What is a Dutch Oven?
The Dutch oven dates back to the late 17th century and is believed to have originated out of Holland. They are large, thick-walled cooking pots with a tight fitting lid used to trap and contain heat, making them ideal for slow-cooked meals. Dutch ovens are predominantly used to make casseroles, braises, breads, roasts, stews and soups. There are an infinite amount of Dutch oven recipes available online and I plan to post several on this blog.
Establishing a budget
Since Dutch ovens can be of significant cost, it is suggested to create a budget or establish a “price range” before acquiring one. This will help narrow down the selection and, in turn, speed up the overall decision process. However, in order to establish a budget, it is necessary to conduct some research to determine the type of Dutch oven that will best suit your needs as well as additional features that you may require.
Types of Dutch Ovens
Camp Cooking Dutch Ovens Feature:
✔A flat bottom.
✔Three short legs which allow the oven to sit above ground and provide proper air circulation to the coals below it.
✔Flat lid with a 1 to 2 inch outer ridge to allow for placement of hot coals on top of the oven.
Have a look at the latest article on Campfire Cooking Cast Iron Dutch Ovens for tips and recommendations!
✔No legs and a flat bottom
✔Domed lids for basting
✔No outer ridge
The type of Dutch oven to be used ultimately depends on the cooking environment. If you plan on mostly using the oven outdoors, then a camp Dutch oven would be most suitable. However, a kitchen Dutch oven would be the ideal solution for indoor activities.
For more information on kitchen Dutch ovens, I suggest reading the following article I’ve put together “Everything you need to know about Dutch pots for your kitchen!“
Dutch Oven Materials
Dutch ovens are available in various materials. It is important to know about their different properties, benefits and disadvantages when shopping.
While cast iron dutch ovens can last a lifetime, it requires a bit more upkeep than other materials. Cast Iron pots must be “seasoned” with oil when new to prevent sticking and should only be cleaned with water (no soaps or detergents). It should also be noted that cast iron reacts slower to changes in temperature but provides an even cooking surface. Cast iron has a melting point of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and will not melt when set on top of a fire or hot coals. It is not recommended that acidic foods be cooked in cast iron as it may cause a reaction with the metal.
Enameled Cast Iron
These tend to heat up well and distribute heat evenly getting rid of any hot spots. Unlike cast iron, these do not require any seasoning as the enamel material does not stick. They can also be used with acidic ingredients.
Aluminum Dutch ovens are much lighter than cast iron and can easily be carried around. They also heat up and cool down much faster than cast iron but do not always provide an even cooking surface (especially when in a windy environment). However, just like cast iron, aluminum should not be used with acidic ingredients. It should also be noted that aluminum has a lower melting point than cast iron (1200 degrees Fahrenheit) and may melt if placed on a fire.
Stainless steel is non-reactive which means that you can use it with any kind of ingredient (i.e. acidic foods). It is quite durable and can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The downside of stainless steel is that it has poor heat transfer/distribution properties. This can be avoided if the Dutch pot contains a copper or aluminum core which will provide better heat transfer.
Articles on Stainless Steel: “Stainless Steel Dutch Ovens – Let’s have a look!”
The main benefit of having a copper Dutch oven is that it provides great heat conductivity and distribution. Unfortunately, just like cast iron, copper reacts negatively with alkaline and acidic ingredients, which can cause the food to have a metallic taste. Copper also requires maintenance. A great alternative to this would be to use a copper Dutch oven that is lined with stainless steel.
Shapes and Sizes
Dutch ovens are available in both oval and round shapes. The oval shape can fit longer cuts of meat but is not as easy to work with when placed on a stove-top since it will not be completely covered by the heating element. It mayalso obstruct other pots and pans in use.
