Ok, so what is the best size Dutch oven to buy? It’s a question I get asked by home cooks daily, so while you may think it’s a one-size-fits-all answer, there are a few variables to think about. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty, shall we?
French oven, Dutch oven, Casseroles, Cocotte… are all the same thing! But what size do you buy? And what about the different shapes? Do you go for the traditional round or what about a wide, shallow casserole or oval Dutch oven? When looking into what is the best cast iron Dutch oven to buy, I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” answer.
I’m a quality-over-quantity kind of person. One quality Dutch oven will serve you better and longer than a knock-off inferior version that will last you a year before its enamel interior pops off. My advice is always the same. Look for a quality brand with all the must-haves, for example, the correct size to suit you, tight-fitting lid, stovetop AND oven compatible, etc.
As someone who has cooked with cast iron for a very long time (and sold it in my store for the last fifteen years) there are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you take the plunge. So here is what I say to people when they ask what is the best Dutch oven to buy…
What are you going to cook in it?
While this may sound like a silly question, I believe that in order to buy the right piece of cookware for you, You first need to know how you are going to use it. As well as the number of people you are cooking for on a regular basis? Are you, like me, a slow cook? Are stews, soups, and casseroles your jam? Or, are you a 30-minute wonder cook through the week, and on weekends, happy to experiment with longer meals? Does the idea of a 3-hour slow-cooked lamb shoulder, seriously just give you a headache?
The answer to this question really tells me what piece is right for you.
The slow cook
Round Dutch ovens /Casseroles / French Ovens are your go-to. A good few casseroles in a variety of sizes will set you up for life and cover 80% of your cookware needs. If you are starting with just one, I would suggest a 24cm / 28cm pot depending on your family size/batch cooking needs.
30-minute weekday wonder cook
A 30cm shallow casserole may be more your style. Think curries, pasta, risotto, and one-pan dishes. They are low (can be slow) are are a very versatile piece to own.
Hell no! We won’t slow (cook!)
I get it! Until I met my Irishman, slow cooking was a foreign object. I had no idea what made a good stew – I quickly learned that a bad Irish stew was a non-negotiable in our house!
Maybe a casserole is not the best piece to start with and a cast iron skillet is probably the best place for you to start your cast-iron cookware journey. My first piece was the Le Creuset 26cm Grill Pan. I pan which I still use over 15 years later. Remember, cast iron is for life!
How do I know what size to buy?
I own round-shaped cast iron casseroles that vary in size from 16cm to 32cm in diameter, however, not all Dutch oven sizes will suit all people. I’ve also included Le Creuset’s volume of each pot to give you an idea of the approximate capacity. Obviously, every brand is different but it will give you a bit of an idea. So let’s break this down a little further…
- 18cm/1.8L & 20cm/2.4L – for singles or couples. Depending on the dish, it is possible to batch cook in these smaller sizes, but realistically, only if you are cooking for one or two people. In our family of three, I use our 20cm French oven for small loaves of bread, sauces, side dished, small-batch soups, etc. Smaller Dutch ovens are perfect for singles or older couples who don’t want to batch cook a lot.
- 22cm/3.3L – This is the newest addition to my collection. As well as being a great size for soup and small batches of things like Bolognese, It’s also a cracking pasta/steamed rice/potato pot. Perfect for… Couples that want a little extra for lunch tomorrow.
- 24cm/4.2L – a Great size to start with if you are a rounded cook. A 24cm pot is my go-to everyday piece of cookware. It’s totally doable to batch cook in this one, depending on the recipe. I cook Beef stroganoff in a 24cm French oven. As this is a heavily meat-based stew, it fits perfectly in this size and serves 6-ish portions. If there were a lot of vegetables like an Irish Stew, I would struggle to fit a large stew in it. As well as being a good option to cook a whole chicken in, this is also my go-to sourdough bread size pot. Who should buy this…Perfect for young couples with a small family.
