These are the basic things I’ve learned about Dutch ovens in the last year:
– They are excellent at going from high heat on the stove to a lower heat in the oven (browning meat for a stew). They are also great for making rice, soups, stews and roasts. They are very good for slow cooking as they retain and spread heat well. They are also useful (but not necessary for) making no-knead bread. I’m finding am more likely to make foods like the above because I have the right cookware to do it. I even get excited to use my pot.
– Enameled cast iron is preferable to regular cast iron for instances where you’ll be cooking tomatoes or other acidic foods which can react and discolor in regular cast iron. In my case the ability to make Bolognese sauce was important to me.
– If a pot says enameled cast iron but has a black interior the interior is a matte black enamel, Staub ovens have this interior. Initially I wondered if the interior of these pots were raw cast iron, and I’ve seen this question asked a few places. Some Dutch ovens, including Le Creuset and the Mario Batali ones, have a glossy offwhite enamel on the interior, which makes it easy to see when cleaning but can show stains (I say wear them with pride).
– Le Creuset ovens have a black phenolic knob which is only good up to about 400 degrees in the oven. You can cover the know with foil to protect it from higher heats, such as if you were making the no-knead bread, or replace it with a stainless steel specialty knob or just a stainless steel cabinet knob. Some people use a few washers with a bolt and a nut. The Lodge, Staub and Mario Batali pots have stainless steel knobs, while the Calphalon has a built in handle. The phenolic knob doesn’t get hot when you’re using the pot on the stove top, so you can remove the lid to stir without grabbing a pot holder. I’m not sure if the stainless steel knobs or integrated knobs get hot when using the lid on a stove top. Anyone? The handles on my Chefmate get hot when it’s on the stove top, so I suspect the metal knobs would as well.
– A pot doesn’t have to be cast iron to be a Dutch oven, the Cook’s Illustrated article lists an All-Clad Stainless 8 Quart Stockpot as one of their favorite Dutch ovens, and a Calphalon One Infused Anodized Dutch Oven among the recommendations. But the enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are so pretty, yes?
– Some dutch ovens, such as Staub, have drip points under the lids that work as a self basting point when you are making a roast. The Le Creuset lids are generally smooth but I’ve read about a few with a basting spike.
– I’ve also seen them called French ovens.
I bought the Chefmate pot from Target earlier this year* and I love it. This is the pot that Cook’s Illustrated rated as good as a Le Creuset in a recent review of Dutch Ovens (February 2007) and, sadly, doesn’t appear to be available anymore*. It is styled like a Le Creuset with a phenolic knob and a cream colored interior. I have used it for curries, soups and slow cooked pasta sauces. It’s a 4 or 5 quart pot and it’s a great size for a two person household, but sometimes I do think a larger pot would be more versatile. A lot of my kitchen accessories are orange, so perhaps there will be a larger Flame colored Le Creuset pot in my future. After using the Chefmate pot I’m absolutely sold on how easy it is to cook in a Dutch oven and with enameled cast iron and think the price is worth it. We’re thinking about getting an enameled cast iron frying pan as our next cookware purchase.
There are a few Dutch ovens the article in The Kitchen doesn’t mention but I’ve seen around and would be interested in learning more about. One is the Mario Batali 6 quart pot which got high marks in the Cook’s Illustrated article rating Dutch ovens (February 2007). This pot is wide and shallow, has a cream enamel interior and a stainless steel knob on the lid, and comes in some nice colors. The Emile Henry Dutch ovens are cute and on the expensive side, but it’s a trustworthy name. I’m not sure what the interior surface is like, it has an integrated knob, but they say you can put this pot over a flame while empty without hurting it.
A pot I see around a lot in department stores is the Innova 5 quart which is at the less expensive end of the spectrum. It has an integrated knob, I think this one has a black matte interior surface, and some of the reviews at Amazon seem troubling. I’ve also seen the Rachael Ray covered casserole dish at Bed, Bath and Beyond. The round dish is 3 and 1/2 quarts (which seems too small to me) and the 5 quart dish is oval, I’m not sure what the interior surface is like, looks like a phenolic knob. Another name that I’ve come across is Chasseur Dutch ovens. They look like Le Creuset, seem to be less expensive, but other than that I know nothing about them.
A set of enameled cast iron that is brought up from time to time but I’ve never read about anybody actually owning is the Senior series from Ikea. They are a reddish orange exterior with a matte black interior, the lid has drip points underneath and an integrated knob. What kept me from buying one was the size, the round pot is only three quarts and with such a narrow bottom I thought browning meat for stews might be a bit of trouble. The larger pot, five quarts, is oval and I really wanted a round pot. Does anybody have the Ikea enameled cast iron cookware? Does it work well?
If you own any of the Dutch ovens mentioned about and either do or do not recommend them I’d love to hear about it. Is the drip basting spike on the inside of a lid worth seeking out?
update, March 26th: I thought they were gone for good, but on Sunday I spotted two enameled cast iron pots at my Target (Southcenter Mall, Seattle, for the locals). So, if you wanted one but couldn’t find one earlier there is still hope.
* It seems to go in and out of stock on the website, though it’s mostly been out of stock lately and I fear might be gone for good.