A Dutch oven is a thick-walled (usually cast iron but also ceramic and clay) cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. Dutch ovens have been used as cooking vessels for hundreds of years. They are called casserole dishes in English speaking countries other than the USA (“casserole” means “pot” in French), and cocottes in French. They are similar to both the Japanese tetsunabe and the Sač, a traditional Balkan cast-iron oven, and are related to the South African Potjie and the Australian Bedourie oven.
Early European history
During the late 17th century, the Dutch system of producing these cast metal cooking vessels was more advanced than the English system. The Dutch used dry sand to make their molds, giving their pots a smoother surface. Consequently, metal cooking vessels produced in the Netherlands were imported into Britain. In 1704, an Englishman namedAbraham Darby decided to go to the Netherlands to observe the Dutch system for making these cooking vessels. Four years later, back in England, Darby patented a casting procedure similar to the Dutch process and began to produce cast-metal cooking vessels for Britain and her new American colonies. Thus the term “Dutch oven” has endured for over 300 years, since at least 1710.
Over time, the Dutch oven used in the American colonies began to change. The pot became shallower and legs were added to hold the oven above the coals. A flange was added to the lid to keep the coals on the lid and out of the food.
The cast-iron cookware was loved by colonists and settlers because of its versatility and durability. It could be used for boiling, baking, stews, frying, roasting, and just about any other use. The ovens were so valuable that wills in the 18th and 19th centuries frequently spelled out the desired inheritor of the cast iron cookware. For example, Mary Ball Washington (mother of President George Washington) specified in her will, dated 20 May 1788, that one-half of her “iron kitchen furniture” should go to her grandson, Fielding Lewis, and the other half to Betty Carter, a granddaughter. Several Dutch ovens were among Mary’s “iron kitchen furniture.”
When the young American country began to spread westward across the North American continent, so did the Dutch oven. A Dutch oven was among the gear Lewis and Clarkcarried when they explored the great American Northwest in 1804–1806. The pioneers who settled the American West also took along their Dutch ovens. In fact, a statue raised to honor the Mormon handcart companies who entered Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in the 1850s proudly displays a Dutch oven hanging from the front of the handcart. The Dutch oven is also the official state cooking pot of Texas,Utah and Arkansas.
Mountain men exploring the great American frontier used Dutch ovens into the late 19th century. Dutch oven cooking was also prominent among those who took part in thewestern cattle drives that lasted from the mid-19th century into the early 20th century.
In the Netherlands, a Dutch oven is called a braadpan. The design most used today is a black (with blue inside) enameled steel pan, that is suitable for gas and induction heating. The model was introduced in 1891 by BK, a well known Dutch manufacturer of cookware. Cheaper and lighter in weight, it proved to be a revolution in the kitchen. A braadpan is mainly used for frying meat only, but it can also be used for making traditional stews such as hachee. Cast iron models exist, but are used less frequently.
Types of Dutch ovens
A camping, cowboy, or chuckwagon Dutch oven has three legs, a wire bail handle, and a slightly concave, rimmed lid so that coals from thecooking fire can be placed on top as well as below. This provides more uniform internal heat and lets the inside act as an oven. These ovens are typically made of bare cast iron, although some are aluminum. Dutch ovens are often used in Scouting outdoor activities.
Cookware descended from Dutch ovens
In Australia, a bedourie camp oven is a steel cookpot shaped and used like a Dutch oven. Named after Bedourie, Queensland, the Bedourie ovens were developed as a more robust (non-breakable) alternative to the more fragile cast iron Dutch ovens.
In South Africa, a potjie /pˈɔɪkiː/, directly translated “pottle or little pot” from Afrikaans or Dutch, is unlike most other Dutch ovens, in that it is round bottomed. Traditionally, it is a single cast, cast iron pot, reinforced with external double or triple circumscribing ribs, a wire handle for suspending the pot, and three short legs for resting the pot. It is similar in appearance to a cauldron. It has a cast iron lid with a recessed convex contour to allow for hot coals to lay on top, so that the pot may also be heated from above, and a handle. When the vessel is to be stored long term, care must be taken to avoid rust forming, this is accomplished by coating it in a non-toxic oil, such as cooking oil. This act ensures that the vessel remains in a seasoned state. “Potjie” can also refer to the technique of cooking potjiekos. Among the recipes which require a potjie, there is one for a type of bread called “potbrood“, which literally means “pot bread”.
Among the South African indigenous peoples (specifically Zulus) these pots also became known as phutu pots, after a popular food prepared in it. The larger pots are normally used for large gatherings e.g. Funerals or weddings to prepare large quanties of food. Wooden spoons referred to as Kombe in the Tsonga language are used for mixing and stirring.
This tradition originated in the Netherlands during the Siege of Leiden and was brought to South Africa by Dutch immigrants. It persisted over the years with the Voortrekkers and survives today as a traditional Afrikaner method of cooking. It is still in common use by South African campers, both domestic and international.
Use in cooking
Dutch ovens are well suited for long, slow cooking, such as in making roasts, stews, and casseroles. Virtually any recipe that can be cooked in a conventional oven can be cooked in a Dutch Oven.
When cooking over a campfire, it is possible to use old-style lipped cast iron Dutch ovens as true baking ovens, to prepare biscuits, cakes, breads, pizzas, and even pies. A smaller baking pan can be placed inside the ovens, used and replaced with another as the first batch is completed. It is also possible to stack Dutch ovens on top of each other, conserving the heat that would normally rise from the hot coals on the top. These stacks can be as high as 5 or 6 pots.
Seasoning and care
Bare cast iron
After use Dutch ovens are typically cleaned like other cast iron cookware: with boiling water and a brush, and no or minimal soap. After the oven has been dried, it should be given a thin coating of cooking oil to prevent rusting. Whether that should be a vegetable fat or an animal fat (such as lard) is hotly contested. Saturated fats are more stable than polyunsaturated fats, which tend to go rancid more quickly.
Where possible, a cleaned and freshly oiled Dutch oven should be stored in a clean, dry location with the lid ajar or off to promote air circulation and to avoid the smell and taste of rancid oil. If the Dutch oven must be stored with the lid on, a paper towel or piece of newspaper should be placed inside the oven to absorb any moisture.
With care, after much use the surfaces of the Dutch oven will become dark black, very smooth, shiny and non-stick. With proper care, a Dutch oven will provide long service.
Enameled ovens do not need to be seasoned before use. However, they lose some of the other advantages of bare cast iron. For example, deep frying is usually not recommended in enameled ovens; the enamel coating is not able to withstand high heat, and is best suited for water-based cooking.
Enameled ovens can usually be cleaned like ordinary cookware, and some brands can be put in the dishwasher.