Dutch oven cooking is a wonderful hobby, and a delicious way to eat. Itâ€™s one â€œhabitâ€ that delights family and friends alike, and a terrific emergency cooking method.
Once youâ€™ve decided to give Dutch oven cooking a try, the first question to be answered is which one to buy. Your choice is between cast iron and aluminum, in a wide variety of sizes and even styles.
Cast iron ovens are heavier, retain heat more evenly, and can withstand higher temperatures. They do require seasoning (read Seasoning Your Dutch Oven for more info), which means clean-up must be done with a little more care. The cast iron oven is the historical choice of settlers of the American West.
Aluminum ovens are lighter weight, donâ€™t require seasoning, and are actually dishwasher safe. However, they can actually melt if too much heat is used. One cook reported that when placed over an open fire to cook stew, his aluminum Dutch oven actually melted down and the spilled stew put out the fire. However, aluminum ovens are the clear choice for river rafters, horse packers, and even some backpackers. I prefer aluminum for baking breads and cakes.
Size is also an issue, and is usually determined by the number of people to be served. By far the most common Dutch oven is a Lodge 12â€ cast iron, which is 6 quarts, and equivalent to a 9â€ X 13â€ baking pan for casseroles or desserts. It serves 6 â€“ 10 people. An 8â€ or 10â€ Dutch oven (or even smaller) serve 4 â€“ 8 people, and are also useful for heating sauces, etc. Dutch ovens measuring 14â€ (8 quarts) or 16â€ (14 quarts) are for larger crowds. Remember that the larger the cast iron oven, the greater the weight. For smaller individuals (especially women) a 14â€ oven filled with food can be nearly impossible to move!
Some Dutch oven styles also come in â€œdeepâ€ , which adds about an inch to the depth. These are typically used for roasts, turkeys, or larger quantities. Baking (of breads, cakes, cobblers, etc.) is usually done in a â€œregularâ€ depth oven.
A â€œcampâ€ Dutch oven has 3 legs which keep the oven above the coals used for heating the bottom. The lid has a flange, or rim, around the edge to hold coals on the top. It also has a handle for ease in lifting the oven on and off the coals or fire.
Whatever model, size or depth oven you choose, be sure to avoid irregular casting and poorly fitting lids. The lid must fit snugly on the oven to assure proper cooking or baking.