Guess what? Your gorgeous Le Creuset dutch oven isn’t exactly a dutch oven. Before you panic thinking that you’ve got a counterfeit item, that’s not what we mean. Let’s take a look at what these terms mean and how to keep everything straight.
What’s a Dutch Oven?
Around the 17th century, the Dutch invented a new way of cooking that would allow them to utilize more types of meat and cook more thoroughly. They began to use molds made of sand instead of clay, opening them up to casting iron and our beloved kitchen tool was born.
These cast iron pots were heavy and provided a low, yet consistent bit of heat that broke down tough meats and vegetables to something that could be savored. Dutch ovens are traditionally bare cast iron that goes through a seasoning process to make it non stick.
They can be used on the stovetop and transferred to the oven. They can even be used over an open fire with the proper accessories. They provide moist dishes but can also brown and crisp dishes such as roast chicken. They’re also great for baking bread.
So What’s a French Oven?
Bare cast iron requires a seasoning process before it can be considered nonstick. A French company came along at the turn of the century and started coating the cast iron in enamel to reduce the risk of sticking but without having a complicated seasoning process. The result? Le Creuset’s enameled cast iron that we know and love.
Technically, French Ovens are these enameled versions. Your Le Creuset dutch oven is actually a French Oven, but the latter term never took off. Even Le Creuset and companies like Staub stick with the term dutch oven because that’s what’s in our minds for either option.
Le Creuset itself says that while French Ovens signify the higher ends of dutch ovens, the company itself refers to the products as dutch ovens because that’s what most people know them as. The company doesn’t plan to return to the phrase French Oven any time soon, but they do consider themselves a French Oven company.
Which Do I Choose?
Both bare and enameled cast iron have their benefits. Let’s take a look at how to choose between the two if you aren’t sure.
Cooking with Dutch Ovens
Bare cast iron requires a seasoning process before anything can happen with cooking. This ensures it remains nonstick. Bare cast iron has a wonderful flavor and doesn’t chip or show imperfections the way enamel does.
Bare cast iron can be harder to clean, however, because of the type of material. IF you don’t season properly, it can be a nightmare to get clean. If you do season it properly, you can’t scrub or use soap with it because you’ll rub the seasoning off.
Use bare cast iron if:
- you cook in a variety of dishes including on open fires
- you like the complex flavors of bare cast iron
- you know how to season properly or are willing to learn
Cooking with French Ovens
The enamel in French ovens is excellent for easy cleaning and resisting food sticking. It’s beginner-friendly, and as long as you understand how to preheat your French Oven, you should be good to go.
The enamel in a French Oven isn’t high heat resistant so you can’t take these with you camping without specific equipment to protect it from the heat of the fire. You can cook a variety of dishes in your French Oven, and it’s super kitchen and cleaning friendly. They’re even dishwasher safe.
Use enameled cast iron if:
- you don’t have time to handwash
- you don’t want to season your cast iron for non-stickiness
- you don’t cook over an open fire
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I care for my bare cast iron? – Make sure you don’t use soap and never put bare cast iron in the dishwasher. Wipe the surface down with a paper towel to remove large bits of food and grease. Then, run the cast iron under hot water with a soft, non-abrasive cloth until no traces of food remain.
- How do I care for my enameled cast iron? – Enamel is dishwasher and soap safe. Make sure you allow your enameled cast iron to cool completely, so you don’t risk chipping or cracking your enamel. Once it’s cooled, wash with soap and a non-abrasive cloth or put in the dishwasher per manufacturer’s instructions.
- What size is best? – Check with the manufacturer’s sizing guide, but generally, these ovens are sized based on the general serving size. Consider how many people you cook for regularly, and that will give you an idea of the size. If you love leftovers or batch cook, you may want to go up a size, keeping in mind that these tools get heavier the larger they are.
- Should I get a round or oval oven? – The shape doesn’t affect cooking at all. If you tend to cook a lot of different kinds of dishes, a round oven is a great option. It offers lots of space for you to stir and evenly fits over the stovetop eye. If you cook whole meats or mostly in the oven, the lower, longer profile of the oval could be a better choice.
Choosing Your Oven
Whether you choose a Dutch or a French oven, you’re getting a cooking tool with a lifetime of usefulness. They’re amazing kitchen tools that open up a variety of dishes and can transform mediocre cuts of meat and tough vegetables into the best meal you’ve ever had. Whether you choose a Dutch or a French oven in oval or round shapes, you’re getting a versatile tool that will wow your guests.
Once you’ve chosen your piece, take some time to think about what meals work best and read directions for how to properly heat both. Once you’ve gotten the hang of cooking with these ovens, you may never go back to your regular pots and pans. Give them a try and see what you can create in your kitchen.