Regardless of where it is that you live in the world, the purchase of a Dutch oven is always an investment. More often than not you will not regret buying one of these centuries’ old cooking pots.
However, having absolute clarity on what it is that you are buying into before purchasing a Dutch oven is I believe extremely important. You need to consider the type of Dutch oven, enameled or seasoned, size, what you will use it for, care and maintenance, as well as your budget.
In this article, I will assist you with your Dutch oven decision-making process.
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What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Dutch oven
It is not difficult choosing anything when you identify what you need. Follow these simple steps and you will have the Dutch oven that you will use regularly.
1. Type of Dutch Oven You Require
The very first thing you need to know before considering buying a Dutch oven is to ensure you know what type of Dutch oven you need for your cooking requirements.
Here is a quick breakdown of the two types of Dutch ovens that people generally use today:
Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens
These ovens are raw seasoned cast-iron which has been around for hundreds of years and is still used today. They can be used over campfires, coals, briquettes, and “with care” can certainly be used in a household kitchen.
Enamel Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens
Have evolved from its raw cast-iron cousin. Coated in enamel inside and out it has been designed for use over and in heat sources in a kitchen environment.
Open fire and coals would ruin the look of the cooking pot so it should be avoided.
2. Dutch Ovens Will Cost You a Pretty Penny
Regardless of where you eventually choose to make the Dutch oven purchase, your eyes will likely water a little when you browse the store, whether that be online or in your local shopping center.
While Dutch ovens are sometimes available in sets, you will find that most Dutch oven sales are for single units.
In addition to that, you will also often find that the available Dutch oven sets are miniature sets – and those do not come cheaply either.
If you are in the least bit serious about what it is that you plan to do with your Dutch oven, you are likely to purchase one of the larger Dutch oven pots.
That would also be a suggestion from me. You can achieve more with that than you would ordinarily achieve with a Dutch oven miniature set.
Prices for a large Dutch oven range from anything from $40 to $350. You will likely find that the market will have you paying more for Dutch ovens that come with an enamel coating both on the inside and outside, than a simple pre-seasoned Dutch oven.
The Dutch oven with enamel coating is less likely to present you with any of the more serious problems. For example, enamel-coated Dutch ovens are probably not going to leach any cast iron into your food – providing the enamel is not chipped or cracked.
In addition to that, an enamel-coated Dutch oven is not going to encounter any problems with rust. Again, the caveat is that the enamel should not be chipped.
The bottom line, really, is that Dutch ovens are not cheap but they are durable and can be passed down from generation to generation.
In addition to that, a Dutch oven can be used on all heat surfaces, making it the most dynamic form of cookware available too.
So, whatever the cost, you should just know that a Dutch oven is a worthy investment.
3. Dutch Ovens Require Some TLC
Enamel Coated Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens
The more you neglect a Dutch oven – for whatever reason – the more likely you are to put your health at risk.
While modern technologies have mitigated the problem, moisture and the rust often associated with it remain a reality with cast iron cookware.
Cast iron can and probably will rust if the owner of the cast-iron oven fails to look after it properly.
When you purchase a Dutch oven, I would strongly suggest that you make sure that there is no sign of damage to the enamel coating. If the surface is not perfect return and replaces before use.
Even if the enamel coating on the Dutch oven is perfect when you purchase the Dutch oven, there is still every possibility that your subsequent actions will result in that enamel being chipped.
That problem is most likely to manifest itself if and when you suddenly move a Dutch oven from the stove to a refrigerator or vice versa.
The extreme temperature fluctuation or thermal shock can and probably will crack the enamel on your Dutch oven.
While it is perfectly acceptable to put your Dutch oven in a refrigerator, the manner in which you go about it is important. Negligence or haste will almost always be counterproductive.
Seasoned Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens
Sometimes seasoned camp-style Dutch ovens go through a period of serious neglect before being passed down to the next generation – or even to other family and friends.
Whatever, the reason, a “traditional” Dutch oven that has been neglected for a sustained period will need to be cleaned and restored.
That process will require that rust be removed from a Dutch oven – which can be an enormous undertaking in itself. It is critical that anybody removing rust from a Dutch oven ensures that all of it has been removed.
Failure to remove all of the rust from a Dutch oven will be counterproductive because that rust will just start spreading once again and probably more rapidly once you are done.
Once the rust is removed from a Dutch oven, you will need to season that Dutch oven with any fat or oil that can be ingested.
Seasoning a Dutch oven can be a painstaking process too and failure to follow the process thoroughly can only be counterproductive.
