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Not to name names but there are certain appliances or pieces of cookware I've purchased with great gusto that have ended up collecting more dust than reps at dinnertime. My Dutch oven, on the other hand, became an instant featured player in my weekly routine, and a pot I use far more than I could have imagined when I first bought it. In fact, my Dutch is probably the piece of cookware I urge friends and family to get most if they don't have one or aren't sure if they want one. Am I making it clear that I like my Dutch oven? I like my Dutch oven. 

I can find any excuse to use it and at any time of year -- trust me -- but winter 'tis the season we really tend to crave Dutch oven food. If stews, soups, sauces, bread, braises and roasts are on your 2021 to-do list, it's high time to add a good Dutch oven into the mix. Be it Julia Child's famous coq au vin, a melty beef bourguignon or even for a simple batch of sautéed greens, a sturdy Dutch oven will be your go-to cookware for cooking comfort food. A bonus: Dutch ovens look so right sitting atop your stove, in fact, I just leave mine there most of the time, and they are easy as heck to clean. Intrigued? Of course you are, so let's get to the important stuff.

What is a Dutch oven?

Dutch oven, a term often interchangeably used with French oven or cocotte, is an essential kitchen tool. If you're not familiar with these pots, they typically feature thick walls and a tight-fitting lid (unlike casserole dishes) with a single handle, loop handles or a knob, and most are made from cast iron or enameled cast iron. This piece of cookware can be used on a stovetop or in the oven and is a favorite vehicle for everything from baking to browning or braising meat. They're a favorite vessel for dishes that need to be cooked low and slow, like stews and roasts.

What can you make with a Dutch oven?

These sturdy pots are incredible -- you can accomplish almost any cooking task in a Dutch oven and when you get a piece of meat going low and slow with a braising like stock, wine or brandy, some very magical things can happen. They're also fantastic for building a slow Sunday red sauce or making stock from last night's roast chicken. Dutch ovens are truly one of the most versatile pots you can own, and a lot of home cooks will tell you it's their favorite cookware tool -- myself included. Folks get attached to them too, and a really good Dutch oven made by a high-end producer like Le Creuset Staub or Marquette Castings will last for decades, if not longer.

If you're in the market for your first Dutch oven or are replacing or upgrading the one you have, here are a few of the best Dutch ovens in various styles and price ranges to consider, as well as what to look for when choosing a Dutch oven.

Read more: Our favorite direct-to-consumer cookware brands of 2020

What to look for when buying a Dutch oven

When shopping for the perfect Dutch oven, you'll want to consider the size of the pot. That's probably the most important decision you'll make so give it some real thought. The most popular interior sizes are between four and seven quarts, but you can find products as small as two quarts or as large as 10 or more. If you tend to make large holiday meals with lots of grub for your extended family, a bigger Dutch oven might serve you well. Just keep in mind that larger pots will be quite heavy (especially when full of food). I personally think a four-quart Dutch oven is great for a single person or couple but would probably bump up to a six-quart if I had a few kids or more mouths to feed on the regular. Keep in mind, most are cast iron so they're not particularly light so don;t overshoot just for the heck of it.

What shape and weight should a Dutch oven be?

Speaking of weight, Dutch ovens are supposed to have thick walls, so don't shy away from a pot that seems heavy -- it's really just heavy duty and that's a good thing. You may also see round versus oval Dutch ovens, and the best option here depends on how you plan to use it. If you do a lot of stovetop oven cooking or frying, sauteing and browning, stick with a round model, as it will fit on the burner better. Some round models are what are called "double Dutch ovens," where the lid is deep enough to use as a skillet. An oval dutch will better fit long cuts of meat like tenderloins, rib roasts and large poultry so if you plan on cooking those frequently versus stews and shanks, consider an oblong shape. 

Finally, it's generally better to choose a Dutch oven that's short and stout, rather than one that's skinny and taller (though a double Dutch oven will typically be a little taller than a regular Dutch oven). Why? A wide diameter gives you more interior surface area to brown food, and it can also save you time by cooking or frying ingredients faster.

We read dozens of reviews for each product, compared pricing and product specs and, of course, drew consideration from our own test kitchen experiences baking, browning and frying a variety of dishes to curate a comprehensive list of the best Dutch ovens on the market. No matter your needs, you're sure to find the best Dutch oven on this list, which we'll update regularly.

Sur la Table

If you're willing to spend a but of coin on a Staub you won't be disappointed with this regal round cocotte. Cocotte is the French term for a Dutch oven, and this Alsace-based legacy cookware brand certainly knows its way around a beautiful piece of cookware. Staub's cocotte comes in several sizes and cacophony of colors -- 10 to be exact -- all with a durable enamel finish and solid cast iron core.

Staub's Dutch oven features a self-basting lid with spikes on the underside to encourage an even and continuous trickle of juices while cooking. This pretty pot is a perfect vessel for baking, frying, braisingor browning your Dutch oven recipe favorites, like chili, casseroles, beef stew, pot roast, sourdough bread and more. Reviewers rave about it, with one writing, "This pot is about as close to perfect as a pot gets. It's sturdy, durable, functional and flat-out easy to use."

Lodge

You don't necessarily have to spend an arm and a leg to get a great Dutch oven for your kitchen. The Lodge is widely heralded as the best Dutch oven for the price. Lodge Ditch ovens come in sizes ranging from 1.5-quart to 7.5-quart and three colors.

The Lodge Dutch oven is made from classic cast iron with an enameled coated. It's oven-safe up to scorching temps of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and while you can technically put it in the dishwasher, the manufacturer recommends washing by hand to avoid chipping the enamel finish or damaging the steel lid lifting knob. Lodge produces some of the sturdiest cookware around and reviewers agree, especially considering its affordable price.

