An Expert Guide to Cast Iron Dutch Ovens

Published on 10/21/2023 · 14 min readThinking about investing in a cast iron Dutch oven? Check out this guide on everything you need to know about this versatile piece of cookware!
Kylee Hazelgren, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Kylee Hazelgren

Photo by FTH

TL;DR: With as many Dutch ovens as there are on the market, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused about which one is the right choice for you. Cast iron Dutch ovens are great pieces of cookware that have the potential to last you a lifetime. When buying a Cast iron Dutch oven, there are some things you’ll want to consider, such as shape, size, color, and enamel vs. raw cast iron.

I’m a firm believer that if you have to eat every day, why not eat delicious food? My cast iron Dutch oven has become my best friend for both indoor and outdoor cooking. Over the years, I’ve created stews on the stovetop, slow-cooked meats in the oven, and easy one-pot meals like chili over some coals while camping.

Personally, I chose to purchase two Dutch ovens: one that I would use primarily for outdoor cooking and one for indoors. For my outdoor cooking, I chose to go with a 6qt Cast Iron Dutch Oven with legs, as I primarily cook over coals outdoors. For my indoor cooking, I decided to go with a 6qt Enameled Cast Iron Dutch oven, as I wanted to have the ease of cleaning and the ability to cook with acidic food like tomato sauce – without worrying about damaging any seasoning I would’ve built up on my raw cast iron Dutch oven.

Growing up, my Mom was an amazing home cook. Her meals were comforting, nourishing, and loving. Although I spent a lot of time helping her out or even just hanging out in the kitchen with her while she cooked, I never really cooked by myself until I moved out on my own and had to take on the role of my own home cook. Quickly, I realized I liked cooking for my roommates and my boyfriend. Over the following years, I took on the role of home chef seriously!

My main priority with cooking and being in the kitchen is to make it a loving place where friends and family can gather, nourish their bodies, and create new memories through tastes, aromas, and textures! At times, this has meant cooking over a fire on a camping trip, in a tiny trailer, or in a well-equipped kitchen. No matter what kind of setup you have, you can cook a delicious meal. All you need are some kitchen tools, techniques, and some creativity!

My love for cooking and sharing with others easily translated to my role at Curated. I relish the moment that someone comes in seeking knowledge and guidance in helping them pick out their kitchen essentials, and then we end up finding them the perfect fit! I look forward to continuing to help people find their passion in the kitchen and the tools to help them dive deeper into their culinary exploration.

Why Cast Iron Dutch Ovens?

Photo by Lincoln Rogers

Cast-iron cookware has a long history and has been used all over the world in a variety of ways. The versatility, durability, and consistency are just a few of the reasons why they have stood the test of time and continue to be a staple in many households. The fact that they are stovetop and oven-safe opens up the doors to multiple cooking methods, such as deep frying chicken, boiling pasta, or baking a delicious cobbler.

What to Consider When Buying a Cast Iron Dutch Oven

1. Where will you primarily cook with your Dutch oven?

Photo by Pete Broyles

Knowing your main purpose will help tailor your choice. Where are you planning to do most of your cooking with your Dutch oven? If you are planning on cooking indoors, you have the option to choose between enameled cast iron Dutch ovens or raw cast iron Dutch ovens. However, if you are going to want the option to cook indoors or outdoors, then you’ll want to get a raw cast iron Dutch oven.

2. What size is most appropriate for your needs?

Photo by L. Gieger

Sizing is dependent on your individual needs. If you usually only cook for yourself, consider getting a smaller Dutch oven that’s around 2qt. However, if you have a large family or want to have a larger Dutch oven for hosting, then get one around 6-7qt. Remember, while bigger might offer more flexibility, it also means added weight and storage space considerations.

3. Do aesthetics matter to you?

Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens come in a variety of colors, so you will easily be able to find a color that suits you and your kitchen. If you’re looking for a more traditional and rustic style, the raw cast iron might suit you better.

4. How much should a Cast iron Dutch oven cost?

A series of factors can influence the cost of a Dutch oven. These include size, material, and brand. For example, a Lodge Dutch oven is made in the USA and tends to be on the more budget-friendly side, whereas a Staub or Le Creuset Dutch oven is made in France and tends to be pricier. Here’s a look at what you can expect:

  • Entry-Level ($20-$250): At this range, you're likely eyeing smaller cast iron Dutch ovens around 2qt. This is a perfect size for side dishes, individual servings, or limited countertop space. This size can still be high-quality – it just depends on where you are purchasing it from and whether it’s enameled or raw cast iron.
  • Mid-Range ($45-$400): Here, you'll find medium-sized cast iron Dutch ovens (about 4-7 qt) suitable for family meals. Having a 4-7qt Dutch oven opens up the doors to more dishes you are able to create!
  • Premium ($60-$500): At this tier, expect larger volumes (>7qt). This is ideal for large gatherings, unique recipes, and making a statement in your kitchen.

