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Dutch Oven Cooking

6 Rules to Follow When Cooking with a Dutch Oven

Build flavors and finish with a flourish for the best Dutch oven cooking.
By Published Apr. 19, 2022

If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you should rush out to your nearest kitchen supply store—or hop on to Amazon—and pick one up. (We especially like ones from Le Creuset and Cuisinart.)

A good Dutch oven serves as the most important—and most versatile—cooking vessel in your kitchen. There are so many different uses for Dutch ovens: Dutch ovens are great for both the stovetop and the oven, making them ideal for braising meat; cooking soups, stews, and sauces; boiling water for pasta; frying chicken; and even baking bread.

But for all their good qualities, Dutch ovens are also heavy and cumbersome, and can intimidate the inexperienced. To get the most out of your Dutch oven cooking—and understand how useful a pot it is—you’ll want to follow these pro tips.

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What Is a Dutch Oven?

Essentially a Dutch oven is a heavy-duty cooking pot with a lid. You can use a Dutch oven to cook delicious meals in a wide variety of cooking methods: Dutch ovens can sauté, simmer, braise, sear, fry, and even bake food. Not only are Dutch ovens heavy-duty; they are virtually all-purpose.

The Best Dutch Ovens

The ATK Reviews team has reviewed dozens of Dutch ovens over the years, using them for everything from browning meat to cooking stews to baking bread. Here are the products that have won our testings of the best small, medium, large, and lightweight Dutch ovens:

The Best Large Dutch Ovens

Le Creuset 7.25 Quart Dutch OvenCuisinart 7 Quart Dutch Oven

Our large Dutch oven winner, by Le Creuset (left) and our best buy by Cuisinart (right).

Overall Winner: Le Creuset 7¼ Quart Round Dutch Oven

This perfect, pricey pot bested the competition test after test. It was substantial enough to hold and distribute heat evenly without being unbearably heavy, and it's exceptionally resistant to damage.

Best Buy: Cuisinart Chef’s Enameled Cast Iron Casserole

With an exceptionally broad cooking surface and low, straight sides, this 7-quart pot had the same advantageous shape as the Le Creuset, though it's slightly less durable.

The Best Small Dutch Ovens

Le Creuset 3.5 Quart Dutch OvenCuisinart 3.5 Quart Dutch Oven

Our small Dutch oven winner, by Le Creuset (left) and our best buy by Cuisinart (right).

Overall Winner: Le Creuset 3.5 Quart Round Dutch Oven

This pricey pot doesn’t just look beautiful (it comes in 20-plus colors)—it cooks beautifully, too. 

Best Buy: Cuisinart 3 Quart Round Covered Casserole

This Dutch oven delivered well-cooked rice, meatballs, and pear crisp. It's a great pot at an even better price. 

The Best Medium Dutch Ovens

Le Creuset 5 Quart Dutch OvenCuisinart 5 Quart Dutch Oven

Our medium Dutch oven winner, by Le Creuset (left) and our best buy by Cuisinart (right).

Overall Winner: Le Creuset 5.5 Quart Round Dutch Oven

Its light-colored interior and low, straight sides allowed us to easily monitor browning, and its large looped handles made it easy to move, even when filled with 4 pounds of short ribs.

Best Buy: Cuisinart Chef’s Enameled Cast Iron 5 Quart Casserole

This budget-friendly pot aced nearly every test: White rice was fluffy, meatballs were browned, and French fries were crispy. It's an excellent Dutch oven at a bargain price. 

The Best Lightweight Dutch Ovens

All-Clad Stainless Stockpot
Our lightweight Dutch oven winner, by All-Clad.

Overall Winner: All-Clad D3 Stainless Stockpot with Lid, 6 Quart

This reliable pot performed almost as well as a traditional cast-iron Dutch oven. 

How to Cook In a Dutch Oven

Here are six easy steps on how to cook with a Dutch oven at home.

1. Keep the ingredient list short but flavorful.

To simplify Dutch oven cooking, you need to strip down the ingredient lists to the hard-hitting items. Use umami elevators like tomato paste, minced anchovies, and soy sauce to bring out supersavory tastes to many recipes. Instead of water, use chicken broth as your cooking liquid for full-flavored rice, grains, and pasta every time. Try to use a single ingredient multiple ways wherever possible. And don’t shy away from convenience items like frozen peas or canned tomatoes: These everyday products deliver on fresh, bright flavor year-round.

Our recipe for Indian-Style Chicken Curry instructs the home cook to bloom spices until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

2. Bring your flavors to life.

There’s no denying the virtues of a well-stocked spice rack. In the test kitchen, we bring everything from oregano and thyme to chili powder and garam masala into rotation in pursuit of the perfect flavor profile.

However, for these potent seasonings to make a real impression, simply stirring them in your Dutch oven dish doesn’t suffice. Blooming spices, whether on a stovetop or in the microwave, releases their aromatic oils that can suffuse an entire dish. By simply heating spices in oil, butter, or the juices rendered from browned meat or chicken, you’ll immediately (and effortlessly) elevate their flavors.

3. Team up with your microwave.

From blooming aromatics to parcooking potatoes to cooking up a simple sauce, your microwave is pivotal in enabling you to avoid having to reach for (and later wash) a second pan. Using your microwave in conjunction with your Dutch oven is also a big time-saver, and will help you keep your recipe prep as efficient as possible.

4. Cook in stages.

As many of us learned early on from Easy-Bake Oven letdowns, no great dishes were ever made by just dumping everything together and letting it cook. Dutch oven meals are no exception. Often, turning out a perfectly cooked protein plus sides means tailoring your technique or seasoning to suit each component.

When we want to pair a tender fish fillet with crisp potatoes, or hearty root vegetables with delicate greens, staggering the cooking times is essential. A bonus: While one food cooks you can turn your attention to making a flavorful sauce.

In our recipe for Smothered Pork Chops with Broccoli, the broccoli cooks above the chops in a steamer basket.

5. Create Two Cooking Environments in One Vessel

Some of our most significant aha! moments in the test kitchen came when pondering how our vessels could cook two ways at once—how we could, for example, simmer a rich stew in a Dutch oven while steaming a side of green vegetables. Approaching our recipes this way introduced some unexpected items into the mix, as we created a vessel within a vessel—or above it. A wire rack, a steamer basket, the Dutch oven’s lid, and skewers all allowed us to execute more than one cooking technique at a time, and we were wowed by the results.

6. Finish with a Flourish

While getting a homemade meal on the table every night is an achievement in itself, we never want to skimp on presentation, even in a Dutch oven. More often than not, our favorite way to finish off a dish is with a fresh flourish, be that a sprinkling of chopped cilantro or a bright drizzle of vinaigrette.

Particularly when a meal veers toward hearty, slow-cooked flavors (think robust root vegetables, a hefty cut of beef, or creamy scalloped potatoes), we seek out a way to lighten things up. This usually involves whisking together a quick, flavorful sauce, sprinkling on some fresh herbs, or passing lemon wedges at the table. These small touches work wonders for both the flavor and the visual appeal of our Dutch oven meals.