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Do I really need a dutch oven?

Dutch ovens look really cute and I've come across some recipes that call for them. But I'm wondering if I will actually use it. I'm hesitant to buy one because they seem really heavy even when they are empty.

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  1. Dutch ovens are great for one pot meals, as the added weight lets you brown/sear very well. The heavy weight also helps to regulate temperature, in an oven this evens out fluctuations, and on the stove top this helps to keep a simmer in the entire contents of the pot. If you like stews/chili or other braised dishes, a dutch oven is a smart investment. Though if you're really worried about weight may I recommend the all-clad ovens, or perhaps a good weight anodized aluminum one.

    1. Rockfish42 has it right. For some things, the dutch oven is truly the best choice -- braising pot roast, stew meat and other items where you need to sear the outside and then cook slowly to drive flavor. There are several options -- cast iron or cast iron with enamel coating, stainless steel clad (the All Clad alternative mentioned is one choice, there are others that are as good and less costly) and aluminum (my least favorite as they do not offer the heavy bottom for holding heat). My recommendation is that every kitchen should have at least one dutch oven.


      1. I have an All-Cald 8qt satinless stock pot that I use as a dutch oven, soup and pasta pot. It works great at all of those functions. I can easily brown meat in that pot and the opening is nice and large - I believe the opening is 12". It has a very tight fitting lid and handles on the sides. The lid is flat (not rounded), but found that it doesn't make that big of a difference in the way I cook.

        1. I wanted one for many years but couldn't justify the price of the Le Creusets and Staubs. I would use my 3" pan (commercial stainless steel 1/2 pan), put water up half way on the meat and just cover tightly with aluminum foil. But then my wife found an off-brand - there seems to be a slew of them at discount stores. I've had it now for about a year and have probably paid for it by the aluminum foil I've saved. I don't know how I lived without it - pastrami, corned beef, puerco pibil, many different recipes for short ribs - all my favorites. The off-brand works fine - no chips in the enamel, and I've had it up to temperature extremes (accidentally). Always cleans up quickly - like teflon.

          Now, during the summer, I use the gas grill outdoors - just turn off the two middle burners, turn the outside burners to low, and put the dutch oven in the middle and close the top. A few hours later - incredibly tasty and tender meats of all kinds.

          Don't get the plain cast iron. You can't do anything acidic in them, like tomato based sauces. The enameled cast iron works great.

          I recommend at least a 6 qt - better yet, an 8 qt. If you search for them on Amazon you'll see the Le Creusets and Staubs selling for $2-300, but some off brands (even with Rachel Ray and Mario Batali brands) selling for much less. So far, I have no complaints at all with my off-brand (8 qt. bought at Marshalls for $70.00).

          1 Reply
          1. re: applehome

            I had a Le Creuset dutch oven that I adored! I cooked some great stews, soups and chilis in that pot. It moved with me through gas stoves (love!) electric ranges (hate!) and one of the best stews was the one cooked under the cast iron woodburning stove one powerless day. Experienced campers know you can actually bake in one, yes bread! I got mine as a close out (part of a set) of a discontinued color. I miss it. It was stolen from the debris of my burnt down house, a decade ago. Sometimes I think that is what I miss the most.

          2. The enameled ones aren't as heavy as the bare cast iron ones, I believe. And this isn't a pot you are moving a lot - not like a skillet or a saucepan. You put it on a burner and leave it there - any moving of the food you do with a wooden spoon or something similar.

            The most you might do is moving it from a stovetop to an oven and then back out..

            1. I was concerned about the weight, too, so I got an Anolon aluminum non-stick dutch oven. Does the trick for me, and it's only half the price of All-Clad and the like.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mpalmer6c

                This is one place where non-stick is a bad idea. You can't get it hot enough to sear really well without degrading the teflon, and you won't develop fond. I'm currently using a lodge enamel 7 quart I got for 84 dollars or so off of an amazon deal. The lodge color line is also a decent choice for the budget minded cook.

