There are so many pots and pans out there, each with their own purpose and function. You may have some that you’ve never even used, because frankly, you’re not sure what to do with it! Most home cooks may have a Dutch oven, or perhaps a French oven, even if it is tucked far back in your cabinet. So what are they and is there a difference?
The Dutch oven and French oven are both large cooking pots with tight fitting lids. However, the Dutch oven came first and is traditionally made out of cast iron. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and the French oven was born. The French oven is a Dutch oven that has a porcelain enamel coating, meaning it has a smooth surface rather than the seasoned cast iron finish of its younger sibling.
French and Dutch Oven Overview
You may recall that some of your recipes specifically call for the use of a Dutch or French oven. Some people may even own one of these pots and not realize their full potential. They are both very versatile cooking vessels that can be used for: braising, roasting, simmering, frying and even for baking bread.
While both French and Dutch ovens are similar and great pans to use, they each have their own unique characteristics that may be better suited for certain types of cooking. Knowing the differences and what each pot is good for will be helpful.
What is a Dutch Oven?
The Dutch Oven was made in the early 1700’s by an English worker that used a modern Dutch method of casting the iron in sand rather than clay to make this large pot. The Dutch oven was created in an effort to bring more affordable cookware to people by using a cheaper metal, iron.
There are different varieties of a Dutch oven: some are made with other metals, some are made with legs, and some without. The Dutch ovens made with three legs are for outdoor cooking over an open fire or fire pit. These are very common in cowboy cooking and camping. However, the three legged version cannot be used on an indoor stove.
Let’s explore more about the Dutch oven and its uses.
There are several advantages to cooking with a Dutch oven. Depending on what you are cooking, it can be a very trusted pot to use.
- Very durable – the cast iron used to make Dutch ovens is a very durable material that can last decades or longer if well taken care of.
- Naturally non-stick – the process of casting the iron gives it a non-stick surface without using any chemicals. It does need to be seasoned with a layer of oil after each use, which helps to maintain its non-stick surface and also prevents it from rusting.
- Takes on high heat – cast iron can withstand high heat and can even handle direct flames. Whether you are using your Dutch oven in a hot oven, on the stove, or over an open fire, it can handle the hot temperature just fine.
- Retains heat – not only can Dutch ovens handle high heat, they also retain heat incredibly well. The lids on Dutch ovens are also made of cast iron and therefore the heat is absorbed in the metal and serves as an oven to the food inside.
- Inexpensive – one of the reasons the cast iron Dutch oven was created was in an effort to be less costly than the typical brass or copper cookware normally used.
- Indoor or outdoor cooking – did you know Dutch ovens are often used at campfires? Whether they have a handle attached or have three legs, you can nestle the large pot over the coals or open fire making a home cooked meal a breeze even when outdoors.
- Versatile – The Dutch oven by design allows for a variety of dishes to be made. It is excellent for searing and roasting because of the lid which retains heat and moisture. It also forms a nice crust on breads and pie crusts.
While Dutch ovens serve many uses, there are some drawbacks to the large pots that you must consider.
- Heavy – the cast iron Dutch ovens are considerably heavier than other pots and pans you may have. Because of this, they can be hard to maneuver, especially if taking with you camping.
- Hot – the fact that Dutch ovens retain so much heat can be a great thing, it can cut down on cooking time and also ensure even cooking. However, you must be careful when handling a Dutch oven – every part of the pot will heat up. Even if you are using it on the stove, be sure and use either an oven mitt or silicone handle when removing the lid or moving it.
- Maintenance – the seasoning of a cast iron Dutch oven is a must to ensure several things: the longevity of the pot, to prevent it from rusting, and to keep the nonstick surface.
- Size – while Dutch ovens can come in various shapes and sizes, most of them are large. Finding a spot to store one can be tricky, especially if you don’t have much cabinet space.
What is a French Oven?
