Dutch ovens are an extremely versatile tool to have in your kitchen. Whether you’re braising a piece of meat or cooking over a fire while camping, a dutch oven can serve as a valuable tool because as the name implies, it’s a portable oven. Virtually any recipe that calls for the use of a conventional oven can be done in a dutch oven and yes, I do mean you can bake a pie on your next hiking trip if you so choose. Dutch ovens are heavy-bottomed pots that are best used for slow cooking recipes because they trap moisture inside of them which keeps anything inside from drying out. As with every kitchen utensil, there are different types of dutch ovens and each has its pros and cons.
The two major types of dutch ovens are cast-iron and ceramic (also referred to as enamel). Ceramic dutch ovens are made by taking a cast-iron dutch oven and coating it in a layer of enamel, we’ll get into what that does in just a second. Personally I enjoy both types and believe they both have their place in a kitchen, however, it isn’t exactly practical to have two of these heavy-duty pots taking up space in your kitchen cabinets. To help figure out what type best suits you, I’ve broken down some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens
Cast-iron, the ol’ reliable. I thought it would be fitting to start with the original dutch oven since the ceramic version is essentially the same thing with an extra coating on it. As a cooking material cast-iron is wonderful because it can retain an even heat once it gets hot. If you watch old westerns you might be familiar with the sight of a group of cowboys cooking a big pot of stew over a campfire with, you guessed it, a cast-iron dutch oven. Because they don’t have an enamel coating around them you can use this pot outside without worry of ruining your cookware. It’s durable enough that you can even place your dutch oven directly on some hot coals and cook that way! This also means that your dutch oven could become a family heirloom and last generations. Cast-iron dutch ovens typically won’t empty out your wallet either but of course, this also depends on the brand you buy and the size.
Cast-iron requires more care due to its porous surface and tendency to rust if not taken care of. Anything cast-iron has to be seasoned before use or else you risk having odors from anything you cooked on it stay in the dutch oven itself. If a little more work on your end doesn’t scare you away then I encourage you to go check out my article about how to season and take care of your cast-iron cookware! Along with having to season the pot before you cook, after you cook the cast-iron cant be cleaned with soap. Cleaning cast-iron isn’t necessarily difficult it’s just different, no soap, no metal brushes (you can still use metal utensils as long as you aren’t digging into the pan like you would if you were cleaning it), no dishwasher.
Tip: Clean any cast-iron cookware immediately after you’re done cooking with it while it is still warm!
Ceramic Dutch Ovens
Ceramic dutch ovens have cast iron in them, so they have all the same great heating properties that we love, but this extra coating of enamel gives them a slightly different look and feel. Cosmetically, ceramic dutch ovens can come in a wide variety of colors to match whatever aesthetic you’re going for. Functionally, the enamel coating is a built-in non-stick agent. Being non-stick by design can cut back your use of oils if you’re trying to watch your calorie intake. The enamel coating also reduces the amount of iron your food absorbs during cooking (this could be a con to anyone trying to introduce more iron into their diet but from a pure taste perspective I’m assuming you don’t want your beef stew to have a slight aftertaste of nail). Cleaning is also easier since you can use soap on them and are considered dishwasher safe, handwashing will keep the enamel coating on longer and the pot could be damaged in the dishwasher. Finally, much like how the cast-iron dutch oven was better suited for the great outdoors the ceramic dutch oven is for when you want a nice night in, ceramic dutch ovens can handle slightly higher temperatures in the oven.
As great as it can be, an enamel coating does limit you in ways you aren’t limited to with a cast-iron dutch oven. The enamel coating on the dutch oven is more fragile than cast-iron and can chip easily. This means that you can’t really use it in the rugged outdoors where one slip up could mean a chunk of your dutch oven is broken off the rest. The weaker outside also means you can’t use metal utensils without scratching off the enamel, rendering all of its benefits useless. Typically you also find that ceramic dutch ovens are more expensive than the cast-iron counterpart but again, this really comes down to the brand and quality of the cookware more than the presence of an extra coating.
Hopefully, by now you know enough about cast-iron and ceramic dutch ovens to confidently go out and buy your own! Dutch ovens are a wonderful tool to have at your disposal and for the majority of the time, it won’t really matter which kind you get. It only really matters when it comes to cleaning and the occasional camping trip with friends or family.