I’ve cooked and thought about food professionally for almost a decade. Throughout that time, I’ve accumulated cookware in just about every major category of size and material: stainless steel pots, nonstick skillets, a carbon steel wok, and way too many cast iron pans (trust me, it’s possible). Even so, when dinner time rolls around, I’m usually reaching for my Dutch oven to make it.
Dutch ovens are multi-taskers by nature. Their broad base offers plenty of space for browning, and they’re deep enough to hold a family’s worth of soup. The original Dutch ovens (also known as cocottes) were made with plain cast iron, but most these days are coated with enamel. This means they can still distribute heat evenly, but don’t require seasoning and are relatively nonstick from the get-go. They can go from stove to oven, plus they’re suitable for cooking on induction. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better one-pot wonder.
What Are Dutch Ovens Good For?
Searing, Simmering, and Braising
The Dutch oven is the master of the stovetop. Since it’s basically a wider, heavier version of a stockpot, it’s a good pick to simmer broth or cook up big batches of beans. The cast iron core can get hot enough to quickly sear chunks of meat and brown veggies. Unlike nonstick cookware, the enamel allows flavorful fond to build up on the bottom of the pot, which then deglazes beautifully. For a slow-cooked braise or tomato sauce, you can start the process on the stove and then move it directly into the oven for a few hours, all with one pot.
When paired with a probe thermometer, a Dutch oven can also deep fry thanks to its high sides. Its cast-iron walls are better at retaining heat than stainless steel, which helps keep temperatures more stable. It also redistributes that heat efficiently, so the oil can rebound quickly after temperatures drop when food is added. Unless you’re frying on the regular, we even recommend a Dutch oven over buying unitasker electric deep-fryers.
Baking Better Bread
Ever wonder how to make crusty, artisan-style bread at home? Purpose-built cast iron bread ovens can be intimidating for beginners, not to mention expensive, heavy, and hard to store. Enter the Dutch oven. When covered with its heavy lid, the cocotte creates a super-insulated environment that captures moisture as it evaporates from the bread dough, mimicking the steam injection ovens of professional bakeries. This encourages better browning as well as a chewier, more flavorful crust. While you won’t be able to make long, Parisian-style baguettes, you can still make a darn good boule.
Adding Color to Your Kitchen
Okay, so we’ve established that Dutch ovens are workhorses in the kitchen. What makes them even better is that they’re downright gorgeous. The flat-lidded design of Staub’s lineup has an old-world feel to it that conjures daydreams of a rustic pot of coq au vin in the French countryside. Le Creuset’s simplicity, on the other hand, reads a little more modern, especially when combined with the dozens (yes, dozens!) of color options. The classic shades include fiery orange Flame, cobalt Marseille, or my personal favorite, a sunshiney hue called Nectar. There’s also a constant stream of new and seasonal colors, like the pale purple Shallot or handsome Matte Navy finishes. You can choose a color that’ll pop in your kitchen or a neutral that will let the food shine. If you can’t decide, don’t worry: we’ve already ranked all the Le Creuset colors for you.
So, Which Dutch Oven Should I Buy?
Shopping for your first Dutch oven can feel overwhelming as they come in a wide array of shapes and capacities, including Staub’s delightful tomato-shaped mini cocotte (which can hold about a pint) and Le Creuset’s 15-quart oval behemoth. We preferred Dutch ovens with round bases during our testing (rather than oblong or novelty-shaped ones) because they fit better on standard burners and heat more evenly. When deciding on size, Le Creuset recommends choosing a pot big enough for one quart per person in the household plus one or two extra quarts (a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven is a good place to start for a family of four). With that, you’ll have a pot that’s ready for anything.
Staub and Le Creuset are undoubtedly the most well-known manufacturers of Dutch ovens. These two brands have earned their reputations through strict quality standards and their steadfast lifetime warranties. Although they have their differences (mostly in their design—for example, Staub’s cookware has black interiors whereas Le Creuset’s is light), we highly recommend them both for their durability and superior enamel coatings. These heritage brands can be pretty pricey, though. Our winning 5.5-quart Staub and Le Creuset models cost around $300 to $420 each, depending on color. While we think that the investment is worth it for a pot that will last you a lifetime, we found the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 5-quart Dutch oven ($100) to be a good budget-friendly option.
How do you clean a Dutch oven?
To keep your Dutch oven in tip-top shape, we recommend handwashing it with mild detergent and a non-abrasive sponge after each use. For stubborn stains, you can soak the pot in hot water and/or gently scrub the spot with baking soda, vinegar, or Bar Keepers Friend. We don’t recommend putting your Dutch oven in the dishwasher as it can dull and weaken the enamel, shortening the life of the cookware.
Can a Dutch oven go in the oven?
Yes! Dutch ovens are oven-safe and can be used for baking, braising, or slow cooking. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations before putting the lid in the oven, though, as the knob may not be suitable for use at high temperatures.
Do you need to season a Dutch oven?
For uncoated cast iron Dutch ovens, you can follow our instructions for seasoning cast iron cookware. Enamel-coated Dutch ovens (like those from Le Creuset and Staub) do not require seasoning—as long as the coating is in good condition, they’ll stay fairly nonstick.