What is a Dutch Oven? [Uses, Benefits, Types and Safety]

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Try to picture a bulky pot with thick walls and a tight-fitting lid. Now, imagine that you can bake bread, simmer stew, braise meat, and do a host of other cooking with this pot. That?s a fair description of a Dutch oven and what it can do.

The one thing missing in the description above is that Dutch ovens can last for several years, usually more than most cookware in any kitchen.

If you are in the market for a versatile utensil suitable for cooking a variety of meals, and that can even serve as a dish by itself, you may as well consider getting a Dutch oven.

But what?s with this pot that makes it special? Keep reading to find out more, as the rest of this article will into the nitty-gritty of what a Dutch oven is, including the various types, reasons to invest in one (or more), and key considerations when choosing one.

What Is a Dutch Oven?

The Consumer Report website ? an independent consumer product testing organization ? describes the Dutch oven as the ?original multi-cooker.?

But a Dutch oven can do a lot more than any modern multi-cooker ? think boiling, browning, deep-frying, baking, braising, and more. The pot is the true definition of a versatile kitchen utensil.

That?s because the walls and bottom can heat food at a fairly constant temperature while distributing the heat evenly throughout the pot?s surface. The vessel is traditionally made from cast iron, which is great at temperature regulation.

Typically, a Dutch oven comes with a tight-fitting lid and two outward-facing handles. These features can be of the same or different material as the pot.

Uses for a Dutch Oven

You can use a Dutch oven to cook virtually everything, but here is a small list:

  • Braising: This means partly submerging veggies or meat in a pot filled with liquid until it becomes tender.
  • Browning: You don?t need to buy a separate skillet to brown your fish or meat. Dutch ovens prevent splashes during browning due to the pot?s depth.
  • Simmering sauces: You can simmer sauces, such as tomato sauce, at low heat using Dutch ovens. The constant and even distribution of heat makes the pot ideal for this purpose.
  • Baking: You can bake crusty bread with soft insides using a Dutch oven. The tight-fitting lid together with the thick walls of the pot creates an excellent environment for the dough to rise nicely.
  • Boiling water: Dutch ovens are great for quickly getting water from zero degrees to boiling point within a few minutes.
  • Camping: If you love the great outdoors, a Dutch oven can be a useful all-round utensil, especially one that comes with a wire bail handle like this model by Lodge and available on Amazon.

Benefits of a Dutch oven

First of all, a Dutch oven is an all-in-one vessel that cooks nearly every type of meal. For most people, simmering, baking, or braising readily come to mind when they think of Dutch ovens. However, cast iron is great at retaining cold, too.

That means your favorite dessert or pasta salad can go in the fridge while inside a Dutch oven. But always make sure the pot is completely cool before putting it in your freezer. Moving it straight from the strove to the freezer will damage the enamel.

A Dutch oven is a cost-effective tool. It allows you to cook different types of foods without having to buy plenty of different kitchen utensils.

Dutch Oven Types

Here is a quick overview of the different types of Dutch ovens available. Note that one is not necessarily better than the other. Instead, they are meant to suit a broad range of uses or conditions.

Cast Iron

Cast Iron dutch oven
Cast Iron dutch oven

Cast iron is the most popular type of material used for constructing Dutch ovens. That?s because the material is excellent at retaining and distributing heat.

Cast iron models are also suitable for cooking over campfires, open fires, and nearly all types of cooktop, including modern induction options.

Cast iron gets better with age because the surface continues to improve with continuous seasoning. Remember to hand-wash the pot without using detergents, and re-oil the pan before storing.

Avoid cooking acidic foods in a cast-iron Dutch oven to prevent negative reaction with the pot?s surface.

Enameled Cast Iron

Enameled Cast Iron dutch oven
Enameled Cast Iron dutch oven

Cast iron Dutch ovens with enamel coating are quite popular, too. The coating creates a rust-resistant layer that removes the need for constant seasoning of the pot.

You can use enameled models to cook just about any type of meal, thanks to the non-reactive surface. It is also safe to gently scrub or wash this model using non-abrasive cleaners.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel dutch oven
Stainless Steel dutch oven

Stainless steel Dutch ovens are durable, non-reactive, and can get hot rapidly. However, they don?t retain heat as much as cast iron.

If you are looking for a lightweight Dutch oven, a stainless steel model might be the right choice for you.

