What Is a Dutch Oven—and How Do You Cook With It? (2024)

Dutch ovens are stunners in the kitchen. These thick-walled, large pots—usually made of cast iron—come in a variety of colors, captivating home cooks everywhere. But as gorgeous as they are, they're also truly worth it, thanks to their wide range of capabilities in the home kitchen. The heavy, tight-fitting lid makes it difficult for steam to escape, making a Dutch oven the perfect pot for moist-cooking methods like braising or stewing. Plus, its wonderful ability to retain heat also allows for perfect golden-brown searing or frying.

According to Barron's Food Lover's Companion, Dutch ovens are thought to be of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, going back to the 1700s (!). Tried and true, here is your guide to your new favorite kitchen companion, the Dutch oven.

What Is a Dutch Oven Used For?

Oh, let us count the ways. A Dutch oven is one of the most versatile kitchen items you can own. We prefer enameled cast iron because it's stick-resistant (and comes in plenty of pretty colors!). If we had to pick a favorite way to use a Dutch oven, it would have to be for braising. From the start, a Dutch oven can facilitate a perfect golden-brown sear on meats or vegetables before you need to add any broth or other liquid for braising. It holds even heat for a long time, and it can go from stovetop to oven, and then straight to the table for a swoon-worthy and efficient way of serving a meal. Hello, one-pot dinners!

And it doesn't stop there. A Dutch oven can also be used for frying, again thanks to the consistent heat retention plus the benefit of the high sides, which minimize splatter. It's also an excellent vessel for baking bread, as it acts as an oven within an oven while creating optimal steam for tender boules with a crispy crust.

5 Things You Should Know Before You Cook With a Dutch Oven

Of course, a Dutch oven can also be used for cooking soups, stews, sauces, stock, poaching or roasting chicken, a pot of beans, and even for baking some desserts, like cake or brownies.

What Size Dutch Oven Works Best?

You might be convinced now that a Dutch oven is just what you need. But now comes the big question, what size should you buy? There isn't one size that's better than the other, and it all comes down to your needs (and the space you have in the kitchen!). However, for ultimate versatility, a round 5 to 7-quart Dutch oven is the way to go, with the 5.5-quart model being the most popular size. This size is sufficient if you're cooking for four, and often yields leftovers. For smaller households, a smaller pot between 3 and 4 quarts is sufficient to serve up to three people, and is perhaps more enticing to bring in and out of the kitchen cabinet due to its lighter weight. Another option is to invest in a cast iron skillet set that includes a Dutch oven, such as Lodge's seasoned 5-piece set.

Which Dutch Oven Size Do You Need?
Dutch Oven SizeBest Used For
1 to 1.5 quartSide dishes, sauces, or desserts
2 to 3 quartDinners for two or side dishes
4 to 6 quartWeeknight dinners and one-pot dishes
7+ quartDinner parties and crowds

15 Things You Should Know About Cooking With a Dutch Oven

What to Use Instead of a Dutch Oven

There isn't a perfect swap for a Dutch oven, but if you're looking for an option to use instead of a Dutch oven, there are two key factors to look out for. First, make sure the heavy-bottomed pot you choose to use has a tight-fitting lid. Second, all parts of the pot and lid need to be oven-proof—this means no plastic handles. A stock pot usually fits the bill, although it's important to note that it might be too tall to fit in the oven if you're going from stovetop to oven.

A Complete Guide to Pots and Pans

How to Clean a Dutch Oven

Once you make the investment, it's important to take good care of your Dutch oven and help it live as long a life as possible. Avoid the dishwasher, it's better to hand-wash your Dutch oven once it's completely cooled. This helps preserve the coating in enamel-coated pots, or the seasoning of a traditional Dutch oven. Warm soapy water and a nylon scrub brush will do the trick. It's crucial to wait until the pot has cooled to avoid any drastic changes in temperature, which can affect the enamel and lead to cracking, and then, in turn, rust.

