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Small Dutch Ovens

Published May 2019
More on the Best Dutch Ovens
We also tested and recommend the medium and full-size versions of these Dutch ovens. Our full review of Dutch ovens with detailed brand comparisons is available here.

How we tested

When we tested 7-quart Dutch ovens, we gave top marks to two pots, a highly recommended model from Le Creuset and a recommended Best Buy from Cuisinart. These two pots ably handled many cooking tasks, from making stews and chilis to baking bread to deep frying; featured light-colored interiors that helped us gauge the doneness of food; and offered large looped handles that aided maneuvering. However, a Dutch oven of this size can be heavy: Our favorite weighs more than 13 pounds when empty. The good news is that these two Dutch ovens are available in smaller, more lightweight sizes, including models with capacities around 3 quarts. But do they offer the same durability, versatility, and heat retention of their full-size counterparts? To find out, we put the Le Creuset 3.5 Quart Round Dutch Oven and the Cuisinart 3 Quart Round Covered Casserole to the test, using them to make rice, brown meatballs, and bake Pear-Ginger Crisp from Cook It in Your Dutch Oven.

We appreciated the sturdy construction of the 3.5-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven as well as its low, broad shape that provided an ample cooking surface. It made fluffy white rice and a pear crisp with evenly cooked fruit and a golden-brown topping. The pot’s light-colored interior made it easy for us to monitor the progress of the meatballs as they browned. We also liked the large looped handles, which allowed us to easily maneuver the pot around the stovetop and into and out of the oven.

The small Cuisinart Dutch oven also performed admirably. It cooked food evenly, and its light-colored interior made it easy to monitor the browning of the meatballs and to gauge when other foods were done. However, it sides were higher and it had nearly an inch less cooking surface than the Le Creuset pot, which meant that we could fit in only eight meatballs (we could brown 11 in the Le Creuset pot). Its handles were a bit small, so we felt less confident when carrying the pot. Overall, though, this pot is an excellent option, especially considering it costs about $170 less than the Le Creuset.

Although we were impressed by these pots, these 3-quart Dutch ovens have limitations. We advise against deep-frying in them because they’re too small (we typically call for 3 quarts of oil in our deep-frying recipes). The pots were also too small to bake bread in and for most of our stew and braising recipes. So, what are these 3-quart Dutch ovens ideal for? They function much like a 3-quart saucepan, but with better searing capabilities because they are made of thick, heat-retaining cast iron. Their smaller size is well suited to tasks such as cooking grains and for recipes that serve two, such as Pasta alla Gricia, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, and Shrimp Risotto, and smaller braises such as Pulled Pork. They’re also attractive enough to go from the oven or stovetop to the table.

While we still recommend the versatile 7-quart Dutch oven for most kitchen tasks, we also recommend the Le Creuset 3.5 Quart Round Dutch Oven, which costs about $240, and the Cuisinart 3 Quart Round Covered Casserole, which costs about $70, for cooks who would like a lighter pot to use for smaller cooking tasks. These small Dutch ovens weigh 5 to 8 pounds less than their 7-quart counterparts and offer the same heat retention.


Methodology

We tested smaller versions of our top-rated Dutch ovens, using them to prepare rice, sear and simmer meatballs, and bake pear crisp from Cook It in Your Dutch Oven. We noted whether the rice was fluffy, the meatballs were well browned, and the crisps were properly cooked. We calculated the available cooking surfaces, noting how many meatballs we could fit in a single layer in each pot. We also looked at how easy the pots were to use, move around, and clean. Prices are what we paid online, and the pots are listed in order of preference.

Rating Criteria

Cooking: In each pot we cooked white rice and meatballs and baked pear crisp. We awarded points to pots that produced light and fluffy rice, well-browned meatballs, and evenly cooked crisps.

Ease of Use: We gave high marks to pots that provided a wide cooking surface and were easy to cook in and move around. We also appreciated comfortable handles that provided a secure grip and low, straight sides that gave us good visibility when cooking.

Durability: We scrubbed and whacked the pots repeatedly with a metal spoon to make sure that they could withstand years of heavy use. We rated a pot highly if it didn't chip or crack.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*