Are you wondering whether you should invest in a Dutch oven? Many people will tell you it is a must-have in any kitchen, but what makes the Dutch oven great? When it comes to cookware, the Dutch oven is undoubtedly a kitchen workhorse that excels in several applications. From roasting large cuts of meat to baking cake and slow cooking a stew, it easily transitions between different cooking applications.
When cleaned and cared for correctly, it's also an heirloom you can pass down to your family. By the end of this Dutch oven guide, you'll understand the different uses, how to maintain a Dutch oven and why many cooks consider it a kitchen staple.
What Is a Dutch Oven?
You'll recognize a Dutch often by its size and heavy design. It has thick walls and a tight-fitting lid that helps distribute the heat, ensuring your meals cook evenly. This versatile cooking pot also has excellent heat retention, which allows it to produce tender and juicy meals. The lid traps the moisture, keeping food tender and flavorsome. These characteristics make it the ideal cookware for slow cooking, braising and even baking. Dutch ovens are also popular for outdoor cooking over hot coals or an open fire.
So why is it called a Dutch oven? The name's origin is unclear, but there are a few theories. One theory is that the name came from early Dutch traders who peddled these newly designed pots. Another is that Dutch settlers brought them over when settling in Pennsylvania.
Regardless of the origin, these pots have always been an essential part of American history. Colonials, explorers, mountain men, settlers, loggers and gold miners all used Dutch ovens to cook their meals over open fires. Their durability and ability to cook large volumes of food with little effort made them famous—attributes that many professional and home cooks still appreciate today.
How to Choose the Right Dutch Oven
Before selecting the right Dutch oven, there are a few factors that you need to consider. This cookware comes in different sizes and materials — your choice will depend on your needs and cooking style. We'll break down the different specs and what type of cooking they are best suited for.
Common Dutch Oven Sizes
Dutch oven sizes are usually stipulated in quarts. This measurement refers to the volume of liquid the oven can hold. The higher the quarts, the larger the capacity of the oven. While this measurement is important, you should also consider diameter and depth. The diameter indicates how much surface area you'll have to work with when browning or searing food. The depth is important when you're cooking dishes like a whole chicken, roasts, or for layering. The following dimensions are common for Dutch ovens:
- Small Dutch ovens: These are usually 1 to 3 quarts and are ideal for whipping up side dishes or single servings. You can use a small Dutch oven to make dips, sauces or even individual crème brules for dessert. Their compact size makes them easy to pack for camping trips and picnics. While they are still versatile, their smaller size does limit how much you can cook. If you like entertaining or have a family, you'll be better off going for something bigger.
- Medium Dutch ovens: A 4 to 5-quart Dutch oven is a convenient option for small families and those who like to cook for a few guests — you can easily prepare meals for two to five people. This is a favorite among home cooks because it's big enough to fit a whole chicken and hearty stew yet compact enough to fit in a standard oven when baking bread.
- Large Dutch ovens: If you like to entertain big crowds or have a large family, a Dutch oven that is 6 to 8 quarts will serve you well. The additional capacity of a large Dutch oven makes it easy to cook large batches of soup, stew and sizeable cuts of meat. If you like to meal prep for the week ahead, this oven will be handy. It's important to note that these ovens are heavy because of their size, especially when full. They may also not fit in smaller ovens and stovetops.
- Extra large Dutch ovens: Anything over 9 quarts is extra large. If you host large gatherings, need to cater a small event or like to bulk-freeze your meals, this heavy-duty option is a worthwhile investment. Their capacity lets them double as a deep fryer or water bath for canning. You can cook almost anything in this oven, but their hefty size comes with challenges. They can be difficult to move around and require ample storage space and a large cook burner.
Common Dutch Oven Materials
Besides the size of your Dutch oven, you'll also need to consider the material used to make it. These are a few options that are available:
- Stainless steel: The advantage of these Dutch ovens is that they are easy to clean and maintain. On the other hand, their lid is not as heavy and tight fitting as other ovens. The heat retention is also not as good, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a Dutch oven.
