Our favorite Dutch ovens are reliable and versatile—but heavy. Could we find a great lightweight stand-in?
Last Updated Sept. 1, 2022. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 15: Low Country Party
The best cast-iron Dutch ovens do it all, but they’re too heavy for some cooks. We tested lighter-weight options to find an alternative that was just as versatile and dependable. None had the excellent heat retention of a cast-iron Dutch oven (which is essential for baking bread), but some lightweight models shined in other ways. They heated evenly, which is essential for a great sear, and they excelled when used for braising, frying, and making rice. In the end, a stainless-steel model won out as the best lightweight option: We recommend the All-Clad D3 Stainless Stockpot with Lid, 6 Quart for its even heat distribution; wide cooking surface; comparatively low sides; large, sturdy handles; and durability.
We love traditional Dutch ovens because of how versatile they are. We stock dozens of our top-rated models in the test kitchen, routinely using them to boil, braise, bake, fry, and more. Most Dutch ovens are made from enameled cast iron, and they’re quite heavy—we’ve tested options that weigh more than 18 pounds. In most cases this heft is helpful: Heavy cast iron retains heat well, which makes it ideal for baking picture-perfect, crusty loaves of bread as well as deep frying. It’s also great for searing and braising meat and making soups and stews. But cast-iron cookware can be too heavy for some home cooks, especially those with disabilities, arthritis, or otherwise diminished hand, arm, or back strength. So we set out to find a lightweight pot that is just as versatile and dependable as a cast-iron Dutch oven but doesn’t sacrifice quality for lightness.
Our research led us to conclude that there aren’t many criteria a pot has to follow to be dubbed a Dutch oven. Manufacturers throw the label on pots made from any material you can think of, from cast iron to stainless steel, aluminum, and even ceramic. Many have enameled or nonstick coatings. Some products are labeled “stockpots” or “casseroles'' as well as or instead of being called a Dutch oven. For this review, we focused less on name and more on certain characteristics. We selected pots made from stainless steel and aluminum, with sides no higher than 6 inches, since higher sides can keep cooks from being able to reach and manipulate food. We focused on models that held from 6 to 7 quarts—the size we call for in most of our recipes—and that weighed less than 6.5 pounds, which is far less heavy than our cast-iron winner.
The lightweight options we tested were easier to handle and maneuver than heavy cast-iron pots. Some seared meat as evenly and quickly as cast-iron pots. But what we gained in maneuverability, we lost in h...
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Chase is an associate editor for ATK Reviews. He's an epidemiologist-turned-equipment tester and biscuit enthusiast.