Traditional American Dutch oven from the late 1800’s
The Dutch oven is a type of pan that exists in many cultures all over the world. In England it is also called a casserole dish. Some French manufacturers, including Le Creuset who makes my Dutch oven, refer to their products as French ovens. I am sorry I am just not going to go there and will refer to my pan as a Dutch oven. The pan was a flat bottomed, heavy walled cast iron pan with a tight fitting lid. The pan was meant to be set in a bed of coals. The reason this particular pan style became known as the Dutch oven is the Netherlands perfected a manufacturing process that made for a superior product. The Dutch version of the oven reigned supreme for a time, until an Englishman went to the Netherlands in the early 1700’s to learn the manufacturing process. Since the patent system was in place by this time, the English version was a new process based on what was learned in the Netherlands. This pan was brought over to America by the colonists and was valued for its versatility - one pan could handle most cooking tasks. The American version of the pan began to change in three ways. First three legs were added to raise the pan above a bed of coals. Secondly a curved wire handle was added so the pan could be suspended over a fire. The third change was a rimmed lid was added that was slightly concave instead of slightly convex. The purpose of this change was to allow coals to be set in the lid for more even cooking. With coals above and below the pan behaved even more like an oven.
Modern outdoor style Dutch oven is similar to the traditional American style dutch oven.
The Modern indoor style Dutch oven has two versions. The more common one is an enameled cast iron version show on the right, that comes in round or oval. The less common version looks a bit like the outdoor version minus the legs and concave rimed lid
Fast forwarding to today, the Dutch oven has two distinct variations. There is the outdoor Dutch oven. It is pretty much a modern version of the pioneer American Dutch Oven complete with legs, handle and rimmed concave lid. It is typically cast iron and unglazed. The outdoor Dutch oven is very big in camping and outdoor recreation circles and there are many websites, large and small, dedicated to cooking with this type of Dutch oven. The indoor Dutch oven is round or oval with a flat bottom, no legs and a tight fitting slightly convex lid. These days many of the indoor Dutch ovens are made out of cast iron with an enameled finish. The finish is often a bright color on the outside and off-white on the inside. There are also some indoor Dutch ovens which use exposed cast iron like the old school or camping Dutch ovens. Newer materials like aluminum and ceramic are being used but for now the porcelain enameled cast iron are the most popular. As for handles on the indoor style Dutch ovens, the enameled versions have two handles at each end of the pan and one on the lid. The traditional style often retain the wire loop handles.
As I mentioned previously, I never knew I needed or wanted a Dutch oven almost right up until I bought one. I was planning on making some home made baked beens from a recipe called Cowboy Beans from America’s test kitchen. The beans started on the stove and finished in the oven. The last hour in the oven was done with the lid off. This got me to thinking that perhaps I could move the beans out to the grill, indirectly cook them at 350(177 C), which would be just like the oven, and add smoke. The recipe called for the use of preferably a Dutch oven, or a heavy walled oven safe pan. Now my Calphalon pans do conduct heat well, but I could imagine what the wood smoke would do to my new pans. So I began to think about investing in a Dutch oven. And investment is a good word to use because none of them are cheap.
This is the 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset Dutch oven I bought.
I looked at America’s Test Kitchen’s reviews of Dutch ovens and found that the Le Creuset Dutch ovens had been their traditional winner in previous taste tests. They had also picked a less expensive model as a best low cost runner up. Some of the other pans they had tested were made of non-coated cast iron. Some, but not all, of these pans actually gave a rusty taste to the food. So I decided I was definitely going to go the enameled cast iron route. As soon as I started thinking enameled cast iron, I narrowed it down to Le Creuset. Normally I don’t by the best and most expensive item in a product category. I tend to go with something that is above average and is reasonably priced. In this case there was a difference. I began seeing Dutch ovens turn up all the time in cooking shows and I began to realize just how much I might actually use this pan. It is funny how some product is off your radar screen until you buy one or are thinking of buying one. Suddenly you see it everywhere. Seeing the brightly colored Dutch ovens everywhere caused me to rethink things. Here was a pan I’d use all the time for a wide variety of tasks. I decided that for a one-time investment, the extra money wasn’t that much over the life of the pan.
A good $12.00 spent is to buy the stainless steel knob to replace the stock phenolic knob. It is rated for higher temperatures.
Next I headed to the store to buy the pan. One of the things you must decide is what size and shape. I chose the oval shape which would serve better for browning rectangular shaped cuts of meat. The heavy walled Dutch ovens excel at browning meat. As for size there were 3 models 5 1/2 quart / 5 1/4 L ($240.00), 6 3/4 quart / 6.33 L ($280) and 9 1/4 quart / 8 3/4 L ($380.00). I will admit this is an area I went into a bit blind. I didn’t realize just how much I’d want to do with my Dutch oven. I bought the 5 1/2 quart / 5.33 L model and I regret not spending the extra $40.00 for the 6 3/4 quart / 6.33 L model. I have had several stews that I have made where my Dutch oven was just slightly too small to cook them in. I would suggest before heading to the store you do a little homework. If you don’t already know, look into all the things you can do with a Dutch oven. Then look at the recipes you will be making with this new-found versatility. See what size pan you need to make those recipes. This way you will get a Dutch oven suited to your specific needs. If you happen to buy a Le Creuset Dutch oven there is another thing you might want to invest in while you are at the store.That is a $12.00 replacement metal knob. The stock phenolic ( hi temp plastic) knob on the lid is good to only 375 degrees (191 C). The metal knob makes the Dutch oven oven safe and broiler safe.
