A Dutch oven is a thick-walled iron (usually cast iron) cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. It is commonly referred to as a 'camp oven' in the Australian bush, Cocotte in French, as a 'casserole dish' in British English, and is similar to both the Japanese tetsunabe and the Sač , a traditional Balkan cast-iron oven.
Over time the Dutch oven used in the American Colonies began to change. The pot became shallower and legs were added to hold the oven above the coals. A flange was added to the lid to keep the coals on the lid and out of the food. (Dutch Ovens Chronicled 11-14)
The cast-iron cookware was loved by colonists and settlers because of its versatility and durability. It could be used for boiling, baking, stews, frying, roasting, and just about any other use. The ovens were so valuable that wills in the 18th and 19th centuries frequently spelled out the desired inheritor of the cast iron cookware. For example, Mary Washington (mother of President George Washington) specified in her will, dated 20 May 1788, that one-half of her "iron kitchen furniture" should go to her grandson, Fielding Lewis, and the other half to Betty Carter, a granddaughter. Several Dutch ovens were among Mary's "iron kitchen furniture." (Dutch Ovens Chronicled 28)
When the young American country began to spread westward across the North American continent, so did the Dutch oven. A Dutch oven was among the gear Lewis and Clark carried when they explored the great American Northwest in 1804-1806. The pioneers who settled the American West also took along their Dutch ovens. In fact, a statue raised to honor the Mormon handcart companies who entered Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in the 1850s proudly displays a Dutch oven hanging from the front of the handcart. The Dutch oven is also the official state cooking pot of Utah.
Mountain men exploring the great American frontier used Dutch ovens into the late 1800s. Dutch oven cooking was also prominent among those who took part in the western cattle drives that lasted from the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. (Dutch Ovens Chronicled 33-54)
A more unfamiliar term is that of a Dutchie in some Jamacian cultures, as referred to in the famous 'Pass The Dutchie' song by Musical Youth, where they refer to a cooking pot in the song (this contrasts with the version of the song by The Mighty Diamonds, who used the term kouchie to refer to marijuana).
Modern Dutch ovens designed for use on the cooktop or in the oven are typically smooth-bottomed. Some older styles, such as the unglazed ovens by Lodge, CampChef, and Wagner, retain the bale handle, while others, such as the enameled versions by Staub, Sante, and le Creuset, have two loop handles. Modern ovens may also be made of thick cast aluminum or ceramic. Le Creuset, a famous maker of enameled Dutch ovens, refers to their ovens as "French ovens", or in the UK as "casserole dishes". America's most prominent Dutch oven manufacturer, Lodge, was founded in 1896 and is located in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.
In South Africa, a potjie directly translated "small pot" from Afrikaans, is a traditional round, cast iron, three-legged (tripod) pot. It is similar in appearance to a cauldron and is usually black. It is used to cook potjiekos over an open fire.
Among the South African tribes these pots also became known as phutu pots.
Potjie can also refer to the technique of cooking potjiekos. This tradition originated in the Netherlands during the Siege of Leiden and was brought to South Africa by Dutch immigrants. It persisted over the years with the Voortrekkers and survives today as a traditional Afrikaner method of cooking.
When cooking over a campfire, it is possible to use old-style lipped cast iron Dutch ovens as true baking ovens, to prepare biscuits, cakes, breads, pizzas and even pies. A smaller baking pan can be placed inside the ovens, used and replaced with another as the first batch is completed. It is also possible to stack Dutch ovens on top of each other, conserving the heat that would normally rise from the hot coals on the top. These stacks can be as high as 5 or 6 pots.
Americans traditionally season their iron Dutch ovens like other cast iron cookware.
A new oven comes from the manufacturer coated with wax or shellac. This must be removed before the oven is used. An initial scouring with hot soapy water will usually remove the protective coating. Subsequent cleanings are usually accomplished without the use of soap. After the new oven has been cleaned it should be completely dried and then given a thin coat of vegetable oil to prevent rusting. The oven should then be heated so as to bond the oil to the metal. As with other cast iron vessels, a newly seasoned oven should not be used to cook foods containing tomatoes, vinegar or other acidic ingredients. These foods will damage the new seasoning. Instead, newly seasoned ovens should be used to cook something high in oil or fat, such as chicken, bacon, or sausage, or used for deep frying.
After use Dutch ovens are typically cleaned like other cast iron cookware: with boiling water and a brush, and no or minimal soap. After the oven has been dried, it should be given a thin coating of vegetable oil to prevent rusting. Animal fats should be avoided as they are likely to cause illness when they go rancid.
Where possible, a cleaned and freshly oiled Dutch oven should be stored in a clean, dry location with the lid ajar or off to promote air circulation and to avoid the smell and taste of rancid oil. If the Dutch oven must be stored with the lid on, a paper towel or piece of newspaper should be placed inside the oven to absorb any moisture.
With care, after much use the surfaces of the Dutch oven will become dark black, very smooth and shiny, and as non-stick as the best Teflon or other non-stick cookware available. When properly cared for, a Dutch oven is good for decades or even centuries of use.
Enameled ovens do not need to be seasoned before use. However, they lose some of the other advantages of bare cast iron. For example, deep frying is usually not recommended in enameled ovens - the enamel coating is not able to withstand high heat, and is best suited for water-based cooking.
Enameled ovens can usually be cleaned like ordinary cookware, and some brands can even be put in the dishwasher.
The term "Dutch oven" is also used for two other cooking devices: a metal shield used before an open fire for roasting (also known as a reflector oven), and a brick oven in which the preheated walls do the cooking.