Cast Iron Dutch Oven

olga_6bFebruary 19, 2012

I use my cast iron skillets all the time. Use them for most frying tasks and can't even imaging not having them. However, I don't have cast iron dutch oven. I have dutch oven, of course, but not cast iron. Am I missing something? What do you cook in cast iron duch ovens, if you have one? How they are compared to stainless steel ovens or clay? I use my dutch ovens mostly for stews, chicken and for baking bread. what size is working best for you?


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I am sure there are many people who will disagree with me.

Other than the fact that a cast iron Dutch oven looks better and can go from the stove to the dining table and serve, for most cooking there are no other cooking benefits.

There are bread making recipes using a Dutch oven you may have to make adjustments if you are not using a Dutch oven.

I hate to have to lift a two ton cast iron Dutch oven.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 8:44PM
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Thanks, dcarch. I use Emile Henry ceramic dutch oven for no knead bread. It works very well, makes wonderful crust, and it is not heavy. I like it it a lot. Was just wondering if cast iron could be even better for certain tasks.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 8:59PM
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A cast iron Dutch oven cooks like nothing else.....why do you think it's on the top of everyone's "must have" list?
The way it holds the heat and allows a very low simmer is like no other kitchen tool.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 9:25PM
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I agree with Lindac, nothing compares. You may want more than one after you cook with your first one. Not admitting how many I have. LOL

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 9:37PM
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I also agree, it's like nothing else. I use mine to deep fry, things like french fries and donuts. It retains the heat and keeps the oil hot better than anything I've used, plus the oil does a great job of seasoning.

I use mine over coals when I camp and make bread, apple pie, cookies, and the girls' favorite, coke chicken. coals on top and bottom and you have an "oven".

There's baked beans which are magnificent in cast iron and stew can be started on stovetop by browning the beef and then moved to the oven or simmered on the stovetop until done and then moved to the oven to bake biscuits on top of the stew.

Plus, if you cook acidic foods in cast iron, the iron will leach out of the pan and into the food and increase your iron levels, very handy if you happen to be anemic. I wouldn't have believed it until my old doc checked my iron and then checked it a second time because it was so high. He asked me then about my diet and finally what I cooked with. Yup, it was the cast iron. Neither of my girls had a problem with "iron poor tired blood" either. Sorry Geritol.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 9:48PM
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Thanks, looks like I need one:) I almost never deep fry, but I make stews, beans, etc all the time.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:39PM
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I know science can't explain everything, I can't explain the popularity of cast iron cookware.

Cast iron is a poor heat conductor, that is the most important property of cast iron for a cookware (not talking about non-stick and benefits for the hemoglobin iron-poor).

It takes a long time for cast iron to be heated up, and it takes a long time for it to cool down, in other words unavoidably it wastes a lot of good energy used as a cookware.

Studies have found that cast iron does not heat up evenly in cooking when compared with other metals (copper, aluminum) and other types of modern cookware construction (Tri-clad, etc.).

Heat holding, and heat retention, what do they mean?

By weight, cast iron's specific heat (heat capacity) is much less than water, and less than aluminum. It holds a lot of heat because it is massive. You cannot make thin cast iron cookware. You have to make them heavy.

It does not matter what material you are using to make the cookware, it can retain no more heat than what is supplies by the stove's flames. As long as you are cooking on the stove, cast iron retains no more heat than any other material.

In deep frying, heat recover is important for a cookware. In that application, cast iron's poor conductivity will be a poor quality.

As long as you have a normal stove that you can have a low enough flame, cast iron cannot simmer better than a cookware than has a better heat distribution because of better heat conduction.

Yes, a cast iron Dutch oven will make great stews and beans, so can many other less weighty cookware (cast iron is about three times heavier)

I have given away all my cast iron cookware, except the lasagna pan, and a large frying pan.

Just my humble opinion


    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 11:01PM
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The bottom line is... the majority of the people on here (including me) think a cast iron Dutch oven is indespensible. Add to that they aren't terribly expensive. Go get yourself one and have fun!


