What is a Dutch Oven?

Think about the images of cooking we have about Colonial America – a fireplace with chock full o’ burning logs; A large iron hook that swivels into and out of the fire; and a covered iron pot filled with the meal of the day, whether it was stew, chowder, meat, or even a cobbler.

That iron pot is the predecessor of today’s dutch oven.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the explorers of the world traveled to places unknown, chances were quite good that they had a dutch oven with them. The infamous chuck wagons of the American west carried several Dutch Ovens. The reason? You could place them directly into a campfire and walk away. Or to put it another way – The slow cookers of today are direct descendants of the Dutch Oven.

But why do they call them Dutch Ovens?

Well first, not all Dutch Ovens are called Dutch Ovens. Le Creuset, whose product I recently purchased, actually calls them “French” Ovens because the Le Creuset company is a French company and is acting a bit…well…French. UPDATE: Pia left the following note in the comments:

In french we don’t say “french oven” or “dutch oven” but “cocotte en fonte”. I’m not sure of my translation, but in english it’s something like “cast-iron pot”

J. Wayne Fears, author of the book “The Complete Book of Dutch Oven Cooking” has two hypothesis on why they are called “Dutch” Ovens. The first is that the Dutch had advanced foundry techniques for the early 1700′s. As such, they cornered the market on pots and pans, as well as many other cast iron items that were needed at the time. These pots and pans were imported into Britain and then where carried overseas to America, where they became the prerequisite item to have in the kitchen.

The second theory is that many of the initial traders of colonial North America were Dutch and sold and traded the pots with great frequency. This theory sounds a bit far fetched to me.

There are aluminum Dutch Ovens out there, and they have their own pros and con. The biggest pro? They are much lighter than the cast iron dutch ovens. The biggest con? Their heat dispersal is a little less efficient than those made with cast iron. But I’ll get into that more in a later post when I discuss tips and hints surrounding the Dutch Oven.

Technorati Tags: Food History, Dutch Ovens, Pots and Pans