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Dutch Ovens

Monday, 8 June 2009 | Tags:

Traditionally used for cooking over an open fire, Dutch ovens are still popular today for their versatility. Whether youíre cooking on the stovetop, in the oven, or a combination of both, the Dutch oven is a sturdy pot with even heat distribution. We test out a few of these flexible cookers.

The Basics

  • Thick and heavy, Dutch ovens are large, lidded pots that retain heat, hold a lot of liquid, create a moist cooking environment, and also can brown ingredients on the stove top.

  • The pots were originally made of cast iron, a very durable material that improves with age if cared for well. Today, there are a variety of materials to choose from:

    • Traditional bare cast iron, which is a blend that includes small amounts of other metal alloys to make the iron stronger, is usually the least expensive. However, cast iron must be seasoned regularly to maintain its finish and to keep it rust-resistant.

      • If the pan is well-cared-for, it can take on nonstick properties over time. Bare cast iron can also increase the iron content of food cooked in it, especially when it is newer.

    • Enameled cast iron has a finish of powdered glass, which is fused to the metal through firing. It’s easier to clean and doesn’t require seasoning, but is more expensive than bare cast iron, and can’t withstand extremely high heat. But most dishes cooked in a Dutch oven are done at lower heat.

    • Stovetop-safe ceramic pots have become popular of late. Their appeal is that they’re microwave, freezer-safe, and dishwasher-safe, as well as less expensive than most enamel pots. Some can even be used on a barbecue or open fire.

      • Manufacturers use high-tech methods to make this cookware extremely resistant to thermal shock, for example, when going from freezer to stovetop. It also claims to be lighter than cast iron.

    • Other metals like stainless steel and copper tend to be much lighter than cast iron, which makes them easier to handle, but they’re typically very expensive.

      • Aluminum is less expensive.

      • Stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat as well as other materials, so stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core is better.

      • Straight aluminum or copper are not as durable, and may react to foods, especially acidic ones like lemon or tomato.

      • Stainless steel may be freezer-safe (check manufacturer specifications), but aluminum or copper are not because the metals react with the food.

      • These metals may also be dishwasher-safe.

  • The heavier and thicker the pot, the more durable it will be, but also the more cumbersome.

  • If you prefer a lighter pot, choose a stainless steel material with an aluminum core. Look for “tri-ply” on the label, which means an interior of 18/10 grade stainless steel, an aluminum or copper core, and a stainless steel exterior.

  • Depending on how many you cook for, you’ll want a minimum pot diameter of 8-10”. The pot should be large enough to hold a whole roast chicken or pot roast.

  • Many chefs prefer a Dutch oven that is about twice as wide as it is tall (e.g. 6” tall, 11-12” diameter), which provides good volume for holding liquid and ingredients as well as a large surface area for browning.

  • If you plan to cook with acidic foods like tomatoes and lemon regularly, choose an enameled cast iron, stovetop-safe ceramic, or stainless steel pot instead of bare cast iron.

Other Considerations

  • Dutch ovens can be used for baking breads or dense cakes, which require a very even and constant heat.

  • Because Dutch ovens are so efficient at retaining heat, the temperature of their contents drops only slightly when ingredients are added (like pasta to boiling water, or French fries to oil).

  • To get the most life out of your Dutch oven, be sure to read the manufacturer’s care instructions. Bare cast iron requires the most maintenance, but they’re typically also the least expensive.

  • For presentability on the dinner table, a ceramic or enameled pot will likely be more stylish.

Be Aware

  • Cast iron (bare or enamel) is so efficient at conducting heat, it can actually sear food at medium to high temperatures, causing it to burn and stick.

  • Some Dutch ovens are not safe for using at high temperatures. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications.

  • Metal utensils can damage the surface of enameled cast iron pots, so be sure to have wood, silicone or plastic utensils available.

TEST CRITERIA

To find out which type of Dutch oven produced the juiciest roast, we cooked one up in each of four different pots.

  • Lodge Pre-seasoned Dutch Oven (bare cast iron, 10.25” diameter, 5 qt/4.7 L, 13 lb): $95
. . . . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Emile Henry Flame Top Round Stew Pot(stovetop-safe ceramic, 10” diameter, 5.5 qt/5.3 L, 12 lb): $185
. . . . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Le Creuset Round French Oven(enameled cast iron, 5.5qt/5.3L, 10.8” diameter, 13lb): $315
. . . . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • All-Clad Stainless Steel Dutch Oven(tri-ply 18/10 stainless steel with aluminum core, 5.5 qt/5.3 L, 10.5” diameter, 6lbs: $350
. . . . Amazon.ca Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Stovetop Browning Test

We made a pot roast (same size) in each Dutch oven with onions, beer and vinegar sauce, and then browned each on the stove:

  • The All-Clad stainless steel definitely browned the beef the fastest and was first to be ready for the oven.

  • The Le Creuset enameled cast iron was the second fastest. The bottom of it got really black, though, even after we added the liquid.

  • The Emile Henry ceramic had a nice fitting lid, but took a while to brown, as did the bare cast iron pot.

Taste Test

Out of the oven after a couple of hours, they actually looked quite different from each other:

  • The liquid in the Le Crueset enameled cast iron had totally evaporated, while the others still had quite a bit of sauce. It was pretty dry to taste.

  • The pot roast in the Emile Henry ceramic pot was the juiciest and had the best gravy.

  • The All-Clad stainless steel wasn’t quite as dry as the enameled, but still wasn’t as good as the ceramic pot.

  • Lodge Logic bare cast iron was also quite dry.

OUR TOP PICK

All of the pots did about the same job, but we liked the ceramic Dutch oven by Emile Henry the best because it produced the juiciest pot roast and the price was more on the reasonable side. 

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  • disqus_UIUS5JMMSr

    Have you ever done or considered doing a “one pot” cookbook such and One Pot French by Jean-Pierre
    Challet or Weight Watchers One Pot Cookbook? I’m trying to narrow down a
    cookbook that has the one pot method and recipes down great, while
    trying to juggle work and family. Coming home and preparing one dish
    that is healthy and tastes great and is also a time saver instead of
    multiple dishes (such as meat, starch, vegetables) is something alot of
    families strive to do so they have more time to spend with each other
    rather than in the kitchen. Thanks! Great show, love it!

    • annaandkristina

      Thanks for watching! We have talked about doing a slow cooker cookbook in the past, but it would end up including a lot of waiting, so not the most exciting thing to watch. We have, however, put a request out to our Facebook followers for one-pot cookbook suggestions on behalf of another viewer and got some great ideas back. Here’s a link to the post on our Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/WZvaFy (If the link is not clickable, copy/paste it into your browser’s address bar.)