You could spend a lot more on a Dutch oven, but we think the 6-Quart Lodge Color Enamel Dutch Oven keeps pace with French-made pots six times the price. After spending 68 hours in research and testing, we found the Lodge seared, braised, steamed, and caramelized foods as well as more expensive competitors. It has roomy handles and wide dimensions that make it great to use for a variety of cooking projects. We’ve used this pot regularly for three years and we stand by it as a reliable, affordable Dutch oven that will work for most people.
They don’t have the bells and whistles of higher-tech kitchen gadgets, and so there generally aren’t huge differences in features or performance.All of the ovens we cooked with worked quite well, which isn’t that surprising considering that a cast-iron pot is one of the lowest-tech pieces of kitchen gear out there. What separated the great Dutch ovens from the rest of the pack were small details. The Lodge has bigger handles than most of the Dutch ovens we tested, making it much easier to take in and out of the oven. Its slightly curved shape keeps food from getting trapped in the corners of the pot, and its shorter sides and width allow for better searing, which imparts more flavor into finished dishes. Braised dishes amply evaporate in the Lodge’s wide sides.
The Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Enameled Cast Iron 7-Quart Round Covered Casserole produced the best stew of all the ovens we tested. Its larger cooking surface area allowed for more evaporation, thus a more condensed broth. But that additional space also means additional weight. Plus, the Cuisinart has small handles that are less than ideal. It’s bigger in capacity than what most people will need for standard-size recipes, and it’s also quite a bit more expensive than our main pick, so for most people, the Lodge is a better choice.
For those willing to splurge, Le Creuset’s Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5½-Quart Round French (Dutch) Oven really is the gold standard for Dutch ovens. It earns top marks from reviewers, is the ideal size for most recipes, and has the roomiest handles of the bunch. It’s a pleasure to cook with. It’s pricey, but we’ve heard fewer complaints about the enamel chipping over time. The high price will only be worth it to the most demanding home cooks—for everyone else, the Lodge cooks as well at a fraction of the cost.
Why you should trust us
In the process of writing this guide, we read every reputable editorial review on Dutch ovens that we could find, scoured user reviews on Amazon and other retailer sites, and spent many hours testing top-contending pots.Moreover, several Sweethome writers used some of these top contenders for everyday cooking in their own kitchens.
Kevin Purdy has written about kitchen gear for The Sweethome for three years and authored many posts on kitchen and cooking for Lifehacker.In addition to being an avid cook and home brewer, Ray Aguilera has worked as a restaurant critic in and around San Francisco, and he has reviewed a wide range of products professionally since 2006.
Who should buy this
These pots are particularly well-suited to slow cooking because they can be used on the stovetop to sear meats and in the oven with the lid to trap moisture as food cooks. A Dutch oven can also serve as a great all-purpose pot for making anything from pasta sauce to small batches of stock.For tender braises, it’s hard to beat the cooking ability of an enameled Dutch oven.
Those who already own a bare cast-iron Dutch oven should consider the benefits of an enameled one. They’re simpler to clean and maintain. If you have an enameled Dutch oven with deep chips on the interior enamel and raw cast iron is exposed, you should get a new one.
A 5.5- to 6.5-quart oven should serve a family of two to four nicely, but if you’re feeding more you might want to bump up to a 7-, 9-, or even 13-quart version. In case you already have an oval oven, a round model will give you more flexibility for cooking stews, soups, and even larger roasts.
How we picked and tested
We focused on enameled cast-iron ovens because they are versatile and easy to care for and clean. The cast-iron construction holds a tremendous amount of heat, and its high heat emissivity is perfect for braising, a cooking technique that relies on consistent heat over time to slowly break down and tenderize meat. The porcelain enamel interiors also work well for deglazing, thanks to the (usually) slick finishes that quickly release stuck-on bits and (usually) light-colored interiors that make it easier to monitor the color of the fond—the accumulation of those brown bits that make the base for flavorful sauces.
Cast iron also comes in bare-metal versions, but if not seasoned and cared for properly, it will react with acidic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, and tomatoes, leaving an unpleasantly dull, metallic flavor in your food. There’s nothing you can do to fix it besides toss out what you cooked, re-season your cast iron, and start over.
