A Dutch oven is a large heavy casserole-type of cooking pan. Basically there are two types of Dutch ovens. One is made of cast iron and the other one is a more modern version, made of an enameled-covered, smooth bottom based aluminum.The primary use of a Dutch oven is for braising and stewing tough meats and vegetables. It has a tight-fitting lid, so it will hold in moisture. Most of the more modern versions are used on a stovetop. However, the older cast-iron ones, are more often used in an oven, because it holds and radiates the oven's heat evenly throughout the pot.Along with cooking stews, you can also use Dutch ovens to cook heavy casserole dishes, soups and roasts.
Start off by browning your meat on the stovetop to get it to the consistency you desire. This would include all the vegetables that you would like to add as well.
Once your meat and vegetables have been browned, add water until it comes to about half way up from the bottom of your stew. Add any seasonings to the stew at this time.
Cover the pot with the lid. It will fit very snugly. This will enhance the condensation and keep the heat more intense, which allows the food to stay moist.
What makes these ovens unique is that you can place smaller baking pans inside them to make pizzas, breads, cakes and even pies.
The modern aluminum Dutch ovens are more often used for stovetop use only. The reason is because aluminum does not hold the heat as well as cast iron. You can still place them in the oven, but you will need to check them more often to make sure your food is cooking to the right consistency.
Dutch ovens can become very hot while in the oven, because of the cast iron. Use caution when removing from oven and use proper mittens and/or potholders when grabbing the oven.