Medium Dutch Ovens
How we tested
Dutch ovens are our most-used pots in the test kitchen. We bake, simmer, braise, roast, and boil in them, and we love these heavy-bottomed pots for their versatility, durability, and heat retention. Our preferred large Dutch oven holds at least 7 quarts—it’s the ideal capacity to handle any task, from cooking a whole chicken to preparing enough baked ziti to serve six people. However, when doing research for our cookbook Cook It in Your Dutch Oven, we found that many home cooks own a medium-size (5- to 5.5-quart) Dutch oven. With that in mind, we developed all our recipes for Cook It in Your Dutch Oven to work in both large- and medium-size Dutch ovens. What are the advantages to a pot this size?
In our review of large Dutch ovens, we gave top marks to the Le Creuset 7¼ Quart Round Dutch Oven and the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Enameled Cast Iron Covered Casserole. We loved their light-colored interiors that allowed us to monitor browning, large cooking surfaces, and secure, large handles. To see if these qualities were still present in the smaller versions of these pots, we tested the Le Creuset 5.5 Quart Round Dutch Oven, which costs about $340, and the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Enameled Cast Iron Cookware 5 Quart Round Covered Casserole, which costs about $80, using them to cook rice, brown meatballs, fry French fries, and make Braised Short Ribs with Wild Mushroom Farrotto from Cook It in Your Dutch Oven.
Despite its smaller size, the 5.5-quart Le Creuset accommodated enough meatballs to serve four to six people, a full pound of French fries, and, while a bit snug, 4 pounds of short ribs. White rice came out fluffy, meatballs were browned all over, short ribs were tender, and French fries were golden and crispy. Its light interior allowed us to easily monitor food while it cooked, and its generous looped handles made it easy to move the Dutch oven comfortably. When we measured the pot, we were surprised to find that it actually has the same 9-inch cooking surface diameter as the full-size Le Creuset; its walls are just a bit shorter. Its ample cooking surface meant that browning was effortless; however, its shorter stature felt a teensy bit cramped when we braised a large batch of short ribs.
The 5-quart Cuisinart also impressed us with its versatility. All the food we made in it was on par with the food made in the Le Creuset. However, since it has a slightly smaller capacity (its cooking surface was a quarter of an inch smaller), its size was a bit of a hindrance. The short ribs were too cramped, and it fit fewer meatballs than the Le Creuset. Overall, though, we thought that this was an excellent Dutch oven at a solid price. The full-size version of this pot weighs a whopping 13.7 pounds when empty, so we appreciated that this slightly smaller pot weighed 2 pounds less, making it easier to lift.
We still prefer a large Dutch oven because it comfortably accommodates everything from a big batch of paella to a large loaf of bread. We also like that full-size Dutch ovens have taller walls for safer frying. However, a medium-size version might be a good option if you rarely cook for a crowd, don’t do much frying, or need a slightly lighter pot. If you’re looking to buy a 5-quart Dutch oven, we can recommend both the Le Creuset 5.5 Quart Round Dutch Oven and the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Enameled Cast Iron Cookware 5 Quart Round Covered Casserole.
We tested the medium-size versions of our top-rated full-size Dutch ovens, using them to cook rice, brown and simmer meatballs, fry frozen French fries, and make Braised Short Ribs with Wild Mushroom Farrotto from Cook It in Your Dutch Oven. We rated the pots on their cooking performance and how easy they were to use and move around the stovetop and oven.
Cooking: We cooked white rice and meatballs, braised short ribs, and fried French fries. We awarded points to pots that produced evenly cooked food.
Ease of Use: We liked pots that were easy to cook in and move around. We also liked pots with comfortable handles that provided a secure grip—given that Dutch ovens are fairly heavy—and lower, straight sides and light interiors 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.