Dutch Ovens are generally large, stout pots. Standard stove-top ones are in the range of 10 inches (25 cm) wide, and about 5 inches (12 1/2 cm) tall. They tend to have a capacity of 4 quarts (4 litres) or more.They are traditionally made of cast iron, but most are now made of aluminum, anodized aluminum or stainless steel.
They are wide with a flat bottom, and shallow, in that they are wider that they are tall. The wide mouth makes them ideal for slow evaporation of water and concentration of flavours left behind. The pots are usually round, but you can find oval ones here and there. You can get some Dutch Ovens with three legs on them, designed to stand in a hearth or over a camp fire.
Modern household ones have short handles on the pots, one on each side. Traditional ones have two loop handles, one on each side. Not all household Dutch Ovens are oven safe. If the handles aren’t plastic, then it’s probably oven-proof. You can also get them with smaller handles, that are hard to get your fingers into, and that’s because the pots have a “bail” handle looped through them. A bail handle is a handle like you would find on a bucket. The bail handle raises to be over top of the pot, and you can pick the whole pot up by that one handle. Such bail handles are also meant for use in for hanging the pot over a fire.
They come with lids with handles on them. Some Dutch Ovens for camping have recessed lids that you can set hot coals into, and thus heating the pot from the top so that you can indeed use it as an oven for baking inside. These recessed equals flat are lid, with a tall rim that goes around it to hold the coals in. The ridge on the lid also helps stop ash from the top from drifting into the food when you open the pot. There is metal handle in the lid to grab with a hook for lifting the hot lid off. Lids for these outdoor ones also have nipples on their underside, that condensation is meant to drip down from. Household Dutch Ovens have covers that are slightly domed; some have glass lids
What a Dutch Oven is depends on whether you ask a Boy Scout or not. Some people say a true Dutch Oven is the one that has three legs, and allows for coals on top of the lid, thus turning it into an oven. Such true Dutch Ovens, they say, can be used with the heat coming from the top, bottom or both. Some purists even say that without the legs and such a lid, it shouldn’t be called a Dutch Oven at all, because there is nothing oven-like about it. Usage of the term, though, does seem to have moved on, such that true, traditional Dutch Ovens are now referred to in ways such as “camping Dutch Ovens.” Another way of distinguishing traditional Dutch Ovens from modern household ones is by the use of adjectives such as “footed” versus “flat bottomed.”
Depending on the model, you can bake, fry and stew with a Dutch oven. Dutch Ovens are often used in homes for braising, stewing, and making large batches of saucy dishes like chile, and reached for when large quantities of pasta or potatoes need to be boiled. Often recipes for stews will direct you first to brown the ingredients on the stove top in a Dutch oven (with the large, flat bottom providing lots of space for browning), and then to add more ingredients and complete the cooking process in a slow oven. This of course requires a model with oven-safe handles.
Dutch Ovens in the home are now mostly used as oven stewing pots that go into the oven, or as the biggest pan on offer to do a big mess of mashed potato in at Thanksgiving.
Dutch Oven enthusiasts get together and bake chocolate cakes in them.
To use an outdoor Dutch Oven with coals: measure (or know) the width of your pot. If your pot is 10 inches (20 cm) wide, get 20 coals ready if you want extremely low heat. Multiple this number by 2 for simmering; by 3 for boiling, baking or browning. You take your coals, and arrange them in a circle underneath the pot (but not in the centre directly underneath it.) If you are doing the x 3 for higher heat, put 2/3 the coals on top, and the rest arrange in a circle underneath.
For home use, just use your pot with the widest mouth. If your recipe calls for the pot to go into the oven and your Dutch Oven isn’t oven safe, transfer the ingredients at the oven entry stage into a casserole dish.
A Dutch Oven would have been very important for baking in at a time when there were no ovens. Some say it was actually invented by Paul Revere, but that’s a myth. He was a silversmith, and didn’t have a foundry. Besides, pots like this date back centuries in Europe.
Literature & Lore
The Dutch Oven was declared the Official State Cooking Pot of Utah in 1997 by the Utah House of Representatives through House Bill 203, sponsored by Representative Craig W. Buttars: “The Dutch Oven is selected and designated to be the state cooking pot of Utah.” A legislative review note adds: “A limited legal review of this bill raises no obvious constitutional or statutory concerns.”
Not only is there an International Dutch Oven Society, there are also two groups that split and broke away, a Lone Star Dutch Oven Society and a Northwest Dutch Oven Society.
The Dutch certainly don’t call it a “Dutch Oven”, and are always asking in a bewildered fashion what it is.
There are only theories as to where the name came from.
- Popularized by the Pennsylvania Dutch;
- Sold by the Pennsylvania Dutch;
- A man named Abraham Darby in 1704 returned from Holland to England with a knowledge of why the Dutch seemed to be turning out superior cast products. He applied what he knew to the products he made and sold. This wouldn’t explain though why just these particular pots got a Dutch moniker though, and why not frying pans, etc, as well.