Slow cooking is an easy and effective way to make many delicious dishes, but in the Dutch oven vs. crock pot debate, which one makes sense for you? In this post, we’ll be comparing Le Creuset’s enameled Dutch oven and the Crock Pot brand’s slow cooker as examples to highlight the difference in product types.
For clarity, I’m not trying to sell you on either specific product here. Cooking great meals means having the right tools for the job, so what works for someone else’s kitchen won’t necessarily work for yours.
The short answer is that Dutch ovens last longer but require space and room, while crock pots have shorter lives but offer more flexibility. Both cook in similar ways, but the process of using them sets them apart.
Keep reading to learn more about these products and how they might (or might not!) make sense for your home.
What Is a Dutch Oven?
A Dutch oven is a large pot with a heavy lid, usually enameled for color and durability.
They’re relatively thick and heavy for pots, but unlike standard kitchen pots, they’re meant for use both on the stovetop and inside the oven. That means their handles and other gripping areas are sturdier than you’ll see with some other pots.
Many Dutch ovens have handles on both sides to make them easier to grip and wide bases that help transfer heat more effectively.
Most Dutch ovens have a cast iron core, which is why they tend to be heavy. Enamel coatings make it easier to clean them without sacrificing the ability to brown meat or caramelize vegetables.
Enameled Dutch ovens also double as serving pots, allowing you to put them directly on a table (with a hot pad underneath) and serve food there. High-quality Dutch ovens are flexible tools that let you brown meat on the stovetop before sliding it into the oven.
I explain more about Dutch ovens here.
What Is a Crock Pot?
Crock pot is technically a brand name, but most people associate it with an entire product family of electric slow cookers. They got their start in the 19th century when inventor Irving Nachumsohn created the first one as a way to cook food in summer without having to heat the oven (and, therefore, the whole house).
Eventually changing his name to Naxon, Irving ultimately sold the product to Rival Manufacturing, who improved and renamed it for a broader launch in 1970.
While Dutch ovens can cook food slowly, crock pots can only do it this way. In some ways, the crock pot is one of the most straightforward tools to use in any kitchen because all a chef needs to do is add ingredients, put the lid on, set the cooking temperature (usually just high or low), and wait for it to be done.
Cooking times vary by recipe, but many crock pot dishes take anywhere from four to ten hours. They also cook at low temperatures so that leaving food in for up to several extra hours can be viable. While some people hesitate to leave items cooking unsupervised, actual issues are rare.
Le Creuset Dutch Oven Review
Le Creuset’s Dutch oven is a 7.25-quart cooker, available in many colors to match your kitchen decor. This is easily one of the most expensive Dutch ovens on the market, although it comes with a lifetime warranty to be free from defects and a robust quality control process. Cheaper Dutch ovens are available, so don’t worry about the price here.
This particular cooker comes with extra-large handles that make it easy to grab and hold with oven mitts and a composite knob on top that can withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees. The durable exterior resists most chipping and cracks.
As the manufacturer explains, this is a durable cooker suitable for almost any cooktop, including induction heaters and grills. It retains heat well with the lid on, so you can cook low and slow. The interior is also suitable for keeping things cold, although most people don’t use Dutch ovens that way.
Beyond all that, this product distributes heat well and cooks things evenly, which is especially important if you want to sear meat at higher temperatures before you add other ingredients to your dish.
However, despite the overall quality of this product, it has a few limitations. Most notably, it’s relatively heavy for cookware. Worse, that weight compounds with any ingredients you add, so people who have trouble lifting things may struggle to use this cooker correctly.
Most of Le Creuset’s Dutch ovens are fine, but they also have the occasional problem with cracking and chipping in the enamel, and that may only become apparent after several years of use. At their price point, that’s a rare but genuine concern with the products.
Crock Pot Slow Cooker Review
The Crock Pot brand’s classic slow cooker is slightly improved over older models, adding a digital cooking timer to help control the temperature if you aren’t around to shut it off. The cooker has an eight-quart interior, making it slightly but not meaningfully larger than La Creuset’s Dutch oven.
While the outside of the cooker is aluminum, this is primarily aesthetic and has minimal impact on its performance. The removable interior is durable stoneware, which helps distribute the heat well, while the lid is glass and comes with a large handle.
This slow cooker can automatically cook for up to 20 hours, although that’s excessive for most recipes. It also switches over to a keep-warm mode, something older and cheaper models don’t have. As a separate consideration, this particular product is significantly cheaper than La Creuset’s Dutch oven.
One important thing to remember here is how the crock pot’s settings work. The high and low settings are primarily about how fast the cooker gets to its regular temperature. There isn’t a meaningful difference in their final temperatures, so you’ll need to adjust for that while cooking.
Crock Pot’s slow cooker also has some manufacturing concerns, though a robust replacement program helps sort out most of those issues. Either way, this is an electric product, so it will eventually wear out.
Here are some things to consider in the Dutch oven vs. slow cooker debate.
Space and Use
One of the most significant differences between Dutch ovens and crock pots is where you use them.
Dutch ovens require stovetops, ovens, or similar heaters for use. This is important because it means you can’t use those heating elements for anything else while you’re cooking. That’s not a big deal if you’re cooking everything in the Dutch oven, but if you’re making a fancy meal with many parts, it could become a big issue.