Ceramic

Ceramic dutch oven
Ceramic dutch oven

Typically made from high-fired clay, ceramic Dutch ovens are usually cheaper than enameled cast iron. They perform well and can withstand extreme heat.

However, they are susceptible to breakage and chipping.

Cast Aluminum

Cast Aluminum dutch oven
Cast Aluminum dutch oven

Cast aluminum is lighter than cast iron, making it the go-to choice for people who prefer light Dutch ovens.

The material, like the enamel option, is non-reactive, nonstick, and can hardly damage. Cast aluminum conducts heat better than stainless steel, making it suitable for use both in the oven and on gas stovetops. There is no need for seasoning the surface. Plus, it is dishwasher safe.

What to Look for When Buying a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens are not all the same but you probably already know this. What you might not be familiar with is what to look for when shopping for one, especially if it is your first time buying this timeless piece of utensil.

Here are some of the key considerations when scouting for Dutch ovens.

Material

The first thing you want to look for is the construction material of a Dutch oven. As mentioned earlier, the pot is traditionally made from cast iron and can be enameled, too. Some models are constructed using aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic.

The type of material will determine how heavy the pot is, the type of maintenance it requires, and the amount of heat it can withstand.

Heating Capacity

Uncoated cast-iron models are ideal for use on open flames and heat from stoves or cooktops with temperatures up to 500 degrees. Ceramic Dutch ovens can handle heat up to 500 degrees temperatures, too.

If you prefer an enameled model, keep in mind that it is typically rated to temperatures up to roughly 450 degrees. Anything beyond that can cause damage to the coating. Medium to low temperatures is most suitable for aluminum and stainless steel models.

The manufacturer?s manual will always recommend the specific heat capacity for each type of material.

Features

Lid

What?s a Dutch oven without a lid, right? A tight-fitting lid will prevent excessive evaporation when cooking sauces and stews. It will also keep meat from drying out as it cooks slowly and stops moisture from escaping.

Whether you choose a flatter lid with ridges on the reverse side or a dome-shaped lid with smooth interiors depends entirely on what you prefer.

The former lid type allows condensation to drop directly into the pot, while moisture flows through the sides of the latter option back into the Dutch oven.

In most cases, you will find lids made from the same material as the pot itself. But if you prefer to visually monitor what you have inside the vessel, you can opt for a glass lid. However, ensure that the lid can withstand the same amount of heat the pot can handle.

Handles

You want to choose a pot with secure handles on both sides. Keep in mind that many of these vessels can be quite heavy and you will most likely hold them with gloved hands. Make sure to choose options with non-slippery handles. Loop handles are usually safer.

Consider a wire bail handle if you plan to use your Dutch oven for camping. The handle style makes it a lot easier to adjust or lift the pot even when it is on hot coals. It is also suitable for hanging the vessel.

Whichever type of handle you choose, make sure you can hold onto it comfortably and not get burned.

Knob

Dutch oven lids come with knob types made from different materials ranging from polymer, stainless steel, and other types of metals.

While these pots are typically safe to use in ovens at high temperatures, the knobs may not be able to withstand extreme heat, especially non-metal options. Heating the knob beyond its rated capacity can damage it and make it difficult to get the lid off the hot vessel.

If you find a Dutch oven that you absolutely love but it has a poor lid knob, you can purchase an oven-proof replacement knob and use it in place of the original non-metal knob.

Size

Dutch ovens are available in a wide range of sizes, suitable for cooking different meal sizes. You can choose from a 1-quart (or less) if you live alone or buy a 12-quart (or more) if you plan on hosting a party for a small crowd.

Think about what you plan to cook and how many people you normally serve when selecting a size. Usually, options in the range of 5-quarts to 7-quarts are ideal for most households. These sizes are large enough to cook a meal for a family of four, on average.

In any case, it is better to choose a larger pot if you are unsure than settling for one that is too small. That?s because it is a lot easier to prepare a small meal in a large-size pot than it is to load a small pot to the brim.

But don?t forget that Dutch ovens are typically bulky, and will require ample space for storage. Therefore, make sure you have enough space for whichever size you go for.

Shape

Dutch ovens are typically available in two common shapes, namely, oval and round, with the latter being the most popular. While the shape of pot you choose will largely depend on personal preference, it is instructive to learn the difference between the two.

