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A Dutch oven -- that cast iron pot that weighs a ton -- may seem like an extraneous kitchen tool, but in actuality, it's a gift to all home chefs everywhere. You know why? You can make almost anything in a Dutch oven. We're talking one-pot meals like pasta with Alfredo and tomato sauces, soups, bread, desserts, chili, beef stew, pot roast, as well as individual ingredients, sauces, and sides, like savory black beans, mashed potatoes, and so much more. Using a Dutch oven can even reduce your coo…

time because the pot can go straight from the stovetop to the oven (perfect for lasagna!), and for many Dutch oven recipes, you can put all of your ingredients directly into one pot. That means fewer dishes to wash at the end of your meal prep, too!

Soup, Sauce, and Chili Dutch Oven Recipes

When making soup, sauce, or meals like sloppy Joes or chili recipes, Dutch ovens work a bit like a slow cooker (aka, Crock-Pot). You combine all of your ingredients and then let your meal cook on a low-to-medium or low flame for several hours. And also like a slow cooker, the Dutch oven comes with a heavy, tight-fitting lid that traps moisture inside the pot. Dutch ovens, however, are designed to completely trap steam and humidity and keep your food moist, which isn't a problem with soup and sauces, but could be a problem when you're making other family favorite meals, like roast chicken.

Another reason why Dutch ovens work so well for this category of food and recipes is because iron, which these pots are often made out of, is unable to conduct heat very well. In other words, when the pot heats up, it stays hot for a very long time. Aluminum pots and pans, on the other hand, are perfect for searing food very fast and at a very high temperature.

One of our favorite soups to make in a Dutch oven is French onion soup. Depending on your recipe, this soup may need to be transferred from the burner to the oven two or three times, but it's worth it. After about two and a half hours of cooking, it's the perfect combination of crusty, toasted olive-oil flavored croutons bobbing in a savory, beefy broth topped with perfectly melted and golden brown Gruyere cheese.

Dutch Oven Comfort Food

The real reason why I bought my Dutch oven isn't so much for cooking soup and chili. I can easily use my trusty slow cooker for those recipes (though not my excellent French onion recipe!). But when I'm making any beef or chicken recipe, like pot roast or roast chicken, I get better results with my Dutch oven than with most conventional home ovens. It makes sense when you think about it. The inside a Dutch oven is a literal steam and humidity trap. So for me -- someone who can roast every last drop of moisture out of a chicken breast -- it's a lifesaving and dinner-saving feature. Just ask my family. So not only is the result a moist roast chicken and moist pot roast, but because you can sear and brown the meat first on the stove, and then put it in the oven or the broiler, you get a perfectly crispy roast and bird exterior.

This is one of my favorite recipes for Dutch oven pot roast. After I salt and pepper the roast, I sear the meat on both sides and brown it right in the pot on the stovetop on high heat. You can put red ovens in the pot with your roast at this early stage. I cook my roast in beef broth, a small amount of tomato paste, and some soy sauce. After the meat is browned, I transfer the pot to the oven and let everything cook for about 90 minutes at 375-degrees F. For the final 45 minutes of baking, I add carrots and potatoes, and reduce the temperature to 350-degrees F. Total time for cooking and prep comes to about three and a half hours.

Dutch Oven Maintenance

Another great feature of this ceramic or cast iron pot is that it will last you a lifetime! Seriously. You will have to lose this thing in a separation before you burn it, dent it, or figure out a different way to destroy it. Of course, if you have a ceramic pot, we don't recommend dropping it on the floor. Ceramic will break. But other than that, a ceramic Dutch oven is hardier than an ordinary aluminum pot, too. And you don't even need to spend a lot of money. You can get a large pot for $50.

If you go camping and enjoy taking a Dutch oven along to place on some hot coals and cook fish stew, or a huge pot of black beans, you can buy a much less heavy, aluminum Dutch oven pot. But that's a whole different thing. No one wants to hike through the trees and hills on a 100-degree summer day while lugging around a 20-pound oven in their camping backpack.

Fortunately, these days, Dutch ovens come with an enamel coating, making them a snap to clean -- unlike the earlier years when the inside surface of the pot was rough and pitted. Some caveats with enamel are that it can chip and it will discolor with time. Avoid chips on the top edges by placing the lid down lightly. And as far as discoloration goes, there's not much you can do about that. Primarily if you use your pot for tomato-based gravy and sauces and other acidic ingredients, but a Dutch oven with stained enamel can be a good thing, too. It just shows how much use you get out of your pot and how much love you put into your friend's and family's bellies.

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