Crock pots have the advantage of working almost anywhere with access to an electrical plug. You shouldn’t put them on any materials that can’t withstand a little heat, but otherwise, they’re highly flexible for space.
As a secondary consideration, running a crock pot usually takes less electricity than a stovetop or oven. This isn’t a decisive reason to choose one or the other, but it is an area where the crock pot wins out.
Overall, crock pots are the better choice for efficient use of space and energy.
Cooking flexibility is how many different types of meals you can prepare using one primary tool.
Dutch ovens are suitable for cooking on stovetops and inside of an oven. They can handle high temperatures, so it’s possible to sear meat or even make stir-fry dishes. Dutch ovens are always at their best when cooking with lots of liquid and the lid on, but they’re ultimately multi-purpose tools.
Crock pots cook at relatively low temperatures no matter what. This means you can’t sear a steak in them or make any other dish that requires fast, high heat. It’s also possible to cook things for too long in a slow cooker, but most recipes take several extra hours before they get to the point of being overcooked.
Time-wise, Dutch ovens tend to cook things somewhat faster. They can make many dishes in half an hour to one hour, which is good if you’re planning to eat soon. They’re also suitable for cooking over long periods at lower temperatures, but crock pots beat them out in that category.
For cooking flexibility, Dutch ovens are the obvious winner. They can do everything a slow cooker can (with some more effort), as well as searing, high heat cooking or just general use as a pot.
One of a Dutch oven’s advantages is the ability to easily go from stove to oven to table. This is especially the case with an enameled Dutch oven in an attractive color.
Yet this does depend on the brand. Tramontina, for example, offers a much more affordable enameled Dutch oven. Yet, among other features, it just isn’t as attractive as Le Creuset’s Dutch oven.
Crockpots are designed to be functional appliances and just don’t offer this level of attractiveness.
Definitely a win for Dutch ovens on the presentations side.
Durability considers the overall lifespan of a product, assuming you care for it as the manufacturer directs.
Dutch ovens are highly durable as long as you stay within their expected temperature range. Cast-iron will last essentially forever, and the enamel coatings on most Dutch ovens will last for a long time. Some manufacturers, like Le Creuset, give lifetime warranties for these products because they’re simply that durable.
Crock pots are electrical appliances, so they have shorter lifespans than a well-made Dutch oven. Most will last several years at minimum, and many older models, in particular, may last for decades of occasional use. They’ll probably burn out fast if you use them every day, but if you run them once a week or once a month, you can expect a long lifespan.
Technically, Dutch ovens are the winner here. Assuming there are no manufacturing defects, they’ll last longer because they’re fundamentally just durable pots. However, a good crock pot will last long enough that you’ll more than get your value from it.
Behavior of Liquid
One rarer consideration in the crock pot vs. Dutch oven debate is the behavior of liquid while cooking. Dutch ovens aren’t quite sealed, so they usually evaporate some of the water from their interior during the cooking process. This helps create thick sauces with concentrated flavors.
A good Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid which has self-basting nubs, will retain most its liquid.
Crock pots try to seal in as much liquid as possible. This means they usually don’t produce thicker sauces, although you can get a similar effect in some recipes by removing the top and allowing water to evaporate. Crock pots also require less liquid than people expect for many recipes. Essentially, crock pots can steam their contents while cooking them.
There’s no winner here because what you want liquid to do in recipes is entirely a matter of personal choice. Some people want to reduce liquid and make things thicker, while others prefer to keep things thinner for soups or stews. You can even add a thickener like corn starch to a recipe.
In short, slow cooking in Dutch oven devices results in slightly more water loss, and whether that’s good or not depends on your goals and the recipe.
This is not a significant consideration in the Dutch oven vs. crock pot debate. Both tools are available in many sizes, although crock pots tend to be a bit larger because they don’t need to fit inside ovens. The tools also have similar shapes, with most being essentially oval or circular.
Prices do vary for both crock pots and Dutch ovens. Yet a quality enameled Dutch oven, like Le Creuset, will normally be much more expensive than a decent crock pot.
On a like for like basis, crock pots are significantly more affordable than enameled Dutch ovens.
The one slight caveat is that there are decent non-enameled cast iron Dutch ovens, like this one by Lodge. These tend to be in a similar price range as a slow cooker, but don’t have an enameled Dutch oven’s presentability and attractiveness advantages. They are also a lot more work.
Dutch Oven vs. Crock Pot: Which Is Best for You?
Both Dutch ovens and crock pots are viable and practical households. However, you can pick between them by focusing on the details.
Crock pots are excellent, affordable appliances for amateurs and people who want to minimize work while still creating good dishes. Some ingredients may require a little prep work, but crock pots are essentially passive cooking devices. It’s hard to make too many mistakes with them, and the fact that they don’t require stove or oven space is a nice bonus.
Crock pots are especially good if you want to prepare food early in the morning and have it ready when you get home. Many recipes can cook anywhere from six to ten hours, and this can bring out the flavors of your ingredients.
Dutch ovens are better for people who have more experience in the kitchen and want to manage the recipe more directly. Their attractiveness makes them ideal for serving guests directly from the oven or stove.