Best Dutch Oven of 2020
The Staub 5.5-Quart Round Cocotte is our favorite dutch oven that excels in browning meats, baking bread, and cooking stews. The interior is a black surface that is non-stick and releases food with ease. This surface, we noticed, also browns meats better than other products during our meatball cooking tests. The cast-iron make-up offers heat transfer that is evenly distributed across its bottom, boiling two cups of water in just one minute, 45 seconds. Its heat retention is average. Like other higher quality contenders, we are incredibly impressed by its durability. The outer enamel is hard as nails, and it never chipped; it hardly showed any wear-and-tear, even after being hit with a metal spoon over 100 times! What's more, is that it can be used in ovens up to 900F, a high temperature that no other dutch oven specs to support.
While we love this beautiful product, the flat lid (unlike a domed option) limits the amount of space inside the pot. If you're trying to cook for a huge group, you might want to seek something with more volume or a domed lid. While we appreciate the black surfaces for cleaning, it is harder to see your food cooking against this background; however, this performance detail is minuscule. Be ready to invest, as the price is higher than most products. If you're seeking exceptional performance and durability, this is one we think will last.
The Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5½-Quart Round French Oven is heralded as one of the best on the market. This is no surprise, as its bulletproof enameled finish stood up to all of our durability tests. It cooks up a nice soup or a small loaf of bread and utilizes a non-stick enamel that keeps food from sticking to the surface. It'll sear meats nicely and even roast your veggies, thanks to its well-sealed lid. If you want to make it completely non-stick, simply add a little oil. We love that the lid and handles are easy to grab with a pair of mitts and it's light, making it easy to move about the kitchen. It comes in various colors and can boil up two cups of water in just one minute, 35 seconds. It also warms up quickly (271F in 10 minutes) and will lock in heat, keeping temperatures consistent for baking bread or slow-cooking meats. The smaller version (there is a larger option too) is an excellent option for households with a smaller number of people.
Our bread bakers concur that this smaller size isn't enough for a regular loaf of bread but does the trick for quickbreads or buns. While we love the non-stick ceramic, if you accidentally burn your food (like we did), it can be challenging to clean. When using steel wool, we saw a little wear, but it buffed right out. Another caveat is the cost is typically high. This model is for those hosting smaller groups that want a high-quality dutch oven that can easily be displayed in the kitchen, complete with its beautiful, fine exterior.
The Lodge 6-Quart Enameled Cast Iron has been tried and tested and is a fantastic deal. Our main tester has owned this model for over six years, using it for bread baking, soups, stews, roasts, and more. We love the large volume that'll fit bulk soups and feed larger groups; the domed lid also offers more space for large artisan bread loaves. During our tests, it proves to have good temperature regulation, taking longer to heat up than most, but losing less heat than others. It's safe up to 500F in an oven and can be thrown in the dishwasher for cleaning.
While we love its price and performance, it is constructed from porcelain glass, which chips more than the enamel on other higher-scoring contenders. During our abuse tests, the handle chipped after ten hits from a metal spoon. That said, little damage was observed in the interior enamel, which is the most important. After six years of testing, our main tester hasn't seen any significant wear and tear, but some staining in the white interior, which hasn't affected performance. It's lasted for years with careful use and has done a great job making meals for groups from two to six.
If you seek an affordable and high volume option, the Uno Casa Enameled 6-Quart is not to be missed. Its ample volume is the one we reach for most when making large pots of soup or stew. The domed lid adds additional volume and creates a nice seal to ensure the internal temperature stays consistent. The black interior heats up nicely, braising meats well, and resisting burns and stains. Boiling two cups of water took one minute and 54 seconds. During our bread tests, it yielded a crispy crust and locked in moisture, keeping meats nice and plump. It also comes with three silicone pieces, which are useful when lifting and moving it around the kitchen. The price is right, making it an easy choice for those seeking a good value.
After using it continuously over three months, it didn't stain or become worn down. Overall, it's pretty durable, but we did note a little damage to the handle and around the rim during lid durability testing. At 13 pounds, it also requires a little muscle. Overall, this is a high-volume contender that comes at an affordable price.
Looking for ease of use and affordability? The Cuisinart Chef's Classic Enameled Cast Iron 5-Quart surprised us with its performance and ease of use. The handles and pot tops are large and easy to grab with a pair of baking mitts, while the pot itself is about a pound lighter than other contenders of the same size. It offers good cooking performance, and easily sears up meatballs, cooks soups, and bakes bread. The price is something to celebrate, as well.