An oven that’s too small limits your ability to cook large cuts of meat, while one that is too big will be very heavy when full and a beast to clean with wet, soapy hands. We focused primarily on ovens ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 quarts, which are big enough for a wide variety of cooking tasks (searing, braising, frying), but not so big that they are difficult to handle. If you need something bigger, Lodge offers models up to 7.8 quarts, while Le Creuset goes all the way up to a whopping 13.5 quarts (with around a $500 price to match!), large enough to serve 10 people.
Overall capacity is important, but when comparing two ovens of identical size, opt for ovens that are wider and shorter, as opposed to narrower and taller. A wider diameter makes it easier to brown meat for things like stews or chili, and as testing showed, the extra space around your food can mean the difference between a good, dark sear on meat versus a less flavorful, less appealing steaming. A wider pot can also save time, allowing you to brown chunks of stew meat in one or two batches rather than two or three. In their Dutch oven review, Cook’s Illustrated recommends ovens of at least 8 inches in diameter for faster and better browning.Overall capacity is important, but when comparing two ovens of identical size, opt for ovens that are wider and shorter, as opposed to narrower and taller. A wider diameter makes it easier to brown meat for things like stews or chili, and as testing showed, the extra space around your food can mean the difference between a good, dark sear on meat versus a less flavorful, less appealing steaming. A wider pot can also save time, allowing you to brown chunks of stew meat in one or two batches rather than two or three. In their Dutch oven review, Cook’s Illustrated recommends ovens of at least 8 inches in diameter for faster and better browning.
While oval ovens are fairly common, we stuck to testing round models, which fit better over a stovetop burner. There are reports online of oval ovens heating less evenly, but Cook’s Illustrated found that “an oval cast-iron Dutch oven should cook as well as a round model, without any adjustments to cooking times or procedures.” If you frequently cook long, narrow items (slabs of pork belly come to mind), then an oval Dutch oven might be better suited to your purposes.
Most Dutch ovens feature traditional lids with smooth undersides, but a few manufacturers—such as Staub—use “nubby” lids, which feature raised bumps or ridges that are supposed to enable moisture to drip back onto the food more easily and baste whatever’s inside. Opinions on this feature are mixed, so we looked at both kinds. The lid should rest securely on the pot, but it shouldn’t fit too snug, as you want some evaporation for items like soups and stews. Staub, in particular, touts that their lids retain 10 percent more moisture than other brands, but our tests showed that’s not always a positive result. When making a beef stew, that retained moisture resulted in a thin stew with less rich, meaty flavor.
The majority of enameled Dutch ovens have smooth, light-colored interiors ranging from almost white to a light tan. A few (including two we tested) have black interiors in smooth or matte finishes. The interior color doesn’t affect the pot’s cooking ability, but it’s easier to monitor food cooking in a lighter interior. In this Chowhound thread, people hotly debate benefits of a light versus dark interior. Some like the latter because staining is less noticeable over time. Staub uses a matte finish, which they suggest “develops ‘non-stick’ qualities,” while all the other Dutch ovens we tested featured a slick, glossy surface.
After considering 11 models, we went hands-on with seven different Dutch ovens, ranging in size from 5 to 7 quarts. Of those we tested, five had light-colored interiors ranging from off-white to a light tan. The remaining two, from Kirkland and Staub, had dark, black interiors.
To evaluate how evenly each model cooked, we made identical batches of long-grain steamed white rice in each pot. Due to the minimal amount of stirring involved, it was a good check to see how well each Dutch oven did at distributing heat across the bottom surface. After checking the rice at the 15-minute mark, we left it on the burner over low heat for an additional 6 minutes, to see if any scorching would occur due to hot spots. We also figured this test would create a more challenging cleanup scenario if any of the rice burned. This was the one time we’ve ever cooked rice hoping that it would scorch, at least a little bit.
As a second test for even cooking, we caramelized two large onions in each pot over low heat for an hour. Because the rice cooks for only 15 minutes, we hoped the slower cooking process for onions would show some differences between the six contenders to light. For consistency, we sliced all the onions using a food processor equipped with a medium slicing disc.
To test whether the pots with dark interiors heated to a higher temperature, we placed each pot in turn on the same stove burner, over a low flame. We checked the temperature after 10 minutes using an infrared thermometer, then three more times at five-minute intervals (for a total of 25 minutes).
After eliminating some of the Dutch ovens based on earlier test results, we made a simple beef stew in the remaining ovens. We chose a stew for our tests because it incorporated sautéing, searing, deglazing, and braising in a single dish. The nearly three-hour total cook time gave a good real-world look at how difficult each oven is to clean after longer cooking sessions.