We simmered, braised and baked for weeks to find the best dutch ovens

14September 2021



CNN
—  

The classic Dutch oven may just be the ultimate kitchen multitasker. From making rice to simmering sauces and stews to baking bread to braising meat, this durable tool can tackle a huge range of cooking needs on the stovetop, in the oven or even over the campfire.

With many Dutch oven options available, we set out to discover which were best, putting 13 highly rated and top-selling models through a bevy of tests. And while we found the pans all performed similarly when it came to cooking, we looked to details that make a big difference in everyday use, such as handles, lids, weight and heat distribution, to make our final picks: one perfect for a buyer on a budget, one sure to be a treasured heirloom to pass on for generations and another suited for the great outdoors.

Best Dutch oven overall

Lodge’s 6-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven looks great and performed beautifully in every test we put it through, offering better results than most of its more expensive competitors. Large handles and a spatula-friendly shape make it a breeze to move from oven to stovetop, and the finish cleans up easily.

Best splurge Dutch oven

Le Creuset’s iconic colorful dutch oven has been a go-to for nearly a century. While it’s much more expensive than most of the models we tested, its perfect heat distribution, easy handling, high performance and durability make it an heirloom piece you’ll hand down to your children.

Best Dutch oven for camping

The Camp Chef deluxe dutch oven performed impressively on campfire favorites like chili and cornbread, and the lid doubles as a griddle for extra versatility. A sturdy bail handle, lid lifter and thermometer notch make it easy to handle even when covered in hot coals.

Best Dutch oven overall: Lodge Enameled 6-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($69.69; amazon.com)

Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Right out of the box, we knew there was something special going on with Lodge’s enameled Dutch oven. The shiny, smooth finish had zero flaws and the ombre blue hue was just plain pretty. Plus, the 6-quart size looked just right for all sorts of tasks — boiling water for pasta or corn on the cob, whipping up slow-cooked braises and stews, even throwing a simple no-knead bread into the oven for a fresh, hot and crispy loaf at dinnertime.

And when we started comparing its details against the other pans we tested, Lodge’s enameled version kept coming out near the top. We noted its large handles and the lid’s amply sized metal knob, both features that make using a heavy pan easier — especially while wearing oven mitts or handling with a kitchen towel, which is necessary because these pans get hot, handles and all.

True, the Le Creuset earned top marks for comfort, but at less than a fifth the cost of that high-end model, the Lodge was a close second. The Lodge fell right in the middle of the pack in weight but was easy enough to maneuver, even more so than most lighter models. And its slightly sloped sides allowed a spatula to scrape up everything along the edges.

As far as performance, there wasn’t a huge difference in results among the different Dutch ovens we tested. All made light, fluffy rice with no burning, although the grains stuck to the sides of most pans. The Lodge did show some sticking, but not a whole lot. When we tested how quickly each pan could bring water to a rolling boil, the Lodge was third-fastest. It worked wonderfully in delivering a tender braised pork shoulder, slow-cooked for more than three hours. And, again, as with all the pans tested, our no-knead boule bread loaf came out crispy and golden with just a bit more color on the bottom than the Le Creuset.

When it came to cleaning up after each round of testing, the Lodge, which is available in nearly a dozen colors, looked good as new after a little soaking in sudsy water, with no visible staining, chips or cracks. (It’s dishwasher-safe, but we chose to hand-wash all models.) This was on par with the other enameled Dutch ovens we tested, all of which were simpler to clean up after than the preseasoned cast-iron versions.

Now, if you scour the pan’s 26,000 Amazon reviews (which we did), you’ll find some complaints by users who found chips in the enamel, both upon unboxing and with use. But seeing that 87% of the reviews are 5 stars, and that the company offers a lifetime warranty, we’re not too concerned. It’s also comforting to know Lodge has been producing American-made cookware since 1896. Our splurge pick, the Le Creuset, may be a better-known top-of-the-market Dutch oven, but the Lodge’s similar performance and affordability make it an excellent option for the average home cook.

