Dutch Oven Cooking

What Is a Dutch Oven & What Do You Use It For?

This vessel is the original low-and-slow kitchen workhorse.

Published Apr. 27, 2023.

The pride of every kitchen, the Dutch oven is on every gift registry and in every well-stocked cabinet (if it ever sees a day when it’s not in use). But what is it and what is it actually used for? We gathered info from the experts on our ATK Reviews team and from our innovative recipes to answer these questions.

What is a Dutch oven?

A Dutch oven is large, heavy pot with a tightly fitting lid. They come in both cast iron and enameled. We prefer enameled, for cast iron requires a great deal of maintenance both before and after use. Its weight (about 15 pounds) is essential as it insulates your food without letting it burn. This makes it perfect for a wide variety of cooking techniques. See the results of our rigorous testings for the best traditional Dutch ovens in every price and size and the best lightweight Dutch ovens.

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A good Dutch oven is a kitchen essential, heavy and thick enough to conduct and retain heat and deep enough to handle large cuts of meat and quarts of cooking liquid. While a Dutch oven is ideal for braises, stews, and chilis, you can ask it to do much more.

Below are a few Dutch oven uses that make it such a kitchen must-have.

1. Use Your Dutch Oven to Cook Pasta Directly in the Sauce

Dutch ovens are perfect for serving up a pasta feast, and the best part is that they help you eliminate the pot of boiling water. The key to cooking pasta through without all that water is to use an intensely flavored, moisture-heavy cooking liquid that can easily work as a sauce. We like using combinations of water, wine, the liquid from canned tomatoes, and broth, depending on the flavor profile of the dish. This trick will save you time and turn out a pot of fully loaded pasta.

2. Use Your Dutch Oven to Steam Side Dishes

When we want sides that don’t disappear into the dish, we look to our steamer basket to hold vegetables above the fray. Placing our steamer basket above the protein and cooking liquid allows vegetables like broccoli and asparagus to steam through under the Dutch oven’s tight seal without turning soggy, a trick that makes it easy to serve up a distinct side right from the same pot containing even the sauciest entrée. 

3. Use Your Dutch Oven to Cook Hearty Stews

Great stews are defined by their thick, rich texture. Rather than lengthen our ingredient lists with added thickening agents, we use the low-and-slow cooking technique to our advantage, allowing starchy ingredients to break down and add body to a stew naturally. From cooking sweet potatoes until they start to disintegrate to simmering quinoa until it sloughs off its starch, our best thickeners are right in front of our faces.

4. Use Your Dutch Oven to Poach Eggs, Chicken, and More

Poaching eggs in a Dutch oven filled with just 6 cups of water leaves plenty of headspace above the eggs so that steam fully cooks the notoriously gooey portion of the white nearest the yolk. But this method can also be applied to other proteins. A steamer basket and plenty of water can perfectly poach chicken breasts and fish on the stovetop in a Dutch oven. 

150 Recipes for Your Kitchen's Most Versatile Pot

Cook It In Your Dutch Oven

Learn how you can put your Dutch oven to work every day in so many different ways. Make it your go-to for weeknight meals and impressive roasts and braises.  
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5. Use Your Dutch Oven for Baking

Chocolate Lava Cake for a Crowd

Dutch ovens have long been used to bake bread. In a covered Dutch oven, trapped steam provides a crisp, crackling crust to a sourdough loaf. It delivers sweet, baked treats as well (and doubles as the mixing vessel), for recipes like a delicious chocolate lava cake. The best part? The Dutch oven's heat-retaining walls effectively keep the cake's center gooey and warm between servings. (Trust us, you’re going to go back for seconds of this one.)

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