Dutch ovens are one of the greatest tools of the kitchen. They have an even heat, and the design can transform even the worst cuts of meats and tough veggies into a hearty, wonderful meal. They’re versatile, and if I had to choose one tool I couldn’t live without, a Dutch oven would be on that list.
If this is your first Dutch oven, never fear. I’ve put together a list of the top 12 choices to cover a range of budgets and preferences. Your favorite kitchen tool is in this list somewhere, so let’s take a look at how to choose and what to expect once you do.
How Do I Choose the Right Dutch Oven?
Picking a Dutch oven isn’t difficult, but there are a few things you’ll need to remember. It’s not about getting the biggest Dutch oven in your budget. You’ll have to balance some different characteristics to get the right one. Here’s how to help make sure you aren’t disappointed with your choice.
Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor. Pure cast iron is expensive, so some companies use recycled. While that’s not ideal, it’s certainly ok to help cut down the cost of the piece. Higher-end cast iron companies like Le Creuset and Staub use pure cast iron to help ensure that there are no weak spots and that temperature is as steady and even as possible.
The materials on the lid should be strong enough to withstand some heat in the oven. Ideally, you’d have stainless steel, but some plastic knobs are lightweight and made to hold up to lower heats. Even better if you can unscrew the top and upgrade to the material of your choice.
Cast iron has two different types: bare and enameled. Bare cast iron is great for cooking outdoors or camping where you don’t want to baby the coating. Enamel is excellent for indoor cooking because it doesn’t require seasoning and can go in the dishwasher.
Get enameled cast iron if you:
- don’t want to worry about seasoning your cast iron
- want to wash pots and pans in the dishwasher
- do some of your cooking or reheating in the microwave
- want a versatile kitchen tool.
Get bare cast iron if you:
- often cook outdoors or over an open fire
- don’t mind the seasoning process and appreciate the flavors
- know how to rinse cast iron out instead of scrubbing
- prefer a tool you can use indoors and out.
Size and Shape
The size of the Dutch oven will largely depend on how many people you want to serve. The bigger the capacity, the heavier your cast iron pot will be, which will make it more difficult to handle and could cause problems while cooking.
Here are some common capacities and corresponding serving sizes for Dutch ovens:
- 2 quarts – 2 people
- 3.5 quarts – 3 to 4 people
- 4.5 quarts – 4 to 5 people
- 5.5 quarts – around 6 people
- 7 quarts – 6 to 8 people
- 9 quarts – 8 to10 people
- 13 quarts – 10 to12 people
It’s best to consider how you’ll use your Dutch oven generally. If you like to batch cook or make large quantities in order to have leftovers, moving up one size range could help, but just opting for the largest size isn’t necessarily the best choice for your needs.
You can always evolve as your needs change. If there are two of you, you can get a smaller size. As your family grows, you can upgrade to a larger one and still use your former Dutch oven for side dishes and other cooking.
The shape doesn’t affect cooking, but it can be more convenient for certain types of dishes. Round Dutch ovens are the most common size, and they offer lots of space for cooking stews and soups, breaking down tough cuts of meat and being overall rock stars in the kitchen.
Oval shapes are great if you have whole meats like an entire chicken. The oval shape offers you a little more space to cook meat on top of veggies and allows the vegetables to spread around. Some oval Dutch ovens also have a lower profile than the round ones, giving you more space in smaller ovens without being too close to the burners.
The List – 12 Best Dutch Ovens
Now for the good stuff. These Dutch ovens are wonderful choices for your cooking, whether outdoors or otherwise. Let’s take a look.
Le Creuset Dutch ovens are the gold standard for this type of kitchen tool. This size is considered their “Goldilocks” size, i.e., not too big and not too small. It serves just the right amount for families or small dinner parties and offers some of the best materials on the market.
Le Creuset’s Dutch ovens are the enameled kind. They use a process started in 1925 and are hand-inspected for imperfections in the surface of the enamel and the cast iron itself. Each mold is unique, and the design is classic.
Le Creuset is one of the lightest cast iron options on the market, and extra-large handles are great for carrying around with oven mitts. The lid fits snugly, helping to keep in moisture but allowing some to cook out so your dishes aren’t soggy.
It can fit into the oven, on the stovetop, and in the microwave, and then go into the dishwasher without missing a beat. It comes in all of Le Creuset’s classic and trendy colors, including flame orange and their newest lavender offering.
The knob doesn’t withstand as high of a heat as stainless steel, but it does have a stay-cool, composite style plastic that helps prevent burns or cracking in the material. The enamel is light on the inside to help make checking food easier.
One downside is the price. Le Creuset is a more significant investment than some other brands, but if you’ve got room in your budget, it’s worth it. The materials are superior, and many people end up passing down Le Creuset Dutch Ovens for generations.
