What Is a Dutch Oven and When Should You Use It?

A Dutch oven is, without a doubt, one of the most versatile pieces of cookware you can own. But what is a Dutch oven, exactly? What do you cook in one—and how do you know which one to buy? Let’s dig in:

What Is a Dutch Oven?

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A Dutch oven is a thick-walled, lidded pot. This type of sturdy cooking vessel has been used for centuries to slow-cook soups, stews, sauces, and breads.

Dutch ovens come in cast iron, enameled, aluminum, and ceramic varieties. Traditionally, though, they’re made with seasoned cast iron.

Dutch Oven History

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Unsurprisingly, the Dutch oven's history can be traced back to the Netherlands. Pre-17th century pots and pans were typically made of expensive materials, like brass and copper, and, at the time, the Dutch were the world's top cookware makers. An English inventor realized cast iron was a much cheaper alternative, but he needed to use a Dutch process to make the molds work. That's why the pot continues to be called a “Dutch oven.”

Dutch Oven vs. French Oven

The difference between a Dutch oven and a French oven is the material used to coat the interior of the pot. Dutch ovens are made completely of cast iron, while French ovens are coated with enamel. Of course, this is only a technicality, and which one you buy and use is a matter of personal preference; most recipes that call for a “Dutch oven” will work just as well in what is technically a French oven.

Dutch Oven Uses

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A high-quality Dutch oven is a good investment. Not only does it come in handy for making all sorts of recipes, but it's super versatile when it comes to where you cook—you can use it to cook on the stovetop and/or in the oven. Here are some of our favorite ways to use Dutch ovens (but let us know if you think of more):

  • Soups and stews: Dutch ovens are ideal for cooking things low and slow, which makes them perfect for hearty soups and stews. And they’re typically generously sized, which means they can hold a lot of liquid.
  • Braising meat: The heavy material heats up evenly and retains high temperatures well, so you’ll be able to braise meats (and veggies) to tender perfection.
  • Bread-making: The Dutch oven’s thick walls and heavy lid create a steamy environment that keeps the dough nice and moist and helps it rise.
  • Camping: Yes, there are Dutch ovens made specifically for outdoor cooking! You can’t use just any old Dutch oven for this purpose, though. Find one that’s specifically designed to be placed over a campfire—like this one.

Dutch Oven Types

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While most Dutch ovens are roughly the same shape, they come in a variety of colors, sizes, and materials.

Consider these factors when you're choosing the Dutch oven that's best for you:


  • Bare cast-iron: Dutch ovens have stood the test of time for a reason: The material retains a consistent heat for a long period of time, which makes it perfect for cooking something low and slow. However, anyone who has owned a piece of cast-iron cookware can tell you that proper maintenance is a must. It requires special cleaning (do not throw it in your dishwasher) and seasoning to remain functional, so only invest in one if you’re ready for that kind of responsibility. If you do take care of your cast iron, though, it’ll last a lifetime.
  • Enameled cast-iron: Dutch ovens (which, yes, are technically French ovens — let’s not get too caught up in the details) have surged in popularity in recent years. This is because they have all the benefits of traditional Dutch ovens, but they’re much easier to maintain. You’re probably familiar with Le Creuset’s take on the classic cookware staple. The French manufacturer’s best-selling product has become something of an icon because of its durability, versatility, functionality, and downright good looks. The one downside that comes with enameled cast iron is the high price tag (these babies can cost you upwards of $300). That said, you get more than your money’s worth in the long run.
  • Ceramic: Dutch ovens are lighter than other types, so they’re much easier to handle. They offer all the benefits of the bare and enameled cast iron, except for durability. They’re much more likely to crack when dropped or when subjected to extreme temperature changes.

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Definitely think about how many people you regularly cook for, and if you like cooking large batches of dishes like soups or stews for multiple meals or to freeze. Most brands offer Dutch ovens in a range of sizes, from super small to absolutely massive. Le Creuset’s Round Dutch Oven, for instance, comes in multiple sizes: The smallest serves one or two people, while the largest (13 ¼ quarts) serves more than nine. If you’re unsure, you may want to go with something in the middle. The 5 ½-quart size, which makes five or six servings, is a good option for most people.

