What Is a Dutch Oven Anyway and Do You Need One?

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One-Pot Italian Sausage & Kale Pasta

Pictured recipe: One-Pot Italian Sausage & Kale Pasta

Before slow cookers and Instant Pots and super-powered blenders, there was the simple, unassuming Dutch oven. This big clunky pot with its tight-fitting lid has been cranking out stews, braises, roasts and even bread for 400 years or so. And if you don't have one, you need to get one. It can travel from your stove to your oven and back again. It's low-maintenance and virtually indestructible. But, you say, they're expensive. Yes, it's true that some are quite expensive. But once you know what you're looking for, we promise you won't have to sell your house, your car and most of your belongings to have one of your very own. Read on below for tips on how to buy and care for your new Dutch oven and what you can do with it.

Related: Healthy Recipes for a Dutch Oven

What Is a Dutch Oven?

Vegetable Stock with Kitchen Scraps

Pictured recipe: Vegetable Stock with Kitchen Scraps

A Dutch oven is, in essence, a big pot with a lid designed to let very little steam escape. (This is useful when you're braising or stewing something and don't want a lot of evaporation.) While Dutch ovens can be ceramic, aluminum or stainless-steel, they are most commonly made of cast iron, which makes them heavier than your average pot. Cast iron holds onto heat more readily and more evenly than other metals, which is a huge advantage in a pot that is designed to go from your stove into your oven and is why we recommend going with cast iron.

Related: 6 Fun Pots You Need to Liven Up Your Kitchen

What Can I Make in a Dutch Oven?

Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread

Pictured recipe: Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread

Dutch ovens are great for stews, sauces, soups, braises or any other moist-heat cooking method. This pot can cook a casserole or a whole chicken. You can brown meat and vegetables on the stove and let them simmer away or transfer your pot to the oven to finish cooking there. (Most all cast-iron Dutch ovens are oven-safe; check your manual for temperature limitations.) Cast-iron Dutch ovens are also the cooking vessel of choice for sourdough and no-knead bread.

Related: How Make Your Own Whole-Wheat Sourdough Starter and Artisan-Style Bread

What Type of Dutch Oven Should I Buy?

Vegetable Weight-Loss Soup

Pictured recipe: Vegetable Weight-Loss Soup

Which Size?

That all depends on how many people you'll be cooking for, and also how much storage space you have in your kitchen. If it's too small you run the risk of not everything fitting in the pot, and if it's too big you could struggle to heat it properly. For most people, going with a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven is a safe bet for most occasions.

Enameled or Not?

The coating on the inside of some pots is there to prevent sticking and to slow down the wear and tear on the cast iron. You can live without it, but you will have to make sure your pan is "seasoned" now and then with a thin layer of oil that's baked onto the pan. With an uncoated pot, you'll also need to thoroughly dry it before storing (iron rusts at lightning speed).

How Much Will I Have to Spend?

While it's true that a big pretty pot in your favorite color can run upwards of $300, you can easily find one that will perform just as well for a third of the cost. Our favorite budget pick is Milo: the 5.5-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven comes in white and black for just $95. Both high-end and middle-of-the-road manufacturers often offer lifetime warranties on Dutch ovens too, so, in theory, you'll only have to make this purchase once. But make sure you read the fine print so you understand what's covered and what isn't.

Related: All The Tools You Need to Make Killer Soups

How Do I Care for My New Dutch Oven?

Sausage, Brussels Sprout & Potato Soup

Pictured recipe: Sausage, Brussels Sprout & Potato Soup

So you've got your nice new pot and you want it to last a lifetime. That's not hard to do if you care for it. Each Dutch oven will come with specific care instructions but, in general, one very important rule of thumb is not to heat your cast-iron Dutch oven on high. Cast iron is slow to warm up, and equally slow to cool down. Cooking with high heat makes it very hard to prevent burning and can damage the enamel coating and even void that generous lifetime warranty. If your Dutch oven has an enameled coating, avoid scratching it with abrasive cooking and cleaning tools. If it's not coated, don't leave it wet for prolonged periods of time.

Related: Delicious & Healthy One-Pot Dinner Recipes

WATCH: How To Make Italian Sausage & Kale One-Pot Pasta

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One-Pot Italian Sausage & Kale Pasta