This article was last updated on April 6th, 2020
Before you begin to read this article it is important to understand that a Dutch oven can essentially be one of three things.
It can be a metal shield for roasting before an open fire, it can be a brick oven that cooks with pre-heated walls and finally, it can be a cast-iron kettle or pot with a tight and heavy cover. The latter is generally used to cook a meal over an open fire.
When Was a Dutch Oven First Used?
It has been firmly established that a Dutch oven was first used towards the backend of the 18th century – 1769 to be a little more precise. That date makes particular reference to the use of the Dutch oven in the context of the metal shield that I mentioned earlier in this blog post.
If we are going to accept 1769 as the first time that a Dutch oven was used, we will also need to accept that historically, the Dutch oven can refer to any number of cooking devices that were used during the period in question (the 1700s).
In this case, we are referring to the metal shield – which is probably not the most common Dutch oven cooking method today.
Where Was the Dutch Oven First Used?
Technically speaking, the Dutch were the first to use Dutch oven cooking methods. The significant detail here is that the Dutch were still using brass pots when their techniques were first “discovered” by outsiders.
A principal player at the time was Abraham Darby, who is credited with playing a critical role during the First Industrial Revolution.
Incidentally, the timeline of the First Industrial Revolution corresponds with the popularising of Dutch oven cooking in Europe. Darby, after visiting the Netherlands in the early 1700s, observed the Dutch techniques and sought to adopt and modernize them.
So, the answer to the question would be that Dutch oven cooking methods were first used in the Netherlands – and they have been credited for that by virtue of it being called a Dutch oven – but it is the British who were the first to use cast iron.
In the 21st century, it is the cast iron pots and kettles that have come to define Dutch oven cooking.
The person directly responsible for the adoption of cast iron cooking is Darby himself. While Darby was satisfied with the traditional sand molds used by the Dutch, the need to make his a more profitable or financially viable enterprise led to the casting of iron.
Ultimately, the cast-iron method was cheaper than sand but it was also a progression from that, which is why the name Dutch oven has stuck three centuries later.
Click the image above to check this seasoned cast-iron Dutch oven that looks similar to a centuries-old cast iron dutch oven
Changes to Dutch Ovens Over Time
While Dutch ovens have their roots firmly established in Europe, the cooking methods associated with them have spread throughout the world. They have become particularly popular in the United States.
However, there is now also a firm footprint in countries like South Africa, Australia and parts of Central Asia. The Russians have something called a Chavunok, which they use to cook in their traditional ovens.
Invariably, the shape and size of the Dutch oven have changed somewhat, depending on where the Dutch oven cooking method has been adopted. The basic structure and cooking technique has not altered significantly though – and that is probably the most important detail.
Changes to Dutch Ovens in the United States
Since the colonial era, the United States has become notorious for altering things. The Dutch oven has not been immune to this either. Over time, the Dutch oven in the United States has become a shallower pot, with shorter legs helping it hover over the top of a fire.
Another defining feature of the Dutch oven in the United States is actually quite an important innovation. Before the introduction of the flange, the coals could still get into the food while it was cooking.
However, the American introduction of the flange has eliminated that problem. The flat lid that has become a common feature over time is also essentially an American invention to hold coals on top of the pot. The American industrialist, Paul Revere, has received the credit for that.
He operated during the 18th century, which means that some of the changes made by the Americans were almost immediate.
Dutch ovens in the United States were actually a big part of the cultural migration to that country in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the significant changes in the design happened during that period.
What About Ovens for the Dutch?
While the origins of Dutch ovens essentially have their roots in the Netherlands, there is not a considerable amount of literature on the history of the Dutch oven in the Netherlands. That is primarily because the Dutch do not call them Dutch ovens.
In the Netherlands, the more common name is something called a Braadpan. That is essentially a simmer pan or casserole dish. The features of a Braadpan are essentially the same as those of a traditional Dutch oven though.
The evolution of the Dutch oven in the Netherlands, to what we have become more accustomed to seeing in stores today, essentially began in the late 19th century – 1891 to be a little more precise. That evolution was pioneered by Dutch company BK – now a national institution.
It is, in fact, BK that claims – and rightly so – the full credit for the creation and evolution of the modern Dutch Oven. That is despite some of the work that was done by the British and the North Americans in the period of the First Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) before that. The work on the creation of the modern Dutch oven began midway through the 19th century, almost exactly (1851).
A key moment in the evolution of the Dutch oven was 1891 when BK first introduced a protective enamel layer to the inside of the Dutch oven.