Where to Buy a Dutch Oven

Le Creuset

You can buy a Dutch oven pretty much anywhere that sells cookware. Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, and Williams-Sonoma are all options. If you’re thinking about investing in a great Dutch oven that will last a lifetime (and we really think you should), you should consider purchasing directly from the manufacturer. That way, there are no lingering questions about quality, legitimacy, or warranties. Le Creuset and Lodge both produce top-notch Dutch ovens, so you may want to start there.

— Update: 13-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article The Best Dutch Oven for Every Budget from the website www.bonappetit.com for the keyword benefits of dutch oven.

Let’s start with the bad news: The best Dutch oven is going to set you back a bit. The good news? There are excellent options at all price points, so “a bit” is subjective. If you crave a glossy, hefty, gloriously serious piece of cookware from prestige brands Le Creuset and Staub, by all means. (Our test kitchen favors these two classic brands for browning and braising meat, gently simmering stock, and even deep-frying, after all.) But a solidly constructed workhorse from Lodge is nothing to sniff at—in fact, we’d recommend it to most home cooks. The heritage American brand makes cast-iron Dutch ovens with enamel finishes that stand up to the top-tier brands in our product tests time and time again.

What size Dutch oven is best?

The ideal size for most people is between 5 and 6 quarts. A 5-quart pot fits a sourdough boule perfectly, and at 5.5-quarts and above, you can fit a standard-size chicken inside to make stock. Smaller than that, and you’re not giving yourself sufficient room to brown meat or enough depth to simmer stock or beans. And if you’re worried about sacrificing room in your kitchen cabinets, a 6-quart Dutch oven from Lodge measures 10.75-inches across in diameter. That’s a way smaller footprint than your pellet ice maker.

The Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Dutch Oven: Lodge 6-Quart

The Lodge enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is our top pick for the majority of home cooks. The sturdy loop handles are wide enough to grip even while wearing clunky oven mitts, and the pot itself has the ideal bottom-to-side ratio: roomy enough for browning meat, with sides high enough to contain sauce splashes and soup. The sloped edges along the base mean you can get to the very corners of the pot with a silicone spatula. It’s heavy, of course, but not atrociously so compared to other brands I’ve tested.

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But the real thing about Lodge? The price tag. Eighty bucks will get you a well-made piece of cast-iron cookware that lasts and lasts. That enamel coating is durable enough to stand up to plenty of scrubbing. It doesn’t chip or fade, nor does it go gritty. In fact, a well-cared for Lodge Dutch oven can almost work as a nonstick pan for years. —L.J.

The Best Dutch Ovens Money can Buy: Le Creuset and Staub 5.5-Quart

Into the idea of owning a piece of cookware that’ll last for generations to come? Le Creuset’s iconic Dutch (French?) ovens are genuine heirloom pieces. I’ve had mine for over a decade, my mom has had hers for 40, and I know lucky folks using Le Creusets that have been passed down from grandparents. Le Creuset Dutch ovens are more lightweight than competitors—which is key if you have an enormous family and are in the market for a 13.25 quart pot—and come with that lifetime warranty (most of the others mentioned here do, too, but Le Creuset’s is famously generous). We use them in the Bon Appétit test kitchen. The downside is, of course, the price—which is partly due to the quality and partly due to the fact that these things are still made in France, where the cost of labor is high. If you don’t have a Dutch oven and a $350 pot is not in the cards, get yourself a Misen, Lodge, or Milo and upgrade when you’re ready. Le Creusets are built to last, and no doubt when I’m 80, I’ll be using mine to stew prunes. —MacKenzie Chung Fegan, senior commerce editor

Staub cast iron Dutch ovens (or cocottes, as the brand calls them) are another high-quality fan favorite among home cooks and chefs alike—including BA food editors, who use them side by side with Le Creusets in the test kitchen. Unlike the Lodge and Le Creuset, the Staub Dutch oven has a matte black enamel cooking surface with traces of quartz. This means that, unlike pots with light-colored enamel, you won’t have to worry about discoloration, and it provides extra heat conduction for better browning—ideal for searing meat and caramelizing veggies. The black interior, however, does make it more difficult to assess if you’re a minute away from burning that nice fond. It also has a heavy-duty, tight-fitting lid that’s equipped with little bumps along the underside to guide all the evaporated juices back down onto the food—expect less evaporation than a Le Creuset. Staubs are still investment pieces, but they’re a little less expensive than the other French guy, and you can find good sales if you keep an eye out. —Tiffany Hopkins, commerce writer