              2. No, you don't need one, but it might be a good purchase. I have one I use regularly, but I don't notice find it produces better tasting food than a good quality (not thin) stainless steel pot with a copper or aluminum base. A dutch oven might have an advantage if your oven temp fluctuates a lot. And the enameled models do look nice on the dinner table. But I must disagree with applehome. If you keep a cast iron oven properly seasoned (a bit of a hassle, for sure), you can cook tomato and other acidic sauces with no problems. Even if you do happen to get a little extra iron in the dish, who cares? That's one iron supplement pill you don't need to take.

                As Rockfish says, the big advantage is it's very efficient for "one pot meals". You can brown the meat (if that's part of the recipe), saute the veggies, add liquid and boil or braise til done, and put the finished dish on the table, still in the dutch oven. If you cook such dishes a lot, a dutch oven is a great investment. Otherwise, now and then you will need to clean a skillet and a pot (and maybe a serving bowl) instead of just a pot.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Zeldog

                  I wasn't concerned for the iron intake, most healthy folks can get rid of excess iron easily. But cooking acidic items in cast iron will take off that very nice seasoning you managed to build up. On a very well seasoned pan, it will take much longer - but it is eating away at the seasoning which seals the pores of the coarse iron. If you cooked a tomato dish once in every 10 times you used the pan, I doubt that you would notice. But 5 times in a row of tomato or vinegary sauces and you may need to re-season from scratch. I seem to be using tomatoes and/or vinegar a lot. The question is, why bother? Other than cost (plain cast iron is cheaper even than these new low-cost enameled units), what's the benefit of buying a cast iron dutch oven? Perhaps, if you want to use it over a campfire.

                2. I use one for baking bread too - baking the bread in the dutch oven traps moisture in and leaves a rich crispy crust around the bread :)

                  1. Yes, Dutch ovens are heavy (but to do what they do best, they need to be heavy) and good ones (such as Le Creuset and Staub) are expensive, they will last a lifetime and nothing else can really replace one. For stews, braises, soups, or anything that benefits from slow long cooking the only thing that can replace a good Dutch oven is a crock-pot and I, for one, am not a big fan of these. Wait until you can afford a good oven, and go for it....it will last forever, and you will love it. Do not buy a cheap one...it's a lifetime purchase that you will not regret.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: josephnl

                      Do you have a source, perhaps an article you can reference about these new, inexpensive enameled cast iron dutch ovens not lasting as long as the Le Creuset and Staub? I can't distinguish mine from those in terms of thickness of the metal or the coating, the weight, or the design features, such as the drip prongs on the lid. A lifetime purchase is a nice idea - but is it possible I got a lifetime purchase for less than a quarter of the brand names? And perhaps, if not, did I get one that will last longer than a quarter of a lifetime, making it a better deal anyway? Whose lifetime are we talking about anyway?

                      How much high-tech innovation do you think goes into casting iron and coating with a high-temp, hard finish enamel? Do you think it's possible that the technology has long since become much cheaper to produce, but that the brand names have been holding on to their high prices to generate more profit, and that only with this round of competition are we now seeing fairer pricing for some iron and paint?

                      Ultimately, do you think it tastes better (whatever it is) cooked in a Le Creuset or Staub rather than an off brand?

                      There are times when nothing but the best will do. I'm not sure that dutch ovens fit that picture. My commercial 1/2 pan and aluminum foil really did do a great job on everything I now do with the dutch oven. You don't think that restaurants own bunches of Le Creuset and Staub, do you? I do enjoy browning in the same pot - not only do I not dirty another pan, but I insure that everything is in the pot, without having to transfer which sometimes included deglazing with whatever liquid I was using. So it saves some time and labor, but I really can't tell you the difference in flavor and texture of the final product. Also, for puerco pibil or other carnitas and similar pulled pork type dishes, it is nice to just bring the pot to the table. All that is worth $70 to me. But not $290 (on sale). Now if you can definitively prove to me that the $290 will last 4 times longer - great. But unfortunately, that will take a lifetime to prove and to amortize. For now, I think I'll stick with the $70 investment.

