What Is a Dutch Oven?

You’ve reached for it hundreds of times, but have you ever wondered, “What is a Dutch oven?” With help from our Test Kitchen experts, we’ll answer this and other burning Dutch oven questions. 

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From simmering a low-country seafood boil to baking apple cobbler, the Dutch oven is a kitchen powerhouse. Its heavy-duty construction helps it go from stovetop cooking to braising in the oven without skipping a beat, making it one of the most versatile pieces of cookware in your lineup.

Whether you’re looking to purchase your first Dutch oven or have been using one for decades, we’re ready to help you get the most from this cooking tool. We consulted Sarah Fisher, Taste of Home’s Culinary Assistant (and resident Dutch oven expert!) to uncover the best tips for cooking and caring for your cookware.

Can’t wait? Cook up one of our easy Dutch oven recipes before you read.

What Is a Dutch Oven?

What is a Dutch oven inforgraphicSydney Watson/Taste of Home

Generally, a Dutch oven is a large, cast-iron pot with thick walls, a heavy bottom and a tight-fitting lid. Because of its material, Dutch ovens heat evenly and maintain heat very well. This makes Dutch ovens suitable for browning, braising, frying, baking and stewing on a stovetop, grill or in the oven. Take a look at some more unexpected ways to use a Dutch oven.

There are two types of Dutch ovens:

  • Seasoned cast iron Dutch oven: This is the traditional type of Dutch oven is probably what your grandmother used. It’s built similarly to a cast-iron skillet and needs to be seasoned and maintained with care.
  • Enameled “French” oven: This Dutch oven has an enamel coating which adds an extra layer of protection and nonstick surface. “A French company decided to coat the cast iron in enamel to create a nonstick surface without the fuss of seasoning it properly,” explains Sarah, “the French oven was born.” So, technically if you’re using an enameled Dutch oven, you’re using a French oven, which is just a type of Dutch oven.

Dutch oven vs. French oven: You may not see the term French oven used very often. Sarah says, “the term (French oven) never really caught on and most companies didn’t bother changing the name, as most of us have grown up with the mindset of an enamel cast-iron pot as a Dutch oven.” So, the name “Dutch oven” stuck.

How to Find the Best Dutch Oven for You

Chili in a Dutch ovenTaste of Home

Before you buy a Dutch oven, there are a couple of considerations to think about. Things like price point, size, brand, features and reviews will all influence your purchasing decision. Here are some ideas that can help you narrow down your search:

  • Price: How much are you looking to spend on a new Dutch oven? Most Dutch ovens are between $40-350, which is a huge range. Price is influenced by brand, materials used, size and where it’s purchased from. Not to worry, though, you can easily find a quality Dutch oven under $100.
  • Size and type: Dutch ovens can have a capacity of 1 quart, up to 10+ quarts. The standard size is between 6-8 quarts. Also, consider if you’re more comfortable with a cast-iron Dutch oven or an enamel-coated one.
  • Lid: While the Dutch oven may be oven-safe up to 550°F, the lid handle might not be. Additionally, some brands offer Dutch oven lids that can be flipped over and used as a skillet or grill pan.
  • Style: There are a ton of options when it comes to the color and shape of a Dutch oven! Some brands also offer patterned Dutch ovens or lids with decorative handles.

“After doing your research,” says Sarah,” look to see which stores carry the brand and size you are hoping for. Storefronts like Kohls, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond will typically carry these items, but it’s also very easy to use Amazon for this sort of purchase.”

Our Recommended Dutch Ovens

Find more reviews of the best Dutch ovens to buy, according to the experts.

How to Use a Dutch Oven

Large cast iron pot of spicy chili cooking over a campfireBGSmith/Shutterstock

In broad strokes, a Dutch oven functions as a pot and baking dish in one. As Sarah explains, “Dutch ovens are so well-loved because it can handle so many different cooking techniques. It’s oven-proof, so it allows the cook to transition from stovetop to the oven, to the table, effortlessly.” That means if you’re making something like a beef bourguignon, you can sear the beef, saute veggies, bake and serve the stew all in one vessel (which means fewer dishes, too!).

“Something surprising you can cook in a Dutch oven is bread,” says Sarah. “The tight-fitting lid and ability to handle extreme heat makes it the perfect vessel for getting that crunchy, crackly, crust on a homemade loaf of bread.” Learn how to bake in a Dutch oven.

