Should I get a dutch oven?
January 31, 2010 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Should I get a dutch oven?

I have recently been thinking about getting a dutch oven because I have come across some yummy recipes that call for one. I looked at some the other day and discovered that they are quite pricey so I want to know that it is something I would use. I am vegetarian, so if a dutch oven is particularly good for meat I would like to know so I can save my money for other awesome kitchen stuff.

What are the advantages of a dutch oven? How is it different than making something in a lidded casserole dish or a pot? If I have a good collection of pots is it still worth getting a dutch oven? (Mr. Sadtomato thinks we can put pots in the oven and use that as a dutch oven. I disagree but don't have a good reason to give him.) Can I adjust dutch oven recipes and use a pot or casserole?
posted by sadtomato to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We have a dutch oven, and love it. They are expensive but we picked one up for $60 when some store had a going-out-of-business sale. The main advantage to a dutch oven, at least that I know of, is you can use it both on the cooktop and in the oven. We have several recipes that call for this, so it saves having to transfer stuff from a pot to a casserole dish.
posted by doh ray mii at 9:09 PM on January 31, 2010

I went a long time without one, and you can too IF you either have a dishwasher or don't mind putting dishes in 2 different pots for different steps in the process, or you're not doing recipes that require a stove-to-oven step at all. A good big stock pot will do fine for stovetop-only soups; in fact, I prefer using that for simmer stove-only recipes 'cause it seems to go faster and is easier to clean up.

Dutch ovens become helpful when you want to start something on the stove involving browning or creating fond and then slow cook in the oven, or the opposite, when you roast things in the oven and then make sauce on the stovetop with the sticky crust at the bottom. They're also helpful in baking kneadless bread, though the interior stoneware part of a slow cooker works just as well.

If you decide to take the plunge, they don't HAVE to break the bank by the way--Tramontina and Lodge both make versions similar to the much much more expensive Le Creuset and Staub models for under $50. You can order them online through Amazon and other places or buy one at Target or Wal-mart. They're rated high for value by CI and Chowhound, among other places.
posted by ifjuly at 9:11 PM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you're short on space or can't justify the expense, you can live without a dutch oven and still make some pretty nice dishes in the oven.

But I find that a cast iron dutch oven -- not the enamelled kind like Le Creuset -- is a great all purpose dish. I can use it on the top of the stove to sear meat, sweat veggies, then put the whole thing in the oven for some slow cooking. Plus, if you ever go camping and can handle the weight, they're great for use over an open fire.
posted by maudlin at 9:15 PM on January 31, 2010

And if you have a slow cooker, a lot of those recipes do what a dutch oven does, really--you first saute things on the stove top in a pan, then dump them in your cooker to cook low n' slow. A dutch oven is the same principle, just in one dish moved about instead of a stove-top pot/pan + appliance. So what I'm saying basically is...if by any chance you already own and use/love using a slow cooker in that way, then a dutch oven would kind of be redundant.

And no, stove-top pots and pans should generally not be put in the oven for long periods of time.

I am curious about the casserole dish question--I have friends from college who do that, cook stuff in those white with blue cornflower print casserole dishes in the oven, then make sauce on the stove in the same dish. They've never reported a problem with cracking or anything, but I have wondered how that's not risky--if it's really that easy and simple, why DO fancy ass dutch ovens exist? Aside from the typical cred stuff and claims of better heat retention and bah bah, blah (!). So I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by ifjuly at 9:20 PM on January 31, 2010

I know I paid less than $50 for my Lodge dutch oven, and a quick check on google suggests that you can still get them for that price. So this doesn't have to break the bank.

Yes, they work great for meat, but also for vegetarian-friendly stews and soups, especially involving beans. Like Maudlin says, it's easy to use and multipurpose.
posted by Forktine at 9:24 PM on January 31, 2010

Seconding a non-enameled cast iron one. I had a recipe that required a dutch oven all ready to go0 today (as in, the dough had risen and was about to overflow) and ran out to get an enameled one on clearance, only to get it home and read the fine print saying it was only to be used at a temperature of 375F and under. The bread recipe needed 450F. Luckily they had a good return policy.