We experienced stains on the white enamel and came to realize that extra scrubbing and care was needed to maintain it. The heat transfer is also slower, taking two minutes and 30 seconds to boil two cups of water. Using our heat guns, we also noticed that the craftsmanship isn't consistent along the bottom, and it has hot spots and uneven heat distribution. This lower-priced option is for those who need something light and affordable.
We can't help but gush about the super cute stylings of the Crock Pot Aqua Blue 3 Qt Enameled, 3-Quart. Not only does it come with many color options, but we love the silver lid top and lightweight design that makes it easy to move around the kitchen. The 3-quart design is ideal for single or small groups and looks great on a kitchen shelf. It boils water quickly (one minute, 42 seconds) and offers decent non-stick performance.
We aren't too stoked about the enamel durability. After just ten hits to the exterior handle, it started chipping. The lid test yielded flecks of material, showing lots of wear. The white enamel did stain and requires a little care as well. The materials are quite thin, and food doesn't cook evenly across the bottom. This model is best for those seeking a smaller pot at a good price and is for those that can commit to careful use and maintenance.
The Tramontina Enameled Cast Iron Covered Round offers a higher quality cast-iron construction that takes a little longer to heat up; however, it distributes that heat very evenly. It offers excellent heat distribution for searing meats and looks good in almost any kitchen.
We were let down when it came to the durability of the enamel. After our abuse tests, it started to chip away and wear. During our three-month testing period, we noted wear and rusting. For the price, we were let down by its overall durability. It takes quite a while to heat up water (four minutes, 31 seconds), which isn't surprising given its thicker, even temperature distribution. The Tramontina is ideal for those who are careful with their kitchen equipment and love to cook on an evenly distributed surface. It also bakes bread extremely well.
The popular AmazonBasics Enameled Cast Iron Covered 6-Quart is the way to go if you're low on cash. We appreciate the large volume, which cooks up stews and soups with ease. It also bakes bread well and comes in a variety of colors. The huge handles and top are easy to use while transporting, and we used it for all sorts of meals (with great success). If finding a product with a great price is your top priority, this is certainly one to consider.
The AmazonBasics resembles other popular contenders but lacks when it comes to performance. It takes much longer to boil two cups of water (three minutes, five seconds) in our testing, and heat distribution is pretty uneven. The enamel also chipped during our durability tests. We were surprised that the maximum oven temperature is 400F, which isn't hot enough for baking most loaves of bread. This dutch oven is for those seeking a real deal on a large volume pot.
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King is a long time bread baker, cook, and dutch oven connoisseur. Not only does she love baking bread weekly, but she also loves to experiment with new healthy recipes every week. She makes soups, stews, stir-fry, and more, and has a background in scientific testing as a professional gear tester for over seven years. She has also been working as a science teacher for five years. She is committed to reviewing gear using objective tests that truly compare the differences in performance amongst products.
To start our testing, we spent six hours conducting market research before selecting eight products to test side-by-side. Then, we ordered each product, pulled them out of their packaging, and got to cooking and baking. In each, we seared meatballs, baked bread, and made soups, rice, and pasta. We perform tests to evaluate durability and measured the internal temperature of each oven to see which take the longest to heat up and cool down, and which retain heat best. We also used a temperature gun to measure heat distribution. Our testing is in-depth, objective, and hands-on, and can help build recommendations that are valid and ones that you can trust.
Analysis and Test Results
In our testing, we selected enamel dutch ovens as they are some of the most popular options on the market. After testing each, we subjected them to objective scoring. We look specifically at cooking performance, quality & durability, ease of use, and maintenance.
To look at cooking performance, we cooked a variety of foods, measured heat distribution, and looked at the relative insulation of each contender. We also took a look at the surface of each model and cooked eggs and potatoes to see if foods stuck. A dutch oven can be used to bake, grill, cook, or boil, and is a highly versatile tool that will fit right in any kitchen.
Each contender had a similar cooking outcome and did a good job of cooking foods and desserts. Some, however, stood out as higher-quality with better heat distribution. For example, the Staub Round Cocotte features a black interior that does an amazing job at searing meat, while the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron and Lodge Cast Iron both have a white enameled surface that does good work cooking other foods, but doesn't sear meats as well. All these options offer excellent heat distribution, as does the Tramontina.
