We’re living in a golden age for home chefs. With the advent of Pinterest, recipe blogs and online shopping it has never been easier to call up a recipe or shop for your dream cookware. What isn’t easy, however, is suddenly discovering that a lot of the world doesn’t necessarily use the same words for the same ingredients, equipment or even dishes as you do. One such example is the Dutch oven and the French oven. These heavy, durable and versatile pots sure look similar but when it comes down to it - what is the difference between a Dutch oven and French oven?
What is a Dutch oven?
Despite its name, the Dutch oven is an English invention, patented by Abraham Darby in 1707. He named the invention a “Dutch oven” after observing how craftsmen in The Netherlands were able to make high quality cookware by using sand to mold brass. Looking to make a more affordable product, Darby’s Dutch oven was molded in a cheaper material, iron, and is the ancestor of the cast iron Dutch ovens we are used to today.
These days a Dutch oven is understood to be a cooking vessel made from cast iron, with a flat base, straight walls and a heavy, tight-fitting lid. These characteristics make Dutch ovens excellent at trapping condensation during cooking, which shortens cooking time, keeps food moist and intensifies flavors. Dutch ovens have become a favorite tool for bakers looking to make homemade bread.
Dutch ovens that are made of raw cast iron need to be “seasoned” prior to being used in order to improve the stick-resistance of its cooking surface, and protect it from rust. A well-maintained Dutch oven is one of the most useful cooking vessels you can own, and can cook food on the stove, in the oven or even over a campfire.
What is a French oven?
If you think that the description of the Dutch oven sounds a lot like a French oven, you’d be right. In essence, a French oven is a type of cast iron Dutch oven that has a porcelain enamel coating. Created in the early 1900s, the enamelled surface of the French oven greatly improved the stick-resistant performance of the already durable and versatile Dutch oven. Locally known as a cocotte, the French oven became the perfect tool for popular recipes of the time like boeuf bourguignon, which involved browning the meat on the stove before transferring the dish to the oven to finish cooking.
The enamelled coating also eliminates the need for seasoning, which made these newer Dutch ovens easier to maintain, and also allowed for the endlessly useful Dutch oven to be produced in a wide range of delightful colors. While they’re usually circular, these days casting technology can give us Dutch ovens in all sorts of shapes including oval, square, heart-shaped, or even shaped like pumpkins.
So which is better?
For the most part, raw cast iron Dutch ovens and enamelled cast iron Dutch ovens, or French ovens, can be used interchangeably. But there are some differences, and it’s important when shopping for your cookware to consider what you will and won’t be using the Dutch oven for.
Raw cast iron Dutch ovens are very durable but involve some complicated care rituals including seasoning, and not using detergent, which can be a burdensome part of owning one. Many people opt for an enamelled Dutch oven due to their stick-resistance, easy maintenance, convenience and style.