Small Dutch Ovens
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.
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.
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.