Dutch ovens: Durable pots that can cook practically anything

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Milica Sterjova
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Iron has been used for manufacturing cooking tools for thousands of years, and one of the most famous iron cooking vessels is the Dutch oven. The Dutch began making an early form of the vessel in the 17th century. Their method of casting iron was more advanced than other European countries. The dry-sand molds they used gave their pots a smoother surface, which was better for cooking and also had a greater aesthetic appeal.

Up until the early 18th century, Great Britain imported high-quality, cast-iron pots from the Netherlands. In 1704, Abraham Darby traveled to the Netherlands to study the Dutch approach. After he returned to England, he patented a process similar to the Dutch and started making his own pots. Shortly after, he started selling them in Great Britain and the American colonies. This is the time, about 1710, when the pots were first named “Dutch ovens,” probably after the origin of the process by which Darby made the pots. Another story is that the pots got their name because traveling Dutch traders used to sell them from wagons.

The design changed once the Dutch ovens crossed the ocean. American colonists introduced several improvements. Legs were added to the pot, allowing it to be put directly in the coals of the fire. They were previously hung over the fire on a wire handle. The pot became shallower with time and the lid was flanged in order to keep the coal on the top from getting into the food. The famous American silversmith and industrialist Paul Revere has been credited with one of the lid’s designs.

Dutch oven from a photograph made for McClure’s Magazine, January, 1896.

The heavier cast-iron Dutch ovens are frequently used for cooking on an open fire and are greatly appreciated for their versatility. George Washington’s army used them for preparing food in the war against the British. The famous American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark used the pots on their expedition in the 19th century. As the Americans traveled west, they brought the pots with them because they needed a durable cooking tool for preparing their food.

A Dutch oven with coals above and below. Author: AntiCompositeNumber. CC BY-SA 4.0

Lodge Manufacturing Company is perhaps the most famous producer of cast-iron Dutch ovens. Joseph Lodge founded the Tennessee company in 1896. It is one of the oldest cookware manufacturers in the United States. It still works today and is managed by descendants of the original founder.

A cast-iron Dutch oven. Author: Joel Washing. CC BY 2.0

The ones that are used in the kitchen have a different design. One of the most famous companies that produces enameled metal Dutch ovens (sometimes called French ovens) is the French Le Creuset. Le Creuset has an iconic status among producers. Although the enameled pot is not really suitable for open-fire cooking because it cannot withstand such high temperatures, it is perfect for modern kitchens. They are lighter and cheaper than cast-iron ovens. Le Creuset Dutch ovens are among the most durable kitchen utensils.

A Dutch oven made by Lodge. Author: George Grinsted. CC BY-SA 2.0

One major difference between the cast-iron and the enameled Dutch ovens is a process called seasoning. First, the pot is cleaned with water without soap being used. After drying, a thin layer of oil is applied and the vessel is heated. Seasoning, if done properly prevents rust and extends the pot’s life. Enameled Dutch ovens have no need for seasoning.

Le Creuset Blue Dutch Oven. Author: Didriks. CC BY 2.0

Dutch ovens lost some of their popularity after World War I. They were regarded as outdated. Sometime in the 1970s and the 1980s, however, consumers regained their interest in the iconic kitchen tool. They are now widespread around the globe, in kitchens and outdoors.

Dutch ovens. Author: FiveRings. CC BY-SA 3.0

Depending on the country they have a different name; they are called braadpan in the Netherlands, the Australian adaptation is called Bedourie oven, in South Africa they are named potjie, and Eastern European countries refer to them as chugun. The design of the pot might differ from region to region, but the strength and endurance of Dutch ovens is common to all the designs.