Dutch Ovens

Published January 1, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.

Our favorite Dutch ovens cost more than $200. Ouch! Is there a cheaper version that performs almost as well? Yes. It costs $50.

Overview:

Update: June 2014

Tramontina has discontinued our Best Buy Dutch oven, and until we have the opportunity to test Tramontina's redesign (which introduced some changes), our Best Buy recommendation is now the Lodge Color Enamel 6-Quart Dutch Oven. The Mario Batali pot we originally tested was manufactured by Copco, but is now manufactured by Dansk; we will test the new pot and update this testing in the future.

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A good Dutch oven (variously called a stockpot, round oven, French oven, or casserole) is a kitchen essential. They're heavier and thicker than stockpots, allowing them to retain and conduct heat more effectively, and deeper than a skillet, so they can handle large cuts of meat and cooking liquid. These qualities make Dutch ovens the best choice for braises, pot roasts, and stews, especially as they can go on the stovetop to sear foods and then into the oven to finish cooking. Their tall sides make them useful for deep-frying, and many cooks press Dutch ovens into… read more

Update: June 2014

Tramontina has discontinued our Best Buy Dutch oven, and until we have the opportunity to test Tramontina's redesign (which introduced some changes), our Best Buy recommendation is now the Lodge Color Enamel 6-Quart Dutch Oven. The Mario Batali pot we originally tested was manufactured by Copco, but is now manufactured by Dansk; we will test the new pot and update this testing in the future.

_________________________________________________________

A good Dutch oven (variously called a stockpot, round oven, French oven, or casserole) is a kitchen essential. They're heavier and thicker than stockpots, allowing them to retain and conduct heat more effectively, and deeper than a skillet, so they can handle large cuts of meat and cooking liquid. These qualities make Dutch ovens the best choice for braises, pot roasts, and stews, especially as they can go on the stovetop to sear foods and then into the oven to finish cooking. Their tall sides make them useful for deep-frying, and many cooks press Dutch ovens into service for jobs like boiling pasta.

For our most important test, we prepared a beef stew that starts on the stovetop and then moves to the oven. In each pan, we browned cubes of beef in batches, and as the meat seared, we observed whether the pan heated evenly and consistently without burning the drippings. After the long, slow cooking in the oven, we tasted the stew to see if the meat had become fork-tender and the broth had reduced to intense flavor. Of all the tests we did, this was the most important, because it focused on the unique abilities of Dutch ovens.

We noticed a few trends. Our favorite pots were wide enough (at least 8 inches) to brown 3 1/2 pounds of beef in three or four batches, something narrower pots couldn't do. And pots that were too light browned the meat unevenly.

For the next test, we put two quarts of canola oil in each pan, clipped on a deep-fry thermometer, and cooked a pound of frozen French fries to test heat transfer and retention. The best pans retained heat well enough to prevent the temperature of the oil from dropping too precipitously when food was added.

An unexpected issue emerged during this test. Fries cooked in one of our cast iron pans tasted rusty; evidently, the preseasoned surface had failed. Cast iron is a great choice for a Dutch oven, because it holds onto heat so well. But cast iron will also react with many foods. Some manufacturers coat their cast iron with a layer of brightly colored enamel. Other manufacturers preseason their pots—basically spraying them with oil and baking on the seasoning. But, as we discovered, it's possible to wash away the preseasoning. An enamel coating on the cast iron surface will last a lifetime and makes a Dutch oven much more versatile.

Methodology:

We tested eight inexpensive Dutch ovens (priced under $100), along with previous test kitchen winners made by All-Clad and Le Creuset (both priced in excess of $200). Ratings of good, fair, and poor for three kitchen tests (beef stew, french fries, and steamed white rice) were given to each pot; the stew test was given extra weight in determining overall rank. We also boiled water in each pot.

DIAMETER

We measured the interior cooking surface.

WEIGHT

We weighed each pot in the test kitchen, including the lid.

STEW

Testers prepared beef stew, browning 3 1/2 pounds of meat in batches, browning onions, and finishing the stew in the oven. Testers noted browning and tenderness of meat as well as flavor and consistency of sauce.

