Wondering about the Dutch oven? Curious to see if it’s something that will work for you? Let’s talk about this versatile and wonderful cookware.
What is a Dutch Oven?
The Dutch oven, also known as the French oven or cocottes depending on the brand or how fancy you’re feeling, is a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Most are cast iron – and most are enameled cast iron at that – though there are some made of other material, such as ceramic or aluminum. Cast iron is the preferred material because it is an excellent heat conductor and is very durable. In fact, many cast iron pieces become family heirlooms and get passed down from generation to generation.
While the Dutch oven is known for its uses in the kitchen, there are also pots used for heating over coals, making them popular camping cookware items. These Dutch ovens typically have three legs and a flat lid, making it able to hold coals on the top and sit above hot ashes gathered underneath. Camping Dutch ovens are always bare cast iron.
Ready to find one for your kitchen? You can take a look at our picks for the best Dutch ovens and info on how to find the right one for you by visiting this article. There you’ll find details about the various sizes and finish options.
How to Care for a Dutch Oven
Important note: Always, always, always read the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding the care of your Dutch oven. Read it before you do anything with the pot and do what it says for both using it and caring for it. Most have lifetime warranties, but if those warranties are void if you don’t follow directions. So just do it.
Enameled cast iron doesn’t need to be seasoned before using it; just wash and dry it and you’re good to go. Most bare cast iron comes pre-seasoned these days, so unlikely that you’ll need to season it before cooking. (For info on how to season/re-season a bare cast iron Dutch oven, check out the Dutch Oven Dude’s helpful guide here.)
Most enameled cast iron is oven safe to 500 degrees (double check the manufacturer’s guidelines to be certain) and can be used on gas, glass, ceramic, and induction stovetops. Be sure to move the pot around carefully – always pick it up to move adjust the location and never slide it.
Because of the way cast iron retains heat, there’s no need to use high heat. In fact, it can damage your enameled Dutch oven if you use high heat (except for boiling water or sauces). Heat your pot gradually and stick to low and medium heat levels. Never heat an empty Dutch oven.
Enameled cast iron can be used for frying (don’t let the oil level be higher than 1/3 full) but some interiors might become discolored over time. I occasionally see warnings against using Dutch ovens for frying, but all the big manufacturers state their products may be safely used for frying, so I assume it is safe permitting you don’t overfill it with oil or heat it too high.
When cooking, opt for wooden or silicone tools. Avoid metal tools, or, if you do use them, be extra careful and don’t scrape the surface of the pot. Use stovetop burners that are as close to the diameter of the bottom of the pot as possible for even heating and to avoid damaging the cookware.
Here are some links to specific manufacturer tips:
Cleaning your Dutch oven properly can help ensure that your cookware lasts decades to come. First and foremost, be sure your pot has cooled before washing. Putting cold water in a hot pot can damage the enamel. Some brands claim that certain enameled Dutch ovens are dishwasher safe. However, I (and most manufacturers) recommend always handwashing your Dutch oven. You can use soap on enameled cast iron, but never use soap on bare cast iron.
If food gets stuck on the bottom of the pot, first try letting it soak with warm water for a while, then try getting the food off. If it’s really stuck, boil some water with a bit of baking soda, then let it soak overnight. Brushes and sponges can be useful, but never use steel wool or wire brushes.
Periodically using enamel cleaners can help remove stains and restore some of the original luster of your pot. Lodge recommends soaking their enamel Dutch ovens for a few hours with a bit of bleach (3 tablespoons per quart of water) to remove stubborn stains. I’ve used this method on my Lodge Dutch oven a few times before and it works great. Stains won’t affect the performance of your cookware, but they can be unsightly (especially if you’re like me and cook a lot of tomato-based things and dark stews).
After cleaning, be sure the pot and lid are completely dry before storing. Check and tighten the knob occasionally, and store the cookware in a safe place where it won’t get damaged.
Again, rely on the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding the care and use of your Dutch oven if you ever have questions, but these tips should help you understand the basics of taking care of your cookware.
What to Make in a Dutch Oven
While you might think of braising or stews when you think of Dutch oven cooking, there is actually a huge variety of things you can make with it. Dutch ovens are extremely versatile. From delicious and fast one-pot meals to roasts and stocks, the Dutch oven can go from the stovetop to the oven (or stay in one place) without any problems. I use mine for practically everything during the winter months.
Your Dutch oven can be used for most recipes, but there are plenty of recipes available that give specific directions for making in a Dutch oven. Here are just a few of my favorites.
These are stick-to-your-ribs, chase-the-winter-blues-away, meaty, delicious ribs. They fall off the bone and pair beautifully with mashed potatoes or polenta. The low and slow method makes these deliciously tender.
Apparently making bread in the Dutch oven is all the rage, but no one told me. I found out accidentally and confronted my fears of baking to make this super easy yet super tasty loaf.
Zuppa Toscana is like a religion in my neck of the woods. Everyone makes it. It’s so easy and super tasty and filling. It’s basic enough that you can add a little flair if you want, or just make it as is and devour.
Ina’s version of the French classic is easier than Julia’s (believe me, I’ve tried) but is just as delicious. It’s still a time-consuming process, but it’s well worth it. I like to serve it over mashed potatoes. Y-U-M.
Dutch Oven Substitutes
Do you have to have a Dutch oven? No, though of course I strongly recommend it. But if it’s out of budget, or you don’t have the storage space, or you just don’t want another piece of cookware in the kitchen, you can definitely get by without one.
Plenty of recipes that call for low and slow cooking can be adapted for your slow cooker, though you’ll have different results in most cases.
A large pot is usually sufficient in lieu of a Dutch oven for stovetop recipes, and some cookware is oven safe, so you can go from stove to oven in those recipes (check on yours before you try it!).
There are also Dutch ovens that are not made of cast iron, so you can save some money and pick up something that’s not as heavy, like this Calphalon Nonstick Dutch Oven. There are plenty of pots and pans that can do the work of the Dutch oven without a tremendous difference.
Featured image via LeCreuset.com