One of the oldest styles of cooking vessels you're likely to find in your kitchen, the Dutch oven lets you cook one-pot meals on the stove or in a conventional oven. Despite its name, the Dutch oven is a particular style of pot, not an appliance. Its heavy lid and sturdy metal construction make it hold the heat of cooking over time so you can slow-cook an entree while you cook the rest of the meal.
Why Dutch Ovens Are Different
Cast iron Dutch ovens from the 1800s look almost identical to their modern counterparts. Both antique and modern Dutch ovens have a tight-fitting, heavy lid that cooks foods from the top as well as from the bottom. That sturdy lid once supported coals when cooks used Dutch ovens over open fires, but in the modern kitchen, it provides an even heat source for cooking the meal within the pot. You can make use of that same convenience and cook everything from whole roasts to stews for your family -- and be sure that the pot's thick walls will cook food evenly.
Dutch Oven Materials
Manufacturers still make the classic iron Dutch ovens the way blacksmiths made them hundreds of years ago, but modern materials have joined cast iron as Dutch oven possibilities. Enameled metal pots have a smooth surface that you'll find easier to clean, while other ovens have a non-stick interior. Seasoned cast iron can become almost as slick as enamel. Cast iron even enhances the nutritional value of your meals; foods cooked in iron pick up molecules of this essential mineral, giving your family a nutritional boost. Whether you choose cast iron, enamel or non-stick surfacing on your Dutch oven, use non-metallic utensils with the vessel to ensure that you don't scratch the seasoning or mar the finish.
Aside from wooden or silicone utensils, you'll also need some heavy-duty pot holders to handle a Dutch oven in your kitchen. Kids with an interest in pioneer history will find Dutch oven cooking enchanting, but these pots get hot; only you should handle them once cooking begins. Let the kids prepare the salad or help get ingredients ready to go into the pot before you start cooking. Keep a pair of tongs handy for turning a roast within the Dutch oven so you can work one-handed as you lift the pot lid. The average cast iron Dutch oven weighs close to 20 pounds and about a quarter of that is in the lid, so being able to move food with one hand is a must.
Kids will love the connection of Dutch ovens to cowboys and cowgirls and Colonial times, so assemble meals that incorporate their favorite historical eras. A cowboy-themed meal might include Texas-style chili in the Dutch oven, baked root vegetables, salad and glasses of "sarsparilla" root beer to drink. Cook a Colonial feast of roast beef in the oven, corn pudding and braised cabbage. Get in touch with Cajun heritage with a Dutch oven full of jambalaya with rice and sausage served alongside corn maque choux. If you want to go all out with the theme, take the Dutch oven along on your next family camping trip and try it over an open fire.
Cleaning a Dutch Oven
How you care for your Dutch oven depends on its construction. A well-seasoned cast iron oven never needs soap to clean it; instead, remove the food from the Dutch oven and add water to the pot. Move it to the stove over medium heat and let the simmering water loosen any remaining food, then pour the water out and wipe the pot thoroughly dry. The iron will remain hot for some time, so caution younger kids not to touch the oven. Wash enamel and aluminum Dutch ovens as you would any large pot.
Lauren Whitney covers science, health, fitness, fashion, food and weight loss. She has been writing professionally since 2009 and teaches hatha yoga in a home studio. Whitney holds bachelor's degrees in English and biology from the University of New Orleans.