No kitchen is complete without a Dutch oven. These large, heavy kettles with tight-fitting lids are essential for stewing and braising, yet capable of so much more. Typically they're made of cast iron or enameled cast iron, the shiny, no-rust surface made popular by Le Creuset. They’re also produced with aluminum, ceramics, stainless steel, and more, but cast iron is best for harnessing their true functionality. They can be used to make everything from coq au vin and slow-cooked tomato sauce to no-knead breads and even dessert.
Yes, they originated in the Netherlands.
Legend goes that at some point during the 17th century, an enterprising Dutchman cast metal in a mold primarily constructed of sand instead of the traditional clay. The sand mold produced a smoother, more desirable finish for kettles, including those made of cast iron that were designed to cook over an open flame. By 1708, Englishman Abraham Darby had adapted and patented the process. Some experts believe Darby first brought Dutch ovens to the American colonies; in Complete Book of Dutch Oven Cooking, author J. Wayne Fears says that they were introduced to colonists by Dutch traders. However it happened, the heavy, deep-bottomed kettles were central to early American kitchens.
Dutch oven options abound
There’s likely a Dutch oven to suit your desired size, style and color. From the famous enameled cast-iron options by Le Creuset to more budget-friendly options from Lodge, there’s a Dutch oven ideal for every home cook. These are available online as well as many local home kitchen stores.
◀ Le Creuset 9-Quart enameled Cast-Iron Round Dutch Oven
Le Creuset, $420, lecreuset.com
◀ Lodge Pro-Logic 7-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
$102, Lodge, lodgemfg.com
◀ Cravings by Chrissy Teigen 5-Quart Enameled Dutch Oven
$49.99, Target, target.com
◀ Lodge 4-Quart Camp Dutch Oven with Handle
$74, Lodge, lodgemfg.com
◀ Staub .25-Quart Round Mini Cast-Iron Cocotte
$67.99, Staub, staubusa.com
Nonenameled cast-iron Dutch ovens must be seasoned to avoid rusting. To season your kettle, first, scrub and rinse the inside with kosher salt. Next, grease the bottom and sides with vegetable shortening – just enough to coat – and bake for 1 hour at 350°F. Once cool, rub the inside with a paper towel to remove any residue.
When cooking in a nonenameled cast-iron Dutch oven, keep in mind that acid can cause rust and wear on the iron. For tomato sauces, vinegar-braised meat and vegetables, jams and other acidic recipes, use an enameled Dutch oven.
They’re a camper’s best friend.
No need to pack a mess of pots and pans when camping: a basic cast-iron Dutch oven is all you need. You can make every meal in your kettle, including beer-braised short ribs, an easy potato gratin, biscuits and gravy and cinnamon rolls. The only other essential you’ll need is a tripod, which runs about $30 at outdoor recreation stores. The tripod has a chain and hook that allows you to suspend a Dutch oven over your fire and adjust the kettle closer to or farther away from the flame.