Why Every Home Cook Needs a Dutch Oven

This versatile all-in-one pot is the original multi-cooker

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Chili seen from above in a Dutch oven pot. Photo: Getty Images

Long before the Instant Pot came on the scene with promises of multitasking, there was the humble Dutch oven.

With the exception of pressure cooking, a Dutch oven can do everything a multi-cooker can do and then some: brown, boil, braise, bake, and deep-fry.

“A cast-iron Dutch oven will give you better results than an Instant Pot any day,” says Lance Nitahara, an assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. In fact, this one pan can replace your slow cooker, stock pot, pasta pot, loaf pan, and deep fryer.

And this type of cookware goes way back: Lewis and Clark carried Dutch ovens on their journey across the American West in the early 1800s, and you can still buy reproductions of the three-legged ovens they used. Today’s Dutch ovens look a lot nicer, though; most are enameled cast iron and come in a variety of colors. But they’re just as multifunctional, and they’re a good choice for simple tasks and more complicated recipes like braising meat, baking bread, cooking soups and stews, and deep-frying chicken.

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These pots are ovenproof, so you can start cooking your meal on the stovetop and move it straight to the oven to finish. And because they’re so attractive, some cooks move the pot right to the table—on a trivet, of course—to serve.

In CR’s Dutch oven tests, we braise brisket, brown scallops, simmer sauces, and bake loaves of bread. We also note how fast it takes to bring room-temperature water to a near-boil. Five of the Dutch ovens in our tests earn an overall score of Very Good or Excellent, and they’re great all-around choices. But a few are a bit better at certain tasks than others. Here are the standouts for browning, baking, braising, simmering sauces, and boiling water. For more on Dutch ovens, read our cookware buying guide and full cookware ratings.

Best Dutch Oven for Braising

Braising, in which you cook meat or vegetables partly submerged in liquid in a covered pot, is a good way to turn a tough cut of meat into a tender, delicious meal. In our braising tests, we cook brisket in the Dutch oven for 3½ hours. All eight models perform well on this test. “We didn’t see major differences,” says Cindy Fisher, who oversees our cookware tests. In addition to being great for braising, the Lodge below is one of the most affordable of the Dutch ovens we've tested—and it's among the easiest to clean—so it clinches this spot.

Best Dutch Oven for Browning

You might think you need a skillet to brown meat and fish, but a Dutch oven is perfectly up to the task and perhaps even better because the high sides prevent splattering. In our tests, we brown scallops, and there are some real differences in how each Dutch oven performs here, ranging from evenly caramelized scallops to pale, unevenly cooked ones. The best of the lot is Le Creuset, featured below, which earns the only Excellent rating for browning. It’s a cinch to clean, too.

Best Dutch Oven for Simmering Sauces

Our simmering test, during which we assess how well a pot can hold tomato sauce at a low simmer, proves to be a challenge for some models. Our lowest-rated model, the Tramontina, earns a Poor rating on this test because it didn’t heat the sauce evenly. None of the pots ace this test, and only one model, the Anolon Vesta featured below, earns a rating of Very Good. However, it’s a bit tricky to clean, which hurt its Overall Score.

Best Dutch Oven for Baking

In this test we bake loaves of white bread made from frozen dough. (At home, you may prefer to make your own dough, but we use store-bought for the sake of consistency.) The best breads from our tests have a crusty exterior and are nice and soft inside. The worst have a dense, heavy texture. We got impressive results from half of the Dutch ovens, including the Vremi baking champ below, which earns an Excellent rating.

Quickest Dutch Oven at Boiling Water

All but one of the Dutch ovens are able to quickly heat 4 quarts of room-temperature water to a near-boil, earning scores of Very Good to Excellent on this test. The best heat water in less than 10 minutes, but even the slowest accomplish it in 12. So you can skip getting out a pasta pot and use a Dutch oven instead. The Ayesha Curry model below is one of the top performers in this test, and one of the easiest to clean.

How CR Tests Cookware

One of the keys to successful cooking is choosing the right tool for the job. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert Sara Morrow shows host Jack Rico how CR tests cookware so that you can focus on perfecting your culinary skills.

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.