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 12:22AM
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I'm sorry DC but your scientific explanations make my eyes cross.

I have never cared about the science of cooking. I'm only interested in the process and the results. And I can honestly say that I get great results with cast iron cookware. Everyone should have a cast iron dutch oven. I have four cast iron dutch ovens of various sizes and they all get used. My favourite is still the vintage Griswold set. Skillet, Chicken fryer and Dutch Oven. I use both the Griswold Chicken fryer and Dutch oven as deep fryers and can't say I've ever notice the problem that DC mentions.

Go for it Olga. You won't be disappointed.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:06AM
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I think you need to distinguish between the raw cast iron (i.e., not lined with enamel) and the enameled cast iron (like Le Creuset, Staub, and their cheaper imitators). Raw cast iron is cheap (dutch ovens in the $40-60 range) and can react with acidic sauces, while enameled cast iron (ECI) is nonreactive, but tends to be pricey. The raw iron pots need to be seasoned, but once seasoned, they're not that hard to maintain. The ECI don't need seasoning, and cleanup is easy.

Dcarch: you are correct that cast iron is a lousy conductor. That very property, though, makes is resistant to sudden temperature changes. You wouldn't use cast iron to make a temperature sensitive sauce like hollandaise, but if you wanted to keep a casserole at a fairly steady temp in the oven, you can't do better than cast iron, either raw or enameled. Also, I haven't found anything better than a well seasoned raw cast iron skillet for searing meat.

I once read a book by Pierre Franey about equipping a kitchen. Before he made it big, he lived in a little apartment with minimal kitchen facilities; his only pot was a cast iron skillet. That should say something.

Certainly for the money, cast iron is a great buy. Is it perfect? Of course not. Still, there are some things at which it excels.

If anyone wants to read an exhaustive analysis about cookware, the article at the link is great. After reading it, I want to get a copper sauteuse evasee, but I'll have to take out a second mortgage to afford one.

Here is a link that might be useful: stovetop cookware

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:00AM
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And today, Amazon is having a sale on Lodge cast iron Dutch Ovens in a great assortment of colors.

I have never known or heard of anyone who didn't love, LOVE their Cast Iron Dutch oven once they got it and began to use it.
If your style of cooking includes soups, stews and braised meats, you will really enjoy a cast iron Dutch oven....or a brazier or fry pan.
Linda C

Here is a link that might be useful: lodge

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:24AM
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There is nothing better then frying chicken in our dutch oven. Holds the oil temp and the higher sides help in keeping the mess to a minimum. Stews and casseroles keep well and stay warm for serving. I usually don't transfer these items to serving dishes when it is just family for dinner. Serve right from the pot. You won't be sorry you purchased one Olga. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:33AM
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I have that 6 qt lodge enameled cast iron pan; I love it. That price at Amazon is very good, especially with the free shipping; it's about the cost of the non-enameled dutch oven.

I think the next cast iron piece I'm gonna get is the one at the link, the 5 qt dutch oven with the skillet cover. (They also make one a little smaller, about 3 qt with a skillet cover.)

Here is a link that might be useful: dutch oven with skillet cover

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:46AM
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I picked up a 5 qt enameled Dutch Oven at Homegoods a couple of weeks ago (a house warming pressie for a friend) and paid $45 for it. That is a reasonable price in my opinion, even if it isn't Le Cruset. Shop the sales, Homegoods, etc - you can find one that is VERY affordable!


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:54AM
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Like Ann T, I don't care about the science and don't read the long scientific explanations, I just scroll through them because I only care about how it works for me.

Which is magnificently, incidentally. As mentioned, there is nothing better for putting a quick sear on a steak than a screaming hot cast iron pan. You can heat it like that and not worry about fumes, like non-stick. They are nearly indestructible, cheap, versatile.