- Bare cast iron: This makes an excellent material for a Dutch oven because it retains heat well, making it a great slow cooker. It also maintains a consistent oil temperature for deep frying. These ovens are also versatile—you can cook meals outdoors over open fires. If you have a bare cast iron oven, it's important to know that it can affect the flavor of your dishes. For example, acidic foods like chili and tomato don't react well with cast iron. You'll need to clean your oven appropriately, seasoning and maintaining it properly to ensure it cooks well.
- Enameled cast iron: Similar to bare cast iron, this Dutch oven retains heat well, but it has an enamel coating over the cast iron. This coating keeps the oven from altering the flavors of your food and makes it easier to clean. This Dutch oven is heavy but can last years like bare cast iron.
- Ceramic: The lightest of the lot, ceramic Dutch ovens have excellent heat retention. The lightweight material makes them easy to handle and use for various dishes. Pure ceramic dishes also don't compromise the integrity of your meals. Fully ceramic Dutch ovens are highly versatile, non-toxic and make some of the most delicious meals of all the options available.
Common Dutch Oven Designs
There are a few other design features to consider before picking the right Dutch oven for you:
- Interior: Dutch ovens generally have either light or dark interiors. A light interior can make it easier to see the contents in the pot, but it will only stay light for a short time. Cooking will change the color over time. High heat can cause cracks and lines in some materials, known as crazing, to show in your pot. While this doesn't affect your cooking, some people may not like the look. Dark interiors hide crazing, scuffs and other marks easily. Choosing a dark interior will keep your Dutch oven looking new even after years of use.
- Lid: Some Dutch ovens have specialty lids to enhance the cooking experience. For example, spike lids help to channel the condensation back onto the meal to keep it moist. There are also lids with raised rings that also serve the same purpose. Most covers allow condensation to flow down the pot's walls.
- Shape: Dutch ovens come in two shapes — circular and oval. The one you choose will largely depend on your stove. A round oven may be your best choice if you have circular burners. Placing an oval-shaped or large oven on small round burners will cause it to overhang the burner and your food to cook unevenly. Super-sized burners and gas stoves with elliptical burners can easily accommodate an oval oven. If you mainly use it in the oven, either shape will do.
How to Use Dutch Ovens
The great thing about Dutch oven cooking is the versatility that it offers! The number of things you can do with this cookware is enough to convince you to add it to your kitchen:
- Bake: You can use a Dutch oven to bake virtually anything. The Dutch oven's heat retention makes them a superb choice for baking loaves of bread, cakes and pies. If you plan to use your oven to bake regularly, choose one with a tight-fitting lid to trap in the steam.
- Slow cook: If you enjoy a succulent, slow-cooked meal, you don't have to invest in a separate slow cooker. A Dutch oven can help you prepare your favorite one-pot meals with even juicier results. When placed in the oven, this pot will reach similar temperatures to a slow cooker.
- Sear and sauté: While you may usually turn to your frying pan to do this, you can also use your Dutch oven. The thick bottom lets you get the caramelization you're looking for on your meat and vegetables. You can easily start and complete your meals in one pot.
- Deep-fry: With a Dutch oven, you can enjoy your favorite fried foods without a deep fryer. The high walls and excellent heat retention allow you to fill your pot with oil and fry up your meals.
- Boil: You can also turn to your oven for everyday cooking, like boiling water to make pasta.
What Can Be Cooked in a Dutch Oven
There are so many uses for a Dutch oven. These are some typical meals you can cook up in yours:
- Stews: The Dutch oven's design makes it great for cooking thick, hearty stews. The lid works to seal in the moisture, keeping your meal moist, and the bottom distributes the heat for an evenly cooked result.
- Roasts: Beef, chicken, pork or turkey roast — the Dutch oven makes preparing these meals a dream. If you have a roomy oven, you can pile in your favorite vegetables for a flavorful and juicy meal.
