A Dutch oven is a heavy, wide, moderately shallow cooking pot with a snug lid.
It needs to be heavy to maintain a constant temperature in the oven or on the stovetop.
Dutch ovens can range in price from $60 to $300.
But, why are they so expensive?
Why Are Dutch Ovens So Expensive? Top 10 Reasons
1. They Use Quality Materials
Dutch ovens are expensive primarily because they are made of costly materials and not a small amount of them.
There are five basic kinds of Dutch ovens.
Note that most cookware sets come with a large pot that may even be called a Dutch oven, but if it’s not heavy with a tight-fitting lid and able to go in the oven, it’s not really a Dutch oven.
Invented by the Pennsylvania Dutch in America in the 18th century, they were initially made of brass.
In the 1920s, French makers switched to cast iron and added enamel glazing a few years later.
A. Cast Iron Enamel
Probably the most or one of the two most well-known Dutch ovens in the world is the enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven made in France by LeCreuset.
Consistently beautiful in eye-catching colors, they are great to cook in and wildly expensive.
The 5.5-quart version will cost you nearly $400, explaining its presence on so many wish lists and wedding registries.
The enamel on LeCreuset is not just for aesthetics.
It provides a naturally non-stick surface that is easy to clean. It also means you don’t have to season the cast iron.
Enamel is also far easier to clean and maintain than cast iron.
Notwithstanding the enamel, however, the cast iron can still get very hot and hold that heat.
LeCreuset markets itself as a luxury brand and is priced accordingly.
In actuality, the price isn’t just about the image of this brand.
These are excellent pieces of cookware.
Much of the construction is still done by living human beings, and 15 of them will inspect every pot before it goes to market.
Plus, the company will replace your Dutch oven if it doesn’t hold up.
Other enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens are available at far lower prices, including one made by Lodge, an American company that is world-famous for its cast iron.
B. Uncoated Cast Iron
The most well-known Dutch oven made of cast iron and not coated with enamel is probably the one made by Lodge.
As we said before, enamel is easier to care for than cast iron and won’t rust.
Therefore, other than cost, why would you get regular cast iron?
Well, for one thing, you can pass them on for generations if you take care of them.
They can be used anywhere an enamel coated pan can, and in some places where enamel can’t, like on grills and bonfires.
They are also a whole lot cheaper than enamel.
You do have to season your pan and keep it seasoned.
Some people still use cast iron skillets that their grandmothers had early in the last century.
All they do is wash them, spray them with a non-stick spray like Pam, and turn on high heat until they’re dry.
It keeps them perfectly seasoned.
Plus, they are massively cheaper than enameled cast iron.
C. Aluminum Non-Stick
Aluminum Dutch ovens are harder to spell but much easier to lift than the cast iron versions.
They are efficient heat conductors, though they do tend to develop hot spots.
They can also be challenging on a campfire if it’s cold outside.
You don’t have to season them or keep them seasoned, and they won’t chip like enamel.
However, unless you have a coated surface, they will not be as non-stick as cast iron or enamel.
They’re not the best for baking or things that might stick.
Aluminum is slightly more expensive than cast iron but far cheaper than enameled cast iron.
D. Ceramic Non-Stick
Ceramic Dutch ovens are way lighter than cast iron, can go in your microwave and freezer as well as the oven, and are generally safe at temperatures higher than a home oven will go.
The glaze is usually scratch resistant.
You can even put them in the dishwasher.
E. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is slightly more expensive to produce and therefore to buy.
Plus, stainless is not as good a heat conductor, so it’s not as efficient as a Dutch oven.
In general, this is probably the last choice among the five.
2. They Have To Be Well-Made
The whole point of a Dutch oven is to cook things long and slow, taking advantage of heat and steam retention.
This means that you need something heavy with a lid that fits tightly.
Making metal or ceramics with that kind of precision is expensive.
Plus, given their weight and the fact that they’re going to be hot, they need well-designed, well-made, and sturdy handles.
Without the weight created by the expensive metals and ceramics that Dutch ovens are made of, their ability to simmer for hours on a stove at low heat or braise in a low oven would be significantly compromised.
The handles have to be sturdy and well designed because when you lift this pot full, it can weigh 16 pounds without calculating the weight of the pot itself.
It takes a well-made cooking instrument to hold that weight and be carried about by someone whose hands are covered with some form of heat protection.