Best splurge Dutch oven: Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven ($370; lecreuset.com)

Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven

Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven

While we certainly recommend those on a budget or not focused on handing cookware down to their kids consider the Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven, the impressiveness of the classic Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven is undeniable.

Whether you’re a longtime Dutch oven user ready for an heirloom-quality upgrade or just open to making a splurge, this beautiful, durable piece of cookware is built to last and aced all the tests we threw at it. To start, it brought water to a boil much faster than any other model, and while all the recipes we made turned out well, Le Creuset’s results were always just a little bit superior. For example, all the pans produced fluffy, light rice, but while the others left at least some of the grains sticking to the pan and had variances in heat distribution when we tested different areas of the Dutch oven with an infrared thermometer, Le Creuset left nary a trace of rice behind and displayed perfect heat distribution.

So, what makes it worth the $370 price tag? Mostly, it’s in the details. Designed by French artisans and made by a company that’s been in business since 1925, the enameled cast-iron pot displays excellent heat retention and distribution, and locks in moisture, thanks to its tight-fitting lid. We gave highest marks to this model when it came to its wide and roomy handles as well as the comfort of the lid’s knob, which is large enough and placed high enough that it was hard to grasp the lid while wearing oven mitts. Its weight, at 11.5 pounds, was third lightest, which makes a noticeable difference when hoisting a heavy — and steaming hot — roast out of the oven.

Noted for its wide array of colors, the iconic Le Creuset Dutch oven comes in sizes from 1- to 13 1/4 quarts, but the 5.5-quart version we tested is among the brand’s most popular. It’s also dishwasher-safe, as many enameled models are, and even after cooking red sauce and a multi-hour slow-cook braise, it cleaned up looking good as new (we chose to hand-wash it). Of course, any enameled pan can chip or flake, but we’ve owned a similar Le Creuset model for 15 years that has yet to do so. And a lifetime warranty can be put to use in case of any damage.

Still not ready to spend the money? Because of their longevity, it is possible to score used Le Creuset Dutch ovens at estate or garage sales, and if you’re lucky enough to spot one, we strongly urge you to snap it up. Trust us: Someday, your children, and maybe even their children, will thank you for it.

Best Dutch oven for camping: Camp Chef 6-Quart Cast-Iron Deluxe Dutch Oven ($63.13; amazon.com)

Camp Chef 6-Quart Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Camp Chef 6-Quart Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Camp cooking doesn’t have to just be baked beans in a can and hot dogs roasted on a stick. A cast-iron Dutch oven can be used to make anything from glazed pork chops to peach cobbler over a fire or hot coals. We were impressed with how well this 6-quart preseasoned version cooked corn bread, leaving it beautifully golden on top and coming up clean when we lifted a slice out of the pan.

We tested our favorite chili recipe in the Camp Chef, getting really, really hungry as the onions, garlic, peppers, ground beef and spices began to brown and then slow-cooked over hot coals with beans and diced tomatoes added in. After a couple of hours, we were ready to feast on the hearty chili that was evenly heated and full of flavor.

Besides its performance, we gave this model kudos for its special touches. A built-in thermometer notch allows you to gauge heat without having to lift a coal-covered lid. Tripod feet help control the heat. The metal bail handle affixed to the pan stayed firmly in place and never got too hot to handle. It comes with a super-handy lid lifter that saves you from having to purchase the accessory separately. And maybe coolest of all is the lid: It has mini tripod feet on top, allowing you to flip it over and use it as a griddle or skillet to make pancakes, bacon and eggs for breakfast.

It also cleaned up easily, although it was clear another coat of seasoning would need to be added before its next use. Some small nits: The Camp Chef requires some muscle to move around — it weighs about 19 pounds, and it’s the only model we tested that does not come with a lifetime warranty. But for $62? We’re OK with that.

