What’s the Difference Between a Dutch Oven and Cast Iron?

Stuff in your foamy ear plugs: It's a like a heavy metal fight. Actually, they're more like teammates than opponents. Think of it as a friendly battle of the bands.

In one corner, there's the Dutch oven. It's a large pot or kettle, usually made of cast iron (wait, whose team are we on?), with a tight-fitting lid so steam can't escape. Dutch ovens are used for moist-cooking methods such as braising and stewing. You make your braised beef, chilis, and stews in one of these bad boys. This cooking tool and method stems from those edgy Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1700s.

What we think of as a Dutch oven these days is a large cast-iron pot covered in bright, glossy enamel. Le Creuset is one of the most high-end brands.

Enamelware can be either cast iron or steel cookware that has been coated with thin layers of brightly colored porcelain enamel. Enameled cast iron is a good heat conductor. Enameled steel is not. Enamelware is fairly easy to clean and doesn't interact with acidic ingredients, but extreme heat can cause the surface to crack. You need to use only plastic or wooden utensils with enamelware to avoid scratching it.

Dating back to 5th century B.C., cast iron (ironware) absorbs, conducts, and retains heat efficiently. Although some say cast iron takes longer to heat up than other cookware, it does stay hot for longer, which is why fajitas are often served on cast iron skillets. So while a Dutch oven is always a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, cast iron is about material, and it can take many forms, most commonly, the skillet.

There are two basic kinds of cast iron: regular and enameled. Regular cast iron requires seasoning, which gives it a natural nonstick finish, and creates a surface that doesn't react with or absorb the flavor of foods. When you have an unseasoned cast iron pan, it will react to your acidic foods — tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar — creating a metallic taste and discoloration. This is not the heavy metal we're going for. And you probably shouldn’t simmer or braise a tomato sauce in a cast iron pot for many, many hours.

"Cast iron, when properly seasoned, is the original nonstick pan," according to thekitchenprofessor.com. "Many veteran chefs and beginners alike agree that it is the best type of cookware for searing and blackening."

It's a great pan to put on the grill or under the broiler. You can sear your meat and then cover it and put it in the oven to cook inside. To keep it seasoned, you clean it with a paper towel or soft cloth and, if necessary, gently scrub it with a nylon pad. Do not use soap. Lodge is a popular, affordable American-made brand of cast iron cookware.

OK, so say you've got an enameled Dutch oven and a cast iron skillet. Now what? Do this:

1. Braised Lamb Shanks with Mint-Parsley Pesto


You get to first brown the meat in it, soften the onions, celery, and carrots in it, and then braise it in the oven. This is a showcase dish for the reasons we love Dutch ovens. Get our Braised Lamb Shanks with Mint-Parsley Pesto recipe.

2. Pulled Jerk Chicken Sandwiches


Dutch ovens or a slow cooker are the method to make this great summer sandwich. It's spicy, tangy, and evokes a tropical vibe you want between your bun. Get our Pulled Jerk Chicken Sandwiches recipe.

3. Dutch Baby Pancake


Contrary to the name, use your cast iron skillet for this one. And it's really a German puffed, oven-baked pancake. Watch it rise up in your cast iron skillet within the oven and then flatten again. Top it with caramelized pears, lemon juice, and powdered sugar. Get our Dutch Baby Pancake recipe.

4. Chilaquiles


A 12-inch cast iron skillet is perfect for making chilaquiles. They're messy, delicious, and flexible: Top the chilaquiles with cheese, eggs, or leftover rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Get our Chilaquiles recipe.

5. Red Wine-Braised Beef with Apple Gremolata


Doesn't this just sound appetizing? For that crispy crust and tender, threaded meat, braise this meat in a Dutch oven. Get our Red Wine-Braised Beef recipe.

6. Easy Spicy Turkey Chili


You don't always want light food in hot weather. Chili works year-round. But there are so many ways to do chili. Use your Dutch oven for this chili with more zing, but less fat than other versions. Get our Easy Spicy Turkey Chili recipe.

7. Eggplant and  Mushroom Polenta Bake


We've been heavy the meat and poultry with these suggestions, so here's a hearty vegetarian shepherd's pie idea to round it all out. Get our Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake.

Head image: Le Creuset/Lodge

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