I have a couple of enameled pieces, but reach for the plain cast iron first nearly all the time.

Different tools are necessary for different jobs. I don't drive nails with the handle of a screwdriver (well, I have, but that's another issue altogether) and I don't try to cook outside over coals in Pyrex. (shrug) I use my single non-stick skillet for eggs, although my 38 year old no-name cast iron skillet is nearly as slick.

I can fry chicken in an electric skillet, but I can't put it in the oven. I can make mac and cheese in a ceramic casserole, but can't heat it stove top. My cast iron is versatile and can do all those things, as can a stainless steel or copper pan, but it's a lot cheaper than either of the others. It doesn't scratch like nonstick can, doesn't break or chip like ceramic or Pyrex does (at least at my hands!), doesn't cost like copper.

Sorry dcarch, you and I part ways on this opinion, I find mine indispensible.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 10:06AM
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I've been reading this forum for a number of years now,
And every time the subject of cast iron comes up,
And everyone here is raving about it,
I dig mine out & use it.
Once or twice.
Then back to the back of the cabinet it goes.

I have a dutch oven,
And three frying pans,
In different sizes.
(Mine is the old-fashioned 'raw' cast iron.)
Try as I might,
I have never been able to see why everyone
Seems so enamored of it.
The only thing that it does,
That I can't do just as well (or better0
With something else,
Is make a true blackened fish.
But then, I've never tried it in any other type of pan.
So who knows?

And as I've gotten older,
The weight of it, too,
is a consideration.
The Arthritis in my shoulders and wrists
Just don't allow heavy lifting.
And a dutch oven full of stew or soup
Can be very heavy ! !

Like a couple of others on here,
I'm not into the science of cooking.
But I definitely agree with DCarch on this one!


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:42AM
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Have a "vintage" (raw) CI Dutch oven that I picked up for $2-3 at a yard sale. Doesn't have wire handle (bale?) or lid, but I have lid from another pan that fits just fine. I don't use it that often, but just had to add it to my growing collection of CI. Best use for me is frying... not necessarily DEEP frying, but an inch or 2 of oil that otherwise would end up as a zillion splatters all over stove top. Using the CI this way also keeps it very well seasoned.

Have an enameled DO... somebody (here I think) mentioned stuff from Aldi's and others gave good recommendations on pieces they have. It's no-name (probably from China?) and I think heavier than Lodge or other brands?? If I use it in the oven, I use heavy-duty foil in place of the original lid... don't think knob would be very happy in that heat.

There are so many different types of cookware out there, different materials, different uses, all with pros and cons.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:49AM
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Thank you everybody for your responses. Looks like I pushed a sensitive button. Didn't want to start an argument. As I mentioned in my original post I am familiar with cast iron, most of my skillets and frying pans are cast iron. I do almost everything in them including eggs. There are just a couple of things for which I use stainless steel skillet. My soup pots and sauce pans are stainless steel and I have one piece of enameled cast iron Le Cruiset, but it is smaller size, less that is needed to make, for example, a stew for my family. I try to stay away from non stick these days. Will consider buying right size enameled cast iron dutch oven, if I will be able to find something not too heavy. I have tendonitis in my wrists, so too heavy is difficult. Lodge skillets are much heavier than my old skillets bought 20 years ago at yard sale, so I know the same items from different sources can have different weight.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:08PM
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The site arley linked to is a very thorough article about cookware, and materials for cookware. It boils down to what I have said:

Cast iron is not a good heat conductor compared to some other metals.
Cast iron is not a good heat retainer, not even as good as water.

I don't use a cast iron Dutch oven because I have found, as many people have, other materials work just as well, some better.

I use cast iron skillet to do quick sears for the non-stick quality. The "good retaining" quality is exactly the same as saying "Cast iron holds on to the heat and not giving up for what you want to sear", that is not ideal. Furthermore, after the retained heat is used up, the low conductivity does not allow cast iron to recover quickly, making it not very well for searing large quantities of food.