How to choose and care for a Dutch oven

While we did include some cast-iron pans, the majority of the Dutch ovens we tested were enameled cast iron, which gives the pan a smooth, light-colored finish that’s nearly nonstick, stain-free and doesn’t hold onto odors or flavors. We found the cast-iron versions, meanwhile, perform well when slow-cooking meat or a stew but are less versatile when it comes to making, say, a long-simmering red sauce, as a tangy metallic taste can be added to your food. (Some reports call this a myth, but we encountered it after making a simple red sauce that cooked for 30 minutes.)

An enameled dutch oven doesn't affect the flavor of acidic foods, and is easy to clean up.

Lesley Kennedy/CNN
An enameled dutch oven doesn’t affect the flavor of acidic foods, and is easy to clean up.

Oval Dutch oven models are available, but we included the more popular round versions and tested mostly 5- to 7-quart models, with one camp version clocking in at 9 quarts. These sizes are optimal for feeding a family of four (or leaving you with plenty of leftovers).

As far as cleaning Dutch ovens, all the enameled pans, no matter how covered in red sauce, or browned braising residue, cleaned up beautifully after a short soak in soapy water. Nearly all are dishwasher-safe, but we chose to hand-wash them.

The preseasoned cast-iron models also cleaned up nicely, with just a drop or two of soap and some scrubbing. There’s no need to baby cast iron unnecessarily — it’s simple to preserve and restore seasoning. We’ve got some tips for the best ways to care for for cast-iron cookware.

All cast-iron cookware is intended to last. It is extremely difficult to destroy, and it takes a lot of doing to meaningfully damage an enamel finish. But if you’re still worried, keep in mind that all but one of the Dutch ovens we tested include lifetime warranties.

How we tested

Lodge, Camp Chef, and Le Creuset dutch ovens

Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Lodge, Camp Chef, and Le Creuset dutch ovens

Our testing pool included both enameled and preseasoned cast-iron Dutch ovens. And while all the models performed well in our recipe tests, which included making rice, a simple red sauce, braising a pork shoulder and baking a crusty boule, details including weight, comfort and heat distribution caused some models to receive higher ratings than others. We tested 10 Dutch ovens that ranged in price from less than $50 to $370, and from 5 to 7 quarts. Additionally, we tested three cast-iron versions made for camping that were all preseasoned with metal bail handles. Along with the recipes, we tested how quickly water came to a rapid boil, heat distribution, handle and lid design and comfort, quality of construction and how easy they were to clean up.

We focused on the following criteria when testing each model:

Performance

  • Evenness of heat distribution: Dutch ovens are known for holding their temperature but not necessarily heating evenly. To see which pans did a better job, we used an infrared thermometer gun to measure heat at all areas of the pan after boiling water and cooking rice.
  • Time to bring water to a rapid boil: Using a stopwatch app, we timed how long it took 4 cups of water to reach a rapid boil in each pan.
  • Rice: We cooked the same amount of rice at the same temperature for the same time period, noting heat distribution, fluffiness and whether it stuck to the pan.
  • Simple red sauce: We used the same recipe, along with the same heat and cook time, to make a simple red sauce, sautéing onions and garlic in oil, and adding tomato sauce and paste, spices and other ingredients, taking note of any splashing or burning, along with how smoothly it cooked.
  • Braised pork shoulder: Using the same recipe, temperature and time, we recorded how well the pork braised in each pan, paying special note to the tenderness of the carrots, the caramelization of onions and how well the pork fell off the bone.
  • Boule bread: Again, using the same recipe, temperature and time, we made a round boule in each pan, noting how evenly each loaf browned, the crispness of the shell and airiness of the inside and how evenly each loaf cooked.