- 26cm/5.3L – A larger-size cast-iron Dutch oven opens up Batch cooking to a whole new level. A small leg of lamb, Chicken Marylands, larger whole birds, and pot roasts are all suited to a larger Dutch oven.
- 28cm/6.7L – The mother of all cast iron casseroles. The batch cooker’s dream. Cook once and eat for days with this beast. The average family of four can easily get two dinners out of of big batch in a large Dutch oven like this one. Most of my big-batch diners will give 6-8 portions, making it easy to freeze a few servings for another day. Hello, mid-week slow-cooked stew! Large roasts are also a dream in this baby. Perfect for a large family, Couples with teenagers, or simply anyone who likes to batch cook!
- Oval – Why buy an oval casserole you might ask? Oval-shaped casseroles / Dutch ovens are suited to cooking meat recipes with bones in them. Think venison shanks, lamb shoulder, etc.
- Shallow Casseroles – Not a big slow cook, but looking for one pot to do anything from rice dishes, pasta, braised chicken, and everything in between, this one is for you. Being shallow it’s really well suited for Monday-Friday one-pot meals. On weekends, given that I have more time, I tend to need a large pot, so my Le Creuset Dutch oven pots are used more.
Other things to consider when considering the best Dutch oven size for you…
How big is your kitchen?
Cast iron cookware is heavy and bulky. It also doesn’t stack well, so it’s worth considering both the size and weight of every piece of cookware you purchase. While a smaller size may be easier to store and light in comparison to say a 26cm Casserole, will it be a good choice for a batch cook who loves to slow cook a lamb shoulder every Sunday night? Probably not. Take the time to consider what size the the best option for you.
Cast Iron with an enamel coating or seasoned cast iron?
The right Dutch oven (or French oven) for you could come down to the type of Dutch oven you prefer and you’re preferred cooking method. Enameled Dutch ovens like Le Creuset are definitely an indoor kitchen piece of cookware. With their excellent heat retention, they are designed to be cooked at a low temperature. Something pizza ovens and open pit fires over hot coals are not known for.
This is where a traditional seasoned Dutch oven really shines. As well as being suited to cooking low and slow in a home kitchen, they also are able to be used at high temperatures. Some recipes call for sourdough bread to be cooked on a really high heat, so in that case, a seasoned cast iron Dutch oven would be for you!
How much do you want to spend?
Obviously a really important thing to consider. Seasoned cast iron is generally significantly cheaper than a quality French oven version.
Are you a dishwasher or handwasher?
Many enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are dishwasher-safe for everyday use. For me, a huge consideration as I’m pretty lousy at handwashing the dishes. Seasoned cast iron is not suitable for dishwashers.
A quick word for breadbakers
Choosing a Dutch oven to bake bread is a little bit different from a pot for slow cooking.
Many bread recipes call for an oven temperature of 200 degrees Celcius and above. In this case, an enameled Dutch oven is not suitable as it should not be used above this temperature. A seasoned cast iron casserole would be a better option as it can take higher cooking temperatures without damaging the pan.
Think you can’t cook bread in an enameled pot? Think again. You can, but you need to adjust the cooking time and temperature. I follow the cold oven process when baking sourdough and always bake my bread in my Le Creuset French ovens. Just be sure to always oil your French oven prior to heating to avoid your pot getting thermal shock and damaging the enamel.
Another consideration is the size of your bread loaves. As bread dough rises and expands during the cooking process, a pot big enough for a cooked loaf is essential. A good all-rounder option for a 20cm round sourdough loaf is a 24cm Dutch oven.
So have you decided on what is the right size Dutch oven for you?
With all the different sizes it can be quite overwhelming when purchasing a new Dutch oven. I always tell my customers to think of the top five recipes they want to cook in their Dutch oven. The sweet spot will be getting a good Dutch oven big enough for those recipes and the amount of people you are feeding. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it!
Here are a few cast iron recipes to help you decide on the perfect size…
- Pasta alla boscaiola
- Slow-cooked beef cheeks in red wine
- Dutch oven corned silverside
- Persian lamb shank and vegetable soup