When factoring in size, one must take into account weight. Since quality dutch ovens tend to be quite heavy it is important to remember that a larger size will result in a heavier dutch pot. Size may also affect the way you wash your dutch oven as some may not fit in regular sinks. Dutch ovens vary in size from 1-½ quarts to 12 quarts. The most common and recommended size is between 4 and 6 quarts, which can accommodate a whole chicken, roasts, lamb shanks and more.
|Oven Size||Capacity||Persons Served & Use|
|8 Inch||2 Quarts||2 to 4 People – Ideal for side dishes, vegetables and sauces.|
|10 Inch||4 Quarts||4 to 8 People – Ideal for side dishes, vegetables, stews and smaller roasts.|
|12 Inch||6 Quarts||8 to 12 People – Used for main dishes such as roasts, whole chickens, stews, breads, etc.|
|14 Inch||8 Quarts||12 to 16 People – Used for larger meats such as poultry, roast, stews, etc.|
|16 Inch||12 Quarts||16 to 20 People – Used for large pieces of meat such as roasts and large stews, etc.|
Maintenance and Care
Seasoning a Dutch Oven
As mentioned above, cast iron Dutch ovens will require seasoning prior to it’s initial use. The purpose of seasoning is to layer the bottom of the Dutch oven with a coating of oil which gets baked on, creating a surface that does not stick and helps with preventing rust. Certain cast iron Dutch ovens will already come with a thin wax coating to avoid rusting but will still require seasoning upon initial use. This coating will come off once the Dutch pot is seasoned for the first time. Other Dutch ovens will already come pre-seasoned, eliminating the need for initial seasoning.
Over the course of time, the grease, oils and fats from the cooked food will continue to add to the seasoning of the cast iron cookware. This will, in turn, add to the flavor as well as the protective layer coating the bottom. Unfortunately, acidic foods and ingredients such as corn and tomatoes will break the protective layer down and will remove the seasoned coating. It is suggested to cook fatty foods such as bacon or deep-fry to help the protective layer gain back its original thickness and strength.
With that being said, Dutch ovens will usually not require additional seasoning as long as it is used regularly and is properly cleaned and cared for. Periodic seasoning can do no harm and will only add to the flavor.
Seasoning periodically is quite similar to the initial seasoning. The only significant difference is that when seasoning periodically, you should not use water with soap. If any rust is found then it is best to remove the protective coating and season the Dutch oven as you would initially.
The color of the protective coating on the bottom of the Dutch oven should either be black or a dark brown and should have a glossy shine. It should not have any stickiness to it. If it is found to be sticky, there may have been too much oil at the time of initial seasoning and may require you to heat it up until it properly bakes onto the bottom surface of the Dutch oven. With proper cleaning and care, the glossy coating will gain in thickness and become stronger over time.
Other Factors to Consider
Dutch oven lids should be heavy and provide a tight-fitting seal in order to trap all heat and moisture, resulting in better flavor and tenderness if cooking meats. It is also recommended that the handle on the lid be easily accessible with the use of hot gloves.
When purchasing a Dutch oven that is not cast iron, it is important to ensure that it has two solid handles in order to safely lift the pot in and out of the oven. Weak handles may pose a danger. It is also best to avoid plastic.
Certain Dutch ovens, such as stainless steel, may have a non-stick core option. While these may be easier to clean, they often require additional care to avoid damaging and scratching of the interior.
There a several elements to factor in when deciding on which Dutch oven to purchase. Depending on the use and environment, you may decide to choose a campfire cooking Dutch oven or a kitchen Dutch oven.
For those debating on whether to purchase a cast iron or enameled cast iron Dutch oven, the most important thing to take into account is the cast iron’s reaction with acidity. However, once the cast iron cookware has been properly seasoned, this should no longer be a problem. Refrain from using anything that may contain acidic ingredients until the cast iron Dutch oven has been properly treated. Enameled cast iron does not require any seasoning.
A quality Dutch oven should be heavy, capable of containing and evenly distributing heat. Better heat distribution will lessen the possibility of hot spots and will avoid any burning of the contents sitting at the bottom of the dutch pot while it cooks for several hours. It should also have solid handles, firmly connected to the Dutch pot or it’s lid for safe movement in and out of the oven as well as around stove tops. Remember that the bigger the pot, they heavier it will be to move around. Should you be of small figure or have weak wrists, weight is definitely something you will want to take into account.