What is a Dutch oven? Where does the term come from? Why use one, and what cookware can you use as a substitute?
So many questions surround this little piece of cooking elegance, which I cover in this comprehensive guide.
You may have heard of the incredible benefits of cooking with a Dutch oven. If you don’t own one yet, it may just be worth the investment.
Let’s explore the Dutch oven further…
About Dutch Ovens
History of Dutch Ovens
So why is a Dutch oven called a Dutch oven? To understand its meaning, we have to go back in history.
While cooks have used cast iron pans with lids for centuries, the term “Dutch oven” made its appearance around 1710.
In 1704, an Englishman—Abraham Darby—traveled to Holland to inspect and observe how they manufactured cookware.
Upon his return to England, he perfected and patented the process. While the term’s exact origin remains a mystery, it may have originated from Darby’s visit.
The first Dutch ovens had a design suitable for coal and fire heating sources. For this reason, they exclusively contained cast iron and featured three legs.
Dutch Ovens Today
Today, “Dutch oven” is a term used for several types of cookware. It commonly refers to a rounded cast iron pot with a flat bottom, sides and a lid. Yet, Dutch ovens have evolved from this.
Nowadays, many models also come with a fun and colorful enamel coating, making cleaning easier.
Sizes and shapes also vary, from small rounded ones to larger oval types.
On top of this, cast iron is no longer the sole material used.
Although traditional Dutch ovens exclusively included cast iron, manufacturers now also use the followed materials:
- Enameled cast iron: Comes with all the benefits of cast iron—such as heat retention—but the extra coating makes it easier to clean and protects a flat cooktop surface. Unfortunately, these don’t last as long as “bare” cast iron as they are prone to chipping.
- Stainless steel: Lighter and simple to clean but doesn’t retain heat as well or heat as efficiently.
- Ceramic: Affordable and generally have a nonstick surface. Yet, with temperature changes, the material can crack easily
Dutch Oven Benefits
Versatility: Can a Dutch Oven Go in the Oven?
Both cast iron and ceramic pots have dual-use for both the oven and stove. They’ll also maintain the internal temperature if you keep the lid on.
In fact, you’ll see many cast iron Dutch ovens used by campers since they can withstand direct campfire heat. Any cast iron Dutch oven can go in a campfire, but it helps to have:
- Legs. Normally three. These help it stand slightly above the coals.
- A looping handle to hang it over the fire.
- A flat lid to place coals on.
These pots are generally appealing to the eyes, combining a traditional look and efficacy. An enameled cast iron model could even match your living room’s colors.
Hence, you can use the same cookware for cooking and serving the meal on the table.
Just make sure to use a trivet to protect the table from the high temperature.
Plus, as it contains heat well, the dish should remain warm until the end of the meal.
Cast iron is a robust material that can easily last a lifetime, if not generations. This isn’t a pot you’re likely to replace any time soon!
The lid of a Dutch oven is one of the best features in my opinion. It’s heavy enough that it doesn’t lift easily, meaning that moisture is trapped inside. Yet if too much pressure builds, it can lift a little to let out some air.
Some enameled Dutch ovens are particularly good at this as they have a tiny points on the lid to help the liquid condense and fall back onto the food.
Suitable for Many Cooking Styles
These pots are fantastic for browning, baking, roasting, deep-frying or even broiling. Many enjoy baking bread or making soups in a Dutch oven, but they can also serve to simply cook pasta or boil water.
Non-enameled cast iron Dutch ovens typically give food a unique flavor that no other materials can provide.
Dutch ovens can bake many types of bread, but I find traditional sourdough bread works really well.
When baking bread, it helps to have a tight-fitting lid. This helps trap the steam, keeping the crust moist and soft. A hard crust stops the bread from expanding properly. A soft crust lets it bake naturally with a delicious result.
If you are using your Dutch oven to bake bread – remember to leave plenty of room for the bread to rise! You don’t want the lid popping off half way through.
Deep frying has a long history yet only really arrived in Europe in the 17th century. It took off in America with the doughnut in the 19th century.
This makes this style of cooking a relative newcomer when compared with the Dutch oven.
Yet they suit each other well. A Dutch oven will maintain a consistent temperature, preventing the oil from cooling too much as food is added. If you manage it right it can also help stop the oil from overheating and smoking.
I know this is often not a popular choice, but if deep frying in a Dutch oven for an extended period, I would recommend extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). There are other oils with a higher smoke point (temperature when oil goes bad and smokes), but EVOO is more stable. Unfortunately, it is also significantly more expensive.
Oil that lasts longer when heated is particularly suited for deep frying, especially if you are making batches and don’t want to change out the oil every few minutes.
For one batch, it might be cheaper and easier to just use vegetable oil.
If you do use EVOO, make sure you keep the temperature below 207°C (405°F) – which is its smoke point. This works really well with a cast iron Dutch oven, where you can more easily maintain a stable temperature.
Roasting: Dutch Oven vs Roasting Pan
Just like with bread, a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid can really help here. By condensing the juices back and letting them drip on to the meat being roasted, you can “auto-bast”.
It really helps to have lids with tiny points on the inside which help create a rainfall effect.
This alone probably makes a Dutch oven better than a roasting pan. Yet you also have the advantage, with cast iron Dutch ovens, of a consistent temperature which doesn’t drop as much when you add the food.
Where Dutch ovens might struggle is with large cuts of meat. In that case either use a roasting pan – or get a larger Dutch oven!
Dutch Oven Drawbacks
Keep in mind that a Dutch oven can take a long time to heat, so it may not be the best cookware to prepare a quick lunch.
Also, because of the heavy material, it’s typically heavier than any other cookware. Keep this in mind if you’re cooking alone.
Cast Iron Regular Maintenance
This type of pot isn’t the simplest to clean. Unless it comes with an enamel coating, cast iron is sandy, porous and can requires care.
Firstly make sure you’ve properly seasoned your cast iron Dutch oven. Cover it with oil and heat it several times to get a nice seasoning.
Clean your cast iron Dutch oven with care:
- Pour water: Fill the Dutch oven with hot water to cover the leftovers.
- Scrape: Avoid soap as the porous material may absorb some of it, giving your next meal an interesting taste. Instead, use salt or vinegar.
- Dry: Make sure to use a towel to remove any droplets and moisture. This should prevent rust formation. I pop mine on the stove briefly to completely dry it out.
- Oil: Use a tablespoon of oil and apply all over the cookware. The fatty layer will protect the metal and make the pot less sticky for its next use.
Enameled cast iron is slightly different. Just clean it with soapy water. If the dirt won’t come off you might need barkeeper’s friend and elbow grease!
Dutch Oven Substitute
If you don’t have a Dutch oven or have decided it’s not for you, other alternatives can give similar cooking results. Here are some excellent options:
- Slow cooker
- Wok or skillet
- Oven-safe casserole dish
- Large clay pot
Now you’re clued-up on what a Dutch oven is, you know it can withstand extremely high temperatures while being versatile and serving many purposes. For instance, you can use one to bake bread, make soup or cook meat.
If you haven’t inherited a Dutch oven from a past generation, this is undoubtedly a piece of equipment many don’t regret grabbing.