- Casseroles: From cheesy macaroni to lasagna and chicken enchiladas, a Dutch oven makes it easy to whip up your favorite casserole. All you have to do is layer your ingredients, add some liquid and then place the lid on top. You'll end up with a delicious meal that's cooked throughout.
- Bread: You can cook virtually any bread in a Dutch oven, including artisanal loaves, flavorful focaccia and hearty sourdough bread. The design of the Dutch oven gives you a delightfully moist center and crisp outside. While sheet pans can leave you with raw patches on your loaf, a Dutch oven ensures that bread cooks evenly for a consistent texture.
- Desserts: If you enjoy dessert, you'll be happy to know that you can whip up delicious sweets in your oven. Make delightfully moist pies, crumbles and cakes.
How to Clean and Maintain Your Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are incredibly durable. They can last years and even generations with the correct care and maintenance. There are a few simple steps that you need to follow to keep your Dutch oven in its best shape:
- Heat it gradually: Avoid exposing your Dutch oven to dramatic changes in heat, especially when it is empty. Start heating it on low/medium heat when cooking. Wait for it to cool before dousing it with cold water.
- Protect the enamel: If you have an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, avoid scrubbing it with abrasive materials, which can damage the enamel.
- Wipe away oil drips: Oil that drips down the side of your oven can cause discoloration when exposed to high heat. To avoid permanent stains on your pot, wipe away oil drips immediately.
- Clean gently after every use: Knowing how to clean a Dutch oven is important to ensure it lasts long. You only need warm water, soap and a soft sponge to clean your Dutch oven. Clean it well, paying attention to grooves and crevices where food can get stuck. Stay away from using metal sponges that can damage your Dutch oven. Only some Dutch ovens are dishwasher safe, so check before you clean yours. Rinse off the soap and dry thoroughly before storing it away.
- Avoid metal utensils: When cooking, it's best to stick to wooden, nylon or silicone utensils that won't damage the surface.
- Store correctly: Store your Dutch oven in a cool, dark space, away from direct sunlight. Leaving it exposed to sunlight can weaken the protective layers and cause some pot materials to rust.
The Benefits of Using a Dutch Oven
Owning a Dutch oven comes with many advantages. Its convenience makes it a versatile pot for a variety of dishes. It also delivers delicious and beautifully textured meals. Let's look at some of the benefits of a Dutch oven.
We've highlighted that it allows diversity in the meals you can cook, but Dutch ovens are also diverse in how you can use them. Dutch ovens can go from the stovetop or oven to hot coals over an open fire. You can use your oven in the kitchen to prepare family meals or pack one for your next camping trip.
Another benefit is that these ovens retain heat well. Thanks to the durable materials, they cook your food without burning or drying it out. You can slow cook your meals over hours, using less energy. They also evenly distribute the heat, so you don't have to worry about constantly stirring your food if you're busy.
Don't have an expensive conventional oven? A Dutch oven can help you bake delicious goods without one. The raised sides and tight lid create the perfect environment to bake some of your favorite goods perfectly. The heavy-duty lid also seals moisture to enhance flavors and keeps unwanted particles from entering your pot. A bonus is that Dutch ovens look great, too! Once you've spent time whipping up your meal, you can proudly display it when you serve the final result to your guests.
Purchase a Dutch Oven Today From Xtrema
A Dutch oven is a worthwhile investment for any home kitchen. It has many versatile applications — roasting, baking and deep-frying are just a few that may be useful in your kitchen. With the proper care and maintenance, this Dutch oven is a piece of cookware that will last you years and even onto the next generation.
Our 10-quart Xtrema Dutch oven is the ideal kitchen companion for any household. This ceramic Dutch oven is the perfect size to cook a small meal and is big enough to create large dishes for entertaining. Our oven is also made with love and integrity using pure ceramic that doesn't leach unwanted toxicants into your food—making it one of the best Dutch ovens for the health-conscious cook. You can enjoy flavorful meals that are good for you, too! Purchase your Dutch oven today and enjoy healthy cooking!