A Dutch oven can work miracles in your kitchen. It bakes, boils, braises, sears, makes stews and soups, and even makes bread. Dutch ovens even look good on your countertop – so good that you can make meals in one dish and bring them from the stovetop to the oven to your table. How’s that for versatility?
A Dutch oven is the one piece of cookware that you’ll probably use the most. Therefore, it’s all the more important to choose the right one for your needs.
Here’s what you’ll want to know about picking your Dutch oven for the first time: what’s important and what’s not.
Choose the size you need
Dutch ovens come in various capacities, from 1.5 quarts to 15.5 quarts. When looking at the different Dutch oven sizes, consider the following.
How many people will you typically serve?
If you often serve a crowd, you’ll want to opt for the larger sizes to make sure there’s enough food for everyone. You don’t want to have to batch cook unless you have to.
One thing to remember about the larger sizes: cast-iron Dutch ovens are heavy. The larger your Dutch oven, the heavier it will be to carry, and even more so when filled with food.
What kind of food do you usually make?
If you like to roast meats and make stews, you’ll want a Dutch oven that is at least six to eight quarts. A Dutch oven that size will hold a whole chicken easily or a large stew or casserole.
If you’re really unsure
You could go with the most popular size if you’re undecided. Most people go with a 5.5-quart Dutch oven, which is big enough to make tasty dishes to feed a family of four.
Other things to consider
Apart from size and capacity, there are other factors to take into account when choosing your Dutch oven.
Do you go on camping trips where you’d like to cook over a fire?
Dutch ovens are brilliant for cooking on a grill over a fire or with hot coals. Make sure yours is made of pure cast iron for this purpose (see below).
Some models of Dutch ovens are specifically made with camping in mind. They have a large handle and a flat top with a rim around the top for putting coals on top. Some models also have a tripod underneath for putting them directly on top of coals.
Do you prefer an oval or a round-shaped Dutch oven?
Both shapes work equally well, but your shelving may suit one or the other better. In addition, check the sizes, as size can vary with the shape. Some brands have oval ovens with different capacities than the round ones, so it’s worth checking both the form and the size together.
What material do you prefer?
Dutch ovens come in cast iron, enameled cast iron, copper, clay, or metal (aluminum or stainless steel).
Cast iron. Cast iron is considered the best material for cookware, as it holds heat well and distributes it evenly. Unlike other materials, you will have to season your cast iron cookware before use. You’ll also need to look after it (avoiding soapy water to clean it, drying it after every use) so that it doesn’t rust. The brilliant thing about cast iron cookware is that you can use it directly over an open fire or on hot coals. So if you’re a camping enthusiast, a cast-iron Dutch oven might be for you. In addition, cast iron is indestructible – your cookware can last for generations.
Enamel cast iron. Enamel cast iron carries all the benefits of cast iron and doesn’t require seasoning before use. Enamel also won’t rust as easily. There are many colors available, too, so you can choose a Dutch oven that will not only be a handy piece of cookware, but it will be a decorative piece. Enamel cast iron pieces are also slightly lighter than their full cast-iron counterparts, but only slightly!
Copper. Copper cookware is not only beautiful, but it responds well to sudden changes in heat. Because these pans heat up and cool down very quickly, if you often make dishes with variable heat cooking, a copper Dutch oven can simplify this process. However, you’ll want to avoid bringing any acidic foods into contact with your copper cookware (vinegar, fruit juice, wine, etc.). Check if your copper Dutch oven is lined with a metal (such as tin) to avoid this problem.
Clay. Clay Dutch ovens are non-toxic and give excellent results. The main drawback is that they are fragile: if you break it, you’ll have to get a new one!
Aluminum or stainless steel. Some Dutch ovens are made of aluminum or stainless steel, and while these may be lighter to carry, they don’t give as good a result. However, they are easy to clean, and because they don’t hold heat as well as their cast iron counterparts, they cool down quickly.