If you want to know how to use a dutch oven, you are not alone.
The name sounds a bit intimidating – it is an oven? That sounds like some massive piece of cooking equipment.
However, if you are interested in doing all sorts of cooking, you may be intrigued about the idea of a dutch oven.
And you probably want to know how to use a dutch oven, even if you aren’t planning on cooking with one any time soon.
What Exactly is a Dutch Oven?
A dutch oven, at least the ones we use today, is basically a big massive pot with a lid. It usually has two handles on either side. This is a streamlined version of the old time dutch ovens (which you can still get) that actually have feet on the bottom so the pot can sit directly over flames.
Some dutch ovens also had places in the lids where you could put hot coals to cook from the top as well as the bottom.
Dutch ovens are an evolution from the ancient cooking pots, kettles, and cauldrons that people used to cook with prior to the invention of wood ovens and more recently, gas or electric ovens.
If you know about the classic witch stereotype, with an old hag chanting over a bit cast iron pot or cauldron saying, “Boil Boil Toil and Trouble,” you have an idea of what dutch ovens came from.
People have been using cast metal pots since the early Middle Ages.
You can learn more about the history of dutch ovens in the YouTube video, “A Short History of Dutch Ovens” Featuring Luann Sewell Waters, Dutch Oven Cooking Instructor.
(This teacher prefers cooking with dutch ovens outdoors, by the way.)
Why Is It Called a Dutch Oven?
The actual origin of the term “dutch oven” is uncertain. The name may have come from a Dutch process for casting metal pots, or because Dutch traders used to sell these types of kettles made out of iron.
Some distinguish between dutch ovens, having a round top, and another type of pot. The related pot or kettle is called the “camp oven,” which has a flat lid and lip and the three legs on the bottom.
Why Cook with a Dutch Oven?
In some respects, slow cookers and crock pots have replaced dutch ovens in a lot of kitchens. However, if you want to make a soup, stew, or pot roast, some swear by dutch ovens. Here is a resounding endorsement of dutch ovens from one user on a cooking Q&A page (the original question was “Do I really need a dutch oven?”):
“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.”
One of the other benefits of a dutch oven is that you can cook with it on the stove or put it in the oven. If it is a cast iron dutch oven can cook with it indoors or outdoors. (Do not assume you can cook outdoors with every dutch oven, and even if they say it is OK, this may not be 100% for certain cheaper types of dutch oven pots – check with the manufacturer).
The Main Types of Modern Dutch Ovens
There are a few main types of dutch ovens sold today. They all have their pros and cons. The two types of dutch ovens that are really the “genuine” article are the cast iron dutch ovens and the enameled dutch ovens with a cast iron interior. Other types of pots are more in the style of a dutch oven and may not have the same heating capacities, and some of these are definitely indoor pots.
1. Cast Iron Dutch Oven
If you are a fan of cast iron cooking, you have probably already decided that cast iron is the way to go.
The key to cast iron is to make sure it is seasoned properly – this entails using some sort of oil to keep the surface smooth. This is the original non stick cookware and it is probably the safest.
Cast iron dutch ovens are great not just for indoor cooking but for outdoor cooking and camping as well.
If you find an old cast iron dutch oven, you have found a great cooking item. Hopefully, it was taken care of with proper seasoning. However, even an old rusty cast iron dutch oven can be cleaned, the rust removed, and the iron re-seasoned to make the pot almost like it was brand new!
2. Enameled Dutch Ovens
Enameled dutch ovens are typically made of cast iron but have a porcelain-enamel finish that means they can come in pretty colors instead of all black like a cast iron pot.
Enameled dutch ovens are easier to clean. You get the benefits of cast iron as a cooking material without having to worry about seasoning the iron after you use the oven. However, it is not recommended to cook on an open flame with these types of dutch ovens.
3. Non Stick Dutch Ovens
These are dutch ovens in name only, really. They are basically big pots with a non stick interior.
4. Aluminum Dutch Ovens
You can also find aluminum dutch ovens for sale. These are easier to clean than iron but certainly not going to give you that same type of cooking capability or stove to oven flexibility.
5. Stoneware / Ceramic Dutch Ovens
Companies like CorningWare also sell dutch ovens in the form of stoneware or possible ceramic. Once again, check to see if these can be put in the oven as well as the stove, and don’t assume that new Corningware can be taken from the oven to the fridge or freezer. That only works for certain types of Corningware, called Pyroceram, not their basic stoneware.
7 Things You Can Make in a Dutch Oven
If you want to know how to use a dutch oven, there is no singular answer. This is because a genuine dutch oven is an extremely versatile piece of cookware. Here are just some of the things you can make with a dutch oven:
1. Making One Pot Meals Such as Soups or Stews
One of the dutch ovens best uses is for one pot meals. As we’ve already mentioned, if you are a fan of the slow cooker, this might not be a real selling point for dutch ovens. After all, you can put your one pot meal into a slow cooker or crock pot, and let it cook for hours without having to bother to stir it or worry about it burning on the bottom.
2. Slow Roasting Meats or Vegetables
A quality dutch oven works great for slow roasting meats or vegetables. This is because it conducts heat in a consistent manner, from all different directions. With an ovenproof lid in place, the dutch oven can be placed in your oven, thus helping in keeping moisture in and not drying food out.
3. Frying Food
You would not think of the dutch oven as a tool for frying things, but it is great for this because of the high sides. You do not have to worry so much about a splattery mess everywhere.
4. Cooking Casseroles
This is one of the best uses of a dutch oven. You can sauté things on top of the stove, and then when you are ready, put your casserole dish (in the dutch oven) in the oven.
5. Baking Bread
This may seem to be an odd use for a dutch oven, but yes, you can bake bread in it.
6. Poaching Chicken
This helps to keep the chicken from drying out, and you can add lots of great sauces and extra stuff in with your poultry.
7. Cooking a Skillet Cookie
Making a skillet cookie is a fun use of a dutch oven – make some cookie dough and put that in your dutch oven to make a super massive cookie to enjoy.
Learn How to Use a Dutch Oven
Ultimately, the best way to learn how to use a dutch oven is to simply buy one and try it out. You might want to start cooking with it indoors before you brave the elements and try your hand at cooking outdoors, old school.