For pancakes, scrambled eggs, cast iron works great.

For deep frying, if you time it, you will realize it take so long for the oil to get up to temperature, it has nothing to do whether you like science or not.

Olga, there is no argument here; I have not disagreed with others. If you read my post again, you will see the following points I am trying to make:

Cast iron can make wonderful stew, soup, bean, ------ etc.

There are many other materials which work well for a Dutch oven.

If you are looking for a Dutch oven, make sure you do not mind the massive weight. The one I gave away was close to 40 lbs when it was full. I am now using an aluminum pot and a stainless steel pot. After each use I just put them in the dishwasher.

I don't remember cast iron cookware being used much, if at all, in restaurant kitchens.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Let's see....Alton Brown recommends an enameled Dutch oven for Coq au vin, Julia Child made her signature boeuf bourgoinne in one, Mario Batali has a cast iron Dutch oven with his name on it as do Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart.

Go for it.....all these great professionals as well as the good cooks here can't be wrong!

I also have wrist problems, and avoid lifting my very large Le Cruset when it's I just dish out of the pot and if I need to, ladle any extra soup or stew into containers for the refrig. I have no problem lifting it empty. As my mother always said..."use 2 hands!!!!" LOL!
Linda c

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:31PM
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I love my Le Creuset...yep it get's heavy and I call Mister to do the lifting. I have been making Lahey's bread in it as well and it is perfect (had to switch out the knob to SS tho).

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:47PM
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I also have carpal tunnel issues which are bad enough that it hurts to knead bread, but my cast iron utensils are not so heavy as to cause problems. My largest pot in regular use is a 5 quart dutch oven, my smallest a 6 inch frying pan.

With or without contents the 20 inch cast iron skillet my SIL had made for me for camping at East Jordan Ironworks is too darned heavy for me, someone else has to deal with that when that many people are camping.

I don't have any more problems with my cast iron pan that I do with a full stainless steel pan.

As for taking so long to heat up, I think that by the time I fry several batches of donuts or double fry the french fries, the fact that it takes so much less time to come back up to temperature will even it all out.

As I said, different tools for different uses. There's nothing better than cast iron for hanging on a tri-pod over a fire and I don't use anything else to bake cornbread, but I don't use it to heat water for tea or to roast a chicken. I heat tea in the microwave in the cup and I use my 6 quart Nesco roaster for chicken.

I have copper and stainless, Pyrex and aluminum, cast iron and nonstick. They all have their place in my kitchen.

The big enameled dutch oven is in the oven right now at 250 with a double batch of baked beans in it, right next to the Kaiser aluminum 9 inch baking pan that contains a sirloin tip being slow roasted.

Never bake an orphan, you know.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:57PM
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Like I said, I'm more interested in results and I get excellent results deep frying in cast iron. And as has been pointed out, Cast Iron pots are highly recommended by some serious chefs.

I have both coated and bare cast iron and can recommend both.

If you are seriously considering the purchase of a cast iron dutch oven, don't let one or two nay sayers influence your decision.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 2:03PM
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"There are so many different types of cookware out there, different materials, different uses, all with pros and cons."

I think that statement sums it all up very well!

Olga, you haven't started any arguments,
You asked a couple of simple, straight forward questions,
including asking for opinions,
And got a variety of answers and opinions.

I think each of us has stated our own opinion.
Not everyone is totally influenced by TV personalities
Who are mainly out to make a buck.
The 'serious chefs' are no different than the rest of us,
In that they have their own opinions about what works best for them,
In their own environment
And under their own individual conditions.

