Dutch ovens and stock pots are two commonly used items of cookware. They have a lot of similarities, but they also differ in a few important regards and are suited to different types of cooking. In this article we'll explore the features of each one, and what you should use them for.
A lot of people think of Dutch ovens as being basically the same as stock pots and categorize them together as "large cooking pots." And to a certain extent, this is true. Both are designed to cook large quantities of food, both are suitable for slow cooking, both are usually made from metal (more on this below!), and for some recipes, they are can be interchangeable.
In many households, the way these two types of cookware are used is pretty similar. But learning the differences and using the right tool for the job can up a home cook's level of expertise. Using the right tool can make a world of difference in your results.
The type of material is the most obvious difference between the two. Generally, a stock pot will be made from aluminum or stainless steel, and a Dutch oven will be cast iron (sometimes enameled cast iron).
A Cast iron Dutch oven is, therefore, usually, much heavier than a stock pot, and has thicker walls and lids. This is important because it means they can withstand higher temperatures as well as temperature cycling (heating and cooling each time they are used) better than other types of cookware.
There are some cast aluminum or ceramic Dutch ovens on the market, and some people may even have stock pots made from cast iron, particularly older ones, but for the most part, materials are where the two differ the most.
Also, although this is not always true, there are usually some design differences between the two types of cookware. A Dutch oven will generally be circular or oval with sloping sides and have a tight-fitting lid. A stock pot, by comparison, is often taller and more square in shape, with straight sides and a loose-fitting lid.
That depends on what you're using it for, and also whether it's large enough. Stock pot sizes vary, with small, medium, and large versions available, whereas Dutch ovens are generally larger pieces of cookware.
If you want to make stock, a stainless steel stock pot is perfect for the job. If you're going to do it over a campfire or hot coals though, a Dutch oven is probably a better tool for the task.
We generally recommend using a stock pot on the stove top, and a Dutch oven on the stove top, in the oven, or even over an open fire (although this last use may not be suitable for some enamel versions).
If you're looking for an alternative to a Dutch oven, particularly for slow cooking, you may get better results with a crock pot or even an electric slow cooker. If you have no alternative available, and you're going to use a stock pot, we would recommend that you run your oven at a cooler temperature and check on your food regularly to ensure you have an adequate amount of liquid in the pot.
A Dutch oven is, more or less, a heavy-duty pot that is more versatile than lighter weight cookware such as saucepans and stock pots.
Dutch ovens can be used, like those items, for stovetop cooking, but its durable construction allows for a greater range of uses, for example: cooking in high-temperature ovens, cooking over a campfire, cooking with coals placed around the pot and over the lid.
You can easily damage stock pots by using them for a purpose which they weren't designed for. Think of it like this: What is a stock pot? A pot for... making stock. Obviously we're joking here, as there are many other cooking styles that are perfectly suited to this type of cookware, but generally, these are limited to stovetop cooking or some gentle oven cooking.
For more adventurous uses you're probably going to be safer and get better results using a Dutch oven. As long as you keep it properly cleaned and seasoned, a cast iron Dutch oven is a pretty indestructible piece of cookware!
Unlike a Dutch oven, many stock pots are not suitable for oven use, and even those that are marketed as being oven safe may not stand up well to long term use in an oven. Extended exposure to temperature cycles can potentially warp or deform them. Even just a slight amount of warping, it can be annoying if your stock pot lid no longer fits properly after a few uses.
Pots that have a non-stick coating, may not be suitable for oven use over a prolonged period, as the surface can become damaged or even start to flake away from the base, which in turn can contaminate your food.
So while there is a certain degree of crossover between the types of cooking that these two items of cookware can be used for, it's always best to choose the one better suited to the task at hand whenever you can, and if you do need to substitute one pot for the other, keep the tips above in mind to avoid any damage to your kitchen equipment or cooking mishaps.