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What makes Dutch ovens so great? We asked a Food Network pro

You don't have to splurge on this kitchen essential.
GIF illustration of a yellow Great Jones Dutch Pot and a Multi generation family serving dinner in kitchen
TODAY Illustration / 10'000 Hours / Getty Images / Great Jones

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Dutch ovens are a kitchen essential, and for years the go-to brand was Le Creuset. The brand's cast-iron-enameled Dutch ovens are known for their bright colors, heat retention and ease of cleaning, along with the shocking price tag. (The biggest model can cost you well over $400!) But these days, there are quite a few other colorful options for the high-end brand that cost a fraction of the price.

The Shop TODAY team got some insight on Dutch ovens from Monti Carlo, a Food Network personality that you might remember from shows like "Chopped Junior" and "Cutthroat Kitchen."

What should someone look for in a Dutch oven?

The number one thing you should think about when buying a Dutch oven is the size you will need. “Think about what you want to make in it and how many people you have to feed. If you are cooking for a family of four, I recommend a seven-quart, which will give you room for more portions,” said Carlo.

Outside of size, you’re also going to want to consider what the Dutch oven is made of and what type of lid it has. Carlo explained, “While it might be tempting to go for lightweight stainless steel with a non-stick coating, it won't hold up to the test of time. You want a heavy cast-iron pot with an enamel coating on the inside that won't react to acidic foods. Cast iron holds heat and conducts it evenly, something you will need for a long braise or roast. It should also have handles wide enough to hold the pot with oven mitts on.”

Carlo also mentioned that you should avoid anything with a glass lid. Lids for Dutch ovens should be heavy and fit tightly to trap steam. The knob on the lid should also be oven-safe and fit securely.

In terms of looks, Carlo said to find something that fits your personal style and color preferences. “These pots can go straight from the oven or stovetop onto your table. Pick something you'll be proud to show off and even pass on, as they will last forever if taken care of properly,” she said.

What are some of your favorite things to cook in a Dutch oven?

“I cook for two people and have two sizes: a 3.5-quart and a five-quart. The smaller one is perfect for preparations where I want to reign in my use of liquids. I use it for deep frying because I can use less oil. I use it for pasta because the less water you use, the faster it comes to a boil. I also use it for soups, rice dishes, sauces and bean stews,” she explained. Carlo also said that she uses her Dutch ovens for soda bread, pot roasts, carnitas, searing large cuts of meat and roasting whole chicken.

Ready to add this must-have to your own kitchen? We rounded up some bestselling options below.

Top-rated (and affordable) Dutch ovens

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Double Dutch Oven

This no-frills Dutch oven is made from cast iron and comes with a lid that doubles as a skillet. It's pre-seasoned and can be used for searing, braising, baking and more on either the oven, stove, grill or even over a campfire. More than 8,000 verified Amazon reviewers have given the Dutch oven a full five-star rating, with many noting that it's one of the best for baking bread.

Calphalon 5-Quart Classic Nonstick Dutch Oven

This Dutch oven is oven-safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can make a variety of slow-cooked dishes all in the same vessel. The nonstick layers make it easy to clean, so you don't have to sit and scrub after you whip up a meal.

Caraway Ceramic Dutch Oven

Caraway's Dutch oven has over 17,000 five-star reviews and comes in an assortment of colors, including a crisp cream shade and dreamy sage. It's non-toxic, oven-safe up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and can be used to make everything from bread to stews.

Hearth & Hand with Magnolia Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

We love the creamy white make of this Dutch oven from Hearth & Hand in collaboration with Magnolia. Coming in at just under $50, the five-quart pot is perfect for smaller families who don’t need as many portions of a dish to feed everyone.

Chantal Enameled Cast Iron 7-Quart Round Dutch Oven

This Dutch oven from Chantal comes in four vibrant colors (including this pretty ocean blue design) that will make a statement in any kitchen. The piece disperses and retains heat well and has a scratch-resistant enamel coating.

The Pioneer Woman Timeless Beauty 3-Quart Dutch Oven

For those who can’t get enough of the Pioneer Woman and her down-home meals, why not make some of your own in her brand of Dutch ovens. This floral-shaped one is pretty in pink and includes useful features like interior condensation ridges and a heat-resistant knob.

Cuisinart Chef's Classic 7-Quart Enameled Cast Iron

The Cuisinart cast-iron casserole is on the more expensive side, but still worth it for those who cook regularly and want a reliable Dutch oven. The piece comes with a tight-fitting lid and is one of the only Dutch ovens to come with a coated lid knob.

Crockpot Artisan Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Crockpot has been a beloved kitchen brand for decades, and there are many people who swear by its Dutch oven. It comes in a dozen colors to match your kitchen's aesthetic and works on gas, electric, ceramic and induction cooktops. It also has over 5,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon.

Lodge Cast Iron 6-Quart Dutch Oven

Lodge Cast Iron is known for its pots and pans that are able to stand up to just about anything. The enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is particularly beloved by cooks around the world for even heating and easy clean-up. The six-quart version comes in several different colors and is made with a chip-resistant finish.

Food Network 7-Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven

Food Network’s line of cookware is typically worth the splurge, but especially so with this Dutch oven. The seven-quart version is great for larger families, or for those who regularly cook things like pot roast or whole chickens. Its bright red color also works as a vibrant focal point for your kitchen.

Great Jones The Dutchess

With its matte paint job and skinny handles, The Dutchess is a modern take on the classic Dutch oven. Its oval shape allows more food to brown on the bottom surface without overcrowding the pan, while its uncommon gray interior helps to hide pesky stains.

Martha Stewart Enameled 8-Quart Dutch Oven

Martha Stewart is the queen of everything home and lifestyle, which means we had to include one of her famous Dutch ovens. This eight-quart model is on the pricier side, but still less than a Le Creuset of a smaller size (and works just as well!).

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This article was originally published on March 15, 2021.