What has three legs and loves to stand on hot coals? Why, a Dutch oven, of course. Seriously, Dutch ovens have been a cookware standard since the first iron pots were cast in the Netherlands (hence “Dutch” oven) in the 17th Century. And their popularity as a great way to cook over an open fire has spawned a whole new generation of iron chefs. If you’re not ready to cook over open flames, no worries. There are lots of Dutch ovens made specifically for kitchen gourmets that deliver all of that slow-baked goodness into just about anything from hearty stews to steaming peach cobblers. Here are three things to look for to help make finding the right Dutch oven simple and easy.
Camp Cook or Kitchen Gourmet
This Dutch oven is perfect for camping. A well-recessed lid with a rim all around will keep coals on top from sliding off. Cast-in legs are great for placing the pot on top of coals for nice, even heat. AmazonBasics
Dutch ovens are divided into two categories—those made for cooking outdoors and those made just for the kitchen. Camp Styles: When choosing Dutch ovens for camping, look for solid cast-iron pots with tight-fitting lids that are recessed with an ample raised rim all around. Flat, rimmed lids will ensure the coals you place on top for heat will not roll off. Short, cast-iron legs are a help in keeping your Dutch oven just above the hot coals you’ll place it on for heat, but flat-bottomed versions work just as well and are much easier to slide into the oven if you want to use your classic Dutch oven indoors as well. Many of today’s cast-iron models come pre-seasoned, which saves a step in prepping your cast-iron pot for use. We also recommend wiping the bottom and sides of your Dutch with a little vegetable oil every time you clean it (use hot water only; never soap) to retain its non-stick qualities. Kitchen Styles: While you can always place a cast-iron Dutch oven on your stove or in your oven, there are many styles made just for kitchen use. Look for thick, tight-fitting lids that will hold in heat and steam, and thick bottoms. Enameled Dutch ovens are more popular for kitchen use because the non-porous interior makes clean-ups easy while eliminating the need to “season” your pot before cooking it in the first time.
Think About Size
This 6-quart enameled Dutch oven is perfect for the kitchen. Large handles on the lid and sides of the pot make it easy to grasp with oven mitts. AmazonBasics
The size of Dutch oven you choose will be somewhat driven by what you plan on cooking. If you’re braising large pieces of meat or slow cooking massive legs from a wild turkey or goose, you’ll want to go big. As a general rule, a good size for camp cooking is 10 or 12 quarts. Kitchen cooks will want to consider the size of the burners on their stove. Shorter, wider Dutch oven styles will work better on larger-diameter burners and for braising larger pieces of meats. Taller styles with a smaller diameter, are better for baking so breads have room to rise and may be a better fit for standard-size burners or even better for smaller “true simmer” burners. Kitchen cooks will probably find a 6- or 8-quart model perfect for in-oven use.
Handles Are Ultra-Important
Because Dutch ovens are so heavy, make sure whatever model you choose has large, easy-to-grip handles. Lodge
Whether you’re choosing a Dutch oven for outdoor cooking or one for the kitchen, handles are very important. Even when they’re empty these pots are very heavy and dropping one filled with red-hot contents can be disastrous. For kitchen models, handles on both the lid and the sides of the pot itself should be large enough to easily grasp with a pair of insulated oven mitts or pot holders. For outdoor models, the large handle that’s cast into the lid should be big to enough to easily grasp with thick gloves and have an opening in it that allows a steel hook to slide in for easy lid removable. Handles on the pot itself should be large enough to grasp while wearing mitts. Look for models that also have an ultra-sturdy loop handle made of steel that can easily be grasped with thick leather gloves or looped with a dingle stick so you can place and retrieve your Dutch oven from the fire or suspend it over the heat on a tripod.