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What is a Dutch Oven?

Once used extensively in the kitchen, many people today wonder just what is a Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is a thick walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. It was usually constructed from cast iron.

Dutch ovens have a long history all over the world. Known as a camp oven in Australia, a cocotte in France, a casserole dish in Britain and a potjie in South Africa, the Dutch oven has been a traditional pot in the kitchen almost everywhere.

Dutch Oven History

Dutch ovens were originally designed in the Netherlands in the late 1600s. They made molds from dry sand and filled them with cast iron. Using the sand resulted in a smooth surface. In the early 1700s, Abraham Darby, an Englishman who had studied the Dutch process patented a similar procedure and began manufacturing Dutch ovens for Britain and the American colonies.

As time passed, the Dutch oven used in America began to evolve into a shallower pot with short legs to hold the oven above the coals. A flange was added to the lid so coals would stay on the lid and not fall into the food. Cast iron Dutch ovens were very popular in the colonies. It could be used for baking, boiling, frying, roasting, and making soups and stews.

Dutch ovens were so prized that they were willed from one generation to another. Dutch ovens were used as pioneers crossed the prairie to the West coast, by cowboys driving cattle and by mountain men who spent their time trapping.

Types of Dutch Ovens

Dutch ovens are still popular to use while camping. The most popular models used in camping are sometimes called chuckwagon Dutch ovens. They typically have three short legs and a wire bale handle. The lid is slightly convex and rimmed to hold coals so the heat can encircle the oven, creating even heating all the way around. These ovens are most frequently made of cast iron.

Modern Dutch ovens are designed to use on the stove or in the oven. They have smooth bottoms and come in plain cast iron or enameled cast iron. There are a few that are also made of aluminum or ceramic. They may or may not have a wire bale handle.

America's most popular manufacturer of Dutch ovens is Lodge, which is located in Tennessee. The other most popular manufacturer of Dutch ovens is Le Creuset, a company based in France. They call their pots French ovens.

Cooking in a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens are best suited to cooking food slowly over a long period of time. They make excellent stews, casseroles and roasts. You can also use them to make breads, biscuits, cakes and pies. Dutch ovens can also be stacked on top of each other to conserve heat and cook more dishes at once.

Cast iron Dutch ovens need to be seasoned just like any other cast iron pan. It should first be washed with hot soapy water to remove the protective coating applied by the factory. Once it has been thoroughly dried, it is given a thin coat of oil. The oven is then heated at a high temperature for an hour to season it. Allow it to cool gradually.

Now the Dutch oven is ready to use. Avoid using acidic foods, as they will eat away at the seasoning layer. Store the clean Dutch oven with the lid off to avoid condensation and rust.

Enameled Dutch ovens don't need to be seasoned, but they are not quite as versatile. You can't use an enameled oven for deep frying like you can a raw cast iron oven since the enamel coating is not intended for high heat.

Enameled Dutch ovens do make wonderful pots to make soups and other water-based dishes in. They can be cleaned like ordinary cookware and some are even dishwasher safe.

The uses for Dutch ovens are varied, and the enameled ovens look as nice on the table as they do in the kitchen. Most families will be able to find plenty of uses for a Dutch oven. Stews, soups, roasts and more can be prepared with ease as a one-dish meal.

Enameled Dutch ovens can also go straight from the refrigerator to the stove and back to store leftovers. This amazing pot has had a long history and it looks like it will continue to be useful for many generations to come.

Dutch Oven
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