As is the case with time, the way in which people do things has also evolved tremendously. Midway through the 20th century, the majority of people in Europe and indeed the Western world were starting to adopt electric and gas cooking. That brought about the launch of an Aluminium range of the Dutch oven, which was felt would be most suitable for cooking on stovetops.
Australian Drovers and Dutch Ovens
The Drover became a prominent feature in Australian livestock farming during the early – 19th century – well that is when being a Drover was still in high demand anyway. However, the subsequent expansion of the railways in Australian rendered Drovers less essential.
Nevertheless, when the Drover was still an “Australian Hero”, the Dutch oven was an essential item for cooking during long journeys across those barren lands.
The more common name in Australia though is something called the Bedourie Oven. As is the case with most things Australian, there is not normally just a name change but there is also some form of adaptation. The Dutch oven has not been immune to that either.
The thing about the conventional Dutch oven is that it was made from cast iron. When you are traveling long distances on horses, carrying cast iron items can be an enormous undertaking because of the sheer weight. Cast iron Dutch ovens were also a little more fragile and would break when they fell off the horse packs.
A solution was sought after and in this context, that solution was steel. When steel was introduced there was a greater element of reliability about the “Dutch Ovens” Australian Drovers used for their long travels across the country.
Use of the Dutch Oven in South Africa
In South Africa, there is something called Potjiekos, still immensely popular in that country today. If you translate it directly to English, you will come up with something called “Small-Pot Food”.
South Africa’s current Afrikaans community is a descendant of the Dutch settlers in that country. The Dutch began to settle in South Africa in the mid-17th century, which is a little before the modern Dutch oven became popularised.
However, as we have mentioned earlier in this blog post, the cooking methods associated with the Dutch oven were already common in the Netherlands before that.
The modern Potjiekos meal is also a descendant of the more traditional Dutch oven meal.
Similar to the Drovers in Australia, the early consumption of Potjiekos in South Africa was popularised by the Dutch settlers migrating across the country in the early 19th century. They were called the Voortrekkers. Cooking Potjiekos over a fire was practical and clearly the weight of the cast iron was not as much of a problem for them as it had been for the Australian Drovers down under.
The point though is that travel made the use of the Dutch oven (or any of its adaptations around the world) a necessity. A defining feature of the Potjiekos pot is that it has a round bottom and not the traditional flat bottom that you will find with most Dutch oven pots.
The Potjiekos meal was originally just a vegetable stew, which then evolved as the Voortrekkers developed the capacity to track and kill wild African game while on their travels.
There is an element of ingenuity about the whole thing that one just has to respect and the Potjiekos meal itself has become common across all cultural boundaries in South Africa, which is an incredibly diverse country. It has become a part of the South African identity. Enough about that though.
Final Thoughts About – Dutch Oven History – Where Did It All Begin!
It has become increasingly apparent that the Dutch influence has had a considerable impact around the world – whether that be in Europe, North America, Southern Africa or Australia.
That legacy is deeply entrenched in most of the societies, where the Dutch have laid their footprint. Marking a cultural identity, wherever it is that you travel often has to do with music or food.
The Dutch oven and the cooking associated with it is a glaring example of food being a defining feature of one’s cultural identity.
The materials and recipes can be stolen or adapted but they will always remain distinct and the Dutch oven is a source of tremendous pride for the people of the Netherlands, who not only first introduced it but also played a significant role in its evolution and renewed relevance in the 21st century.
It is my hope that the timeline and history of the three different types of Dutch ovens are clear to you.
I should correct the number of different types of Dutch oven. As it could actually be four if you want to count the slang term Dutch-oven. This is a humourous term and it refers to flatulence or another searched term is (What’s a Dutch Oven Sexually).
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is It Called A Dutch Oven?
Unfortunately, there is no quick answer. You will appreciate that the history of this classic cooking pot is long and complicated! Check out my article here which will explain
Dutch Oven Uses
What is a Dutch oven used for? I have come up with 18 but I am certain there are many more that others will find. Check out my article here.
Why Do Dutch Ovens Have Legs?
Dutch ovens have legs so the pot can site amongst hot coals, rocks, briquettes or a campfire.
This article will explain why come Dutch ovens have legs and others do not – great read…
What is a Dutch Oven Used For?
I put forward what can a Dutch oven NOT be used for! Check this article out for all you need to know and more about what these awesome cooking pots can do…
Dutch oven material – Check out my article which explains what dutch ovens are made of here
Why are Dutch ovens so expensive? See my article here
Merriam-Webster – Dutch Oven Meaning
Wikipedia – Abraham Darby I
Wikipedia – First Industrial Revolution
Wikipedia – Paul Revere
BK Dutch Cookware – History
Wikipedia – Bedourie Oven