The Best Dutch Oven for Big Families and Batch Cooking: Le Creuset 7.25-Quart

I’ve been a 5.5-quart gal for the last decade. But this year I decided I wouldn’t stuff the entire contents of my freezer stock bag into a too-small pot again: I’ve upgraded to a 7.25-quart enameled cast-iron pot. This option from Le Creuset is the ideal size for people who love to make soup, stocks, or big-batch beans, or those cooking for a big group. One note: This Dutch oven is heavy. At 13.1-pounds, I need both hands and a deep breath to lift it from stovetop to oven when it’s full. But, once I get it there, I’m set up to make 6–8 servings of any one-pot meal, or enough stock for nearly a month of cold winter cooking. —L.J.

Two Direct-to-Consumer Dutch Ovens We Stand Behind: Misen & Milo

You might be familiar with Misen knives (its bread knife is a favorite), but the DTC company has expanded into cookware too. Their Dutch oven is durable, well made, and reasonably priced. While the sides of a Le Creuset or Lodge Dutch oven meet the bottom at a gentle slope, Misen’s base is more angular, which frees up surface area for browning but does make it a tad tricker to get into the corners with a spoon. The high sides contain grease splatters better than competitors, and the generously sized, squared-off handles mean you don’t have to worry about a heavy pot of stew slipping from your grip. Choose between a regular lid and one that doubles as a grill pan—a cool feature, but tricky to remove from the pot when hot. Misen’s Dutch oven only comes in 7-quart feed-a-crowd size, so if you’re looking for a smaller (or lighter—it clocks in at around 17 pounds with the lid) cast-iron pot, look elsewhere. —M.C.F.

The chic, modern Milo by Kana Classic Dutch oven is not your granny’s cookware, but it performs just as well. With a minimalist feel, this simple enameled cast-iron Dutch oven comes in rich hues like navy and emerald. Both of those colorways, plus the matte black, sport a dark enamel interior like Staub pots; opt for the white Milo if you want light-colored enamel coating like a Le Creuset. Heavier than a Le Creuset but lighter than the Misen, the Milo Dutch oven is made of 40% recycled cast iron. This is the type of cookware you store on open shelving for everyone to see. —T.H.

But what about those pretty oval Dutch ovens?

If you’ve made it this far, you might have noticed that every one of these best cast-iron Dutch ovens, from the 5-quart through the big boy 7.25-quart, is round. We’ve found that while oval-shaped Dutch ovens are nice for roasting oblong cuts of meat in the oven, they can easily lead to uneven cooking on the stovetop, unless they’re large enough to stretch over two burners. So if you’re going to own one only, swing for a round one to get the most out of your shiny new Dutch oven.

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And what should I do with my new Dutch oven?

Use it to make tender, gently simmered meaty things like this kimchi bacon chicken braise. Or this rich pomegranate lamb shank stunner. Or pot roast—how you gonna make pot roast without a pot? An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is perfect for braises because of its heft, which helps with heat retention and distribution. It’s ideal for searing meat over high heat on the stovetop and then transferring it to the oven for low-and-slow cooking. That’s functionality and versatility. You’ll wonder how you ever got through these miserable winter months without one.

Use it when you make pasta. We all (now) know that the key to glossy, better-than-restaurant pasta is adding starchy-salty pasta water to your sauce and then cooking your noodles right in there so they soak up all that sweet, sweet ambrosia. I used to attempt that in a regular old stainless-steel frying pan, and the pasta would always go everywhere, which is where the Dutch oven comes in—it’s the only vessel in my kitchen that will easily fit a pound of pasta, plus whatever I’m doctoring it up with. Sauté a bunch of garlic in plenty of olive oil, throw some cooked pasta in there along with pasta water and a good knob of butter, stir it all around enthusiastically, and you’ll be sold on this whole Dutch oven thing after one bite.


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About the Author: Tung Chi