Fall is upon us, and that means it’s time to start cooking up cozy, warm meals. And nothing says warm and cozy like serving a delicious, hearty soup straight from your Dutch oven. “A Dutch oven is the most perfect vessel for cooking things like fresh baked bread, searing steaks, or cooking a perfect slow-braised beef or stew,” celebrity chef Matt Abdoo of Pig Beach BBQ tells PEOPLE.
So if you’re a home chef — whether a novice or a seasoned pro — consider adding a quality Dutch oven to your kitchen. We evaluated 24 Dutch ovens in our test kitchen by whipping up a Creole-style red jambalaya with chicken as well as a simple rice recipe. Our testers evaluated each Dutch oven’s performance, ease of use, durability, and value (once the retail price was revealed post-testing). Cuisinart Classic Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven — with its porcelain enameled interior and exterior and wide cast iron handles for a secure grip — was the clear winner.
From the classic, splurge-worthy Le Creuset to some surprisingly low-priced options, here are the best dutch ovens that PEOPLE Tested.
Things to Consider When Buying a Dutch Oven
Price and Lifespan
A good Dutch oven can cost you several hundred dollars, but if you’re a serious cook looking to invest in a quality product, the high price tag might be worth it. “One thing to keep in mind as you set your budget is that cast iron lasts a really long time — I still use my Grandmother’s cast iron pans,” Chef Matt Abdoo, author of Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook, like PEOPLE. “However, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good quality Dutch oven.” In fact, our top overall pick, the Cuisinart Classic 5-Quart Dutch Oven is less than $100.
Look for durable materials that will last for years to come, like the Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven, which showed no signs of wear and tear during our durability test. Or opt for a tried-and-true classic like Le Creuset. “If budget isn’t a concern, I suggest Le Creuset for all-around features, lighter weight, and brand reliability,” says Abdoo. “This is also an ideal option for those who might have trouble with the typical heavy weight of cast go.”
Size and Weight
“I suggest purchasing at least a 5-quart Dutch oven where you can cook both small and large items,” says Abdoo. As our testers noted above, choosing a Dutch oven with an extra large capacity can make it more difficult to whip up smaller batches. So before you purchase that beautiful 7.5-quart Dutch oven, consider how often you’ll be whipping up large batches of stew versus everyday meals like chicken and rice.
Cast iron can also get heavy — and that’s before you add ingredients into the pot. Consider lifting and experimenting with a Dutch oven to make sure you can handle the heft in the kitchen. Our winners come in an extensive weight range, from the Calphalon Dutch Oven at 5.5 pounds to the KitchenAid Dutch Oven at a hefty 17 pounds.
Abdoo recommends a cast iron Dutch oven with an enamel-coated interior and porcelain exterior. “The enamel makes it easier to clean, and the porcelain prevents it from rusting,” he says. Top chef star and author of Northern Soul Justin Sutherland tells PEOPLE that cast iron is a must “because it retains heat and releases heat evenly into food.” He adds that you should make sure the cast iron is thick and even throughout the whole oven.
Sutherland adds that buyers should take note of the lid’s material and design as much as the oven itself. In addition to ensuring the lid is tight-fitting, he says: “Make sure the inside of the lid has round dimples or spikes — it helps the condensation fall back onto the food evenly to keep it based while cooking.”
Frequently Asked Questions
When would you cook with a Dutch oven?
Dutch ovens are an ideal choice for preparing anything that requires moist heat. Stews, sauces, and soups are popular choices, but you can also brown and braise meat and vegetables in a Dutch oven or cook rice, as we did in our testing. Dutch ovens are especially good at heat retention, so you can use them for a range of tasks, from searing meat on the stovetop to slow cooking in the oven.
How do you cook with a Dutch oven? On the stove top or in the oven?
Both! We used both methods in our testing. Depending on what you are cooking, you may employ both a stovetop and an oven method, or just one of the two. For example, seared meat is best done on the stovetop, while a roast would need the power of the oven to cook over a longer period of time.
Will an inexpensive Dutch oven still work well?
Given that cast iron cookware doesn’t need to be expensive to perform well, it’s not necessary to splurge on a pricey Dutch oven. “The one I personally use is the Lodge Dutch oven, which is approximately $45,” says celebrity chef Matt Abdoo of Pig Beach BBQ. “It has all the features you need for a very good value.”
Are Dutch ovens dishwasher safe?
Check with each brand and model, but in many cases, manufacturer’s will say that while a product is dishwasher safe, hand-washing is still recommended. That is often because using the dishwasher may cause the enamel finish to lose its luster.
How We Tested
We put two dozen Dutch ovens to the test by cooking two different recipes that allowed our testers to evaluate how each product seared meat, sautéed vegetables, and cooked rice. Our chicken jambalaya recipe showcased each Dutch oven’s stovetop and slow-cooking capabilities, while our simple rice recipe revealed if the sides of the Dutch oven cooked the rice at a higher temperature than the center and vis-versa.
To evaluate durability, our testers hit the lid and the interior of each Dutch oven 25 times with a metal spoon. Then they took note of any damage or chipping that occurred. Finally, testers scored the value of each Dutch oven when they learned the price of each model —after completing testing.
What Is People Tested?
We created the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval to help you find the very best products for your life. We use our unique methodology to test products in three labs across the country and with our network of home testers to determine their effectiveness, durability, ease of use, and so much more. Based on the results, we rate and recommend products so you can find the right one for your needs.
But we don’t stop there: We also regularly re-review the categories in which we’ve awarded the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval — because the best product of today might not be the best of tomorrow. And by the way, companies can never buy our recommendation: Their products must earn it, fair and square.
In short, PEOPLE Tested provides recommendations you can trust — every day, every purchase.
Want more product recommendations? Check out all of our People Tested content.