Build and design

  • Weight: How much does it weigh, and does it seem too heavy or too light?
  • Diameter of pan: How many inches is it across?
  • Depth of sides: We measured how deep each pan was and whether the sides were sloped or vertical. (Shallower sides are better for ease of sautéing but can lead to lots of splashing outside the pot.)
  • Handles: Were the handles comfortable or ergonomic? Were they easy to grab with a bulky oven mitt or kitchen towel? Were they rated for high oven temperatures while baking?
  • Lid: How heavy was it? Did it fit tightly to the pan? What material was the lid handle made of and was it comfortable to hold?
  • Quality of materials: Was the surface smooth? Were there any scratches, casting marks or voids?
  • Camp models: What features did it include? Was the lid easy to lift? What special features did it come with?

Care

  • Ease of cleanup: Most of the pans tested were deemed dishwasher-safe by the manufacturers, but we chose to hand-wash only, which is largely recommended. How much elbow grease did it take to remove food, and was there any staining?
  • Preseasoning: For the cast-iron models, were they preseasoned? And how easy was it to reseason those pans?
  • Warranty: Does it come with a warranty? If so, how long?
  • Customer service: Is it easy to contact the company for questions or concerns?

Other Dutch ovens we tested

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 7-Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($129.01; amazon.com)

If you have a large family or love to cook for a crowd, Cuisinart’s 7-quart Dutch oven is a great option. Available in an array of colors, it’s made of sturdy enameled cast iron and, although it’s quite hefty at almost 18 pounds, we appreciated the wide, easy-to-grip knob on its lid, although we wished the handles on the pan were a bit larger to better accommodate our bulky oven mitts. As far as cooking goes, this model landed in our top five, turning out a tender pork shoulder, a nice crisp, mostly even boule crust and no splashing whatsoever on the sauce — thanks, we’re sure, to the pan’s extra-large size.

Tramontina 6.5-Quart Enameled Dutch Oven ($69.95; amazon.com)

There was a lot we liked about this pan: Its gradated cobalt color and glossy porcelain enamel finish; the not-too-heavy lid, well-balanced with its easy-to-hold stainless steel knob; and ample 6.5-quart volume. The rice stuck around the edges but came out nice and fluffy, and our thermometer showed perfectly even heat distribution. It did a fine job with the sauce and pork too. The boule, meanwhile, was golden on top, but definitely darker on the bottom. We did find the Tramontina’s height — it was the tallest of all the Dutch ovens we tested — to be an issue, though, causing us to have to shift our oven racks to accommodate it.

Misen 7-Quart Dutch Oven With Grill Lid ($165; misen.com)

Launching earlier this year after a Kickstarter campaign that raised millions, Misen’s Dutch oven comes with a lid that does double-duty as a grill pan, making it an interesting choice for those looking to save space and money (it also comes with a handy silicone splatter lid). At about half the price of Le Creuset’s version, it landed in our top five models, producing even heat and an excellent braise. The fluffy rice did stick to the edges, and the boule, while crisp and golden on top, was darker on the bottom. But the red sauce was a winner, with no splashing or clumping. With a 7-quart capacity, it’s on the heavy side, weighing about 18 pounds, but it had wider handles than most of the models, which we really like. But we found the grill pan lid to be much more of a pain than a clever 2-in-1. Because there’s no knob it was difficult to remove the lid, especially while it was in the oven and we needed to check on our braise.

Kana Milo Classic 5.5-Quart Dutch Oven ($135; kanalifestyle.com)

If you love sleek, French design, you’ll be drawn to handsome Kana’s Milo Dutch oven. Available in crisp white, emerald, navy and black, we found plenty of pluses while testing it. Besides the aesthetics, it was the lightest pan we tested, at 10.5 pounds, which is nice when you’re trying to hoist a large pork shoulder out of the oven. It also landed in our top five testing models for its performance on rice, braising, sauce and bread and clocked the fourth-fastest water-to-boil time. The lid fit tightly, but we wished the small, removable stainless steel knob was easier to grasp with an oven mitt, and that the handles offered a little more room. But, overall, this is a fine Dutch oven pan.

