Congratulations, you have a new Dutch oven! Typically made of cast iron with an enamel coating, this hefty, versatile piece of cookware is the key to many a delicious braise or casserole. It also tends to be an investment piece, with popular brands running into the hundreds of dollars, so you want to make sure you treat it properly!
Here are are 10 things to know before using your Dutch oven for the first time.
1. You should wash it first.
Before you use your Dutch oven for the first time, wash it in hot, soapy water, and dry it with a soft cloth. While many Dutch ovens are dishwasher-safe, it's generally recommended to hand-wash it when you can.
2. Cast iron works on all heat sources.
You can use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven on the stovetop (whether it's electric, gas, or induction), oven, or grill. It even works on coal- or wood-powered ovens. When you're using your Dutch oven on a direct heat source, like the stovetop or grill, make sure that your temperatures are not too hot or you could scorch it. Which brings us to our next point.
3. High temps should be avoided.
"High heat temperatures should only be used for boiling water for vegetables or pasta, or for reducing the consistency of stocks or sauces," says the Le Creuset website. Dutch ovens works best when they slowly heat up and stay warm, so don't preheat it on high. Heating one up on too high a setting can make food stick or burn since the heat is conducted so efficiently.
4. Cast iron holds in heat.
Cast iron gets very hot and distributes the heat evenly throughout the whole piece of cookware. Then, it stays hot — good news if you want to keep food warm for second servings (just keep the lid on), and also good to remember when you're ready to serve at the table or bring it to the sink. Keep your oven mitts and trivets handy!
5. Cast iron gets cold, too!
The conductive properties in cast iron work both ways. If you put it in the freezer or fridge, the Dutch oven will retain the cold, so it can be a good option for, say, pasta salads and desserts, too. And feel free to put it right into the fridge once it has cooled if you need to store whatever you've just cooked. Just don't move it straight from the stove to the fridge (or vice versa) as the sudden temperature change could crack the enamel!
6. Oil is important!
In general, you shouldn't put food into the Dutch oven dry, as that can make it stick and burn. Use liquid, oil, fat, or butter to coat the bottom of the Dutch oven before adding whatever it is you're cooking.
7. You can marinate food in it.
The vitreous enamel surface is not porous, so it's safe to use with raw foods, and it's tough enough to stand up to marinating with wine or acids.
8. You should be careful not to scratch it.
If you drop your Dutch oven, drag it across the countertop, or scratch it with a metal cooking utensil, you risk compromising the enameled finish. Generally, use silicone or wooden cooking utensils to reduce your risk of scratching. When you clean it, avoid abrasive cleaners or scrubbers like metallic scrubbing pads.
9. The accents might not be as heat safe.
If your Dutch oven has plastic, wooden, or other metal accents or handles, be sure to read up to the specs — while the cast iron can get super-hot, some lids or handles can only deal with lower temperatures before melting or degrading.
10. You've got to watch out for water.
Always let the Dutch oven to dry fully before storing it, and make sure to keep it in a cabinet or shelf that's away from moisture, so that the iron doesn't rust.