In the end I bought a couple of $6.00 9 x 13" pyrex dishes and used one as the lid. Worked like a charm and saved me $65.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:27 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't have a slow cooker, but once did and didn't particularly like it. I like stews every once in a while but generally I like my cooked veggies to be a little crisp.

ifjuly: I have done a pot pie recipe that called for a dutch oven in a casserole dish with no problems, but I don't put my casserole dish on the stove. I just prepare everything in a pot and then transfer.
posted by sadtomato at 9:49 PM on January 31, 2010

I don't know where you are, but here in Texas, at Academy sporting goods stores, they sell cast iron dutch ovens for something crazy cheap like $15.

The Lodge ones aren't too expensive, but not dirt cheap like the ones they have at Academy. (The ones at Academy seem designed for campfire use, in that they have a lid with a rim clearly designed to hold coals piled on top.)
posted by smcameron at 9:50 PM on January 31, 2010

They're really cheap at Harbor Freight, too.
posted by neuron at 10:10 PM on January 31, 2010

We've got several relatively cheap stainless steel dutch ovens (check restaurant supply stores), which are my go-to pots for almost anything (pasta sauces, stews, steaming or boiling vegetables...). They're wide enough to saute well and deep enough to hold a lot.

We also have two enameled cast iron dutch ovens (used mostly to make no-knead bread); Tramontina makes ones that were well-liked by Cook's Illustrated and are around $50-60 (only available at Walmart currently, it looks like). The pots themselves are fine to 500 degrees, but the knobs at the top aren't; we replaced them with a couple of parts from the hardware store. They change color when hot, which is kind of cool.
posted by janewman at 10:20 PM on January 31, 2010

Oh, and one note: you don't want something that's all stainless steel - my favorites have a pancake of more conductive material or a copper plating at the bottom. Solid cast iron is a superior cooking material, and what you want for braises and bread, but it's heavy and substantially more difficult to clean. Stainless steel can go in the dishwasher...
posted by janewman at 10:26 PM on January 31, 2010

Yes, you can cook with other types of oven safe pots instead of a dutch oven. However, Dutch ovens are the original (and better) slow cookers, great for stove top to oven cooking, and long slow cooking, for things like soups, stews, chili, beans, etc.. Their thick walls and bottoms are really helpful in getting things to cook evenly. I inherited an old aluminum dutch oven from my grandmother and use it for tons of different purposes. I will disagree with some of the people recommending the non-enameled cast iron. The uncoated ones are great for some purposes, but you have to worry about the seasoning if you cook acidic foods. If I were buying one new, I would get an enameled cast iron one.
posted by gudrun at 10:37 PM on January 31, 2010

I make a casserole with a tomato-vinegar sauce several times a year in my cast iron dutch oven and the seasoning has held up very well. I scrub the pot with a green scrubby and plain water right after, let it dry on a burner turned to medium-low, then oil it lightly and let it heat another few minutes. It's less fussy to clean than my other pots.
posted by maudlin at 11:09 PM on January 31, 2010

I have a $40 one I got at Target and I LOVE it. Seriously, I don't know what I did without it! I think it functions quite differently than a slow-cooker. A slow-cooker is all about cooking things until they've lost their will to live and become mushy and tasteless. A dutch oven allows you to do that magical sequence: browning (ie, carmelization) followed by braising in liquid. If you do this right, the result is magically delicious food.

