Choose the Best Dutch Oven - 5 Features to Consider
Choose the Best Dutch Oven - 5 Features to Consider
By Chef Austin
Looking for the best Dutch oven? Do you know what size Dutch oven you need? Did you know some have self-basting lids to keep food moist? Start your journey here to find the best Dutch oven for your kitchen. We go through the top 5 factors to consider when choosing your perfect slow-cooking, chicken-frying, bread-baking wonder pot.
From left to right: Enameled Cast Iron, Stainless Steel, Ceramic, Bare Cast Iron
What should your dutch oven be constructed of? There are a few main options out there - stainless steel, bare cast iron, enameled cast iron, and ceramic.
Stainless steel is easy to clean and maintain, but stainless steel Dutch ovens typically lack a heavy and tight-fitting lid. Stainless steel also does not retain heat nearly as well as other materials. You can cook Dutch oven recipes in them, but your food would better benefit from a material that has better heat retention.
Cast iron (or bare cast iron) makes for a great dutch oven because this metal retains heat for a long period of time making it a great slow-cooker pot and for keeping a consistent oil temperature for deep frying. Bare cast iron can also be used for campfires and outdoor cooking! Remember, bare cast iron requires special cleaning, regular seasoning, and maintenance for it to cook properly. Bare cast iron can also transfer flavors to your dishes which can be a good and bad thing. Tomato and acid-based foods like chili do not react well with the exposed cast iron interior and dis-flavor your dish. Bare cast iron dutch ovens can be heavy but can last a lifetime when properly maintained.
Enameled cast iron has the heat-retaining benefits of cast iron without the hassle of special cleaning and seasoning. The enameled coating covers the bare cast iron and provides an easy-to-clean surface that also doesn't transfer flavors. This material of pan comes in various color options as well to match your kitchen and style. Like bare cast iron, enameled cast iron has a hefty weight. Enameled cast iron pans do have a higher price tag than most kitchen pots, but the price is worth it - these pans can be passed down from generation to generation.
Ceramic Dutch ovens are the lightest out of all the materials. Emile Henry makes these types of dutch ovens and they're great for stews and baking bread. They can go on the stovetop and into the oven. Because they are ceramic stoneware, they do have a chance of cracking or shattering if dropped or from extreme temperature change.
For ease of use and longevity, I personally use an enameled cast iron dutch oven in my kitchen. The heat retention is a must have characteristic for long low-heat simmers for braising short ribs and for keeping my oil hot when deep frying. I love that I can treat it just like all my other dishes and wash it with soap and water.
2. Size Options
How big of Dutch oven should I buy? Well, do you need to cook for a family of 8 or are you only cooking for you and your main squeeze? Think about this when choosing the size of your Dutch Oven. Here's a quick chart of what our top Dutch ovens offer:
How big of a Dutch oven should I get? My recommendation is to think about the future. If you plan on cooking for the holidays, get-togethers, or if your family ever expands, you may want a larger vessel. I'd say if you wanted the best size dutch oven, for most recipes, I would look at sizes between 5-6qts. This size is the sweet spot; it will feed multiple people - I'd say up to around 5 people comfortably - it will fit a whole chicken, and most recipes are designed for this size of dutch ovens.
Smaller dutch ovens around the 1 qt size are great for cooking individual mini-dishes and for making amazing presentations for individual side dishes. If you're catering to 20+ people for a holiday party, the massive 15.5 qt Dutch oven from Le Creuset is large enough to fit an entire turkey or bone-in ham.
Should you get a round Dutch oven or an oval Dutch oven? That depends on your stove. Typical stoves are going to have circle shaped burners, so a circle Dutch oven would naturally fit on that shape burner. You can get an oval shape, but you'll face uneven cooking if you don't have a large enough burner. The large oval shape will typically hang over the perimeter of the circle burner, but some stoves will be equipped with super-sized circle burners that accommodate larger oval Dutch ovens. Gas stoves may have a specialty elliptical shape gas burner that would work well too. If you're fortunate enough to have such a stove, go for the oval if you'd like! Also, if you primarily want to use your Dutch oven in the oven - say for baking bread or roasting chicken - then shape won't be an issue because it will evenly heat in the oven.
3. Interior Design & Wear
On the left is my grandma's light-interior dutch oven (well used) and a dark interior dutch oven on the right.
Consider the interior color of your Dutch oven. You're usually going to see either black interiors or a lighter color, like tan.
Lighter interiors are great because they allow you to see better into the pot while you are cooking. The brighter environment lets you view easily the contents of the deep cooking vessel. A lighter interior is going to let you see when your butter has properly browned and you can easily monitor the color of your fond - the brown bits of food that create rich flavor for sauces. In dark colored interior Dutch ovens it is much harder to monitor the color of the foods your cooking.