5. Are you comfortable with the weight and care requirements?

Before committing to cast iron Dutch ovens, understand their maintenance and weight. If you purchase a raw cast iron Dutch oven, you will have to keep up with seasoning your Dutch oven. If you go with the enameled Dutch oven, you will have added weight. Although some enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are listed as dishwasher-safe, it is recommended to hand-wash them. Exposing your Dutch oven to the extreme heat changes that happen in the dishwasher could cause some chipping and cracking.

What Are the Different Types of Cast Iron Dutch Ovens?

1. Cast Iron Dutch Ovens

Cast iron Dutch ovens are uncoated and require seasoning and some maintenance to maintain a nonstick quality and avoid rust. These timeless classics are made of raw cast iron and do not have an enamel coating on their surface. They have a natural nonstick seasoning that develops over time when properly maintained. They also offer the versatility of being able to craft delicious meals indoors or outdoors.

Ideal for:

  • Home cooks who want versatility in the ability to cook indoors and outdoors.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: Offered in a variety of sizes, you can easily find a size that works for you! Sizing typically ranges from 2-7qt. The specific size and capacity can vary between brands and models.
  • Legs vs. Legless: This feature, again, solely depends on where you will be primarily using your Dutch oven. If you plan on cooking solely inside, then there is no need for you to get a Dutch oven with legs. However, if you plan on doing a lot of outdoor cooking, consider getting the design with legs. Using a Dutch oven that has legs provides stability and elevation above coals or flames. This allows for better air circulation and heat distribution, preventing the risk of overheating or scorching your food.
  • Handles: If you’re cooking outdoors, it would be wise to purchase a Dutch oven that has a handle that you can hang your Dutch oven on over the fire. It also comes in handy if you are cooking over coals, so you can easily lift your Dutch oven off of the coals without getting your hands too close to the hot coals (make sure to protect your hand with oven mitts). There is an optional lid lifter you can purchase to help keep your hands away from the hot pot.

Benefits:

  • Durability: Cast iron Dutch ovens are made entirely out of…. You guessed it, cast iron! Meaning they are extremely durable and, if maintained properly, will last long past your lifetime.
  • Nonstick: When properly cared for and seasoned, cast iron will develop a natural coating that prevents most foods from sticking. This makes cast iron a great option if you want nonstick properties without the chemicals!
  • Lid Design: The tight-fitting lid of a Dutch oven is typically heavy and fitted and is designed to fit snugly over the pot to trap moisture and heat during cooking.
  • High-Heat Tolerance: Cast iron can withstand high heat, making it perfect for searing and browning. Then, it can easily be transferred to the oven for slow cooking.
  • Even Heating: Cast iron evenly distributes heat across its surface, eliminating hot spots. The exceptional heat retention ensures that your food cooks uniformly.

Keep in Mind:

  • Cast iron can be heavy, especially in larger sizes.
  • Requires some maintenance to prevent rusting and maintain and build the nonstick seasoning.
  • Not suitable for highly acidic foods.

2. Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens

Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens offer an enamel coating, making them low maintenance and easy to clean. They’re ideal for indoor cooking methods like braising and slow cooking, but it should be noted that they can’t hold up to extremely high heat that raw cast iron Dutch ovens can.

Ideal for: A household staple for home chefs! Perfect for slow-cooking meat, simmering soups and sauces, etc.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: Offered in a variety of sizes, you can easily find a size that works for you! Sizing typically ranges from 2-7qt. The specific size and capacity can vary between brands and models.
  • Color: Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens come in a variety of colors, allowing you to choose a color that matches your personal aesthetic and kitchen.
  • Handles: Handles are located on the side of the pot to help you easily transfer from stove to oven to table.
  • Non-Reactive Interior: The non-reactive enamel coating will not react with acidic ingredients.