Now you have a pretty comprehensive list of pro & cons
for a cast iron dutch oven.
You should be able to make a decision
that will be right for you.
I think we will all be interested in knowing
Your decision,
And your thoughts on it.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 2:46PM
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Thanks, great discussion. I will give it a try. I will not spend big money on my "test" oven. This way if it does not work for me, no big loss. I will see how it meets my needs and my style of cooking. I will form my own opinion and will report my results here :)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 5:11PM
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I had 3 cast iron cooking utensils. A square fry pan, 5 Qt dutch oven and the largest lodge reversible grill/griddle. I gave the grill/griddle away because of how heavy it was though I did like using it when DH was around.
When I did a fair amount of roasts, roasted chicken, stews etc. I used the 5 Qt DO quite often. I cook differently now so it doesn't get as much use. I still use the fry pan for certain things and love the sear then right into the oven or under the broiler.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 6:23PM
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Worth a mention: Cook's Illustrated rated ten dutch ovens back in 2007 based on criteria they thought were important. Their ranking, based on material, went in this order:

Stainless/Aluminum Core
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled Cast Iron
Cast Iron
Anodized Aluminum
Stainless/Aluminum Core
Cast Iron
Enameled Cast Iron

So what's that tell you about material alone? Doesn't tell me a thing. Tells me there's more to the picture, like actual construction. And let's not forget that there's more to the picture than the cookware itself: If your cooking surface doesn't heat particularly evenly, like say on some lower end gas ranges, you'll be looking for the cookware to compensate in that regard more than you would if you have electric or higher performance gas.

So many variables; what works for YOU in YOUR kitchen is infinitely more important than scientific theory.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 10:04PM
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I wouldn't go by the 4time Felon and others using things, when they sell them. Kind of a bias there, right? But yes, a lot of good cooks use cast iron. And a lot of good cooks do not use cast iron. These arguments go on and are similar to the gas vs. electric stoves each are used by a number of good cooks. Let's not lose sight of a simple fact: Neither the appliance nor the cookware make a cook a good (or great) cook. A good/great cook can cook with and on most anything.

I used cast iron at the lake a lot. But that gas stove was not the best for use with it, though it worked and is what I had out there. I have a cast iron dutch oven in the basement and haven't used it in decades. Part of my problem was my old stove was a corningware top that wouldn't work well with cast iron. I've since replaced it and have considered getting some cast iron but for the most part I look at it as if I haven't needed it for decades, do I need it now? Will I really use it? I can't think of much I really would use it for. However Aldi has their cast iron sale a couple times a year and for $20-$30 I figure I could try a few things. They should be having it again in a month or two. I'll watch for it and consider it then.

Weight is a big factor for me. Another hesitation. Cookware is a personal thing. My mother used mostly cast iron and I learned to cook in it. But I've found other alternatives that I like too. I'm not as locked into things as some.

If you think you need it or want to try it, get a cheap one or see if someone has something you could borrow. Remember to season it and uncoated cast iron requires more care than other cookware. Not too big a deal but if it rusts, you're in for some work and they can rust easily if not properly cared for.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:22AM
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I love cooking in cast iron. In fact my All-Clad stainless gets used only for boiling water. I wasted money buying stainless pieces because I always go back to cast iron...both the Lodge brand and the enameled cast iron such as Le Creuset and Staub. Unless I'm cooking something acidic like tomatoe sauce, I prefer the Lodge. I swear the staub imparts a slight bitter taste to food.

I've cooked identical recipes of chili and stew in both stainless abd cast iron to see if there was actually a difference. Cast iron wins hands down. The flavor is much better.

Anything fried is much better in cast iron, and slow cooking a chicken in a cast iron dutch oven is way better than any crock pot. You can pop popcorn in your dutch oven, deep fry, slow cook, and bake bread.A well seasoned cast iron fry pan cooks wonderful eggs. I have no problems with my eggs sticking. I heat the pan first and add some butter.

A good starting size would be around a 5 quart.

Rusting is not a problem with cast iron if cared for the way it is supposed to be. It is not difficult to scrub rust off anyway, and reseason. Enameled is not going to rust at all.

The weight of the pans doesn't bother me. I feel it helps keep my arms fit and isn't boring like lifting weights.And I'm not a youngster anymore.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 8:36PM
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