Marquette Castings 6-Quart Dutch Oven ($89.95; amazon.com)

Marquette’s Dutch oven performed admirably on most of our tests: second fastest on bringing water to a boil, bread was nice and evenly golden and the braised meat was tender. The rice stuck on the sides and the sauce splashed a little, but nothing too wild. It also features a tight-fitting lid and comfortable wide loop handles. It was the lid’s knob that threw us off. Made of stainless steel and M-shaped like the company’s logo, we found it sharp and very uncomfortable to hold bare-handed and awkward to hold with an oven mitt.

Staub 5.5-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($302, originally $464; amazon.com)

Made in France, the Staub is a beautiful, classic Dutch oven and ranked high in our recipe tests. It was fifth in weight, at 12.57 pounds, as well as water-to-boil time and comes with an interesting black matte enamel interior and a unique spiked lid, which is made to send condensation back into the pan to keep your food from drying out while braising. We wished the heat-resistant nickel knob was larger, as it seemed on the small side, and wider handles would have made lifting it easier. But would we be happy presenting a dish to dinner guests in this heirloom-quality piece? You bet.

Finex 5-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($279.95; amazon.com)

If visual appeal is high on your list when it comes to home purchases, you might want to investigate Finex’s Dutch oven. Like its cast-iron skillet counterpart, the 5-quart Dutch oven features a stylish and unique octagonal shape, giving you eight built-in pour-spout options, along with stainless steel spring handles. Yes, you’ll be happy to leave this one sitting out on your stove top. And it works well too. It took second in our rice test, leaving no grains sticking to the pan, delivered an awesome braise and boule, and the lid knob was comfortable to grasp. Made of preseasoned cast iron, it’s ready to use out of the box, but it didn’t mesh well with our red sauce (cast iron can give off an acidic taste, and our sauce tasted like someone had added a bag full of pennies). It’s also quite heavy at 16 pounds. The coil handles were also a bit tricky to grasp with our oven mitts on. So, not a winner, but if you’re willing to splurge on a unique design and don’t intend on cooking a lot of acidic foods with it, this might be for you.

Lodge Seasoned 5-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($42.59; amazon.com)

The least expensive of our test group, this model was great at cooking rice, baking bread and braising our pork shoulder. But it took one of the longest times to boil, despite it being the smallest-volume Dutch oven we tested, and its loop handle was difficult to hold on to when wearing an oven mitt or using a folded-over towel. And, also like the Finex, it lent a metallic taste to our red sauce that forced us to throw it out.

Lodge 9-Quart Bail Handle Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($99.90; amazon.com)

Are you often designated lead cook on camping trips? If there’s a big group involved, consider adding this extra-large workhorse to your gear. Featuring preseasoned cast iron, it can be used in the oven, on the stove, on a grill or over a campfire and has a bail handle, making it easier to maneuver while cooking. We tested it over coals and found it cooked our chili evenly and made a decent corn bread, although the bottom turned out darker than we’d like (but we can’t imagine anyone on a camping trip complaining). At 9 quarts, it was the largest Dutch oven we tested and, unsurprisingly, the heaviest, at 19.57 pounds. So, if you’re feeding a small group? We’d recommend a lighter option. But if you’re catering the family reunion? Super useful.

Lodge 4-Quart Cast-Iron Camp Dutch Oven ($54.90; amazon.com)

Cooking over charcoal is a whole lotta fun with this 4-quart camp-friendly Dutch oven. Preseasoned so you can use it straight from the box, it comes with tripod legs and a bail handle, in case you prefer to hang it over your fire. We liked that the deep rim on the flanged lid made it easy to stack coals on top and appreciated its relatively light weight — at just under 12 pounds it was one of the lighter models we tested. Corn bread and chili both turned out wonderfully. Overall, it’s a great item to throw in the trunk next time you car camp, but the Camp Chef edged it out with its extra add-ons.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing:

This post was originally published on this site

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

See Your Business Here!

For more information on our listings, advertising, coupons, and mailers, please contact us today!