This Is Exactly What Makes a Dutch Oven So Special

Nicole Papantoniou, Good Housekeeping Institute
·6-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Dutch ovens seem to carry the same weight (pun intended) and status of a KitchenAid in your home kitchen: They're often an investment piece that you can use to add a pop of color to your kitchen and keep on hand for a lifetime of use. Mine sits out on my stovetop partially because it's big and heavy, but also because its Caribbean Blue hue brings me joy and reminds me of the gift I bought myself when I graduated culinary school.

What is a Dutch oven?

A Dutch oven is a heavy-duty pot with lid designed for browning meat and veggies and then simmering on the stovetop or braising in the oven. It can also be used for soup and more simple tasks like boiling pasta. It's often used to make bread as well. Brands like Le Creuset and Staub are some of the best known, while others like Lodge and Cuisinart are standouts as well.

Dutch ovens look like stockpots but have wider bases and slightly shorter but thicker walls that allow for better browning and caramelization of ingredients and retain heat well, as well as doubling as serving pieces that keep food warm on the table. They also have two short handles on either side (versus one long on traditional pans) for balanced and steady transferring in and out of the oven.

What types of Dutch ovens are there?

  • Material: Although they can be made out of different materials, like stainless steel and ceramic, they're often made out of heavy cast iron, which has the ability to get very hot and maintain temperature well, but makes them heavy.

  • Size: Five and a half quarts is a popular size and good for the first time buyer. It can handle family-sized batches yet aren't too cumbersome to handle. Smaller sizes are good for two people or less and are great options if you're in the market for second Dutch oven. They're also idea for camping. Larger sizes are perfect for big batches and entertaining – chili, anyone?

  • Enamel coating allows for easier cleaning and maintenance and delivers all of the browning benefits of cast iron without having to season it. (Fun fact: Enameled Dutch ovens are actually French ovens, but this type has become so popular that it's become synonymous with the Dutch oven we know and love.) We'd skip other nonstick materials when it comes to Dutch ovens, because they don't typically allow for cooking over high heat and allowing the brown bits, which contribute to flavor, to develop on the bottom of the pot.

Are there any substitutes for a Dutch oven?

Instant Pots and other multicookers are essentially electric Dutch ovens. They can be used to brown ingredients and then gently cook them in a contained environment. Slow cookers can also double as Dutch ovens for the same reasons. gently cook them.

If you don't have either, a good quality sauce pan with lid can work, but chances are it's too small for big batches and won't cook as gentle or even. Also double check the manufacturer's instructions to ensure it (and its lid!) are oven-safe.

How do you use a Dutch oven?

Dutch ovens can be used the same way you use stock pots or saucepans. The main thing that sets them apart is you can get them really hot to sear meat and then ultimately finish cooking by simmer or transferring to the oven. Here are Good Housekeeping's top tricks for using your Dutch oven:

  • For a deep sear, heat the pot first, then add a little bit of oil before adding in the meat right away. This will help prevent the oil from overheating and burning. Another option is adding oil directly to the meat instead.

  • Keep the pot completely covered when making soups and other foods you want to cook gently. Careful, the lid's handle gets hot, especially if it's made of metal.

  • Position the lid so it's slightly ajar when making sauce to allow for some evaporation — don't use it all when trying to reduce liquid in the final stages of cooking.

  • The entire Dutch oven may be placed in the oven to cook for long periods of time. Use the lid to keep in moisture, and remember to always handle with oven mitts or dry dish towels.

  • Dutch ovens make excellent serving dishes because they keep food hot for a long time, but always use a sturdy trivet and warn guests that the pot is hot.

  • Clean enameled cast iron by hand, regardless of what the instructions say, to preserve the luster of its colorful finish.

What are some Dutch oven cooking tips?

  • Brown large amounts of meat in batches to avoid crowding the pot. This will help prevent steam buildup, which makes meat tough. Drain excess grease in between.

  • Use kosher salt to lightly salt meat and veggies when browning. Salt helps release moisture, allowing for better color development and making the final product more flavorful.

  • When searing meat and veggies, sear the meat first and then remove to a plate, turn down the heat and add the veggies. This will impart the flavor of the meat on the veggies and allow them to cook at their own, more gentle pace.

  • To gently sweat onions and other veggies, add the oil to the pot while heating over medium or medium-low heat.

  • Cut meats and veggies into evenly-sized pieces so no one will bite into a chunk that's underdone.

  • Avoid seasoning the entire pot until after it has finished cooking and you have tasted it. When food simmers or braises, its flavors become very concentrated and food can taste oversalted.

  • If using tomato paste, add to pot before adding in liquid and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. This will contribute a sweeter flavor to the final dish.

  • Use wine, vinegar, citrus, or a small amount of broth or water to deglaze the pot after browning ingredients and before adding in the final liquid. This will loosen the brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot and flavor the food even further.

  • For a bit of zing, simmer a strip of orange peel along with a beef or veal stew. Use a vegetable peeler to remove a swath of rind.

  • Perk up a hearty stew with a handful of chopped fresh herbs. Add them right before serving...long cooking kills their flavor. Think beyond parsley. Basil, tarragon, or even cilantro add an unexpected accent.

  • To infuse oil, add garlic or other aromatics to the pot with the oil (also over medium or medium-low heat) while keeping a close eye on it to prevent burning.

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