Straight to the Point
Conventional kitchen wisdom holds that enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are a pricey but worthwhile investment for most home cooks. As the majority of us at Serious Eats use them regularly at home and in our test kitchen, we think that recommendation stands. (We’ve published a comprehensive review on Dutch ovens here, and recommend Le Creuset, Staub, and Cuisinart models.) But with wildly varying price points, it’s hard to know why some Dutch ovens cost hundreds and others can be snapped up for $60.
Almost all Dutch oven makers are secretive about the specifics of their process (we were hard-pressed to find any manufacturer who’d share the details of their metal composition or enamel material). That said, after delving into the ins and outs of Dutch oven construction, we came away with a few variables that can impact price.
Why Are Dutch Ovens So Expensive?
A cast iron Dutch oven is a hefty piece of equipment, and all that iron comes at a cost: a lot of material goes into constructing this multi-purpose pot. Some of the models we tested weighed over 13 pounds; the sheer size of a Dutch oven partially explains why it costs more than the average aluminum sauce pot or 8-inch frying pan. There are a handful of other factors that impact price, which we'll go into more below:
- Construction and manufacturing
All cast iron Dutch ovens are made from iron (surprise). Where things differ is the types—and composition—of the iron. While you probably won’t find a Dutch oven maker who shares the exact mix of iron they use (we couldn't), it's typically some mix of raw and recycled iron. Does higher quality iron or a higher percentage of iron mean a higher price point? It’s possible: conservatively-priced Lodge, for example, notes that their Dutch ovens are made with a mix of pig iron, steel, and “other ingredients.”
Steel is less efficient at retaining heat than cast iron, so it stands to reason that a blend that contains a percentage of cheaper-to-source metal ultimately costs less to the consumer. By contrast, pricier brands are reluctant to share their metal blend.
As further proof that the material makeup matters, we can look to the thickness variance across models. In our test, Le Creuset’s 5.5-quart pot was one of the thinnest, but retained heat evenly and consistently. In other words: it’s not always the weight of the pot's bottom, but what it’s made from.
The enamel coating’s composition (generally, a fusion of glass particles) may hold the key to explaining price differences, but with cast iron brands being tight-lipped about it, this element is essentially the “secret spice blend.” Whether it’s what actually sets them apart from the crowd is unclear. However, anecdotally, we can say that in our tests for durability, the legacy brands held up to chips, scuffs, and scratches better—and for longer—than cheaper models.
Manufacturing and Construction Comparison
Cheaper Dutch ovens are often made in offsite factories. This means less oversight from the brand, resulting in potential quality control issues. As a prime example, Martha Stewart’s Dutch oven, which we tested and recommended in our original review, switched factories in China—potentially as an attempt to address a problem with fractured enamel. Staub and Le Creuset, in contrast, have their own factories and maintain high production standards. As we explained in our review, "The engineers at the Staub foundry, for example, adjust the moisture of the sand in the molds that form their Dutch ovens daily based on the air's humidity. At Le Creuset's factory in Fresnoy-le-Grand, about two hours north of Paris, 15 employees inspect every pot before it ships out." Of course, it's not the specific country that matters, but rather the onsite versus offsite location, which hinders or promotes greater oversight.
Dutch ovens work hard and look good doing it. (The ability to take them from the stovetop to the dinner table is a large part of their appeal for many cooks.) While all of the cast iron Dutch ovens we tested came with a glossy colored enamel, cheaper models offered only a handful of basic colors, while legacy brands sell a rainbow’s worth of glazes. Le Creuset takes the cake for color options, consistently offering 17 core colors in addition to a rotating cast of seasonal and limited-edition glazes (they even offer gradient ombré designs). Le Creuset and Staub also offer slight upgrades for an added price; for example, switching out a standard lid knob for a stainless steel, gold, or even a pig one.
Most Dutch ovens come with a lifetime warranty, but not all brands meet it unconditionally. Plenty of makers offer limited warranties, with time constraints and plenty of loopholes. Anecdotal evidence proves that spendier brands (Le Creuset, Staub) honor their warranties without a lot of loopholes. (With that in mind, it makes sense that they’re also the brands with the most stringent oversight of the construction process. Greater quality control likely means less warranty claims.)
So, Is an Expensive Dutch Oven Worth It?
Ultimately, we feel it’s worth spending more on an enamel cast iron Dutch oven. A bigger investment now means decades of performance. Spend more at the time of purchase, and unlike a smartphone, you won’t have to replace it in two years. You're paying for a well-earned reputation of quality and durability and proven warranty fulfillment.
What’s the best Dutch oven?
After reviewing 19 models, we found that the best Dutch ovens are made by Le Creuset, Staub, and Cuisinart. (The first two are pricier, while the third is less of an investment.)
What size Dutch oven should I buy?
The best size Dutch oven for most cooks is between 5 and 6 quarts. (Our recommend models are 5.5 and 5 quarts.) If you regularly cook for a crowd, it might be worthwhile to investigate larger sizes, like 7 or 8 quarts. But you can probably skip the teeny-tiny ones; they’re more cute than practical.
Which Dutch ovens are induction compatible?
All enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are compatible with induction stovetops.