By Keith Fisher
The holiday is behind us, it’s time to start planning for the next one. It’s also time to purchase that Dutch oven you’ve always wanted. One of the most asked questions I get is, "Which Dutch oven should I buy?" It depends on what you want to cook. I know that sounds flippant, but when I finish, you will understand.
In order to discuss the answers to this question, we will talk about five manufacturers and five factors: cost, quality, size, type, and material.
With constantly rising prices today, perhaps cost should be the most important factor, but let’s start with size.
Amongst outdoor cooks, the 12-inch Dutch oven is generally regarded as the standard. It’s the official Dutch oven of the Boy Scouts of America, and it can feed five to ten people, depending on what you cook. But what if you’re cooking for only two? Using the Lodge Mfg. list of sizes, let’s explore the answer to that, and the opposite question, that of needing to feed many people.
At the bottom of the scale is the 8-inch Dutch oven. This is a good size for sauces and parts of larger dishes, but it’s also a great size for two pieces of chicken. You can use it to cook a whole one-pot meal for one person. Next, is the 10-inch size. Use it for two, maybe three people, sometimes four. The sizes increase in proportion with 12, 14, and 16-inch sizes. Also, there are deep models for large items such as roasts, or big pots of stew.
Other manufacturers have different standard sizes and some make only deep sizes. But for the most part, you can find 5 ½-inch through 22-inch. I’ll show you the different sizes in a chart at the end of the article. So, how many people are you cooking for? What size will you need?
One Saturday, about the time I started cooking in Dutch ovens, my wife had to work. I was in my garden and didn’t want to be interrupted, but I wanted to do something nice for her. I wanted to cook dinner without leaving my garden. I found the Dutch oven and started cooking a Venison roast. I added carrots and potatoes from the garden. Of course I had to add corn on the cob. Before long, I had more food than we could eat. I called my dad and brother. They came to eat and thus began a long list of backyard parties. I found that if I cooked in Dutch ovens, more people would come than when I invited people to come to a barbecue. I started with a 12-inch, but if I had started with a 10, or even an 8, I might never have noticed the joy of cooking Dutch oven for parties.
Now, I realize that most Dutch ovens are packaged in a box the store won’t let you open, but most stores have a display model and most manufacturers have standards you can trust. There are some that don’t, and we will talk about those later, but realize the display is a good indication.
Pick up the piece, look at it, feel it. Does it have obvious imperfections? Can you see grind marks where the post-production people removed the flaws? Please note manufacturers grind the edge where the lid fits that pot. This is normal, but if you see grind marks on the cooking surface or on the outside, beware. You can cook in that oven but it will never be smooth, and the seasoning will never stick to those grind marks.
That brings us to the pores. Cast iron is porous. Those pores hold carbonized material, making a non-stick, smooth surface. If the pores in the sample you look at are large, it’ll be hard to get them to close which will cause food to stick.
Look for uneven casting. If the wall of your oven has thick and thin places, these will be hot spots and the food can burn easier next to them unless you keep it moving.
Imperfections in the casting can turn into cracks, rough spots will never be seasoned, and I’ve even seen ovens that cracked and split in half. A good test is to hold the pot by the bail (handle). Then tap the oven with a metal object. The cast iron should have a high pitched ringing sound. If it makes a thunk sound, it’s a bad casting and it will let you down.
I need to go and cook something now, but we’ll continue our discussion in the next blog. We’ll talk about types, material, and the always important cost factors. Also we’ll talk about manufacturers. Don’t miss it. In the meantime get out to the store and take a look. Don’t buy anything yet and if you have questions, leave them in the comment trail.
Join the Neighborhood Newsletter . . . Subscriptions are free and joining is easy. Just by signing up and maintaining your subscription to receive the yourLDSneighborhood.com newsletter, you become eligible for our "Thank You" prizes. Our dozens of giveaways range from a trip for two to China, to iPods® (each with a $50 gift certificate for LDS music), cruises, and more. Learn about our amazing monthly, quarterly, and annual giveaways by clicking here.