Light color interiors won't stay like that for long, cooking will change the color slightly over time. Higher heats can also cause the pan to start showing a series of lines or cracks, called crazing. This doesn't affect performance, but some may not like the look of the crazing, while others may enjoy the natural, broken-in look. The interior can also develop scratches when cooking tools, especially metal ones, which don't look the prettiest either.
Dark interior Dutch ovens are going to hide crazing, scuffs, and scratches much better than a lighter interior over time. The dark interior will keep your dutch oven looking new and pristine even after heavy use and constant stirring. You may want to turn your oven hood light on to better see inside of the dark interior pan though.
4. Lid Design
Some Dutch ovens will offer specially designed lids. Although not necessary, they can make some dishes even tastier. Look for spiked lid designs where underside is covered with rounded metal spikes. These spikes are designed to help the condensation evenly drip back onto the food to keep it moist. Some lids may also have raised rings to help condensation baste your food as well. Other lids without this just have the condensation drip back down the inside walls of the pot.
5. Color Choices
Dutch ovens are made to last a lifetime, so you're going to be looking at this Dutch oven for a long time, so pick something that you'll like to see on the stove.
Le Creuset is king of color options in the enameled cast iron world. They have over 10 colors to choose from and will periodically release new colors or their cookware. Le Creuset's color pallet range from cheery and bright pastels, to more subtle attractive gradients. Overall, I would say that they are definitely the brightest and poppiest colorwise.
Staub also offersinterchangeable knobs for the tops of their lids so you can truly make this your custom Dutch oven that matches you!
Staub also offers some interesting designer dutch ovens. These are great for special occasions and fun to break out for the season. Check out their pumpkin and tomato enameled cast iron Dutch ovens.
Emile Henry has Dutch ovens in a red burgundy and black charcoal colors. Finex is bare cast iron, so there are no bright and cheery colors in their Dutch ovens. They do have beautifully designed stainless steel coil handles and a brass colored knob at the top to accent the bare cast iron color.
What about the high price of Dutch ovens?
You may be shopping around and see dramatic price differences between Dutch ovens. Why would you pay considerably more for comparable Dutch oven models? Here are a few reasons why a quality Dutch oven is worth it:
Material & Construction
What drives the cost of Dutch ovens are the material they're made of and how much labor it takes to produce a pot. A stainless steel pot may cost less than the enameled cast iron pot because there is less material used, but also much less manufacturing time went into a forming a stainless steel dutch oven. One of the most popular enameled cast iron makers, Le Creuset, is handmade in France and is handled and inspected multiple times by dozens of expert craftsmen. Many companies producing less expensive Dutch ovens will outsource to China and won't have that attention to detail or quality like a name-brand cast iron producer.
Our best dutch ovens come with either a lifetime warranty (for Le Creuset & Staub). Honoring the warranty on a piece of cookware really tells you about a company and the product they stand behind. Dutch ovens and enameled cast iron, in general, are meant to be generational pieces. When taken care of, this style of cookware can be passed down to the kids and even the grandkids. You are spending your money for one pot, one time - not multiple cheap pots that will need annual replacements.
Not all Dutch ovens are created equally. Some companies cut corners and deliver an inferior product. Less expensive and cheaper Dutch ovens and enamel cookware can deliver sub-par cooking results, uneven heating, and shorter lifespans. All enamel can chip and crack, but the cheaper stuff tends to break faster. Our best Dutch ovens from Le Creuset and Staub are the highest quality Dutch ovens available and are backed by decades of warranty.
Country of Origin
Funny thing is that most Dutch ovens are coming out of China. Staub and Le Creuset are still incredibly high quality and based out of France. There are multiple steps and processes that are still done by hand to create a quality Dutch oven. We support the skilled artisans still producing enameled cast iron cookware that can last a lifetime. Cheaper 'Dutch' ovens are outsourced and made in China where quality can lack.
Best Selling Dutch Ovens
There are many brands of Dutch ovens on the market, but which one do you pick? We've narrowed it down to our best three Dutch oven brands: Le Creuset and Staub. Find the perfect one for your kitchen in our 3 Best Dutch Oven Comparison & Review.
About the Author:
Chef Austin Merath is Everything Kitchen's Culinary Wizard, Kitchen-Gadget Reviewer, and New-Product Tester. He studied under chefs in College of the Ozarks' Culinary Program. It's his job to make sure you choose the kitchen tools that are right for you by testing the best we have to offer. When not cooking, Austin is tinkering with computers or exploring the Ozarks with his wife Amy. Click here for his full bio.