                      1. re: applehome

                        No, of course I have no evidence that LeC or Staub are better than some of the new less expensive brands...and I certainly didn't imply that food will taste better when cooked in these brands. My only point was that these two brands are for sure dependable and have proven themselves over many years. I have a 20+ year old, LeC which aside from very minimal discoloration on the bottom (which I can probably bleach out) is as good as new. I have no doubt that other brands may be as good for less money, but they have not stood the test of time. So..since a good Dutch oven should last a very long time, I personally would opt for a brand that's been around for a while. (Lodge is also an excellent brand, and although their enameled Dutch ovens are relatively new, I would be surprised if this were not a good product.)

                    2. Watch the sales at Amazon. I also use Le Creuset, but I picked up a 6 qt. Lodge enameled Dutch oven there in a gorgeous shaded red for $34.99 shipped free. Cooks Illustrated and Good Housekeeping mags compared it favorably to LC. I like the shape of the Batali one better, but the enamel on the Lodge is much more nicely done. Even if it last only 10 years, that's still only $3.50 a year to use it! They have a Lodge 3 qt. covered enamel iron casserole there now in the Emerald green, similar to LC's buffet casserole for only $23.91 now. It's about 12" in diameter. Basically a large two handled frypan with a lid. An awesome deal if you like the color. Other color in the same pot are more than twice that price! It's there newest color.

                      1. They can be really heavy. I believe my Lodge oven weighs around 30lbs empty. I believe it is something like 10 or 12 qt. You can figure 2 gallons of water to weigh another 8+ pounds and that doesn't factor in any solid ingredients. Obviously smaller ones weight less but you can basically assume 30-40 pounds for a fully loaded cast iron pot which can be prohibitively heavy even before it's hot! Grant.cook points out that you rarely need to lift/move a loaded dutch oven except perhaps from the oven to the stovetop (or vice versa) but if you've got the garden variety bottom-hinge combo range, the motion of moving an object between the stovetop and oven is actually really awkward.

                        Anyway, I am a huge fan of all of my Le Creuset and also my Lodge dutch oven that I got on clearance for like $25, but I am with AppleHome on the cost front. If you can get a good deal or have the money to spend on LC or Staub, feel free but if you just want to get a basic Lodge or a "low-end" enameled cast iron, you'll probably get your money's worth. Even if the enamel chips (which can happen on the "higher-end" pots, too), it's an iron pot - it still works fine.

                        I also agree that if you are not cooking outdoors, you can probably get by just fine with a lighter-weight steel or aluminum one.

                        You don't "need" a dutch oven, obviously but there are a lot more useless things you could buy and if you get one, you will probably find a lot of excuses to make use of it.

                        1. LeC also has outlet stores where you can find them at much lower prices if you're willing to purchase seconds (usually a paint issue) -- and they often have 'color sales' than can give you an extra 10-15% off. I've also seen unpopular colors on clearance tables at William Sonoma at pretty good discounts.
                          If you have a small kitchen or are just starting to build your pot and pan collection, it is a very useful multi-tasker as well.
                          I think it's a smart purchase...even if I do have to ask my husband to get it out of the oven for me every once in a while.

                          1. A heavy dutch oven is really a nice thing to have. Aside from the fact that a heavy cast iron or iron/enamel dutch oven is good for browning and braising, the heavy cover really seals well and can cook things faster on the stovetop. I have my grandmother's 6 quart Club cast aluminum dutch oven in the kitchen for inspiration, because she was a great cook, but when I really need a dutch oven, I use a Le Creuset, and I sometimes use the cover on other pans and pots that it fits. I've also got a 10L heavy tin lined copper rondeau, which is wonderful, but the cover doesn't seal as well as the Le Creuset.

                            Whatever you choose, a good one is a lifetime-plus investment that your grandchildren, if you have them, will be able to pass on to their grandchildren, if they have them.