Sur la Table

If you're at all familiar with Dutch ovens -- or cookware at all, for that matter -- you've probably heard of Le Creuset by now. A iconic French brand is considered by many to be the gold standard, and you can rest assured you're getting a quality pot in Le Creuset's signature Dutch oven. Le Creuset makes its oven available in 5.5-, 7.25-, 9- and 13.25-quart interior sizes, as well as a full rainbow of truly beautiful colors that will make it a showpiece, even when you're not cooking.

Le Creuset cast-iron Dutch ovens are covered in vitrified porcelain making them easier to clean and resistant to stains, odors and acids. The nonreactive interior and cooking surface don't need to be seasoned like a traditional cast iron Dutch oven, and you can use Le Creuset's oven on essentially any cooking surface, including induction cooktops and even open fires. Additionally, Le Creuset signature Dutch ovens have large, easy-grip handles and a heat-resistant, stainless steel knob.

Every detail of Le Creuset's pots has been considered, and the quality is reflected in Le Creuset's reviews, where happy chefs swoon over their beloved Dutch ovens. Many claim their Le Creuset Dutch oven to be the most-used item in their kitchen, from preparing easy meals to baking bread and heating soups, and most agree this product is worth the investment. Plus, Le Creuset's signature Dutch ovens come with a "limited" lifetime warranty, which means that if it's defective, the company will replace it free of charge. Le Creuset even has a line of Star Wars Dutch ovens.

Milo

Direct-to-consumer cookware companies are popping up left and right, and Milo is an up-and-coming brand that sells high-quality Dutch ovens at affordable prices. The Milo Dutch oven rivals products from some of the most well-established cookware brands, thanks to its cast-iron construction and durable enamel coating.

The Dutch oven has a 5.5-quart capacity and comes in black or white enamel finishes. It's oven safe in super high temperatures -- up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit -- and it can even go in the dishwasher without damaging the enamel. Milo offers a lifetime guarantee on its products, and it claims this cooking pot is ideal both for kitchen newbies and professionals. Happy buyers say that the pan is "heavy and solid like you would expect from Staub or Le Creuset" with a smooth, easy-to-clean finish.

Macy's

Bring a pop of color into your kitchen with this six-quart Dutch oven from the Macy's Martha Stewart Collection. There are a wide variety of colors to choose from, and many of them feature a subtle ombre finish. These Dutch ovens are made from enameled cast iron and come with a tightly fitted lid that has a center knob and a condensation ring to help circulate moisture while cooking food. A large handle on each side makes the pot easy to move from stove to table, and reviewers call it a "kitchen essential." Right now save $125 with special code VIP.

Lodge

Many of today's best Dutch ovens feature a porcelain enameled finish that makes them nonreactive, easy to clean and impervious to stains and odors. However, if you like the taste imparted by nonenameled cast iron, you may want to consider the Lodge preseasoned cast iron Dutch oven.

This product doesn't have an enamel exterior -- instead, it's been preseasoned with vegetable oil. It has a seven-quart capacity that reviewers say is perfect for grub like bread and soups, as well as many other dishes. Without enamel, it needs to be taken care of properly -- that means careful washing and reseasoning as needed -- but the sturdy construction will last for decades.

Read more: How to properly clean cast iron

Calphalon

Enameled cast iron is the most popular material for Dutch ovens, but there are also stainless steel available, such as this one from Calphalon. The biggest benefit will be weight -- or lack thereof -- but it won't hold heat quite as well as cast iron. The five-quart covered Dutch oven is made from stainless steel and features an aluminum core which helps with heat conductivity. It's also oven- and dishwasher-safe, even with its lid. The brushed exterior has sleek, modern look and reviewers. A glass lid is nice for keeping an eye on cooking progress without letting heat escape if you're the impatient type.

Calphalon

Most enameled Dutch ovens are pretty nonstick, so don't get too hung up on it. But if you want actual nonstick surface material, there is a Calphalon nonstick Dutch oven and it fares quite well in the reviews we scoured. The unique product features a nonstick coating, much like you'd find on good nonstick frying pans, that will ensure that food slides right off when it's time to clean. This 8.5-quart Dutch oven is made from heavy-gauge, hard-anodized aluminum for even heat distribution. It has a stainless steel handle on each side that stay cool, as well as a tempered glass lid with another handle rather than a knob. The whole unit is oven-safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (so baking is definitely in play), and you can put both the pot and lid in the dishwasher if you choose.

GSI Outdoors

Not only can you use Dutch ovens in the kitchen, you can use them in the great outdoors too. Campers will tote along a Dutch oven such as this GSI hard-anodized Dutch since these pots can be used easily over an open flame or campfire.

This Dutch oven is specifically designed for camping and made from non-reactive, hard-anodized aluminum and weighs roughly 66% less than traditional cast iron, so it is much more efficient to lug along and into the woods. It also has fixed legs for increased stability and a deep edge around the lid where you can place hot coals. Plus, this pot is rust-free and scratch-resistant, so it'll survive even the gnarliest of excursions.

Sur la Table

If you plan to use your Dutch oven for Thanksgiving and other holidays, you might want a festive design, like that of the Staub cast-iron pumpkin cocotte. This adorable pumpkin-shaped dish has a 5-quart capacity, and it comes with all the features you'd expect from this high-end brand. It has a smooth enamel coating on the bottom, tight-fitting lid and superior heat retention and is oven safe for temperatures up to 500 degrees. Plus, it makes the perfect centerpiece for your holiday table.

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