FRIES

Testers deep-fried 1 pound frozen French fries in 2 quarts canola oil, noting the time needed to heat oil to 350 degrees, the drop in temperature after fries were added, the time needed for oil to return to 350 degrees, and appearance and taste of the fries.

RICE

Testers prepared 3 cups of plain white rice and assessed the appearance and taste of the cooked rice.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Best Lighter Choice

    All-Clad Stainless 8-Quart Stockpot

    While this pan runs a little hot, it produced "golden and gorgeous" fond. Starred in the french-fry test, with rapid recovery of cooking temperature after fries were added. The best choice for cooks who prefer a lighter pot.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★★

    $279.95

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  • Recommended - Best Heavier Choice

    Le Creuset 7 1/4-Quart Round French Oven

    The "gold standard" of Dutch ovens put "gorgeous, golden crust" on meat and created great fond. Rice cooked up perfectly, though cleanup required long soaking. A kitchen workhorse that’s heavy but not excessively so.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★★

    $304.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Tramontina 6.5-Qt. Cast Iron Dutch Oven

    Crafted from enameled cast iron, the oven produced glossy, deeply flavored Belgian beef stew; fluffy white rice; and crispy French fries in the test kitchen. Its larger capacity (6.5 quarts) and even lower price made it our preferred choice over the Lodge (6 quarts.)

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★★

    Discontinued

  • Recommended - Best Buy

    Lodge Color Enamel 6-Quart Dutch Oven

    Crafted from enameled cast iron, and like the Tramontina produced glossy, deeply flavored Belgian beef stew; fluffy white rice; and crispy French fries in the test kitchen. But the Tramontina oven's larger capacity (6.5 quarts to the Lodge's 6 quarts) and even lower price made it our preferred choice.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★★

    $49.97

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Mario Batali Italian Essentials Enamel-on-Cast-Iron Pot

    This roomy pan was slow to heat up but demonstrated quick recovery after fries were added to the oil. The "self- basting" spikes inside the lid work—we never had to shake condensation off this lid after opening it. Browning of beef could have been more even. Testers bemoaned lifting and handling this "super-heavy" pan. Needs bigger handles.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★★

    $109.95

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Lodge Dutch Oven

    Although it was hard at first to see the fond developing in this black pot, the meat had "excellent, deep browning." Fries browned well, and the heat recovery was relatively quick. Large looping handles make it easy to manipulate this heavyweight pot. Boiling water picked up a yellow tint and a rusty smell, indicating that our pot had lost its seasoning.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★★

    $49.99

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Calphalon One Infused Anodized Dutch Oven

    "So roomy I could almost brown the meat in two batches rather than three." Low sides made it easy to see inside, and it was lightweight and easy to manipulate. In the fries test, the temperature of oil dropped the farthest when potatoes were added, then fluctuated more than the other pans as the temperature very slowly climbed back up.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★★
    • Fries ★★

    $82.99

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Tramontina Sterling II 18/10 Stainless Steel Covered Dutch Oven

    Pan is big, light, and easy to handle, and it did a nice job browning meat. However, the stew liquid did not reduce at all in the oven and tasted soupy and unfinished; the meat was not fully tender. Oil temperature dropped the least when fries were added and recovered the fastest.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★
    • Fries ★★★

    $89.99

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Emerilware from All-Clad Cast Iron Dutch Oven

    Deep, narrow pan was slow to heat up but developed a nice fond for stew once it did. Meat had to be browned in four batches rather than three. The stew’s broth reduced well in the oven, becoming rich and thick, but the meat wasn’t fork-tender. Boiled water appeared yellow, and fries had a distinctly rusty taste, indicating that pot had lost its seasoning.

    • Rice ★★★
    • Stew ★★
    • Fries ★★

    $34.95

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Innova Color Cast Porcelain Enameled Cast Iron 5-Quart Round Dutch Oven

    We had to brown the meat for the stew in fi ve batches rather than three. The pan runs slightly hot, and rice was overcooked with "blown-out" grains. For fries, this pot was second slowest to heat oil, and the temperature of the oil dropped farther than we’d like when fries were added.

    • Rice ★★
    • Stew ★★
    • Fries ★★

    $68.07

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