3. They Are Bigger Than Most Pots
Cookware sets don’t come with big pots anymore.
You used to get an eight-quart stockpot, but now it’s probably four or 4.5 quarts.
You no longer get a three-quart with your basic set, but you always get a one-quart that no one ever uses for anything.
In any case, when you go to make an eight or 10-quart pot versus a four-quart, you’re using twice the materials, so that pot will be a lot more expensive.
The average six-quart (which is smallish) Dutch oven weighs 14 to 16 pounds.
That’s a lot of metalwork to be cast and cleaned up.
The blend of metal has to be smelted and poured into molds and allowed to cool.
When that process is complete, the mold has to be removed, and any necessary trimming must be done very carefully.
Breakage of any given piece is possible because cast iron is a brittle metal.
Similarly, the enamel is vitreous glass applied in particle form to an underlying metal, which creates a non-porous non-stick finish that protects the cast iron.
It adds material and labor costs to the Dutch oven but also is a great heat conductor, washes well, doesn’t rust, and can cook anything raw cast iron can.
4. It’s Made To Last A Long Time
An excellent Dutch oven will last forever.
Lodge Dutch ovens are in every estate sale because everyone has had them since they first got married.
That kind of durability takes quality and high-end raw materials.
Whether coated with enamel or not, cast iron is not a cheap commodity to produce.
Think of how long your car and your primary kitchen appliances are meant to last.
Think about the cost of your small hand-mixer versus your seven-ton Kitchenaid.
Cast iron is a very strong alloy that will last a long time but is subject to breakage.
However, its good compression strength makes it strong in a kitchen, while the final polishing step (usually only performed in very high-end pans) makes for an almost satin surface that is easy to season.
Durability isn’t cheap.
5. They’re Versatile
If you can think of a cooking method, you can probably do it in a Dutch oven.
A good cook will have several different sizes and shapes and use them for specific tasks throughout a lifetime of cooking.
You can bake in them, simmer, braise, pot roast, brown, and in a pinch, you can fry or deep fry.
Versatility like that requires high-quality materials and sound design, both of which are, as we noted, expensive.
6. Often Made By Well-Known High-End Cookware Brands
We’ve already talked about two of the most influential brands in Dutch ovens, Lodge and LeCreuset.
These brands aren’t alone in making high-end Dutch ovens.
If you choose well, you’ll have this pot for a long time, so it’s worth looking at some of these brands.
We’ll take LeCreuset enameled cast iron and Lodge’s uncoated cast iron as market leaders and look at some of their competitors.
A. Lodge Enamel Coated
Lodge enamel-coated Dutch ovens are double-coated with enamel and come in a lot of colors like their famous rival.
The design is slightly more user-friendly, with wide handles, and it can go into your oven up to 500 degrees.
The lid fits well, retaining moisture efficiently and it distributes and retains heat well.
The product can be used on any cooktop, but as with most enamel, it shouldn’t be used on outdoor grills or campfires.
It’s better to handwash, but it can go in the dishwasher.
The quality and the raw materials contribute to the price, but it is somewhat less expensive than LeCreuset.
B. Martha Stewart
Martha’s Dutch oven cooks well, but the quality is such that it won’t last as long as a Lodge or LeCreuset.
The lighter-colored interior makes cooking with bits on the bottom easier.
Its enamel is much more fragile and is not dishwasher safe.
C. Pioneer Woman
The Pioneer Woman Dutch oven is less durable and oven safe only to 400 degrees.
They are pretty affordable.
D. Emile Henry
An excellent ceramic brand, it is much lighter (35%) than cast iron but won’t save you much, coming in at around $200.
It can, however, go in the microwave since it isn’t metal and can also go in the dishwasher.
It can withstand up to 900 degrees in the oven.
Another enamel coated cast iron brand, Tramontina is far less expensive than others of its type.
This version is quite heavy but is only rated to 450 degrees in the oven.
It does distribute heat well but requires seasoning on the rims of the lid and pot.
Heavy-duty and high-quality, the Kitchenaid Dutch oven is enamel coated and heavy.
They are somewhat cheaper than LeCreuset and Staub.
G. Staub Cast Iron
Staub approaches or exceeds LeCreuset in price, so don’t buy it for cost.
On the other hand, it takes very high temps, up to 900 degrees (lid only to 500), is shallow with a large bottom and top surface (dumplings need space), and has nubs on the cover for self-basting.
