A Dutch oven is one of the most worthwhile investments in the world of cooking equipment. What other tool can bake, fry, boil, and braise with such ease? Like its many talents, there are also many variations of the how the Dutch oven got its name.
One version tells the story of an Englishman named Abraham Darby who, in the early 1700s, observed the Dutch using sand to cast cooking vessels out of brass. He returned to England, and in an attempt to make a cheaper product, he turned to cast iron. In 1707, Darby patented the process, and it’s thought that he named the pot after the Dutch method of casting.
Others suggest Dutch traders who peddled cast-iron pots popularized the name Dutch oven, and still more believe the name came from Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania who cooked with cast-iron pots and kettles. So, however the term Dutch oven came to be, it’s standard thinking that we have the Dutch to thank.
There’s no doubt that Dutch ovens have evolved and become more refined since those early days, but the reasons we love them certainly haven’t changed. Cast-iron Dutch ovens are wonderful heat conductors as well as incredibly versatile. With the current market full of options, it’s important to know what you’re looking for when shopping for this trusty piece of cast iron, and whether you’re purchasing your first or fifth, this guide will help to point you in the right direction.
WHAT FINISH SHOULD I CHOOSE?
When it comes to cast-iron Dutch ovens, you have two choices: seasoned cast iron and enameled cast iron. If you’re an avid outdoor cook, a traditional, seasoned cast-iron Dutch oven is likely the best choice for you. These pots are more durable than their enameled counterparts and can stand up to intense heat when planted atop a bed of fiery coals. They also have a rough texture making them excellent for searing meats; however, like traditional cast-iron skillets, they require careful cleaning and seasoning.
For those who are more accustomed to cooking on a stovetop, an enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven is probably more your speed. The glossy coating on enamel-coated Dutch ovens means less sticking, easier cleaning, and no need for seasoning. But the coating can also scratch and chip, so it’s important to be careful when handling your pot. Be gentle when placing the lid on your pot, and avoid metal utensils as they can scratch the interior.
CAMP STOVE VS. DUTCH OVEN
While a standard seasoned Dutch oven is suitable for cooking over a campfire, this vessel isn’t the same as a camp stove. Camp stoves are equipped with several special features that make cooking over open flame even easier. While Dutch ovens typically have a rounded lid, camp stoves have a flat lid with a lip around the edge to hold hot coals. They also have a flat bottom, legs that help elevate it above coals, and a helpful bail handle that allows the pot to hang over a fire.
WHAT SIZE AND SHAPE IS BEST FOR ME?
If you can only fit one Dutch oven into your kitchen or budget, we recommend choosing a round 5-to 6-quart vessel. Large enough to hold a big batch of soup or a roast, yet still light enough for lifting, this size of Dutch oven is the most frequently used in Southern Cast Iron’s Test Kitchen. If you have a large family or regularly cook for a big crowd, consider purchasing a 7-to 8-quart Dutch oven or, alternatively, a 3-to 4-quart pot for nights when you’re only cooking for a few.
Fortunately, you can find Dutch ovens in almost every size, so cooking for one or 10 is no problem at all. While we like round Dutch ovens because they fit nicely on almost any stove’s burner, oval-shaped Dutch ovens have their benefits. Although they aren’t great options for stovetop cooking due to their shape, these pots are a sensible choice when roasting a big chicken or baking a loaf of bread in the oven. FINEX, a cast-iron cookware company out of Portland, Oregon, even makes an octagonal-shaped Dutch oven if you’re interested in adding an intriguing piece to your collection.
No matter which shape or size of Dutch oven you’re considering, we suggest you take note of the pot’s handles. Why? Because you want to be able to securely lift and transport the Dutch oven both with your bare hands and while using hand protectors. Larger handles will be easier to grip and allow room for oven mitts and pot holders.
HOW DO I DECIDE BETWEEN BRANDS?
Once you’ve determined whether you want a traditional cast-iron Dutch oven or an enameled Dutch oven, deciding on the brand of pot to purchase largely depends on two factors: personal preference and budget. Lodge, a company that has been manufacturing cast-iron cookware in Tennessee since 1896, is the most well-known United States-based cast iron producer, and they offer an extensive collection of both traditional seasoned and enamel-coated cast-iron pieces. Their enamel-coated Dutch ovens have a slightly rounded interior, which means less cooking surface than other Dutch ovens on the market. Lodge is a mainstay for traditional seasoned Dutch ovens and camp stoves as well, with each featuring dual handles and a sturdy handled lid that has spikes on the underside meant to help condensation return to the food for added moisture. In 2019, Lodge acquired another notable cast iron brand: FINEX. Their 5-quart seasoned Dutch oven is unlike any other on the market, featuring their signature octagonal shape that offers a number of easy pour spouts and coil handles meant for quick cooling.
The Dutch oven from Smithey Ironware, a cast iron company based in South Carolina, is definitely worth considering. They released their seasoned 5½-quart Dutch oven in 2019, and with its signature smooth, polished interior and detailed craftsmanship, it’s a functional beauty. While browsing the market, Milo is yet another company to check out. With their enamel-coated Dutch ovens you’ll find affordability and variety paired with a sleek look and optimal heft.
Le Creuset, a French cookware company founded in 1925, has long been considered the gold standard for colorful enameled Dutch ovens. These well-crafted beauties are known for their longevity. Le Creuset, along with Lodge and several other brands, outfits their Dutch ovens with a light-colored interior, providing optimal visibility when cooking. However, this creamy colored interior can also become stained over time. Even so, with proper care, a Le Creuset Dutch oven will likely last through multiple generations. That being said, with an abundance of colors hitting the market often—from fiery reds and bold blues to subdued neutrals—it’s hard to settle on just one. Do keep in mind that Le Creuset is considered high-end cookware, and the price reflects it.
Another French company that consistently tops the market for enameled cast iron is Staub. Their Dutch ovens are a bit heavier than those belonging to Le Creuset, and with a matte black interior, they’re great for achieving the perfect sear on meats. Some other prominent features to note are that each lid contains self-basting spikes on the interior, and they’re available in earthy hues, such as deep green and gray, that you might not find elsewhere. Staub’s pieces are priced similarly with Le Creuset.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO PAY?
Le Creuset and Staub enamel-coated Dutch ovens are on the high end of the spectrum. At full price, a 5½-quart Le Creuset enamel-coated Dutch oven will cost about $360. A Staub Dutch oven of the same size can cost upward of $500, but it’s not difficult to find a great deal on one of these pots online. Lodge, on the other hand, is a much more budget-friendly option. A 6-quart enamel-coated Dutch oven costs less than $100, and their seasoned Dutch ovens and camp stoves are even more affordable. You can score a 5-quart Dutch oven for just over $50 and a camp stove for $79.95. For an enamel-coated 5½-quart Dutch oven from Milo, you’ll pay $135. Smithey prices their seasoned Dutch oven at $295, and a FINEX piece costs just a hair more at $300.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The cast-iron companies we’ve included in this guide are by no means your only options. You’ll find countless other companies and styles of Dutch ovens in stores and online, but the brands mentioned here are ones that you’re likely to encounter most frequently. The more comparison shopping you do, the happier you’ll be with your ultimate purchase.
Dutch ovens are worth the investment, so our suggestion is simple—buy what you like and what suits you best. As with any other piece of cast iron, whether seasoned or enameled, with proper care of your Dutch oven, you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.