What is a dutch oven?
Dutch ovens have been around for hundreds of years, and are essentially heavy cooking pots with a tight-fitting lid designed to seal in flavors and juices. They are able to simmer, sear, roast, and bake food up to very high temperatures, so they are a great one-stop-shop for just about every kind of meal. They differ from normal pots because of their construction material, and the fact that their lids are often designed to be self-basting. They are traditionally made of cast-iron, though more modern dutch ovens are made of multiple layers of aluminum with different enamels like ceramic or porcelain. Dutch ovens are also known as casserole dishes or cocottes, in French.
What can I make with a dutch oven?
The big reason why dutch ovens are so popular is that you can make just about anything in them. This includes stews and soups, as well as big cuts of meat (like whole chickens), biscuits, and burritos. You can even make desserts like fruit cobblers and cake. Many dutch ovens, especially the ones meant for use over a campfire, have special lids which you can turn it over and use as a skillet to make eggs, bacon, and pancakes.
Where can I use them?
Dutch ovens are very versatile and can be used on the stovetop, in the oven, and even on a grill and over coals. Stovetop types include gas, electric, and induction. However, not all dutch ovens can be used over induction stovetops, so if you have one, be sure to get a cast-iron dutch oven. Not all dutch ovens are made for outdoor use, either.
What features allow me to cook outside with my dutch oven?
The dutch ovens that can be used outdoors directly over a fire are typically a lot more durable and rustic than the ovens meant for only indoor use. Campfire cooking pots include features like iron legs, so the oven can sit right over the coals, and a wire bale so you can hang the oven over your fire to make stews and soups. Lids that double as skillets are usually part of campfire-geared dutch ovens, and some are flanged so you can bake cakes. Pretty much all campfire dutch ovens are cast-iron.
What’s the capacity range?
Dutch ovens are meant to cook full meals in just the one pot, so the smallest oven you can find is around 5 quarts. This will make 20 cups of soup, so it’s a nice size for a family of four that wants leftovers. The sizes go up from there, with 7 quarts making over 3 pounds of meat, and 12 quarts making a huge amount of food that’s perfect for big gatherings like reunions and other parties. Of course, you aren’t required to use all the dutch oven’s space every time you cook, though keep in mind the bigger the dutch oven, the more storage space it will take up. It will also be heavier.
How long should a good dutch oven last?
Dutch ovens are probably the most durable piece of cookware you could own. Nearly all of them are meant to last 15-20 years because they’re so thick and heavy-duty. They can withstand very hot temperatures and can be roughed around a bit in storage or transport without breaking apart. The ones meant for outdoor use are especially rugged. In terms of how well dutch ovens perform for their lifespan, factors like material and how well you take care of the oven are important.
What materials are the best?
There are two main materials that dutch ovens tend to be made of: cast-iron and aluminum. Cast-iron is the more traditional material of choice and can have a very rustic look. The benefits of cast-iron are that they are the only material to work with all types of stovetops (including induction), ovens, grills, and campfires. Aluminum is also popular, because it’s lighter-weight and easier to keep clean. However, aluminum is by nature a thinner metal and results in faster heating, which is not ideal for slow-cooking stews, meat, and so on. It’s also more prone to uneven heat distribution. If your priorities are authenticity, versatility, and consistency, cast-iron is the best choice for your needs.
What kind of maintenance is required?
Depending on the material, your dutch oven could either be very easy to maintain, or take a little work. If you get an aluminum dutch oven, you can usually put it in the dishwasher, or simply wipe it clean. If you have a cast-iron one, it will either need to be seasoned when you buy it, or it will come pre-seasoned. Seasoning is very important for dutch ovens. It is the process in which oil (vegetable or soy is best) is baked right into the surface of the oven’s interior so food doesn’t burn or stick. Seasoning also enhances flavor. Whether you get a pre-seasoned version or have to do it yourself initially, you can’t use soap to wash it because the soap strips off the oil. You’ll also have to re-season the oven at some point.
Is there a big difference between seasoned and nonstick versions?
Non-stick surfaces are very common in the world of cookware, whether it’s on a skillet or dutch oven. Non-stick coatings can prove to be problematic because they are often synthetic, and chip off over time into your food. There are some non-stick coatings that dutch ovens use, like porcelain enamel, that is free from harmful chemicals. This option is useful if you don’t want to do the work necessary for maintaining cast-iron. A seasoned pot is different from non-stick because it uses actual oil and needs to be maintained. The Lodge brand has a large array of pre-seasoned dutch ovens that use natural soy or vegetable oil that are quite popular.
Are there any safety concerns?
The main safety concern with all dutch ovens is that tend to be very heavy. The lightest ones you’ll find are about 10 pounds. When they get hot, this weight can be especially dangerous, so always use oven mitts and be very cautious if you have to move a hot dutch oven from the stovetop to the oven, or vice versa. For extra protection, look for a cooking pot that has heat-resistant handles or lid knobs, so no one gets burned if they accidentally brush up against a handle or grab the knob without thinking.
What’s the price range for dutch ovens?
Dutch ovens are usually very expensive, but there are some reliable brands that have more affordable options. For the budget-conscious, Lodge has lots of cast-iron dutch ovens that can be used both inside and outside that begin at only $40-$50. The bigger the dutch oven, the more expensive it is, and if you want a cooking pot that’s colorful and more modern-looking, you’ll have to pay more too. Really expensive brands can be as much as $400, with $200 being in the middle range.