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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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..