What's the Deal with Dutch Ovens?

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Something prevented me from getting a Dutch oven early on in my cooking career: it seemed out-dated somehow, old-fashioned. The truth is, I didn't know much then. Now, I use my trusty blue Le Creuset 3.5-quart oven weekly.

What It Is: A Dutch oven is a piece of cookware that can be used in a myriad of ways. It has a thick bottom and sides with a heavy and tightly fitting lid that locks in moisture and flavor. The thick bottom prevents hot spots and retains heat, while the heavy lid keeps flavors from escaping. The pot can be used stove-top for browning meat, making stews, soups and chili, or cooking vegetables, rice and other grains. It can also go right in the oven for making roasts.

What to Look For: It's best to buy a Dutch oven with thick sides and bottom. The sides should be equal thickness all the way around. The handles and knobs should be ovenproof. Most Dutch ovens are made of anodized aluminum, enameled cast iron, or stainless steel. We prefer cast-iron because it holds its heat better and tends to be heavier. Dutch ovens come with capacities from 2 quarts up to about 12 quarts. Start out with a 3.5-quart oven and then move up if you decide you need two.

Who Makes Them: Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge, Emile Henry, and Sur La Table. You can spend as little as $40 for a pure cast-iron pot, to over $200 for a larger name-brand oven.

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Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.