Staub’s 5.5-quart option is also one of the best choices for regular cooking with families or small dinner parties. It features a solid cast iron interior (no recycled materials) with a coated enamel to help prevent food from sticking. It can move from the stovetop to the oven, go into the microwave, and end up in the dishwasher with no issues.
The handles are solid and offer plenty of space despite being smaller than Le Creuset’s option. The enamel is dark on the inside which can hide imperfections and scratches but might make it tougher to check on food quickly than Le Creuset’s light interior. However, it offers the same heating and cooking capabilities, transforming tough meats and veggies into savory dishes in no time.
The lid fits snugly and helps keep in vital moisture. The Staub lid features rounded spikes on the inside that help redirect condensation back onto the meat directly to give it automatic basting potential. The nickel lid knob can withstand higher amounts of heat as well.
It’s in the same basic price range as Le Creuset, but Staub is just a little bit heavier in weight. If ounces count, Le Creuset is a better option. However, if you like that automatic basting potential, Staub is a good contender.
Lodge’s enameled cast iron comes in at a fraction of the price with a well-performing Dutch oven. It features a rounded silhouette with plenty of surface area to cook and stir. The handles are the smallest of the bunch, so you may have trouble if you’re wearing large oven mitts or have larger hands in general.
The enamel coating is light on the interior to help make checking food easier, and the top fits snugly. It features a metal knob that can withstand high amounts of heat, and it’s suitable for microwave, stovetop, oven, and dishwasher use.
Lodge originally made bare cast iron, and their enameled pots are actually made overseas in Chinese factories. While that isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it could be a deal-breaker for some. The company states that they only work with reputable companies that use quality materials and labor. It’s unclear if the cast iron is recycled, but it does have excellent heat conduction.
Overall, it’s a fraction of the price but still an excellent cooking tool. You’ll have to deal with much smaller handles and a lid that doesn’t baste automatically, plus the question of if the materials are recycled or not. If you need a Dutch oven that’s in your budget and features solid performance, this is the one for you.
Bare cast iron is excellent for cooking as well because it imparts a complex flavor profile to food the longer you use it. This option is pre-seasoned for nonstick capability so that you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself. The handles are on the small side, but the shape provides plenty of surface space for efficient cooking and stirring.
Their bare cast iron is beautiful and smooth, so it’s easy to scrape clean and rinse off gently. There’s no enamel to crack if you’re cooking outdoors, but this model doesn’t have the feet. No worries: you can invest in a stand because the overall investment in this particular model is very reasonable.
Lodge makes their bare cast iron in the US and has been making it since the 1800s. Their method produces excellent cast iron with plenty of heat retention and no weak or scalding spots. It’s useful for multiple kinds of cooking, but it isn’t microwave-safe, and you can’t use it in the dishwasher.
Other Great Picks for Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
Let’s take a look at some other options besides our top picks. These can offer you some excellent cooking capabilities for a wide range of prices and situations.
Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 7 Quart Enameled Oven – Another Good Budget Option
It has a very broad cooking surface and low straight sides, so it cooks efficiently and reasonably quickly for a Dutch oven. It’s a lot heavier than some of the other options on our list, but in return, it offers even heating and excellent cooking capability. The handles are small, but the sides are straight enough that it’s easy to stir and scrape any bits of stuck food back into the pot. The enamel isn’t quite as durable as the top picks, but it’s a bargain at less than $100.
Lava Signature 7 Quart – Highly Durable
This model uses an older style of lid meant to help keep coals on top of the oven back when everyone cooked outside. It’s tougher to clean, but this model makes up for that inconvenience with a Dutch oven that’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s tough and made of highly durable enamel and cast iron. If you’ve lost a few pieces to breakage or chipping, this could be the right budget choice for you.
Tramontina 6.5 Quart Round Oven – Best Tall Choice
Tramontina is another good contender for a budget option. It features a great cooking surface and excellent heat conduction. It’s a little taller and narrower than the competition, which could reduce the efficiency of your cooking and make some dishes (like soups or stews) hard to maneuver on and off the stove. However, the materials are high-quality, and the colors are nice. At a similar price to our budget picks, it’s a good option if you don’t often cook large cuts of meat or use it for browning or searing meats.
Martha Stewart Enameled Cast Iron 6 Quart – Good Mid-Tier Option
Martha Stewart’s line is a wonderful mid-tier option for cast iron. It features heavy cast iron with even heating and no scorching spots, but it can be challenging to find specific models right when you need them. Because it isn’t quite a budget option but not super easy to find, this model is best for those of you who are already Martha Stewart fans.
Milo 5.5 Quart Dutch Oven – Good All-Around Choice
This relative newcomer is quite the workhorse. Milo is a direct-to-consumer brand, so it cuts costs to bring you this one at about a third of Le Creuset’s price tag. It’s reliable and features a good range of colors. Heating is even, and there are no scorched spots. The handles are tiny for oven mitts, but overall, the performance might make you forget that little piece. It’s a wonderful addition to a kitchen and could be an excellent second Dutch oven for sides or for when you’re feeding more people than usual.
