If you're new to cooking with cast iron Dutch ovens, this article should help you to figure out how you can make the most of this incredibly versatile piece of kitchen equipment. Learn how you can ensure it is kept in the best condition, and what recipes work well with this style of cooking.
Yes, it's fine to use your Dutch oven on stove tops, whether gas, electric, or induction. Depending on the type you have, you may want to be careful about the temperature at which you're cooking. Enamelled Dutch ovens can end up with scorch marks if used on too high a heat setting. Unfinished cast iron versions don't have this problem. The ideal Dutch oven temperature on the stove is medium to medium-high at a maximum, which suits most types of cooking you'll use it for.
Sure, Dutch ovens are ideal for oven cooking, and enameled versions are best suited to that environment as there is less possibility of damaging the finish. The cast iron construction means that they hold and distribute heat evenly. Even if your oven is a little uneven in terms of temperature (a common problem with older electric ovens), using a Dutch oven will ensure that the food inside doesn't suffer from specific hot or cold spots as it cooks.
But you're not just limited to indoor Dutch oven cooking. They can also be used on an outdoor gas or charcoal grill, as well as over campfires. As mentioned above, though, you should watch out for scorching the enamel finish. It's easy to tell when someone has mainly used their Dutch oven on electric stove top, vs. gas stove top, vs. open fire by the increasing amount of scorching! An untreated cast iron version might be better for the campfire.
Cooking with a Dutch oven brings with it several specific advantages that you don't get with other types of pan or casserole dish. As mentioned above, due to being manufactured from cast iron, it conducts heat exceptionally well, and the thick walls radiate that heat evenly from all sides.
This is particularly important when cooking joints of meat, for example, as there's no danger of finding an under-cooked spot or an overdone section when you finally cut into the joint.
The tight-fitting lid is also essential, as it helps to trap moisture into the Dutch oven, so your stews won't dry out, your meat will remain juicy, and if you use it for baking bread, you'll get a lovely glossy crust on every loaf.
Before using a cast iron Dutch oven, you need to prepare the surface so that food won't stick or burn on to it. This isn't the case with enameled Dutch ovens, the enamel provides the surface you need, but for the plain surfaced versions, you need to create a cooking surface using a process called seasoning.
Start by cleaning your Dutch oven thoroughly with hot water and a little dish soap. Rinse thoroughly, and ensure it is fully dry before beginning the next step. By the way, this is the only time you should use dish soap on your Dutch oven. Once you've seasoned it, avoid using any type of soap or detergent to clean it with as these products can strip away the natural surface which seasoning creates, and you'll have to start again at the beginning.
When the surface is completely dry, rub it all over with a thin layer of oil, just enough to coat the surface. You can use any type of oil with a suitably high smoke point - for example, canola oil, sunflower oil, or regular vegetable oil. Don't use olive oil; it has a low smoke point and will leave a bitter taste that will transfer to the foods you cook in the oven.
With your Dutch oven oiled, place it in a preheated oven at 350℉ and bake for half to three-quarters of an hour, then turn off the heat and allow to cool back down to room temperature. Your Dutch oven is now seasoned and can be stored away.
Dutch oven cooking is suitable for a wide range of food. The obvious choice, given its resemblance to a casserole, is as a pot for all types of stews, casseroles, gumbos, curries, and other one-pot dishes. But the creative cook will find a whole range of different uses, from roasting whole birds or large joints of meat to baking whole stuffed fish (without drying out), to baking bread. It makes an excellent receptacle for boiling oil to make fried chicken, deep-fried eggplant, or other tasty fried treats, and can even be used for boiling pasta, vegetables or eggs in water. The only limit is your imagination!