Their usefulness goes beyond the kitchen. Dutch ovens are great for cooking small delicate items on the grill that could fall through the gate. You can also pack a Dutch oven for your next camping trip. Thanks to the high heat resistance, Dutch ovens can be used over an open campfire or directly in the coals. Try one of these Dutch oven camping recipes on your next trip.

Dutch Oven Recipes

Dutch ovens are incredibly versatile. This means you can use one to make pretty much any that requires a pot, skillet or baking dish. “Personally, I love to use the Dutch oven to braise meats,” says Sarah. “I use it on the stovetop to get a beautiful well-caramelized sear, which creates that deep flavor. Then in one swift motion, I can put the entire pot into the oven and let it slowly cook and break down the meat so it’s tender and juicy. The Dutch oven retains and evenly distributes heat throughout which makes it my go-to piece.” Give Sarah’s favorite a try with this Dutch oven braised short rib recipe.

While hearty Dutch oven dinners and slow-simmering Dutch oven soups are the most common ways to use this cooking vessel, you shouldn’t feel limited to these meals. You can make just about every course in a Dutch oven, from easy Dutch oven appetizers like dips and nachos to flavorful Dutch oven side dishes like mashed potatoes and sauteed veggies to of the best desserts you’ve ever had. (Cherry grunt, we’re looking at you!)

Don’t forget about breakfast! Whether it’s frying up a hash or whipping up an egg bake, Dutch oven breakfast recipes are a great way to start the day.

Get even more ideas by looking through our best Dutch oven recipes of all time.

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Dutch Oven Cooking Tips

Step by step. Cooking homemade turkey chili for dinner.Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

While they’re fairly simple to use, we do have a few Dutch oven tips that will help take your food to the next level.

  • Since they take a bit longer than a skillet or pot to heat up, turn the element under your Dutch oven on earlier than you think. This will give it more time to get hot, which is especially important if you’re trying to get a sear.
  • If you’re using a Dutch oven while camping, use the coals rather than flames to heat your Dutch oven. Also, if you have the space, have a separate pit for your Dutch oven.
  • Remember that Dutch ovens are incredibly good at retaining heat, so you don’t have to crank your burner to high. Keep the heat to medium or low when using a Dutch oven.
  • Since Dutch ovens retain their heat, you can use it as a serving dish to keep your meal warm while it’s on the table. Just remember to drop a trivet on the table first.
  • Work in rounds. Dutch ovens aren’t like a slow cooker, where you have to add all or most of your ingredients at once. Adding ingredients a bit at a time will build layers of flavor and keep softer foods, like peas or tomatoes, from disintegrating.
  • If you’re trying to create a crunchy bread, keep the lid closed. Whenever you’re looking to build steam in a Dutch oven, keep the lid firmly in place.
  • Always use oven mitts. Coming out of the oven or simmering on the stove, Dutch oven handles can get very hot. Use oven mitts to keep your hands safe and burn-free.

Also, be sure to avoid these common Dutch oven mistakes.

Dutch Oven Cleaning and Care

When properly cleaned and maintained, a Dutch oven can last for decades. Here’s how to keep your Dutch oven in tip-top shape:

  • Cleaning a Dutch oven is pretty straightforward; use warm water, soap and a soft sponge to wipe in inside and outside of the Dutch oven, and lid. For baked-on food or stainings, learn how to deep clean a Dutch oven.
  • When it comes to cast iron, seasoning a Dutch oven is a must. If the Dutch oven’s seasoning is scraped off, starts to rust or isn’t non-stick anymore, it’ll have to be deep cleaned and reseasoned.
  • When using an enameled Dutch oven, stick to silicone, wood or plastic utensils as metal can scratch the finish.
  • Avoid dramatic changes in temperature, like transferring a Dutch oven from the fridge to a hot oven, or vice versa. Changing temperature too quickly can actually cause the pot to crack.
  • Before popping your Dutch oven in the oven, check the lid’s handle. If it’s not some sort of metal, it could have a lower oven-safe temperature than the pot and melt in too high heat.
  • Don’t put it in the dishwasher! While some Dutch ovens are labeled dishwasher-safe, the process can wear down the enamel coating.

Now that you’ve mastered the Dutch oven, read up on cast-iron skillet cooking.

Research was contributed by Sarah Fischer, Culinary Assistant at Taste of Home.

Caroline Stanko
As an Associate Digital Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.