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Adventures in Cooking: Discovering Dutch Ovens

Ceramic Enameled Dutch Oven

Much of my childhood was spent in the kitchen… watching my mom cook up wonderful meals. Many of those meals were made in her ancient Dutch oven. She used it all the time; it was no more special than, say, frying something up in a skillet. Little did I know that mom was actually carrying on a ritual rich in tradition… and intimidating to many!

Simply, a Dutch oven is a thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. They have been around for ages and are traditionally made with cast iron so they are suitable for outdoor cooking. Today, aluminum and ceramic enamel are both becoming increasingly popular, offering up a wide array of decorative and economic options (like the fun red one pictured.)

At its core, what I most love about using a Dutch oven is the versatility it provides. Although most commonly used for long, slow cooking, they have also proven wonderfully useful for baking, roasting, frying, and boiling in many of the recipes we prepare in the Test Kitchen. As a result, they are the perfect option for one-pot meals.

While definitely a luxury not a necessity, these sturdy pots truly are a uniquely useful addition to any kitchen collection. (In a pinch? Try substituting a crock pot! Many recipes that call for slow-cooing in a Dutch oven turn out nearly as well when prepared in a traditional crock pot.)

I’ve recently heard from several folks asking about the best methods for cooking with a Dutch oven and, in fact, what it even is. Understandably, several had visions of old world brick ovens. “How on earth am I supposed to replicate that in my kitchen?” they wondered. These same types of questions have been popping up in the Club lately as well. So much so, that members have formed groups expressly to discuss techniques!

“I love the idea of Dutch oven cooking and many of my friends and members of my church use this method often,” says Marie Holfeltz of Sandy, UT, creator of the Dutch Oven Cooking discussion group. “Some of the best food I’ve eaten has been out of Dutch ovens… Would love to hear from those who use this method a lot and from those who want to learn and have questions I might not have thought of.”

Member Karen Roberts of West Palm Beach, FL recently served up her recipe for Low Country Grits and Shrimp as a delicious offering of assistance. Not only is it Dutch oven-friendly, but it’s a brand-new Blue Ribbon winner! “This is a great recipe when you have a lot of people over,” says Karen. “One pot… that’s all and it makes clean up fast so you have more time to have fun. It can be made early and put to the side on low until you are ready to serve.”

Oklahoma home cook Eddie Jordan also uses his Dutch oven to satisfy a crowd. Made with beef brisket, ketchup, Worcestershire and a few other accessible “secret” ingredients, Eddie’s Oklahoma Style Brisket Sandwiches are an absolute cinch to make. It can sometimes be hard to get brisket to just the right tenderness, but his slow-cooking technique has always hit the nail right on the head for us. “This brisket is so good,” says Eddie. “…Have the family over, or take it to a church get together.” Consider it done, Eddie!

Sharon Freeze of Buffalo, NY has been perfecting her own Dutch oven culinary arts for years, as she recently shared in a recent Dutch Oven Cooking Group discussion. “We’ve been cooking in our cast iron Dutch oven for fifteen years. I now have three ovens and an array of other cast iron cookware that is all in constant use. …I feel I actually have more control with my Dutch ovens than I do with my regular oven.” In fact, Sharon wowed her family over the Fourth of July holiday this year by baking an entire homemade blueberry pie in her Dutch oven! “It takes a bit of time, some careful research, and lots of practice … but Dutch oven cooking is certainly well worth the effort!!”

Well done, Sharon! Indeed, it’s often that little added bit of effort that leads to a truly breathtaking end result. Cook on!

Now it’s your turn: Share your stories of adventures in Dutch oven cooking!