It browns nicely and generally avoids hot spots.
However, its black interior can be challenging to work with since you can’t see bits on the bottom.
Many of these items include a great deal of handcrafting.
The top-of-the-line enameled cast iron is still very heavily handcrafted and has to pass fifteen inspections by living people.
Having real people make something is very expensive, and the higher-end things here have a lot of hands-on work.
Not only that but the same maker of enamel-coated cookware is alleged to discard nearly a third of its production for imperfections.
That, in and of itself, will raise the cost per sold item by the same third.
Good cast iron is also well made.
Handling any cookware this large and this heavy requires good craftsmanship to protect the user.
8. Heat Distribution
Getting good heat distribution requires material of high quality, and usually, there’s a lot of it.
Think of how aluminum-clad cookware has that heavy slab of heat-retaining metal at the bottom.
A good Dutch oven is made to be that metal intensive all around.
Heat retention involves a lot of material, so they’re making one pan out of the materials that could probably make a couple of sets of so-called disposable cookware.
Expending those resources to get good heat distribution and retention on one pan makes for an expensive pan.
9. Can Be Used On Or In A Stove Or Oven
To withstand the high temperatures found in an oven and the direct heat or flame on a stovetop, your Dutch oven must be made of quality material.
Your coated cast iron may be less happy over a high flame.
Still, the quality of enamel and metals used in Dutch ovens means they can withstand both high heat and direct heat.
Again, making a pan that can withstand these two very different types of heat requires some engineering chops and significantly good materials.
Most mid-level cookware cannot go in your oven, and a lot of it won’t work on induction tops.
Materials that will do all or nearly all of these are expensive and require good design.
Most can be used on any stovetop, though ceramics are not suitable for induction.
10. Design Excellence
A top-of-the-line Dutch oven, such as one made by LeCreuset, will not only be made out of quality materials, but it will also be well-designed, functionally and aesthetically.
The high-end brands know they are charging you a lot of money for an everyday product.
Therefore, they work hard to make their products as pleasing to the eye as possible, with a wide range of colors and detailed fine-tuning of the product’s appearance.
The beauty of the design of the high-end Dutch oven makes it a joy to look at.
Finally, most of these high-end Dutch oven makers have been doing this for a long time.
They know they have a good product, and they price it accordingly.
LeCreuset has more than 100 years of this experience, and Lodge since 1896.
Are Dutch Ovens Worth The Money?
This depends on how and how often you use your Dutch oven.
Think about the kitchens in home improvement shows with appliances that cost a lot of money.
These kitchens are enormous and incredibly sterile, and the microwave and fridge may be the only things that ever get used.
If that’s your cooking style, then it’s probably a waste of money to spend hundreds on a Staub or LeCreuset.
Of course, it will look pretty next to a high-end six-burner stove, but if you don’t use it, it is certainly not worth what you spent.
On the other hand, if you cook a lot, then having good pans, like having good knives, is worth the money.
Every pan has a personality.
As you use this pan for a particular dish and that pan for another, you come to know precisely what each pan does well and what it doesn’t.
It all comes down to finding the pan in the size and style that works for you.
Does its function justify its price?
Do you trust the people who made it?
Will you have it when your kids start having kids?
Which of the answers to those questions is most important to you?
Perhaps you like your giant as-seen-on-TV kitchen that never gets used, and you just want something beautiful to add to it.
Once you get a Dutch oven of any style or cost, you may discover that you enjoy the many things you can do with it.
You may have bought it to boil pasta water, but then you made a beef stew.
Suddenly, you have discovered that a Dutch oven does a pretty good job at browning things.
Plus, what you make in your big Dutch oven will freeze, thus letting you use that gorgeous microwave in the made-for-TV kitchen.
You can even bake in a Dutch oven.
The pot gets pre-heated in your hottest oven, and the lid traps steam.
You end up with a loaf of bread baked with heat from all sides, making a crusty, delicious loaf that you never had to knead.
Finally, the Dutch oven will become part of your kitchen, part of you as a cook, feeding the ones you love.
As food becomes scarcer and far more expensive right now, let’s cook in ways that let us use cheaper ingredients and share the gift of love inherent in cooking in the long, slow ways envisioned by a Dutch oven.
When you work from home, you can put all that love into your Dutch oven and go back to work, knowing the pan is doing the rest of the work for you.