Benefits:

  • Versatility: It can be used on the stovetop or in the oven, opening up the door to possibilities when it comes to different recipes and cooking techniques.
  • Easy to Clean: The smooth, non-porous interior doesn’t require special techniques and can easily be cleaned with hot water, soap, and a scrub brush. Because of the enamel coating over top of the cast iron, you don’t have to worry about rusting!
  • No Seasoning Required: The enamel coating allows your Dutch oven to be ready to use right out of the box and doesn’t require ongoing seasoning maintenance.
  • Moisture Retention: The tight-fitted lid locks in moisture, creating an ideal environment for slow cooking, simmering, and braising, preventing food from drying out.
  • Heat Distribution: Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor and retainer, which allows it to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process.

Keep in Mind:

  • Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens tend to be pricier than raw cast iron Dutch ovens.
  • Enameled cast iron can sometimes be even heavier than raw cast iron.
  • Enamel is very durable. However, it can chip or get cracks if subjected to rapid temperature changes or sharp objects.
  • Enameled cast iron is not suitable for cooking at extremely high temperatures. Doing so can cause discoloration or damage to the enamel coating over time. It’s best to cook at medium-low temps for longevity.

3. Round vs. Oval Dutch Ovens:

When it comes to choosing between a round or oval Dutch oven, there really isn’t a right or wrong choice. Many people even choose to have both! But if you have to decide between one or the other, it comes down to what cooking methods you use and the foods you mostly cook.

Round

If you plan on doing a lot of cooking with your Dutch oven on the stovetop, you’ll want to consider going with a round Dutch oven. The round shape is consistent with the shape of burners on stovetops, so it heats much quicker than the oval design. This is also a great option to go with if you’re planning on doing a lot of cooking from stovetop to oven.

Oval

The oval design really shines in the oven. The shape caters nicely to cooking larger and longer cuts of meat and allows plenty of air to circulate around the meat so it perfectly browns meat. The oval design is also great for baking bread! When you bake bread, the dough shapes to the shape of its vessel. So, if you want a more traditional longer loaf, the oval design provides you with that.

Here's a video of America's test kitchen trying out different Dutch ovens within a wide range of price points:

How to Choose the Best Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Photo by Kylee Hazelgren

Selecting the right fit for you can be challenging with many options on the market, but you can start narrowing down your options now that you are more familiar with the features of cast iron Dutch ovens. Below are three different people I’ve helped out on Curated who represent the primary needs when it comes to looking for a cast iron Dutch oven.

Kate:

Kate is extremely outdoorsy and is looking for a reliable Dutch oven to take on her camping trips so she can cook her meals over her campfire. She usually likes to go camping with a group of her 4 closest friends. She doesn’t care about the expense as long as it isn’t outrageous.

Features Kate should look for:

  • Raw cast iron Dutch oven
  • Possibly with legs on her Dutch oven so she can worry less about her food burning on coals.
  • A 6qt Dutch oven, as it is large enough to make sure everyone gets fed.

Products to consider:

  • 6-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven: This 6qt Dutch oven allows you to cook amazing meals at a great price point.

Sean:

Sean is an avid cook who really values safe, healthy cookware. He primarily cooks indoors on his gas range. He already has a cast iron skillet that he uses to make eggs and saute onions, and he uses it on his grill frequently. Now he’s looking to get a Dutch oven for hosting his monthly supper club of 3 other people. His main priority is getting a Dutch oven of high quality.

Features to look for:

  • A raw cast iron Dutch oven if he plans on cooking on high heat on his stovetop.
  • A Dutch oven that fits with the style of his kitchen and other cookware and is large enough to host.
  • A Dutch oven that can easily transfer from stovetop to oven.

Products to consider:

Taylor:

Taylor is a busy mom who loves to cook for her family of four and host get-togethers. She has many pots and pans, but now she wants a Dutch oven to make one-pot meals for her family. She prioritizes quality and is looking for something that is easy to clean and eye-catching! She often meal preps on Sundays for some meals to have on hand throughout the week. The rest of her kitchen and cookware are neutral colors, but she is looking to add a pop of green to her kitchen with a new Dutch oven.

Features to look for:

  • A style and color that fits well within her current kitchen style.
  • A Dutch oven that can transition easily from stovetop to oven to table.
  • At least a 6qt Dutch oven, possibly larger for meal prepping and hosting.

Products to consider:

Find the Right Cast Iron Dutch Oven for You!

Photo by Kylee Hazelgren

Overall, it all comes down to preference and your individual needs! The good news is that there are plenty of options, and hopefully, this guide can be a good reference for when you are on the hunt for the perfect Cast iron Dutch oven.

If you’re looking for some extra guidance, send me a message or chat with a Kitchen Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice! I would love to guide you through the process and provide you with my top picks for you! I want to make sure that you are happy and confident with your decision so you can cultivate meals that create memories.

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Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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