Traveling the world through cuisine

Why you should get a Dutch Oven

Dutch Oven

When we last spoke on choosing the ideal pots and pans, I finished off by telling you about a Dutch Oven. While I had listed it as an “optional”, I wanted to dive deeper today and tell of why you might want to make this the first “optional” you add to your kitchen.

If you’re not sure what I am speaking of, a Dutch Oven is a cast-iron pot with a lid used to slow-cook foods. What makes them unique is how they can be used on the stovetop or in the oven. Some are even built to go over an open fire. In many ways, they are the original crock pot, only they have no electrical element to heat them.

Why get one?

You might be thinking that crock pot you attained years ago could be enough, but I’ll counter that with asking what you would do when you need to cook over higher levels of heat for shorter periods of time, like on a stovetop. Some would then proclaim to just use a skillet and then transfer to said crock pot, but if there’s anything I try to teach here in this blog, it’s to buy items that give you the most bang for your buck.

A crock pot only serves one purpose which is to slow-cook. It’s ideal if you are the type who want to set up something to cook while you’re away at work, but I’m personally not a fan of leaving an appliance running while I’m away. Regardless of this, the joy of an actual Dutch Oven is that you can do your prep work with it on the stove, then quickly transfer it to the oven when you’re ready to slow cook.

I’ll also add in the cast-iron material of a Dutch Oven will conduct and spread heat much better than a stainless steel pot. This also will explain why your stainless steel stock pot won’t do as a Dutch Oven. Not to mention how most crock pots also won’t be made of cast iron.

Finally, with an electric crock pot, the heat mainly comes in a low amount at the bottom (unless it’s an expensive high-end crock pot), while in a normal oven the heat surrounds and penetrates the Dutch Oven equally. Thus your food is cooked evenly.

Buying a Dutch Oven

At first when you go shopping for one, you could get sticker shock at the $200-$300 price points for a Dutch Oven. I’d probably tell you that if you’re not made of money, steer clear of the high-end stores like Williams-Sonoma and Macy’s. Granted many speak highly of Le Creuset and Staub for their Dutch Ovens, but it doesn’t mean you have to spend that much.

Zuzana actually surprised me last Christmas with a Dutch Oven she found at HomeGoods from the Palm Restaurant line. I’ve also seen moderately-priced ones at IKEA, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond that would work perfectly fine.

Outdoor Dutch OvenWhen you look at a potential, pick it up and see how heavy it is. An ideal Dutch Oven should have some weight to it. If it’s as light as your stock pot, then I’d pass on it. You want to make sure the thickness of the iron is suitable for cooking. Some lower-priced companies will skimp on this.

Secondly, unless you plan on using it outdoors, make sure your dutch oven is covered with a layer of enamel. This isn’t just about giving the pot a nice color, but also about the very issue I mentioned in the pots and pans article. Plain cast iron won’t do well with acidic foods, so if you plan on cooking a load of chili in a cast iron pot, be prepared for a funky taste.

Now if you’re actually buying a Dutch Oven to use outdoors, then I’d suggest you go shopping in a camping speciality shop. That enamel surface might work well on stoves or ovens, but I wouldn’t test the waters with an open fire. Most of what you’ll encounter will be just cast iron, which would tell me to be selective on what you cook outside. I’ve seen some though with stainless steel interiors, which would be the ideal suggestion.

Metal handle on a Dutch OvenFinally, the best advice Zuz and I were given about Dutch Ovens is to make sure the lid has a metal handle. You’ll see some with plastic handles, which isn’t very ideal if you want to cover and put your pot in the oven. I’ve seen some cooks unscrewing off the handle before placing in the oven. I personally think if you have to partially disassemble your Dutch Oven to use it in heat, then it’s not the ideal one.

In terms of size and shape, that’s really up to you. I prefer oval-shaped Dutch Ovens, but you might like a round circular one. I would advise to get a decently-sized one unless you know for certain you’ll be only cooking in small amounts. The best size are those that can hold a nice roast or something along those lines.

What to cook in a Dutch Oven

There’s a myriad of things you can do with a Dutch Oven. Anything where you would braise, some levels of roasting, or long periods of simmering. Here’s a list of recipes from this site you can do with a Dutch Oven:

There’s more to come. Come back tomorrow when I’ll tell you about the French flavor combo known as Mirepoix. We’ll be braising chicken with a Mirepoix ragout in the Dutch Oven. Stay tuned.

 

Tags: Dutch Oven, pot, kitchen, equipment

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