Dutch ovens with a thinner composition, like the Uno Casa, Cuisinart Chef's Classic Enameled Cast Iron, don't distribute heat as well as thicker, and often more high-quality options. While the cooking experience will feel the same for most recreational users, experts and chefs will be able to tell the difference.
Cast iron isn't 100% pure iron, but a composition of different metals. Cooking performance is heavily affected by this composition, and its quality is something we can test by doing heat transfer tests. For this test, we boiled two cups of water and tested how long it took to get to a boil. The fastest are those with thinner materials or those that have a highly conductive composition, which infers the use of more iron. In addition, smaller pots will typically boil faster than smaller ones. For example, the fastest to boil is the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron Round French Oven (one minute, 35 seconds) and the Crock Pot Aqua Blue 3 Qt Enameled (one minute, 43 seconds). Both are much smaller in volume in comparison to the competition.
The high-quality Staub Round boiled water in an astounding one minute 45 seconds. For its size, this is the fastest boiling time. The materials are surprisingly thick and offer superior heat distribution, which is why this is one of our favorites. The Uno Casa Dutch has a much thinner composition (and a larger pot) and boiled water in just one minute, 54 seconds. Those with a thicker design and less conductive materials, like the Tramontina Enameled Cast Iron, took much longer (four minutes, 31 seconds).
Quality and Durability
Our testing period lasted for three months, in which we used each oven almost every day of the week. We subjected each to tests to see how the materials of each would hold up. This included scrubbing each with steel wool 100X, hitting the rim with a metal spoon 100X, hitting the handles 100X, hitting the enameled body 100X, slamming the lid 50X, and scratching the interior with a metal spoon 100X. This test was very telling as to which seem to be more durable than others.
You get what you pay for when it comes to quality. While there are lower-priced options that are also durable, it seems that the most expensive options had the best enamel. For example, even after all of our abuse tests, both the Le Creuset Enameled and the Staub Round Cocotte showed next to no signs of wear and tear; there were some impact marks, but no chipping or heavy damage.
Others that are lower priced, like the AmazonBasics Enameled, Lodge 6-QT, and Crock-Pot 3-QT, all showed serious wear and tear and chipping after these tests. Lower priced contenders that stood up to our tests include the Cuisinart and Uno Casa, both showing just a few impact marks — similar to our highest performers.
Ease of Use
This category of assessment explores with what level of ease you can use your dutch oven. Is it easy to pick up with oven mitts? Is it too heavy? How big are the handles? How hot do the handles and top get after being in the oven? What are the limits of heat while in the oven? These are all questions that we consider in this metric.
Weight is a significant factor, especially if you simply don't have the muscle to move a heavy dutch oven filled with a full soup. Even though those with a lighter construction typically aren't as high quality (thinner materials), they are easier to use around the kitchen. Smaller models like the Le Creuset and Crock Pot were by far the lightest and thus the easiest to maneuver around the kitchen. Of full-size pots, the Cuisinart and Lodge are the lightest, with the Cuisinart being a touch lighter with a larger top handle.
Those with huge handles were preferred over those with smaller and thicker handles; we appreciated them because they distribute the load better and are easier to grab with oven mitts. While they perform well, our favorites are the Lodge and AmazonBasics enameled options. They have almost the same construction and are easier to grab. Between them, the Lodge scores higher because the handles don't get nearly as hot as the AmazonBasics when on the stove.
In this metric, we assess how easy the oven is to maintain. For example, does it have any nooks and crannies that are hard to reach? Is it machine-washable or hand-wash only? For all options we tested, we cleaned them all up after numerous stuck on meals and put them into the dishwasher to see how they fare.
We prefer options with a black interior casting like the Uno Casa and Staub for heavy cleaning. This black interior is pebbled, and not as non-stick, but it's far easier to scrub and clean than those with a white enameled interior. If there's a burnt-on mess, it comes right off. All others with a white interior stained very easily and were much harder to maintain. Of these, the Staub was the hardest to maintain, as the lid features "bumps" and a lot of crevices that make it harder to get at with a brush.
Of those with a white enameled interior, the Le Creuset Enameled proved to be the easiest to clean. We could easily use abrasive sponges without any noticeable damage or scratches. All options survived our dishwasher tests, but those with a more fragile exterior enamel should be hand-washed.
Which dutch oven is the best? While many perform similarly, your choices can be guided by our feedback and in-depth testing. While this is certainly an investment a high-quality dutch oven will last you through many bread explorations, stews, soups, family meals, and more. All you have to do is choose one. Enjoy!
— Amber King