You can also make no-knead bread in it!
posted by lunasol at 11:34 PM on January 31, 2010

Thrift stores or garage sales are good, cheap places to get them.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:37 PM on January 31, 2010

Yes. Your kitchen is ridiculously incomplete without one. Start on the stove, finish in the oven, etc. Any big heavy stock pot type pot will do but a specifically designed on, like a dutch oven, will perform both tasks better. Cast iron is traditional and easy to clean. Enameled cast iron costs much more but is better for highly acidic foods. Aluminum is a joke, IMO.
posted by caddis at 1:24 AM on February 1, 2010

Best answer: If you're open to using cast iron I would recommend this Lodge 2 piece dutch oven/frying pan. I use it almost every day; open topped under the broiler, as a rice cooker, for stew and chili, for no-knead bread, as a vegetable roasting dish as well as on the stovetop as a griddle. The biggest downsides are the weight (13 lbs empty) and the need to really season it well (Lodge's 'preseasoning' barely counts.) It's nowhere as pretty as Le Creuset but it's functional as hell.
posted by biddeford at 3:26 AM on February 1, 2010

I got a Lodge from Amazon for $25 and use it regularly for roasting, curry, chili, and soups. It's awesome, and I'd miss it if it went missing. If you cook, get one.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:26 AM on February 1, 2010

I have a medium-sized lodge and a giant Le Creuset and use them both. Cast iron is a good material (whether enameled or not) because it has both a high conductivity for heat and higher heat capacity than stainless steel (see here) which means it gets the inside up to temperature quickly when placed in an oven and then minimizes temperature fluctuations.
posted by TedW at 5:40 AM on February 1, 2010

this for the money, is as good as you can do. i really love mine -- use it for everything from bread-baking to stew-simmering.
posted by mr. remy at 6:16 AM on February 1, 2010

Looks like you're in Canada - check out which is a Canadian site that sells Le Cuistot, enameled cast iron for around $70. I have one and use it just about daily with no complaints - not sure what you'd get from a $200+ Creuset to justify the price difference.
posted by Gortuk at 7:58 AM on February 1, 2010

We splurged for a $200 Le Creuset Dutch oven a couple of years ago and I only wish that we had done so years earlier. We end up using it all the time.
posted by dfan at 8:45 AM on February 1, 2010

I got my cast iron dutch oven from Ikea years ago. They may not have plain cast iron any more -- you'd have to go and browse in the Richmond or Coquitlam stores -- but they do have enamelled cast iron in various sizes for $55 or less. Look for Senior or Favorit on their site. (Note that they categorize the dutch ovens as "casseroles".)
posted by maudlin at 8:51 AM on February 1, 2010

We have a Lodge cast-iron dutch oven, that I know wasn't more than $30 from Amazon, and we use it weekly or more. And it will last forever.
posted by gaspode at 12:44 PM on February 1, 2010

I meant to mention Calphalon's Everyday Pan, which comes with a lid--it might be a viable option if you're not looking for something ultra heavy duty (no, say, mega hot oven temps for over an hour), just an affordable multi-tasker that does well in a pinch. I've made stove-to-oven Om Ali as well as paella in it. It's not gigantically deep though, which might rule it will easily do enough chicken for 4+ people and deglazed sauce or whatever, but it isn't deep enough to make soup, for instance. It does come with a lid and is a nice twilight of being kinda-sorta non-stick without being massively wimpy WRT reacting with acids the way bare cast iron can be. And it's much easier to clean than a heavy enameled dutch oven. Nigella Lawson and Beth Hensperger mention owning and using it in various recipes, which is how I found out about it. Might be a consideration.
posted by ifjuly at 5:28 PM on February 1, 2010

Best answer: Recently bought an enameled cast iron dutch oven and love it. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat meat very often. Where this oven has really shined has been in meat-centric applications. I'm not sure it would be substantially better than a regular pot with veggie fair.

It is great at retaining heat, so it's been used in lots of long simmering applications like stock and beans. However you can get the same thing out of regular thin pots by putting them in the oven at low temps, instead of on the stove top.

I can also see it being advantageous at deep frying things. I've never tried the no-knead bread, but some people are gaga for it. I do love how it heats evenly, and holds on to that heat, even with my crappy electric range.

So, thats 2 reasons? Meh. You'd probably be happier putting that money in a nice new knife or a mandoline. If you've got a big pot that can go in the oven (non-plastic handles), you're probably set, and should skip this.
posted by fontophilic at 11:54 AM on February 2, 2010

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