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Dutch Ovens: All You Need to Know

Dutch Oven Cooking

On the market today, there are specialized kitchen tools for every purpose under the sun. But, spending your hard-earned money on overflowing kitchen cabinets might not sound too appealing for entry-level or casual home cooks. So, allow us to introduce the Dutch oven. You may have heard of Dutch ovens, but they are surprisingly unpopular for being a tool that can cook almost anything.

If you want maximum capability with minimum investment, buying a single Dutch oven is a great way to make that happen. Dutch ovens can bake, roast, broil, braise, and saute, all in the same pot. These heavy-duty tools are a revelation for most first-time buyers.

What is a Dutch Oven?

Dutch ovens are beautiful in their simplicity. They are large, cast-iron pots with heavy bottoms, tall walls, and handled lids. Dutch ovens are often purchased in bright colors, but that is just an enamel coating over their cast-iron construction. These brightly designed Dutch ovens can be used as decorative serving vessels in addition to cooking pots, making them all the more versatile.

Dutch ovens can go from stovetop to oven, and retain heat remarkably well, thanks to the cast-iron build. They are good for outdoor cooking as well because they can be placed directly over a campfire. In fact, Dutch ovens can be used on virtually any type of cooking surface, including finicky induction burners.

Dutch Oven vs Stockpot

By now, you might be thinking that Dutch ovens sound a lot like stockpots. While they are similar, they have some very key functional differences. Dutch ovens can do everything stockpots can, but stockpots can’t perform many of the tasks that Dutch ovens can.

Stockpots are made of lighter materials than Dutch ovens because they are really only built to make soups, stews, and other liquid-based dishes. Because of this, you will have difficulty effectively searing food in the bottom of a stockpot. Stockpots also have higher walls which can prohibit them from fitting inside a standard oven, making stockpots unsuitable for braising. Dutch ovens are usually a little bit more expensive than stockpots, but they provide all of the functionality of a stockpot and then some.

What Can You Cook in a Dutch Oven?

Just about anything. A Dutch oven can be used for almost any culinary technique you’re likely to encounter. As a general rule of thumb, a Dutch oven can be used for anything that a pot or a cast-iron pan can do. Dutch ovens perform very well when used with extremely high heat, thanks to their cast-iron construction. Here are a few popular styles of cooking where Dutch ovens excel:

  • Baking
  • Deep Frying
  • Stews and Soups
  • Roasting
  • Braising
  • Poaching

Braising in a Dutch Oven

Of all the things that Dutch ovens do well, they are most popular for slow braising. There are several reasons why Dutch ovens excel in braising food.

Although they take some time to get hot, Dutch ovens retain heat extremely well. This means it requires minimal amounts of energy and heat to keep a Dutch oven hot over a long period of time. Even after turning off the heat, the food in a Dutch oven will continue to cook for a while.

Dutch ovens also come with heavy lids. This ensures that you will lose no liquid to steam and evaporation. This type of moist cooking will allow your meat to remain tender and juicy as it cooks in the braising liquid.

Dutch ovens also have a heavy bottom and can go right from stove to oven. Many braising recipes require some kind of stovetop cooking before using a convection oven. You can easily sear or sauté in a Dutch oven, and then immediately transfer it into your oven. This makes Dutch ovens very convenient for stove-to-oven cooking that is often used in braising.

Chipped Enamel?

If you are considering an enameled Dutch oven, you may wonder what to do if the enamel chips or cracks. Because enamel is just a coating, this type of damage is purely aesthetic. A Dutch oven with chipped enamel will still function perfectly fine.

Safely Using a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens aren’t inherently dangerous. But, they are very heavy and often full of hot liquid. If you have severe upper body or back problems, make sure to exercise caution when using a Dutch oven.