How to Choose the Right Dutch Oven for Your Cooking Needs
As far as multipurpose cookware goes, a Dutch oven might just be the most versatile item around. These durable essentials can be used for everything from cooking hearty stews and chilis to pasta, even braising large pieces of meat or baking bread. Plus, Dutch ovens are classic and look good sitting on an open shelf in the kitchen or your stovetop when not in use. Last but not least, there's something about the cylindrical cooking pot with its tight fitting lid that says, "I'm a grown up, capable of making all sorts of delicious meals."
While you know that a Dutch oven is a must-have in a well-stocked kitchen, purchasing one can feel challenging. There are so many choices: material options include cast iron, enameled cast iron, copper, or clay; sizes range from 1.5 to 15.5 quarts; and they're available in a few different shapes, most often round or oval. How's a home cook to decide which one (or ones) to get? Here's our guide for determining which Dutch oven you need.
What Material to Choose?
Enameled cast iron is our go-to material for Dutch ovens. Cast iron heats evenly and retains heat, and enameled cast iron is more versatile than plain cast-iron, allowing you to cook acidic ingredients which you can't in plain cast-iron. Enameled cast iron is more reasonable to buy and easy to care for than copper. It's supremely versatile, enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens go from stovetop to oven, and are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and price points.
What Size Dutch Oven Do You Need?
Regina Ragone of Le Creuset says the best way to figure out the size of Dutch oven to buy is to consider both the type of food you plan on cooking and the number of people you want to serve on a regular basis and to round up to the nearest quart size. That's how many people you can comfortably serve without worrying about running short.
Martha has always recommended a six to eight quart Dutch oven as the best all-round option. It's big enough for a whole chicken or a large batch of stew. The Le Creuset 5 1/2-Quart Dutch Oven ($360, lecreuset.com) is their best selling size in the U.S. The company says this size serves at least six. If the price seems high, know that many cooks use their Dutch oven on a daily basis and Le Creuset Dutch ovens often get passed down to the next generation. For a slightly larger pan at a lower price point, try the Lodge 6-Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven ($69.90, target.com). It's available in more limited colors.
Remember that cast-iron Dutch ovens are heavy and the larger the size of the piece the more it will weigh. Another highly regarded French maker, Staub calls their cookware cocottes, and their 9-Quart Enameled Round Cocotte ($419.95, surlatable.com), weighs in at 17.7 pounds—before you add the coq au vin for a crowd.
Do You Need an Oval or a Round Dutch Oven?
When it comes to choosing the shape of Dutch oven to buy, oval or round, it's all about personal preference—and perhaps the size and shape of your kitchen shelving. Many brands have oval ovens available in different quart capacities than the rounds, so an oval might be the optimal size for you. Martha's 8-Quart Oval Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven ($129.99, macys.com) is a little bit larger, which makes it just right for cooking whole roasts.
When to Get a Braiser
The less well-known sibling of the Dutch oven is the braiser. It's shallower than a Dutch oven and has more surface area for cooking, making the braiser particularly well-suited to browning meat and reducing sauces—and yes, braising such bone in pieces of meat like short ribs. Its shallow sides mean it can be used as an everyday pan for searing and pan frying. As it's wider and shallower than a regular Dutch oven, it's not as well-suited for recipes with a lot of liquid. Many companies that make Dutch ovens also produce braisers, such as Le Creuset. The Le Creuset 31/2-Quart Braiser ($310, lecreuset.com) will hold three to four servings.
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