a really dangerous and heavy pot of molten food. Oven mitts need to be plentiful in the kitchen that uses cast-iron cookware. Whether it’s traditional or enameled, both get plenty hot. Using two hands with this cookware is almost required, so it’s important to plan on having both available when moving the cookware.

While traditional cast iron is able to handle a lot of rough scrubbing from chain mail or steel wool, enameled cast iron requires a much more gentle handwashing approach. Otherwise, chipping and scratching will shorten the life of the cookware.

How Should You Clean and Care for a Pure Cast-Iron Dutch Oven?

Generally, I recommend getting a chainmail scrubber and handwashing all of your cast iron cookware. We have a great article on how to clean cast iron products; seasoning a standard cast-iron pan is about one hour and very simple. Enameled cast iron requires different care.

Conclusion

My hope is that you now feel empowered to make your own decisions about which type and capacity of dutch oven will best suit your needs. But in case you’re still unsure and would like some direct guidance or want to bounce ideas and questions off one of our Kitchen Experts, please feel free to reach out!

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