Lodge Seasoned Camp Dutch Oven – Good Campsite Choice
Lodge got its start in camping tools, and this one is unapologetically for the campsite. It features feet for setting on top of coals and a lid designed to keep coals on top safely and effectively. The bare cast iron is pre-seasoned, so you don’t have to worry about the seasoning step, and it has plenty of cooking space for even heating. Make sure you invest in a lid-lifter and fireproof gloves to help keep you safe from the flames.
Le Creuset Signature 15.5 Quart – Best Large Capacity
This Le Creuset option is one of the largest available, and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s heavy and has enough capacity to feed a large group of people. If you need a Dutch oven for over ten people regularly, this is one of the best choices you can make. The downside is that it’s quite an investment, and you may need to work out at the gym to lift it.
Staub Mini Cocotte – Best Individual Size
For a show-stopping presentation, Staub’s mini Dutch ovens are absolutely the way to go. They feature a single serving size capacity in Staub’s traditional design in a diminutive size perfect for serving personalized dishes to your guests. If you live alone or you have a picky eater in the house, it’s also a great way to get a secondary Dutch oven at a fraction of the price without sacrificing storage space or performance. Plus, this is such a fun size for experimentations and desserts.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I care for my new Dutch oven? Caring for your Dutch oven isn’t super hard. The directions for care are divided by bare and enameled cast iron.
- Enameled cast iron – Gently scrape off any bits of food and place in the dishwasher or wash with soap by hand. Be sure to allow the cast iron to cool completely before trying to wash, don’t ever put cold water on a hot enameled surface. The enamel could crack with the extreme temperature difference.
- Bare cast iron – You can’t scrub or put bare cast iron in the dishwasher or you’ll damage the seasoning layer. Instead, gently scrape off any remaining food bits with a plastic tool, and rinse the Dutch oven in warm water with a soft washcloth. You’ll preserve the seasoning layer this way, but you may also want to add a small bit of vegetable oil each time you rinse to help preserve the surface.
- How do I use my Dutch oven? The Dutch oven is an efficient cooking tool, but you’ll need to preheat it first to ensure that it works best. First, put heat on the lowest setting and allow your Dutch oven to preheat for about ten minutes. Cast iron doesn’t need high heat to get hot, and you can damage your enamel by turning the heat on too high. Start with low heat and check the pot every ten minutes to see if it’s the ideal temperature. Once you get to know your cast iron, you’ll be more efficient about knowing the right heat for it.
- How do I season my cast iron? Seasoning bare cast iron isn’t hard. Simply use shortening or vegetable oil to create a thin layer across the interior. Bake at a low heat for about an hour and you’re ready to go.
- How do I store my cast iron? Cast iron is durable, but you may want to place a small cushion between pots if you’re stacking them. If you have just one, you could store it in plain sight much like a mixer, especially if you have one that’s a beautiful color.
- Should I get a round or oval Dutch oven? Round Dutch ovens are great for cooking all-purpose dishes and for kitchens that see a lot of action on the stovetop. Oval Dutch ovens are great for oven use and for whole cuts of meat like an entire chicken or a roast. Cooking efficiency is the same; you’re merely utilizing space differently. The only important consideration is that a broad cooking space helps food cook more efficiently.
- Should I get bare or enameled cast iron? Bare cast iron is a workhorse. It doesn’t chip or scratch, and it’s great if you spend a lot of time cooking outdoors. It isn’t as easy to clean, but it does have a unique flavor profile and can help impart extra iron into your diet. Enameled cast iron is excellent for kitchen use because you can use it in the microwave and put it in the dishwasher.
- What does a Dutch oven cost? You can find excellent models in a range of prices from higher-end Le Creuset to well-performing budget options like Lodge. Look for pots that have good handles and a lid that can handle higher amounts of heat while in the oven. You can also start with a budget model and upgrade later as your circumstances change.
Transform Your Kitchen with a Dutch Oven
The top pick is a classic Dutch oven from a company that’s been around forever. The capacity is right in the sweet spot for most families, and using it helps turn dishes from something ordinary to something extraordinary.
If you’re using a Dutch oven for the first time, you can learn how to manipulate heat and transform tough cuts of meat into an amazing meal. Investing in a great model is always a good choice, and Dutch ovens are hands down one of my favorite kitchen tools of all time. They’re built for long-term use, and yours could become a kitchen staple.
Be sure you care for your Dutch oven as directed, and it will give you many years of wonderful dishes. Whether you’re buying your first Dutch oven, upgrading the size, or upgrading the brand, you’ve got lots of wonderful meals ahead of you. Happy cooking!