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Kitchen Essentials: Dutch Ovens

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By Fresh Bites



The Dutch Oven is one of the most widely used and versatile pieces of cookware one can have in any kitchen.  They have a long history in European cuisine and while they are commonly referred to as “Dutch Ovens”, they are not exclusive to the Dutch people.  Variations across Europe include “cocottes” in France and the common “casserole” from England.  Whatever you choose to call them, they are a must-have for any kitchen.

The original term for “dutch oven” came from the early 1600s when the Dutch began using cast-iron fabrication to create a deep pot with a lid for cooking.  The English had been making a similar vessel prior to the Dutch, and historians will argue that the eastern Europeans residing in the current countries of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia perfected this vessel first with their Sač or peka.  However, it is believed that the Dutch ability to cast perfect “ovens” for outdoor and indoor cooking is what gave them the advantage and hence, the naming rights today.

The Dutch used sand to cast the original molds for their ovens which resulted in a smoother finish versus the English.  These more “perfect” vessels became highly prized and were soon being imported to England.  It was Abraham Darby who eventually brought the Dutch technique to England and began manufacturing them for use in England and the colonies.  He patented the technique and it is believed that the name was either from the origins of the technique or the wide-spread sale of the devices by the Dutch some 300 years ago across Europe.

The key to the Dutch Oven’s success was its durability.  Settlers in North America used these vessels as they crossed the landscape on route to new towns and farms.  The traditional design of the Dutch Oven included a deep base with handles, and a single top-handled lid.  Over time, variations began to appear as methods for cooking changed.  Legs began to be added for pots used to sit on open fires.  Large loops were also added to the handles of the pot so they could hang above a fire for indoor cooking or permanent cooking pits.  In North America, these pots were considered quite the status symbol for a family in early days and were passed on to generations as a prized heirloom.  They lasted forever and were multi-functional…you could fry, roast, bake, and boil with them and many settlers carried them for miles as they reached out to new settlements in the wild west.

The Dutch Oven we know of today is a bit more refined.  Most variations available at your local “cook’s shop” are have been designed for use on the cook top or in the oven, are glazed, and come in a wide assortment of colors.  Most are typically smooth-bottomed, circular or oval in shape, and available in several different sizes.  One of the most famous “dutch ovens” is by the French manufacturers, Le Creuset.  Another famous French brand would be Le Chasseur.  Both of these firms refer to their models as "French ovens", or in the UK as "casserole dishes" but we all know where they came from don’t we? 

Either way, both are good starters for the entry into the world of cast-iron Dutch Ovens.  A typical Le Creuset model runs around $385.00 CDN for a 6.7 litre sized pot whereas a Le Chasseur brand oven will cost you roughly $300.00 CDN.  The later designer is pretty much the same as Le Creuset style-wise however, they are harder to come by and do not offer the same variety of colors.

Some older styles still exist on the market including unglazed ovens by Lodge, CampChef, and Wagner.  These traditional “western-style” ovens often include “bale-style” handles as opposed to the two loop handles found in modern variations.  Whatever you choose, you can be certain that this device is a great investment.  They last a lifetime and are incredibly versatile – as they have been for hundreds of years.

Happy Cooking!



Comments


Was Fresh Bites was spurred on to write about Dutch Ovens from my article on Cast Iron, the New Iron Age, in Jan/Feb issue of EAT Magazine? It was interesting read the bit on Abraham Darby. As far as I know very few culinary types are familiar with the name. My father, a British wrought iron worker told me about the man and his connection to cast-iron.
Post Reply By Julie in VANCOUVER on 5/10/2018 1:20:45 PM

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