5 Big & Beautiful Dutch Ovens: Plus 10 Recipes to Show Them Off

Dutch Ovens 2013

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A couple years ago we shared a few of our favorite Dutch ovens, plus recipes to put them to work. But products come and go, and many of our 2011 picks have since become unavailable. So we thought it was time to revisit our favorite pot and look at the current crop of Dutch ovens for fall cooking.

Read on for five big and beautiful cast iron Dutch ovens at a variety of price points — plus ten recipes to put your own big pot to work. If you already have the Dutch oven of your dreams but don't use it enough, this is the roundup for you. Baked pumpkin oatmeal, barbecue pulled chicken, bread with a shatteringly crisp crust, and an easy batch of jam — the Dutch oven does all this and more.

What Is a Dutch Oven?

A Dutch oven is any large, heavy pot that is suitable for stovetop or oven use. So your stainless steel stock-pot can probably be used as a Dutch oven, as long as it has an oven-safe lid and can go straight into the oven from the stove.

But when talking about Dutch ovens, what people usually mean are the extra-heavy cast iron, enameled pots typified by Le Creuset and Staub. These hard-working pots are the corner piece of the fall and winter kitchen, ideal for slow-simmered soups and braises, as well as other favorite hearty meals. They are also beautiful, so they can go straight from the stove to the oven to the table.

Choosing a Dutch Oven

Big Dutch Ovens: This time around we're focusing on the generously-sized Dutch oven, the one you would use to cook a huge pot of chili or roast a big chicken. Each of these pots holds at least 6 quarts. (We do love smaller Dutch ovens too — see why my 3 1/2-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven is one of my favorite pots.)

Size is obviously a factor in cost, so these are some of the more expensive Dutch ovens out there. If you want to be more moderate, look at 6-quart or 5 1/2-quart pots, which can be much cheaper. We do think, though, that there's a place in everyone's kitchen for one really big Dutch oven, so that's what we focused on today.

Enameled Dutch Ovens: Also, we picked out Dutch ovens that were enameled inside. Sure, you can get less expensive Dutch ovens that are raw cast iron inside and out. These are nonstick, once well-seasoned, not to mention beautiful, but I think that when most people are in the market for a Dutch oven, they want the immediate benefits of the enamel.

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5 Big & Beautiful Dutch Ovens

1. Staub 7-Quart Oval Cocotte, $300 at Williams-Sonoma or Amazon
This is my personal Dutch oven of choice. Spendy, yes. Beautiful, without a doubt. I like the oval shape, as I find it a little more elegant than the round pots. I also love the black matte enamel, which looks like uncoated cast iron but is actually nonstick. It doesn't discolor the way the white enamel does. But there is also a slight yet purposeful roughness to the finish that I find helps food brown better. If I had just one pot in my kitchen, this would be it.

2. Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 7-1/4-Quart French Oven, $315 at Amazon
As Cook's Illustrated puts it, the "gold standard" of Dutch ovens is Le Creuset, with their famous Flame color and distinctive styling. A Le Creuset Dutch oven (or, as they call it here, French oven) is one of the most classic and enduring pieces you can add to your kitchen, and their lifetime guarantee backs that up. Personally I love the classic Flame styling, as well as the sleek and sophisticated gray and ivory lines.

3. Lodge Color 7.5-Quart Dutch Oven, $86.97 at Amazon
Lodge is an American company and the maker of the classic cast iron skillets we all love so much. They bring sturdy, classic detailing to enameled Dutch ovens, as well as a very accessible price.

4. Tramontina 7-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $149.95 at Amazon and $79.97 at Walmart
Tramontina has received consistently high marks in Cook's Illustrated reviews, and our own recipe editor had a great experience with them easily and quickly replacing a pot that she chipped (read the whole story here). Tramontina's pots don't have the iconic styling of Le Creuset and Staub, but they are significantly cheaper and still quite lovely. This is also a brand to shop around for; I saw the same pot for list price ($210) at Target, but much less at Amazon and Walmart.

5. Guy Fieri 7-Quart Dutch Oven, $89.99 at Target
After the classic picks of Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge, and Tramontina, I like to look for a wild card, and this year, Guy Fieri's Dutch oven gets my pick. I haven't actually used this pot, but I like the detailing and the depth — not to mention the price. Has anyone tried this one out?

4 Dutch Oven Shopping Tips

Enameled or not? Cast Iron Cookware: Enameled or Bare - A store guide for shopping for cast iron cookware.
Check budget stores: Check discount retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross for good deals on off-brand (and name brand) Dutch ovens. It's a great place to pick up something for less.
Wait for Amazon sales: Also check Amazon around the holidays; there are often deep discounts then.
Be flexible: Remember that any heavy pot with a lid can act as a Dutch oven. I often make no-knead bread in a stainless steel, oven-safe pot, instead of my cast iron Dutch ovens. Just make sure the pot is oven-safe and as heavy as possible.

10 Recipes to Put a Dutch Oven to Work

Now that you have that big gorgeous hunk of cast iron and enamel, let's not leave it in the cupboard. Here are 10 recipes that really put a Dutch oven through its paces — baking, stewing, braising, browning.

DINNER
The Dutch oven is the perfect tool for braises, browning meat then cooking it low and slow in the oven. But it can do so much more, too.

BEYOND DINNER
Bread, breakfast, dessert and big projects, like jam and tomato sauce, are all fresh opportunities for the Dutch oven.

Tell Us What You Love About Your Dutch Oven!

What's your favorite thing to cook in a Dutch oven? We'd love to hear all about your favorite Dutch oven as well!

(Image credits: Williams-Sonoma; Le Creuset; Lodge; Tramontina; Target; Faith Durand; Megan Gordon; Emma Christensen; Dana Velden)

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