How to Choose the Best Dutch Oven: And Use It Well

Ah, the mighty Dutch oven. It braises, it bakes, it occasionally holds our onions when we run out of space in the pantry. This is one of the most essential pieces of cookware in our kitchen. If you don’t already have one, we recommend putting it on your wish list immediately. Here’s everything you need to know about picking one out and using it back in your kitchen.

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When we talk about Dutch ovens, we mean a deep pot made of heavy cast-iron with an equally heavy and tight-fitting lid. Sometimes they are coated with enamel to make the surface non-reactive to acidic foods. Cook’s Illustrated has also found that good-quality stainless steel stockpots make perfectly fine Dutch ovens, even if they’re not marketed as such.

A Dutch oven is exactly what you want for cooking long braises and stews. The cast-iron means this pot will hold heat very well, creating the even and steady temperature within the pot necessary for rendering meat and tough vegetables completely tender.

These pots are also perfect for simmering a pot of beans, incubating a batch of yogurt, or even just making a quick pasta sauce for dinner. We’ve baked some of the best bread we’ve ever had in our dutch oven following the no-knead bread method. We could go on and on, but suffice it to say that our Dutch oven is one of the most-used tools in our kitchen.

Dutch ovens can be expensive: $50 at the lowest end and up to $300 or more for a prized Le Creuset pot. But cost is usually a good indicator of quality for this piece of equipment. Buy the best you can afford, and it will last for years.

The oven should feel heavy when you hold it, with a thick walls and an equally thick bottom. Take a look at the handles and the knob on the lid, and make sure you’ll still be able to grasp them easily when wearing heavy oven mitts. We also recommend getting at least a 6-quart Dutch oven. This is big enough for braising a chicken or making enough chili to feed a crowd.

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Here are a few brands we know and trust:

Tramontina Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $50 from Walmart
Lodge Enamel Dutch Oven, $100 from Lodge Cast Iron Cookware
Le Creuset Dutch Oven, $275 from Sur la Table

Some additional things to keep in mind:

Should I Buy a Stockpot or a Dutch Oven?
What’s the Difference Between Coated and Uncoated Dutch Ovens?
Are There Lighter Alternatives to Cast Iron Cookware?

How to Care for Your Dutch Oven:

How to Clean Stains Off Your Dutch Oven
Chipped Enamel: Need to Replace This Dutch Oven?

Great Recipes to Get You Started:

Love Me Tender: 15 Braises from The Kitchn
How to Cook Beans: A Fast, Fool-Proof, No-Soak Method
Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread Phenomenon
Outdoor Cooking with Dutch Ovens

What kind of Dutch oven do you have? How do you use it?

Related: How to Convert Dutch Oven Recipes to Your Slow Cooker

(Images: Emma Christensen and Faith Durand)