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Dutch ovens are very popular and have worked their way into the American culture, both in the kitchen and the out-doors. Their versatility and robust properties make them a good addition to any family’s arsenal of cooking utensils. They originated from the Netherlands a little over 300 years ago. An Englishman by the name of Abraham Darby, studied the methods that the Dutch were using in creating some of the best quality cast iron pots in Europe.
On his return to England he patented the casting procedure that he had learnt on his travels and began to produce cookware for Britain and of course the American colonies. This is where the name “Dutch Oven” has come from and has endured for over 300 years.
As the Americans expanded west, they took the dutch oven with them and used them for cooking as well as an item of trade with the mountain men and Indians.
When all of these families, miners cowboys and ranchers moved across the country, the dutch oven became one of their most prized possession as you could cook entire meals for everyone in them.
For those who know and love Dutch ovens and understand the process and subtleties that is required for them to cook the amazing food that they deliver, Dutch ovens hold a place of honour in their kitchens.
Many are unable to use or are unwilling to take the time to learn about the properties and how to use these to make the best food. When done properly, the food produced from these will make any chef feel invincible and on top of his game.
The information below will provide you with some sort of foundation to get a better idea of what to to look for when you are looking to delve into the world of Dutch ovens
They can be found in different forms all over the world now and there are a variety of different types to suit the needs of those using them.
Because of their origins, they are a big favorite for those who love the outdoors. These generally come with a wire bail handle and a slightly concave lid so that coals can be added to the top to get a more uniform internal heat.
The Aussies have something known as a bedourie camp oven, this is a steel cookpot that is shaped like a dutch oven. Its origins are from the north in Queensland and were made from steel in order to better deal with the rugged conditions the early settlers had to put with there.
The South Africans have something called a potjie (little pot) and was a favourite of the Afrikaaners who originated from Holland. Unlike the dutch oven, it has a rounded bottom. It is made from a single cast and reinforced with external double or triple circumscribing ribs, a wire handle for hanging the pot and three short legs so that the pot can be rested. Like its American cousin, the lid is designed so that coals can be placed on it.
Here they have something called a Chugan. It is made from cast iron and is used in pretty much the same way a dutch oven in America is used , inside the house and outside
For the most part, Dutch ovens are made from cast iron. There are some that are made from aluminum. Each of these has their advantages and disadvantages and a choice of one or the other would come down to personal preference.
Cast Iron Dutch ovens are the more popular of these and can be further broken down into basic bare cast iron or enamel coated cast iron. Both will have their advantages and disadvantages as you can see below.
Although both are made from cast iron, they are essentially two very different products. Here are some of the main differences that you will find. As with many things in the cooking world some are based on fact and others are based on opinion.
One of the main advantages of the bare cast iron is that you can take this anywhere. You will notice that most people who love the out-doors and love cooking with cast iron, will only use cast iron.
Although this will have to be seasoned and maintained, it is far more suitable for this type of cooking whereby the Dutch oven is exposed to hot coals etc. Enamel will become discoloured if left over a naked flame or coals.
Here are some of the advantages:
- It is cheaper then its enamel coated sibling
- It is far more durable both physically and thermally
- You can use metal utensils on bare cast iron
- It can better handle rapid temperature changes whereas enamel can crack and ultimalty flake off, if exposed to a lot of rapid temperature changes
- You can keep seasoning the surface of cast iron, keeping it new forever.
- Some say that bare cast iron is better for making no knead bread but this might just really be a matter of opinion. I have not really found anything to prove or disprove this.
It is generally thought that bare cast iron will be the better option if you are looking for something that you can take camping or use outdoors . The internet is full of enthusiast websites that cover this in more detail if you are an outdoor type of person.
One of the biggest differences with the enameled cast iron Dutch oven is that it is so much easier to maintain and keep clean. Once you have cooked, whether it be roasting, stewing or braising, you can literally just clean it out with a sponge. Having said this, you also have to be careful with what you clean these with as things like scouring pads and metal utensils can scratch and chip the inside.
- Enameled cast is still durable, not as much as bare cast iron, but will still last a very long time if looked after.
- Enameled cast iron does not let acidic food leech the metal, tainting the food with a metallic taste. There are some that say that our bodies need that iron, but I am not sold that this is a good idea. I think really this point will come down to taste – whether you don’t mind the taste of iron in your food, or if you do.
- You can cook acidic food with enameled cast iron, and this will not strip away the seasoning. This can potentially happen with seasoned cast iron cookware.
- This is a biggie for me, enameled cast iron looks a lot better, you can get it in a range of colors that just make it pleasing to the eye. Le Creuset have really gone the extra mile on this and have amazing vibrant colors in their ranges. Lodge also manage to make a very pleasing range of enameled products
- An enamel coating is non-toxic and will not leach the metal (as I was saying before)
There are a number of different brands and we have an article that looks at the difference between Staub Vs Le Creuset
Flat bottomed with three short legs so that they are raised above the ground when cooking . This will allow for some circulation of air onto the coals to keep them burning properly.
They usually have a strong wire handle that allows for easy access to position the dutch oven when you are putting on the cools. The wire handle is on the main body of the dutch oven.
A flat lid with a lip on the edge that allows you to add coals here. This is a great way of getting a more even heat throughout the oven. Turn this upside down and it can be used as a frying pan.
They come in various sizes from 5 to 22 inches in diameter and a depth ranging from 3 inches to 9.5 inches . Obviously the bigger the dutch oven the heavier it will be.
Flat bottomed so that they can be used on top of stoves or in ovens etc. Sometimes these will be enameled so that they don’t have to be maintained in the same way as bare cast iron does.
Sometimes the lids of these dutch ovens have little spikes in them to help baste the food while it is cooking. They help to evenly distribute the liquid as the steam condenses back into a liquid.
