It may look like just another baking dish, but the Dutch oven is special. It can cook just about anything. It was the all-in-one, do-everything pot before there was an Instant-Pot.
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So what is a Dutch oven? It’s a heavy-duty pot with a lid, typically made out of cast iron (it can be enameled cast iron, making for easier clean up). It sounds so simple, but it can do so much.
It’s most famous for slow cooking and braising meats. However, you can cook everything from quick, weeknight pasta dishes to soups and stews to desserts in a Dutch oven. You can even use it for baking bread.
What are the advantages?
Besides the fact that they are incredibly versatile in terms of what you can cook, the other handy thing about Dutch ovens is that they can quickly and safely go from the stovetop to the oven, which adds to their versatility.
They maintain heat well, and high heat ain’t no thang for a dutch oven. The only disclaimer to this is that if you buy one with a plastic knob on the lid, it’s best to buy a metal replacement knob.
Functionality aside, most of them are also pretty to look at. Enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens are available in an array of fun colors. You can take a freshly braised meat dish or hot stew right from the oven and place it on your table to serve friends and family.
What are the disadvantages?
If you have to find a downside, it’s probably the weight. Taking one in and out of the oven requires a little more oomph than grabbing a sheet pan or another type of baking dish.
If you’re shopping for brands like Le Creuset or Staub, these are handmade in France and can run upwards of $300. Why are they so expensive? They are cut from quality iron, and because of the pot’s thickness, they require more of it. The fact that they’re handmade also drives the price up.
Le Creuset 7.25 Quart Dutch Oven
Enameled Cast Iron
If you’re not sure how much you’ll love your Dutch oven, try a more affordable brand like Lodge first (it should run you less than $100). Outside of that, many of the cheaper brands are made in China with minimal oversight. The quality may not stand up.
Lodge 7.5 Quart Dutch Oven
Enameled Cast Iron
How to shop for a Dutch oven
Thick and heavy-duty is a good thing. You want your Dutch oven to be thick all the way around, bottom, sides, and all.
The lid should fit tightly. If it’s loose or ill-fitting, heat will escape when your braising and simmering, which can alter cooking times and make your pot less effective.
Go for round over oval. Choose a large, round Dutch oven over narrow, rectangular options. Once you start cooking with it more and more, you’ll find that the narrow version is limiting and not as versatile.
Be wary of dark colors. When it comes to color, even if you opt for a dark exterior, make sure the interior is light. This type makes it easier to monitor browning meat (and browning or caramelizing anything for that matter).
Start with one size. You can buy as large as a 13-quart Dutch oven and as small as less than 1 quart. A 6-quart or 7-quart is a great size to start with as you’ll be able to tackle most soups, stews, bread, and meat braising. Suppose you’re cooking for a large family, then size up. Smaller sizes like mini Dutch ovens are cute for serving individual portions but not as versatile in cooking with them.
How to clean a Dutch oven
Hand washing is the best method. Even if your manual says it’s dishwasher-friendly, it likely still recommends that you hand wash. If it’s enameled, hot water and soap should cut it.
For more stubborn cooking stains, soak your pot in water and baking soda. For unenameled cast iron, leave soap out of the equation, and clean and season like you would a cast-iron skillet.
What to cook with it
Want something different? Add Mexican chicken and rice to your meal plan one night.
What can you use instead of a Dutch oven?
An oven-safe casserole dish can work in place of a Dutch oven. If the recipe doesn’t require braising or other types of oven cooking, a large stockpot is often interchangeable for a Dutch oven (think soups and stews). Slow cookers and Instant Pots can also be substitutes. For frying and sauteeing, a wok or large skillet can work well.