The meal that started it all. Being able to finish the Cowboy Beans on the grill with some wood smoke was the original reason for buying the Dutch oven.
The first thing I did with my Dutch oven was to make the Cowboy Beans recipe which is what had started me on this quest to begin with. I used the pan to brown, sauté and simmer items on the stove. Then put it in a 350 degree oven with the lid on for an hour and then finished it off for an hour out at the gas grill. The grill was set to 350 degrees (177 C) using indirect heat and the Dutch oven had the lid of. The payoff with using the gas grill vs the oven for this last step, was I could use wood smoke. I’d made these beans once before getting the Dutch oven. When sautéing I noticed I had more frond, those golden brown bits chock full of flavor that reside in the bottom of the pan, than when I had done this recipe previously in my Calphalon pans. It wasn’t a lot more but it was noticeable. The addition of wood smoke was noticeable. This was the best batch of baked beans I had made up to this point. I next used the pan for searing some roast beef and found it browned wonderfully. The meat came out of the pan and headed out to the smoker. I deglazed the pan and added some ingredients to make a wonderfully tasty gravy. Braised short ribs in the oven were next and they turned out excellent and were done at the low end of the time scale. I was thinking this was due to the lid’s tight seal and the thick walls of the Dutch oven.
Soups, stews and sauces all benefit from using the Dutch oven. Smoked Lamb Stew (Top), Hungarian Goulash (Middle), and Arrabiatta sauce for Smoked Chicken & Veal Arabiatta (Bottom).
When I got into my soups and stews phase last winter the Dutch oven was used extensively. I browned meat in the Dutch oven before it went out to the smoker or grill. Next I sauteed and cooked the other ingredients in the Dutch oven, and added the meat back in and finished cooking the soup or stew in the oven. Several of these items were refrigerated overnight and reheated in the Dutch oven the next day for serving. I would let the soup or stew cool, then remove the lid and place some plastic wrap over the top and place the lid back on before placing the Dutch oven in the fridge. Now soups and stews are one area where I wish I had purchased the 6 3/4 quart / 6.33 L model Dutch oven. Several of the recipes have made too much to fit in my 5 1/2 quart / 5.25 L model. I love my Calphalon pans, but I will admit to being disappointed when I had to use them instead of my Dutch oven for stews.
Look at the nice sear you get from the heavy duty cast iron construction of the Dutch oven (Left). Once the meat was removed the frond (tasty black bits) that was left helped flavor the gravy that was to be made. Here mushrooms are sweating in the left over frond.
The last area, which I haven’t tried yet, is deep frying. I was going to try fried chicken in my Dutch oven, but when I discovered the Grill Fried Chicken recipe I didn’t see the need to deep fry chicken. I am going to try French Fries sometime soon. Whenever they deep fry an item on America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Country TV they seem to use a Dutch oven. The thick walls make for less variations in heat and the enameled finish can hold up to the hot oil. One thing I should mention from the Dutch oven reviews from America’s Test Kitchen is not every Dutch oven handled deep frying well. Some of the thinner walled models had temperature fluctuations or didn’t recover as fast when the cold fries were added to the oil. Some of the non-enameled versions which used an exposed cast iron finish turned out fries with a taste described as “rusty”. “Rusty” probably means the cast iron wasn’t properly cured and is actually rusting. This type of thing was why I decided to go with their top pick. If I was only going to own one of these pans I wanted to own one that was problem free. One high priced Dutch oven would be cheaper than several less expensive models that were unsatisfactory. I am not going to tell you to spend lots of money if you don’t have it, but at least take a look at the America’s Test Kitchen’s test and see what their lower cost choices were.
Next up for me in the Dutch Oven is Jambalaya. It may be cooked on the stove or on the grill, I am still in search of recipes. It is really nice having a pan that does most everything well and can be used with your stove, oven or grill. If you aren’t familiar with Dutch ovens, do some research before you buy. Learn what you can do with the Dutch oven and look at recipes you might make to get an idea of what size you need. Buy the best pan you can afford even if it means stretching the budget a bit for a more expensive or larger model. Over time the extra money will seem insignificant when you start using this versatile pan. I will admit it: I was totally ignorant when it came to Dutch ovens. If I had any idea what a great pan it was I would have bought one a long time ago.
BACK TO BBQ BLOG 2011
ARCHIVE OF BLOGS: 2011
INDEX OF BLOGS: ALL YEARS