French ovens are an updated version of the Dutch oven, that were made to have a higher quality finish and be more appealing to the eye. About 200 years after the Dutch oven was created, the French updated it by making it with a porcelain enameled coating.
The French oven shares many great qualities as the Dutch oven, but is slightly different.
- Nonstick – this is probably the biggest difference between a Dutch oven and a French oven, and also the best quality of a French oven. The porcelain enamel coating on the cast iron helps to provide an excellent non-stick surface without having to season the pan, making this a great choice when needing to sear meat.
- Durable – much like the Dutch oven, the French version can be durable if properly maintained. These pans are made well and can be kept for decades if you treat them with care.
- Beautiful – the French oven was made as an improvement to the harsh black Dutch oven. Because they are coated, they come in any color and are beautiful when served directly at your table.
- Even cooking – the French oven provides even cooking suitable for a number of different dishes. How the pot is made and the weight of it helps to evenly distribute the heat.
- Versatile – similar to a Dutch oven, the French oven is also very versatile in its cooking. It can handle roasts, stews, and bread wonderfully and also can do well with more fragile proteins, like fish, because of its non-stick surface.
While the French oven offers many desirable qualities in a cooking pot, there are some negatives that you should know before using it.
- Sensitive to heat – while it retains heat well, the French oven cannot be used on an open flame or with high heat. The enamel coating is sensitive to high heat and going from extreme temperatures can cause the enamel to crack or chip.
- Maintenance – although you do not have to season the French oven, you do still have to properly maintain and store it so as not to crack the enamel coating.
- Expensive – because of the design and updates given to the French oven, it is typically much more expensive than a Dutch oven. It can be well worth the investment, if you can afford it.
- Sensitive to utensils – the enamel coating is also sensitive to the utensils you use while cooking and cleaning. Be careful not to use heavy, metal spatulas or sponges as they can cause the coating to crack or chip.
What are the Differences Between Dutch and French Ovens?
Both Dutch and French ovens are excellent pots to have in your kitchen. They do well with a variety of dishes and help to produce delicious food. While they are both similar, there are a few differences.
The maintenance, or upkeep, of the French and Dutch oven varies slightly. Cast iron needs to be seasoned after use, by rubbing oil or lard over the cleaned surface and then heating it until cured. This helps to maintain a non-stick surface and even provides flavor over time. It also helps to prevent rust on the iron surface.
French ovens are coated in a glass or porcelain enamel and therefore are already non-stick. While you don’t have to season between uses, you do have to be sure not to scratch the surface while cooking or cleaning.
You can use a Dutch oven or French oven in so many different ways, making them well worth owning. Dutch ovens can be used cooking over a direct flame, can take extreme heat, and can be used indoors or outdoors. However, Dutch ovens may be harder to cook more fragile foods (such as fish) than a French oven.
French ovens cannot handle extreme temperature changes and must be gradually warmed up, never cook with one on an open flame. Because of their enamel coating, French ovens can handle foods easily without the worry of food sticking to the surface.
The cost difference between Dutch ovens and French ovens can be quite large. While you can find Dutch ovens that are expensive, they are typically much less expensive than a French oven.
Which is Better Between French Oven and Dutch Oven?
Both French ovens and Dutch ovens are great pots to own and serve a variety of purposes. Depending on what you are wanting to cook, how you are wanting to serve it, and how much you want to spend will all determine which one you want to own.
If you like to entertain and want a statement piece that can go straight from the stove or oven to the table, a French oven may be a great choice.
Alternatively, if you need something to take camping or are looking for a very sturdy pan that is less expensive and more durable, the Dutch oven is for you.
Dutch ovens and French ovens were made hundreds of years apart, but are very similar. The French oven is a more modern and updated version of the Dutch oven, but both are sturdy, durable pots that can last a long time if taken care of. They both retain heat and moisture in the cooking process and are good for a variety of recipes, from: roasting, braising, frying, and even bread baking.