Dutch ovens are handy cooking tools that have a variety of uses in the kitchen. With its distinct shape and heat-trapping lid, the trusty Dutch oven is one of those kitchen essentials that every chef needs. Its cooking applications range from substituting for a deep fryer to making pot roast to keeping chicken delicious and tender.
In this post, we’ll introduce you to the Dutch oven and teach you how to keep yours in tip-top shape by cleaning it the right way. In addition, we’ll provide you with some helpful tips for making the most of this versatile piece of cookware, including what to make in it.
What Is a Dutch Oven?
Dutch ovens are durable cooking pots with tight lids that keep heat from escaping. They’re used for a wide array of cooking methods, including braising, sauteing, baking, searing, and more. They’re some of the most versatile pots you can keep in your kitchen, and some chefs recommend owning more than one Dutch oven since they get near-constant use.
How Much Food Do Dutch Ovens Hold?
The average sizes for Dutch ovens range from around 3.5 quarts (nearly a gallon) to a whopping 7.25 quarts, which is just shy of two gallons. Mid-sized Dutch ovens usually hold about a gallon-and-a-half of food, which makes them the perfect choice for smaller families and couples without kids. You probably won’t need more than a 3.5-quart Dutch oven to cook for yourself and one other person, and a large Dutch oven with an almost 2-gallon capacity is far bigger than necessary for most at-home chefs.
However, if you’re constantly cooking for large crowds, a larger Dutch oven might be an excellent purchase for you. These Dutch ovens are definitely investments, as they’re priced higher due to their size and quality. However, if you need to feed a big family or host plenty of dinner parties, a 7-quart or larger Dutch oven may be worth the price.
Cooking With a Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are about as useful as pots and pans can be. There are countless recipes that require just one Dutch oven and a few simple ingredients. Some of our favorite dishes to cook in a Dutch oven include:
- Macaroni and cheese, which you can make in large batches, thanks to the impressive size of an average Dutch oven. Mac and cheese is a staple among lovers of comfort food, and it’s easier to make than ever, thanks to the way Dutch ovens naturally retain heat.
- Soup, which you can technically make in any pot that’s large enough. However, we love making soup in a Dutch oven because of how much this pot can hold. If you need enough food for a sizable crowd and soup is on the menu, your Dutch oven is the way to go.
- Pot roast, which is one of those classic Dutch oven dishes that tastes amazing on busy weeknights. While some pot roast recipes require constant attention, a Dutch oven lets you cook the meat and veggies slowly over time, giving you a chance to relax and unwind after work.
- You can even bake bread in a Dutch oven. If you want simple, tasty homemade bread and have some time to spare, let your dough rise overnight and bake it in a Dutch oven the next day.
Cleaning Your Dutch Oven Like a Pro
Dutch ovens need special care and attention to stay in their best shape. That means avoiding the dishwasher, staying away from certain cleaning products, and watching for cracks.
Below are our tips for cleaning your Dutch oven the right way.
Don’t Put Your Dutch Oven in the Dishwasher
If you invested a pretty penny into your Dutch oven, it shouldn’t get washed in the dishwasher with the rest of your pots and pans. The delicate enamel lining on a Dutch oven can actually wear down in extreme temperatures, so your dishwasher might be too hot and harsh for this particular pot.
Instead of using the dishwasher, try cleaning your Dutch oven with a gentle scrubbing tool. Avoiding steel wool and other abrasive scrubbers helps keep the enamel lining intact, allowing you to get years of use out of your Dutch oven.
Most bits of food will come off of the surface of a Dutch oven with just a bit of gentle scrubbing. That means you probably won’t need steel wool or a stone scraping tool to get the inside and outside of your Dutch oven sparkly and clean. If a stain or piece of food just won’t come off with gentle scrubbing, try letting your Dutch oven soak in warm, soapy water overnight.
When soap and water aren't doing the trick, mixing hot water with baking soda might help you tackle those stains. Baking soda helps to dissolve the little bits of food that get stuck on the interior and exterior of your Dutch oven, making scrubbing easier.
Don’t Skip Cleaning the Outside
Accidents happen, especially in the kitchen. Sometimes they’re small – a bit of spaghetti sauce on the floor or a runaway blueberry – but sometimes they’re bigger.
When you cook with your Dutch oven, you’ll probably encounter those big messes from time to time, especially if you tend to forget things. If you let a pot of soup or sauce bubble over on the stovetop, you’ll probably end up with a lot of messy stains on the outside of your Dutch oven. It happens to the best of us.
Even if you aren’t a messy cook, you’ll still probably find that your Dutch oven collects some stains on its exterior with regular use. Scrubbing these stains off with every use of your Dutch oven will keep the pot looking better and functioning fully for as long as possible.
Look For Interior and Exterior Cracks
Your Dutch oven’s enamel finish is the part of the pot that needs the most care and attention. It’s also the part that’s most prone to cracking. Cracked Dutch ovens don’t cook as well as their fully intact counterparts, which is why some cookware manufacturers will replace a cracked Dutch oven thanks to a lifetime warranty.
If your Dutch oven isn’t holding heat as effectively as it used to, it might be due to cracks on the pot’s interior or exterior. If you notice any cracks and have a lifetime warranty on your Dutch oven, contact the manufacturer for a brand new replacement.
Tips for Better Dutch Oven Meals
While Dutch ovens might be simple and incredibly easy to use, you can still refine your recipes and get even better flavors by using this versatile pot the right way. If you want to take your Dutch oven cooking to the next level, take a look at these quick and simple tips.
Put It in the Oven
Did you know your Dutch oven is oven-safe? That means you can transfer a slow-cooking dish like a pot roast into the oven after it’s started boiling on the stove. With a low enough oven temperature, you can just let your Dutch oven sit in your full-sized oven, allowing the flavors of your meal to simmer and come to life.
Be Smart With the Heat
Dutch ovens are best for low-heat cooking, and higher temperatures may actually damage your pot’s finish. The enamel coating on the bottom of a Dutch oven can wear down relatively quickly if it’s constantly exposed to a high-heat stovetop, so we recommend low or medium heat.
Since Dutch ovens typically work best for slow-cooked recipes, don’t be afraid of lower heat. Your meal might not be ready quite as quickly, but you’ll get extraordinary flavor and texture. Good things come to those who wait!
The Lid Isn’t Always Oven-Safe
While the Dutch oven pot itself is oven-safe, many of these pots have plastic tops on their lids. That little bit of plastic can melt down in the oven, leaving your pot permanently damaged. Fortunately, the plastic part of the lid typically screws off, making it easy to make your entire Dutch oven oven-safe.
Use Wooden Spoons and Ladles
That enamel coating on a Dutch oven is one of its coolest features, but it’s also fragile. Using metal utensils with a Dutch oven can scrape the enamel finish, damaging your pot in the process. To avoid scrapes and scratches, try using wooden or plastic utensils instead.
From making soup and chili to slow-cooking a delicious pot roast, the possibilities are endless when you own a Dutch oven. If you buy one for your home’s kitchen, you’ll find yourself using it all the time for virtually every meal of the day. Just remember to keep your Dutch oven clean by following the tips listed above! That way, you’ll get years of delicious meals out of this trusty pot.
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