How do I purchase the best Dutch oven? 
What Dutch oven tools will I need?

Purchasing the Best Dutch Oven

We’ll quickly go through how to find and purchase the best Dutch oven for you.  These days Dutch ovens can be purchased many different ways.  Despite the weight, a Dutch oven can be purchased online and shipped right to your door.  Most are familiar with purchasing a Dutch oven from sporting goods, recreation or hardware store.  There is also the modern stove top or conventional oven that you can find in supermarkets or a cooking supply shop.  Some of the better known brands for the in-door Dutch ovens are Le Creuset, Calphalon, Lodge and Tramontina.  Le Creuset is considered a “luxury” Dutch oven in some reviews while Lodge would be best in value. Well known camp Dutch oven manufacturers are Lodge, Camp Chef, and MACA.  In both categories you can find cheaper imports, but they cover a spectrum of quality.

Here we will cover some of the basic things that you will want to consider when purchasing a camp Dutch oven.

A good place to start is size.  Most people find that the 10”, 12” and 14” are big enough.  The 12” is the most common.  Sizes 16” and above become very big and in some cases can weigh up as much a person.  The MACA 22”, for example, weighs in at 160 lbs.  These of course are for very large groups.  The tables to the left show the sizes and capacities of the most well known manufacturers of camp Dutch ovens.

Another consideration is material. Both Dutch ovens and pie irons are most often thought to be made of cast iron.  There are many good reasons, however, to choose a Dutch oven made of aluminum.  People are often surprised to find that Dutch ovens can be found in aluminum.  Even more surprising are people who use aluminum Dutch ovens claim that the difference in quality cooking is very minimal.  Let’s look at some of the differences between cast iron and aluminum Dutch ovens. 

1 – WEIGHT: Cast iron is very heavy and after a long duration of holding a pie iron handle, you can get pretty tired.  Aluminum is sometimes 1/3 the weight, perfect for backpacking or packing long distances.

2 – HEATING: Cast iron heats slowly and evenly and can retain heat for some time.  Aluminum heats much more quickly, but can have hot spots.  Aluminum will also lose heat much more quickly.

3 – MELTING: Cast iron doesn’t melt very easily.  You would have to heat it up past 2100ºF.  Aluminum on the other hand can melt at 1200ºF.  A fire might actually get hot enough to melt or warp aluminum.

4 – CLEANING:  Cleaning cast iron takes more time and effort.  You cannot use soap as it might case it to rust and will have a terrible effect on the taste of your food.  Aluminum is typically coated with a non-stick surface and is quick and easy to clean.

One major difference is a cast iron Dutch oven must be seasoned.  This takes some preparation time and upkeep as we discuss below.

Finally, costs don’t favor cast iron over aluminum or vice versa, so it is mainly up to your needs.

Besides choosing a good manufacturer, size and material, there are a few additional considerations:

1 – FIND A CAMP DUTCH OVEN WITH LEGS.  Historically there was a time where the oven did not have legs and some kettles come without legs.  Legs are necessary to keep your oven off the coals and leave space to add more coals if needed.  You want robust legs, thick enough to bear the weight of the oven itself and more if you decide to stack ovens one on top of another.  Shoot for legs that are at least an inch high.

2 – BUY THE BEST QUALITY YOU CAN AFFORD. The body of the oven itself should have a good even thickness and have a fairly smooth surface.  Different foundries produce varying degrees of quality in their cast iron. The Dutch perfected the art in the 1700s by sand casting; there are still some foundries that are playing catch up.  A little roughness won’t kill though as you need some roughness to hold the seasoning.

3 – FIND A DUTCH OVEN WITH A STURDY BAIL WIRE HANDLE.  This should be a heavy gage wire that can take a lot of heat and weight.  It shouldn’t be easily bent.  The loops on the kettle itself should be integrated into the kettle – part of the cast, not riveted to the kettle.  This will ensure a rugged build.  Make sure the bail can be rotated freely from one side of the kettle to the other.

4 – FIND AN OVEN WITH A LID MADE FOR CAMPING.  A lot of cooking occurs on the lid when turned upside down, so it is nice to look at that surface, some will be slightly concave.  The top should be rimmed to hold coals and ash in place.  These keep your food clean when you remove the lid.  The handle on top of the lid should again be integral to the lid, not riveted or attached by other means.  A good build will fit tightly to the kettle.  There shouldn’t be any noticeable gaps.  These are important for cooking.  The food will be less likely to dry out or burn. 

What Dutch oven tools will I need?

1 – GLOVES.  You need gloves to handle the heat.  A simple thin pair of gardening gloves isn’t going to be optimal.  Look for thick barbecue, Dutch oven or fireplace gloves.  These babies will provide the peace of mind that you are not getting burned.  They are typically thick, lined, leather and extend beyond your wrists.

2 – DUTCH OVEN LONG HANDLED HOOK. This gets your hands away from the heat even more, but it is also necessary to lift the lid off of the kettle without losing coals or getting ash or dirt in your delicious meal.  Some people use long handled pliers, which works, but it offers less control and might not guarantee a sure grip.  The handle typically has stabilizing features that keep the lid steady as you lift.

3 – SHOVEL OR TONGS to move the coals around.  Tongs seem to do the trick really well as you can quickly manipulate the coals.  A little shovel works, but would take second place over a pair of tongs.

4 – SPOONS, SPATULA and FORK. You’ll need these to serve your prized meal.  You can find all you need in a set – a big ladle spoon for stews, big serving spoon for cobblers and the fork for meats.  Our only recommendation is you find something a little bit more commercial that can bear the outdoor beating and not bend or easily break over time.

Additional tools to consider to make things cleaner and easier

1 – THE LID STAND OR “RIVETS”.  A nicely seasoned lid that is rolling in the dirt is enough to frustrate the most unflappable.  A rock or logs can be used.  A nice lid stand ensures stability however.

2 – COAL STARTER.  This saves time.  In 15 minutes your coals are hot and ready to go and the heat throughout the briquettes is more uniform.  It is as simple as loading in the briquettes, lighting a small bunch of newspaper at the bottom and dumping out the briquettes 15 minutes later.  Wait too long and there will be a pile of ash, so once the flame is out, get cooking.  One of the main advantages is no stinky lighter fluid.

3 – STORAGE BAG.  Some Dutch ovens will come with a bag, sometimes not.  With a nicely seasoned, family heir loom, a bag might not be a bad idea.  Like a good gym bag they have handles and are durable.

4 – A TRIPOD STAND.   Used not only for Dutch Oven cooking but for bean kettles or to suspend a grill over a fire.  A Dutch oven can be kept warm, but not overcook if people are not quite ready to eat at the moment.  A chain typically hangs down from the center of a three-legged stand.

5 – DUTCH OVEN TABLE.  You’ll see these at cook-offs.  They are a three sided walled in table with legs.  It saves the effort of having to lift the Dutch oven or bend over every time you make a change or check your meal.  It also lets others view what you’re cooking much easier.  Another benefit is the walls protect your coals or briquettes from the wind.

Miscellaneous tools for Dutch oven cooking

Here is a good list of supplies that are needed, but often forgotten:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper Towels
  • Dish Soap
  • Handheld broom
  • Vegetable Peeler
  • Knives
  • Steel Garbage Can Lid
  • Hot Pad Holder
  • Pie Tins
  • Cutting Board
  • Matches
  • Measuring Cups
  • Can Opener
  • Vegetable or Olive Oil
  • Cheese Grater
  • Bottle Opener
  • Water Bottle
  • Mixing/Prep Bowls

Read on and learn about seasoning your cast iron.