Oval-shaped Dutch ovens tend to be wider than their round counterparts, but are shallower. An oval option is more suitable if you will mostly be cooking longer-cut meats.

Keep in mind that using an oval-shaped model on a stovetop will not distribute the heat as evenly as a round oven. But you can find a simple way around this by first preheating the pot before use.

Color

The color you choose to go with is purely a matter of personal preference. However, it is best to opt for colors that will match your kitchen d?cor or one that will blend with the most dominant hue of your other cookware.

Dutch Oven Safety

Historically, Dutch ovens are safe even at extreme temperatures. But here?s a piece of disturbing news that should get anyone to think carefully when using these otherwise durable and well-built pots.

Glass lids on Dutch ovens can explode at high temperatures. Some consumer complaints indicate glass lids shattering while in the oven, leading to the recall of more than 11,000 Dutch ovens from a particular brand between 2018 and 2020.

Okay, this is not meant to discourage you but put things in proper perspective. If you are going to put a pot inside your oven or hot coal at high temperatures, it is best to make sure it is made from materials that can withstand the heat.

The first thing you should always do when you buy a Dutch oven is to read the manufacturer?s guide or manual. This will tell you the maximum heat limit for your particular Dutch oven. It can be a costly mistake to assume that all Dutch ovens will withstand the same temperature levels.

Next, remember that the vessel is oven-safe, but non-metal knobs might not be able to hold up under heat beyond 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, consider a replacement knob, ideally, one made from stainless steel. Alternatively, twist off the non-meal knob before placing the pot in a hot oven.

Whatever you do, avoid using a cast-iron Dutch oven in a microwave. Metal heats up rather quickly in a microwave and can result in a fire.

Where to Buy a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens are available in nearly all cookware shops both online and at brick-and-mortar stores.

Le Creuset is a go-to choice for many buyers who prefer to shop directly from a Dutch oven manufacturer. Lodge Cast Iron is another excellent brand when you are considering a good-quality Dutch oven straight from the maker.

Buying from a well-known manufacturer eliminates concerns about quality and warranties. The downside to that is the possibility of missing out on other great (and more affordable) options for lesser-known brands.

Fortunately, you can shop for these products on Amazon. The 7.5 Quart Enameled Dutch oven made from traditional cast iron is a widely popular choice on the online store, and it comes at a great price, too.

Depending on your budget, you might also want to check out this cute option on Amazon or this round, high-end model.

There are a ton of options to pick from, too, if you prefer to buy from Walmart, Williams-Sonoma, or Wayfair.

Another good place to buy a Dutch oven is Great Jones stores, where you can find these utensils in a variety of attractive colors that will match just about any d?cor in a modern kitchen.

Whichever store you choose to buy from, the fact is there is no shortage of Dutch ovens, and you?re likely to find different great-quality pots from online stores ranging from 1-quart capacity ovens (for about two servings) to more than 10-quart capacity models (for up to 12 servings).

FAQ

What is special about a Dutch oven?

A Dutch oven?s ability to retain and evenly distribute heat is nearly unmatched, making it the ideal choice for sear meat or cook meals slowly.

What can I use if I don’t have a Dutch oven?

An electric tabletop fryer, slow cooker, soup pot, crockpot, and stockpot, are all great alternatives for a Dutch oven.

What is a Dutch oven best used for?

A Dutch oven is a versatile utensil, making it excellent for a wide variety of uses, including deep-frying, bread baking, roasting, broiling, searing, and browning.

Why are Dutch ovens so expensive?

The bases and walls of Dutch ovens are extra thick to hold up in extreme temperatures. The sheer mechanical strength, high-quality materials, and skillful craftsmanship that go into piecing together the utensils make them quite expensive.

Conclusion

There you have it ? everything you need to about the timeless Dutch oven and how to choose one that suits your specific needs.

Indeed, you probably won?t be using a Dutch oven every single time you turn on your stovetop, considering the weight and bulkiness. But having one (or more) safely stashed away in your cabinet is usually a wise investment because it can come in handy for cooking different meals, especially dishes that require extreme heat applied evenly at a slow pace.

If you have always asked: ?what is a Dutch oven?? we hope you have found a concise answer in this post. But beyond mere definitions, you now have practical reasons to buy one.