For stubborn stuck-on food, let the pot soak in warm soapy water before scrubbing with a silicone pan scraper or silicone spatula, which won't damage the enamel coating. Alternatively, bring some water to a boil in the Dutch oven to remove any bits of food. For Dutch ovens without an enamel coating, try to avoid any dish soap.

Be sure the pot is completely dry before storing. One easy way to do this is to place the pot over low heat for a few minutes until it's thoroughly dry.

How to Clean a Dutch Oven Without Damaging It

Dutch Oven Cooking Tips

Make sure every dish you make in your Dutch oven is delicious—and that your Dutch oven lasts you for decades by following these tips to perfect your Dutch oven cooking prowess.

Keep the heat low and slow

Your Dutch oven isn't built for high-heat sauteeing, and will be slow to respond to any temperature changes you make by increasing or reducing the heat on the burner. Keep your burners on low to medium when using your Dutch oven.

Let the oil or butter preheat first

You may be tempted to put the roast right in as you start it cooking, but give the Dutch oven time to warm up (and to heat up that fat) before you put in your ingredients to reduce sticking.

Avoid using metal cooking utensils

Metal spoons and spatulas can damage the enamel surface of your Dutch oven, reducing the life of it. Use nonstick-friendly spoons and spatulas to help prolong the life of your Dutch oven.

Dutch Oven Recipes to Try

Ready to put your Dutch oven to good use? Here are some mouthwatering recipes to get you started with your new favorite cooking tool.

Spice-Braised Short Ribs

What Is a Dutch Oven—and How Do You Cook With It? (1)

Get the Recipe

A Dutch oven is perfect for these rich and smoky short ribs that are fall-apart tender thanks to three hours of braising. (It's a perfect cozy dinner recipe for cold nights!)

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Spicy Rigatoni alla Vodka

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Spicy Rigatoni alla Vodka

Make this creamy, rich, spicy pasta sauce studded with caramelized shallots right in a Dutch oven. (Bonus: Unlike many Dutch oven recipes, this comes together in under an hour—so it's a perfect weeknight dinner.)

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One-Pot Chicken Sausage and Beans

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One-Pot Chicken Sausage and Beans

Taking inspiration from the French cassoulet, this simple one-pot stew is a study in layered flavors, but without the hours-long work of the classic version. Serve it with a crusty baguette and a nice glass of red wine to make a weeknight special.

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Soy-Simmered Squash With Miso Hummus and Togarashi

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Soy-Simmered Squash With Miso Hummus and Togarashi

A Dutch oven is also great for searing vegetables, and this flavorful squash is proof. If you're looking for a vegetarian recipe to cook in a Dutch oven, this one is perfect.

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No-Knead Crusty Boule

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No-Knead Crusty Boule

This is the one recipe you need to bake bread in a Dutch oven. (And no sourdough starter is required!)

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Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder

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Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder

If you're looking for one of those "cook all day and make the house smell amazing" dishes, this one is it. It takes a little more than 3 hours of cook time, but only 20 minutes of hands on prep to give you this tasty dish.

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Baked Spinach and Pea Risotto

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Baked Spinach and Pea Risotto

Risotto may be notorious for being a high-maintenance dish, but baking it in a Dutch oven lets you enjoy the creaminess without the constant stirring. This is another delicious option if you're looking for a vegetarian Dutch oven recipe.

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Red Wine Braised Brisket

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Red Wine Braised Brisket Is Our Favorite High Holiday Dish—Here's How to Make It

You don't have to be celebrating the high holidays to enjoy this slow-cooked brisket. (Bonus: This is even better if made ahead, so you can have it ready to just reheat and enjoy when you're entertaining.)

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Scalloped Potatoes

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Scalloped Potatoes

Side dishes are also delightful in the Dutch oven. These creamy scalloped potatoes are totally holiday ready (but easy enough to make on a regular night, too).

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One Pot Italian Gnocchi Soup

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One Pot Sausage Gnocchi Soup

The Dutch oven isn't just good for roasting meat and veggies. Use it for this simple one pot weeknight meal.

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What Is a Dutch Oven—and How Do You Cook With It? (2024)
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