I have reviewed some of the pros and cons of both here:
|Weight:||Very heavy and much more difficult to carry around but also more robust||Because of the nature of Aluminum, it is about a third of the weight of cast iron making this a much lighter option and would suit those who are not as strong or, do not care for lugging heavy things around when outdoors|
|Heating:||Cast Iron takes a while to heat up and this is spread more evenly and will keep its heat for longer||Because of the above there is less mass and so heating is much faster, but this means that it also cools down a lot faster when taken off the heat. This can lead to hot spots as the heating is not even and this can lead to food being burnt.|
|Cooking:||Because of the dense properties of cast iron, it cooks slower with a more even heat||Aluminum is a light metal and so will give you uneven cooking, this will be more noticeable in windy conditions if you are outside. If you are used to this then you will be a little more skilled at being able to distribute the heat by shuffling it about on the coals to get an overall constant heat.|
|Melting temperature:||Cast iron will melt at somewhere around 2000 degrees and so really will not melt even in a very hot fire||Aluminum will start melting at around 1200 degrees which means that there is a possibility that it can melt in a very hot fire.|
|Seasoning:||Requires seasoning and on a regular basis to make sure that rust does not set in.||You do not need to do anything for Aluminum dutch ovens.|
|Cleaning:||This is a little bit tricky as soap will remove the seasoning, causing rust and making the food that is cooked in it taste a bit dodgy.||Very easy on this one as you can wash with soap and water – this might be a big factor for some in making your decision|
|Maintenance:||Cast Iron requires some love and attention, meaning a bit of maintenance. For those who love cast iron this is a small price to pay.||Very little as aluminum does not rust. Wash it and put it away.|
|What you choose will be entirely up to you. Personally I am a fan of cast iron. I like things to be heavy and robust, it comforts me. The maintenance can be bit of a pain but then good things always require a little work.|
It is generally considered that Lodge Dutch Ovens have the smoothest castings and is also one of the oldest companies making dutch ovens.
There are other brands such as Le Creuset that are enamel and can be quite pricey but worth the investment for the cooking enthusiast. Others such as Camp Chef, Cuisinart, and Maca pack a pretty good punch as well.
Have a look at these to get some ideas for Dutch ovens
You can have a look at these comparisons of dutch ovens by:
The answer to this really depends on how creative you are when it comes to cooking. When you do a quick search you will see that there are thousands of recipes out there that you can follow – the sky is the limit. It is pretty simple really, the bigger the dutch oven the more you can cook and the wider range of choices you have:
- Meats – Pretty much any meat you want you can cook. Pork, beef, lamb, chicken and any other meat type you can get your hands on.
- Breads – You can make some pretty awesome breads, perfect for both the kitchen and the camp fire.
- Stews – A great winter meal that is perfect for the outdoors and in the home.
- Roasting – Roast chicken comes out well in a dutch oven.
- Frying – You can use these just like normal skottles if you want, as well as a deep fryer to make french fries, should you wish.
- Casseroles – Like stews, are great on a cold winter evening.
|Size(inches)||Capacity (quarts)||Depth||Weight(pounds)||What dishes you can cook|
|8″||2 Quarts||3″||11lb||Main dishes, 2-6 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, desserts, stews, casseroles and sauces.|
|10″||4 Quarts||3.5″||15lb||Main dishes, 2-12 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, dessert, stews, casseroles, small roasts and sauces.|
|12″||6 Quarts||3.75″||20lb||Main dishes, 6-18 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, desserts, stews, roasts, poultry, fish, potatoes, rolls, breads, casseroles and sauces.|
|12″Deep||8 Quarts||5″||23lb||Main dishes, 8-25 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, desserts, stews, roasts, standing rib roasts, hams, whole chickens, poultry, fish, potatoes, rolls, breads, casseroles and sauces.|
|14″||8 Quarts||3.75||26lb0||Main dishes, 8-25 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, desserts,stews, larger roasts, standing rib roasts, hams, whole chickens, poultry, fish, potatoes, rolls, breads, casseroles and sauces.|
|14″Deep||10 Quarts||4.5||28lb||Main dishes, 22-28 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, desserts, stews, larger roasts, standing rib roasts, hams, whole chickens, hams, poultry, fish, stews, potatoes, rolls, breads, casseroles and sauces.|
|16″||12 Quarts||3.75||32lbs||Main dishes, 12-38 servings – You can do side dishes, vegetables, desserts, stews, large quantities of meat, larger roasts, standing rib roasts, hams, whole chickens, hams, poultry, fish, potatoes, rolls, breads, casseroles and sauces.|
You should be aware of some of the characteristics of dutch ovens before you buy them so that you can make sure that this is what you are looking for.
Dutch ovens are very heavy, the bigger ones weigh in at about 32lbs and require some strength to move about. It is things like being careful on glass top stoves, drop one of these bad boys on that and you might be making a trip to your local home store to buy a new one.
You will most likely have to season your pot. Cast iron is robust and awesome for cooking, but you will need to take good care of it and season it on a regular basis. The more you use it though the more it seasons itself.
While Dutch ovens can handle extreme heat, rapid temperature changes can crack your pot.
Make sure that you know what you are going to be using your Dutch oven for (indoors or outdoors) before you buy it as there are dutch ovens designed for these different areas. A dutch oven with legs is not really any good on your kitchen stove.
Some models will give you multiple functionality. You can use the lid on some models as a skottle or frying pan
Dutch Ovens are a great addition to your cooking arsenal.There is a big price range and so you should consider carefully what you need before you purchase one.
About the author
Understanding the science behind cooking helps me to figure out which tools are best suited for a particular job.
I like to help people better understand exactly what it is that they need when it comes to buying for the kitchen.
Making the right choice is easier when you know what it is you need to get.