When cleaning a Dutch oven – whether that be in a dishwasher or traditional sink – it is critical that you dry the Dutch oven thoroughly before storage.
This has everything to do with what we have just spoken about, rust. Any moisture that has been left behind after washing a Dutch oven will leave you with a rust nightmare.
None of these things are particularly difficult to do but they can be tedious. If they are carried out thoroughly there is less restoration work ahead for the cast-iron. Just – care and maintenance…
4. Cooking Slowly Is the Only Way With a Dutch Oven
Well, it is not the only way but it is what the pot was designed for…
Among the most compelling features of a cast-iron Dutch oven is that it retains heat better than any other cookware available on the market.
In addition, Dutch ovens distribute heat more evenly than any other cookware on the market. That means that nutrients are better retained in your food when cooking with a Dutch oven, among other things.
However, all of that does come at a price – and that price is TIME. When you purchase a Dutch oven you need to reconcile yourself with the fact that you will be spending a considerable amount of time in the kitchen while cooking with that Dutch oven.
If spending more time in the kitchen is what you prefer, then you will most certainly get a kick out of this.
Because of this, all of the manufacturers and experts will tell you that it is ultimately in your best interest to cook at medium and low heat when using a Dutch oven. Those are most likely to produce the best results when cooking with a Dutch oven.
This is not a particularly negative detail. In fact, I put it to you that this cooking method is not only a tried and tested technique but that it is also the best way to go about your business in a kitchen.
Even when you are frying or searing your food, it would be most prudent to allow a cast iron Dutch oven to heat gradually. Less is always more when cooking with a Dutch oven.
However, being forced to cook at lower temperatures and at a slower pace is something that does catch some people somewhat off guard. It is just good to know what to expect once you own and use a Dutch oven.
We also know what you must be thinking right now. What about the preparation of pasta meals?
Well, you have done well to think about that and we can also confirm that this is the exception that makes the rule when cooking with a Dutch oven.
When preparing pasta you need that water to boil. Getting that water to boil in a Dutch oven is perfectly acceptable under these circumstances.
The more seasoned cooks among you will also know a bit about reducing the consistency in stocks, soups, and sauces. You need high heat to realize that objective too, which is why that is also perfectly acceptable when cooking with a Dutch oven under those circumstances.
There are also those among you who might feel it necessary to preheat a pot or pan while cooking. That is a definite NO when cooking with a Dutch oven.
It is also worth knowing another redeeming feature of Dutch ovens is that they do not stick when you are cooking.
If you, for whatever reason, decide to preheat a Dutch oven that inside quality could be adversely affected. Not only that, but the aesthetics of your Dutch oven will also be adversely affected – that is to say there will likely be some form of discoloration with your Dutch oven if and when you do preheat.
Finally, do not heat or boil with an empty Dutch oven. The enamel coating, especially on the inside of a Dutch oven, was an important invention. Not only does it prevent the Dutch oven from sticking when you cook but it also protects the oven against any prospect of rust developing.
The latter is a particularly important detail because once rust starts developing, removing it from your Dutch oven will become an enormous undertaking.
Finally, on this subject of the enamel coating in your Dutch oven, it is also important to note that cracked enamel will also present an opportunity for iron to leach into your food while cooking.
It is important to remember that a Dutch oven is made from cast iron. The enamel coating protects you against that. Playing around with the heat of a Dutch oven will likely expose you to greater risks associated with the iron content in the Dutch oven.
5. Dutch Ovens Operate on All Heat Sources
The manufacturers of Dutch ovens have managed to reinvent themselves every decade, which has ensured that a market is available for the specialist product – even in the 21st century.
Among the more common heat source cooking options available in the 21st century are gas stove, gas stove on a glass cooktop, induction cooking, halogen cooking, ceramic cooking, electric cooking, and the old-fashioned cooking over a fire.
The last one (fire) remains a favorite for many. You are unlikely to find any other form of cookware that can handle fire and still be used in the modern kitchen too. That is what makes the Dutch oven so unique.
The Dutch oven is the most dynamic form of cookware on the market but sometimes it is important to note that you should purchase a specific kind of Dutch oven. The manufacturers and vendors have thought of that too.
Invariably, when you do approach a vendor, you will encounter two kinds of Dutch ovens. You will either encounter what we loosely refer to as a camp Dutch oven or an indoor Dutch oven.
Typically, Indoor Dutch ovens will come with a flat bottom or base. They also have a domed lid on them, which is why they are mainly used on modern stovetops and with modern heat sources.
Indoor Dutch ovens are also suitable for use on conventional oven racks.
