So you’d like to buy a Dutch oven?
Whether this is your first one or you’re a seasoned owner of cast iron cookware (you know what I mean), this buyer’s guide is intended to help you make a better, more-informed choice.
Most Dutch ovens are made of cast iron or enameled cast iron, though there are a few exceptions to the rule. Here’s everything you need to know about them, as well as my top picks for every taste, budget, and lifestyle.
Table of Contents
- Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
- Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
- Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron
- What Makes a Good Dutch Oven?
- What to Read Next
Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
“Regular” cast iron Dutch ovens are some of the oldest and most traditional pieces of cookware you can find on the market today.
They’re inexpensive, and you can use them everywhere—from your stovetop and range all the way to the outside grill or even over a fire. But they shouldn’t be used for cooking acidic foods, can’t go in the dishwasher, and need to be seasoned once or twice per year.
Europeans have been cooking with these pots since the year 1707. After a visit to the Netherlands to draw from the great manufacturing expertise of the Dutch, English industrialist Abraham Darby figured out a way to produce cheap and sturdy cookware by smelting iron, pouring it into sand molds, and allowing it to cool down and firm up.
It took a bit of trial and error, but Darby eventually got the technique right. He patented the procedure and named it the “Dutch oven,” a name that most of us continue to use to refer to this type of pot to this day. In most other English-speaking countries, it’s known as a “casserole.”
Easy to mass produce and practical for daily use in the kitchen, the cast iron Dutch oven spread throughout Europe and, soon after, the Americas. Today, it’s considered nothing short of American heritage. Century-old pieces often get handed down as family inheritance through generations.
My favorite brand—and you’ll see that preference reflected in my picks—is Lodge, the oldest and longest-running cast iron manufacturer in the USA.
Founded in 1987 by Joseph Lodge, the company continues to be run by his descendants, and it still makes some of the best cast iron pans and pots in the world. Its foundry is based in the small town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, right in-between Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, and Charlotte.
Something ingenious, which you won’t see on most other products, is how the thick and heavy lid on the Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Double Dutch Oven, 5-Quart doubles down as a fully-functional 10.25-inch cast iron skillet.
This not only turns it into the best bargain in its category (you’re getting two pieces of cast iron cookware for the price of one, and there is no catch to it) but also the most versatile piece of cookware for indoor and outdoor cooking.
As with all Lodge cookware, it comes pre-seasoned with soybean oil (heavily processed and free from allergens). All you need to get cooking is to familiarize yourself with the care instructions on the yellow leaflet glued to the bottom of the pot.
Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are more modern and thought of as luxurious. If bare cast iron is the workhorse of a kitchen, enameled cast iron is the fancy, smooth-riding, and unexpectedly reliable French car.
They come in bright and beautiful colors, and their enamel protects the metal from coming into contact with food, moisture, and air. So they can be used to cook anything and are generally dishwasher-safe (though most manufacturers recommend cleaning them by hand).
Enameled cookware was invented in Germany in the 1760s. It took cookware makers fifty years of experimentation until they came up with the vitreous enamel coatings, called porcelain, which we know so well and use so much today.
In America, they became popular in the 1860s, when the Stuart, Peterson & Co’s Foundry in Philadelphia began to make enameled cast iron pots.
The drawbacks? The best enameled cast iron cookware, made by a few century-old companies in Europe, is three to five types more expensive than its counterparts, which can cause home cooks shopping on a budget to look away. You can find cheaper China-made alternatives, but they often fall short of expectations.
Decisions, decisions… I know how it feels!
If you’re eyeing this type of pots, here are a couple of my top picks to help you choose:
Try all you want, but you won’t come across a better Dutch oven than Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Dutch Oven, 5.5-Quart.
Le Creuset is an iconic French company known for its bright and colorful Dutch ovens (or “French ovens,” as they’re also called). It was founded in 1925 in the commune of Fresnoy-le-Grand in northern France, where it continues to produce the majority of its cookware today.
This Dutch oven is made of thick and heavy cast iron coated with long-lasting enamel designed to resist chipping and cracking (the same can’t be said for the pieces by most other brands).
It’s compatible with all stoves (gas, electric, and induction) and safe to use in the oven at temperatures of up to 500°F.
With the Cuisinart Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 5-Quart, you won’t need to break the bank to equip your kitchen.
This Dutch oven is affordable, spacious, and, thanks to the wide handles, pretty easy to carry around (even when it’s full of goodness).
You can use it on a gas, electric, and induction stove, and it’s oven-safe up to 500°F (260°C). Cuisinart says you can clean it in the dishwasher, but recommends doing so by hand with soapy water.
Given its price tag, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this pot is made in China. However, it comes with Cuisinart’s lifetime warranty, which protects you from defects.
Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron
Cast iron or enameled cast iron; which one to get?
