When it comes to cookware, there are a lot of terms that are similar to the point of being confusing. Take the Dutch oven and the French oven, for example. Is there a difference, and if so, which one is better? Let's take a look.
What Is a Dutch Oven?
These nifty contraptions date back to the 1700s, when the Dutch began casting brass in sand molds rather than clay-based ones. These new molds were especially well-suited to iron, which led to the invention of the world's first Dutch oven. (1) The original patent actually belongs to an Englishman named Abraham Darby, who named the pot after the method that inspired its creation.
Although a Dutch oven is simply defined as a sizable pot with straight walls, a flat bottom, and a tight-fitting lid, they're traditionally made of cast iron. This material will gain a nonstick surface if it's seasoned after each use.
Why are Dutch ovens so popular? First and foremost, they can be transferred easily from the stove top to the oven, making them a great choice for stews and casseroles. Assuming they're made from the right material, they're also durable enough to last for many years. Another bonus: If you have a cast iron Dutch oven with a flanged lid, it can be put directly on the hot coals of a campfire.
What Is a French Oven?
There's only one key difference between a Dutch oven and a French oven: The latter has an enameled finish. Therefore, a French oven is technically a Dutch oven, but this finishing touch puts it in its own subcategory.
If the distinction is such a minor one, why are the pots referred to by different names? The answer goes back to a marketing strategy devised by the French companies that began adding the enameled coating in the first place.
These businesses (Le Creuset is one popular example) tried selling their enameled Dutch ovens as "French ovens" in an effort to set them apart from the competition. However, the term didn't really catch on, which is why many people are still confused when they hear it.
Dutch Oven vs French Oven: Cooking Methods
As we mentioned, the Dutch oven is best suited to stews and braised dishes. It can also be used for deep-frying, depending on the size of the unit. When the cast iron is seasoned properly, it turns out excellent corn bread. If it's versatility you're looking for, a Dutch oven is a great option.
A French oven can be used for most of the same cooking applications as a Dutch oven. They can toggle easily between the stove top and the oven, which makes them favorites for stews such as beef bourguignon. The enamel comes in a variety of colors, so they make attractive serving dishes as well. Some companies even make French ovens with customized shapes, so you can bake an apple pie that's shaped like an apple.
For outdoor enthusiasts, however, a Dutch oven is the clear choice. The enameled finish on a French oven isn't as heat resistant as the bare cast iron, so it's not suitable for cooking over an open fire.
Dutch Oven vs French Oven: Maintenance
Bare cast iron needs to be seasoned before its first use—and immediately thereafter, a process that should be repeated every time for best results. This is done by heating the Dutch oven over medium-high heat and rubbing a thin layer of oil into the surface. While the seasoning procedure isn't difficult, it does take time and effort, which is enough to scare many chefs away from the material.
It's not a good idea to clean cast iron with soap or abrasive materials, as these can strip away the seasoning and leave you back where you started. Hot water and a soft cloth or sponge will yield the best results.
If any stubborn bits of food are stuck to the bottom, try boiling a small amount of water in the pan to loosen them. Alternatively, you can scrub the bottom with a paste of kosher salt and water before rinsing it thoroughly and patting it dry with paper towels.
French ovens, meanwhile, are designed to appeal to chefs who don't want to be bothered with seasoning a regular cast iron surface. The enameled finish is easy to clean, with natural nonstick properties of its own. It's also dishwasher safe and compatible with most dish detergents.
Dutch Oven vs French Oven: Which One Do I Choose?
As long as you're not planning on using the Dutch oven over an open fire, then it doesn't really matter which one you choose. Bare cast iron is an excellent heat conductor, but it also requires regular maintenance and can be difficult to clean. When it's finished with an enamel coating, it conducts heat just as well, but it's much easier to care for. French ovens also have more eye appeal, which is a perk if you entertain frequently.
Do you use a Dutch oven in the oven?
Yes! In fact, this is one of the best reasons to invest in a Dutch oven. Cast iron is oven safe and can be heated to extremely high temperatures without suffering any damage. This means it can be used for dry-heat cooking methods such as baking and roasting, in addition to being a marvelous vehicle for stews.
Is Le Creuset better than Staub?
These top brands earn frequent comparisons to one another. While Le Creuset offers a white interior that makes it easier to tell whether food is browning properly, Staub's French ovens feature tight-fitting lids with a self-basting function, as well as lower price tags. However, Le Creuset's vessels are also simpler to care for, and the company offers more color choices.
The bottom line? Le Creuset is the better choice on an aesthetic level, but Staub earns higher marks in terms of overall performance.
Can you preheat enameled Dutch oven?
Not while it's empty. Preheating enameled cast iron can cause the finish to crack, which is both unappetizing and dangerous. Before turning on the burner, add a small amount of butter or oil to the pot. This will prevent it from heating too quickly, which is what damages the enamel. Similarly, when preheating enameled cast iron in the oven, place it inside when the oven is still cold and allow the two to heat up together.
Are Dutch ovens worth it?
When they receive the proper care, Dutch ovens can last a lifetime. They're versatile enough to be used for a range of cooking applications, from browning meats to simmering sauces. Taking all of this into consideration, it's easy to see that Dutch ovens are well worth the money.