A cast iron Dutch oven is a type of cooking pot that has been used since the 1700s. These pots became popular for their use in outdoor cooking, but there are also versions designed to be used indoors. The pots are generally heavy and deep, with a sturdy lid that has a handle built into it. In terms of design, a Dutch oven is built to maintain the same thickness of metal for the bottom and the walls so heat is applied evenly to the food from all directions. There also are certain cooking methods that make it possible to bake foods inside a cast iron Dutch oven when cooking outdoors, and they can also be used for almost any other kind of cooking, from frying to boiling.
The origins of the Dutch oven are somewhat disputed. Some experts aren’t even certain if the ovens are actually Dutch, but the casting method used to make the pots appears to have a Dutch origin. The cast iron Dutch oven became popular initially on the American frontier because of its versatility as a tool for outdoor cooking. Campers could cook nearly anything with relative ease using the pots, which meant they actually saved space in terms of camping gear that needed to be carried.
When cooking with a cast iron Dutch oven outdoors, it is possible to bake food by adding coals to the lid, which causes heat to come in from all directions. Campers still use these pots to make such foods as biscuits. The outdoor versions of the ovens are made with legs so they can stand above the coals, and the lids have ridges for placing coals on top. The lid on a cast iron Dutch oven is generally more heavy duty than lids on other pots because it needs to stand up to heavier use.
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A cast iron Dutch oven, and any other cookware that is made of cast iron, needs to be seasoned before it is used in cooking. This involves heating oil or lard in the pot until it bonds with the metal, which creates a usable cooking surface. If the pots aren't properly seasoned, foods will tend to stick. It is considered important not to do anything when cleaning the pan that might ruin this finish. Over years of using a cast iron pot, the seasoning will actually gradually improve, and it can also impart a certain flavor to foods that are cooked in the pan.