In the following few paragraphs, I’m going to give you the long story short (and a neat comparison table for those of you who like to look at things in a more structured way).
If you’re looking for a cheap and sturdy Dutch oven that you can cook with in your kitchen, in the backyard, or on a camping trip, buy one made of cast iron.
You shouldn’t cook acidic foods in it, can’t go in the dishwasher, and requires the occasional seasoning. But if that doesn’t scare you off, you’ve got yourself a good piece of cookware for most of your soups, stews, roasts, and baked goods.
If you prefer the conveniences of a Dutch oven that won’t require seasoning and which can be cleaned in the dishwasher every now and then—or if you cook with wine, vinegar, or tomatoes often—get an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.
The enamel protects the cast iron interior from the outside world. So it won’t corrode and rust because of the long cycles of your dishwasher, nor will it leach metal into your food. As an added benefit, the bright and beautiful colors that these pots come in will decorate your kitchen.
But don’t use them outside (unless you have a gas grill). See why in the table below.
|Type / Criteria||Cast iron Dutch ovens||Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens|
|Cook with on the stove||✓ Yes,|
gas, electric, and induction, but the porous cast iron bottom can scratch glass-ceramic cooktops
gas, electric, and induction
|Bake with in the oven or broiler||✓ Yes||✓ Yes,|
typically up to 500°F (260°C)
|Use on the grill or over a fire||✓ Yes||✕ No,|
the fumes and flames of a charcoal or wood fire can damage the enamel
|Cook highly acidic foods||✕ No,|
the surface reacts to acids and leaches dietary iron into your foods
|Clean in the dishwasher||✕ No||✓ Yes,|
most manufacturers recommend cleaning by hand nevertheless
|Requires seasoning||✓ Yes,|
once or twice per year
only if well-seasoned (the patina keeps foods from sticking)
the porcelain coating is non-porous, which prevents food from sticking
|Price range||Generally lower end||Typically higher end|
What Makes a Good Dutch Oven?
This is not one of those purchases that you want to make twice, and most of the roundups on the Internet are trying to sell you the pieces that bring the fattest commissions—not the ones that do the best job.
Here are a few additional criteria to help you get it right.
A Solid Lid That Fits Tightly
Whichever type of Dutch oven you end up going for, look for one with a tight-fitting lid that stays firmly in place.
It will help you keep the moisture in when cooking up soups and stews, though you’ll probably want to take it off and set it aside to thicken sauces and gravies.
Enough Capacity for Your Daily Cooking
Capacity is one of the most important characteristics of a Dutch oven, and it must be adequate to the amount of food you cook daily. To decide on the right size for your Dutch oven, consider the number of persons you cook for daily:
- Those of you who prepare food mostly for themselves and their partners should consider a capacity of 3-4 quarts;
- Readers who feed a household of three or more will be better off going for a 5-quart to 7-quart Dutch oven;
- If you cook for a crowd (say, a large family with five or six members), you’ll need the space only a 7.25-quart to 9-quart vessel can give you.
It’s Fit for Indoor or Outdoor Use
An often underappreciated factor for choosing a Dutch oven is where you plan to use it.
If you only cook in the confines of your home kitchen, then enameled cast iron is probably the better choice, as you can use it on your stove and in the oven.
Suppose you host backyard BBQ parties or go camping. In that case, a traditional cast iron Dutch oven should be your go-to choice, as you can put it on the grill or cook with it over a campfire without having to worry about damaging the porcelain enamel.
It’s Suitable for Your Favorite Recipes
What kind of food you make is also important.
Cast iron cookware isn’t suited for recipes with wine, vinegar, and tomatoes, as they reach to the acids in the sauce and leach significant amounts of dietary iron into your food.
The porcelain coating of enameled cast iron Dutch ovens acts as a layer that prevents the metal from coming into contact with the food so that you can cook all kinds of recipes in them, including highly acidic ones.
Easy to Clean Up and Look After
Last but not least is the ease of cleanup (and the amount of care required from your side as a whole).
Cast iron is prone to corrosion and rust, which is why it should never go in the dishwasher. Enameled cast iron cookware, on the other hand, is generally dishwasher-safe.
For the same reasons, cast iron needs to be seasoned once or twice per year. This is done by coating the greasing surface with a thin layer of vegetable oil and baking it in the oven for one hour at 450-500°F.
After an hour, the oil carbonates and forms a protective patina between the iron surface and the food that also serves as a non-stick coating.
As for enameled cast iron, the porcelain coating is fine-textured and has very low porosity, so it’s naturally non-stick.
What to Read Next
We’ve covered part of your instrumentarium as a home cook. In “All the Basic Cookware You Need,” I tell you the whole story, from frying pans to pasta pots.
On a shopping spree? My guide to choosing a frying pan will help you pick out your most trusty piece of cookware in the kitchen!