Dutch Oven Cooking
6 Rules to Follow When Cooking with a Dutch Oven
Your ingredient list should be short, and you should learn to love your microwave.
01-17-2017
America's Test Kitchen

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 this one and this one.) A good Dutch oven serves as the most important—and most versatile—cooking vessel in your kitchen. They’re 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 the following six tips.

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.

2. Bring Your Flavors to Life

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

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 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. 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.

5. Create Two Cooking Environments in One Vessel

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

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 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. 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 meals.


For more on cooking with Dutch ovens, read the following posts: 

What's your favorite meal to cook in your Dutch oven? Let us know in the comments! 

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