Camp Dutch Ovens, as the name would suggest, are mainly used outdoors. They are designed to be used with wood coals or charcoal. Essentially the cooking takes place over a fire.
You will almost always find this type of Dutch oven with three legs attached beneath the actual pot. That is designed to hold the pot above the coals.
The Camp Dutch oven will also come with a flat lid, so you can keep coals on top of the Dutch oven and prevent ash from falling into the pot.
Not only is it a flat lid but it is also a heavy lid. That ensures there is a tight seal when cooking.
Dutch ovens with legs – or Camp Dutch ovens – also present a glorious opportunity for baking above the coals instead of inside a modern kitchen oven. Having said that, it is worth stating and noting that you could actually use a Dutch Oven with legs in a modern oven, by placing it on an oven tray with a baking sheet in it.
6. Dishwashers Are Not Ideal for Your Dutch oven
It is impossible to ignore the demands that 21st-century life places on people. People work hard and they work hard over long hours.
Accepting that you are going to be cooking slowly with your Dutch oven is one thing but it would also be prudent of you to note that hand washing is actually in the best interests of your Dutch oven.
Manufacturers and vendors will tell you that cleaning your Dutch oven in the dishwasher is acceptable but they will also note that there is a caveat here.
It is that darn enamel finish on the Dutch oven again but this time it will have more to do with the aesthetics than actual Dutch oven performance.
While most people genuinely purchase a Dutch oven for its performance and dynamism, there are probably those among us who just like the enamel finish on the Dutch oven.
The colors that manufacturers use for that enamel finish are normally particularly bright and tend to stand out in a kitchen display. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with just wanting pretty pots for your kitchen. Depending on how often you use the dishwasher, it can ruin that for you.
Something that you must take note of when using a dishwasher is that it will not dry your Dutch oven for you.
While that seems like an obvious thing to say, it is important to note that you want to avoid moisture seeping into your Dutch oven at all costs.
Moisture almost always equates to the development of rust on your Dutch oven.
So, once it is out of the dishwasher, take care to dry your Dutch oven thoroughly before placing it on the shelf or wherever it is that you plan to store the Dutch oven.
7. Dutch Ovens and Storage
Moisture should also be taken into account for storage, by the way. Store the Dutch oven in a dry environment.
Also, take into account where you will place your oven. I suggest not stacking it on top or under other pots and pans to avoid chipping and cracking.
More about cast-iron storage in my article here
8. Dutch Ovens and Fridges Are Actually Compatible
I deal with this a little more comprehensively in another article here but rest assured that you will be able to put your Dutch oven in a refrigerator and even a deep freezer if and when necessary.
However, there are also certain caveats to this. You should always bear in mind that the enamel coating on a Dutch oven does not handle thermal shock very well, at all. Any extreme temperature fluctuations will have an adverse effect on the Dutch oven’s enamel coating.
So, when you do decide to store food in your Dutch oven – in the fridge – make sure that the Dutch oven has cooled down before placing it in the fridge. Do not take the Dutch oven straight off the stove and place it in the fridge.
Likewise, you should also avoid taking a Dutch oven straight out of the fridge and putting it on a hot stove. We tapped on this earlier, but the reminder is that slow and steady always wins the race when cooking with a Dutch oven.
Always heat slowly and gradually when using a Dutch oven, especially when you have just removed it from a fridge overnight.
Otherwise, the enamel coating will crack and that can have some severe consequences for both the Dutch oven itself and also your health.
The worst-case scenario here is that you can actually have iron leaching into your food if and when the enamel of the Dutch oven has cracked. There is also the small matter of rust potentially developing.
9. Dutch Ovens Uses – What Can Your Dutch Oven Do?
We have already ascertained that the best outcome for any food prepared in a Dutch oven is that that has been slow-cooked.
But the list of other ways the Dutch oven can perform to prepare almost any meal is long…
- Slow Cooking
- Hot Air Cooking
- Serving Meals
- Keeping Food and Beverages Cold
- Serving Cold Food and Beverages
Final Thoughts – 9 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Dutch Oven
I am certain I have covered everything you really should know about Dutch ovens before you buy one. I promise you that if you do purchase a Dutch oven you will not regret it.
Even if you made yourself one slow-cooked meal from cheap cuts of meat once a week you would recoup your purchase price in culinary satisfaction in no time…
One-Pot Cooking Rocks
- 3 Things to Look for In a Good Dutch Oven
- What Can You Actually Do With a Dutch Oven
- Dutch Oven Uses
- What Is A Dutch Oven?