Few kitchen items are as versatile and beloved as my Dutch oven. From braising beef until it becomes ultra-tender birria and baking the crustiest loaf of bread to roasting a succulent whole chicken, there’s little a Dutch oven can’t do. Plus, since they’re almost indestructible, it’s no surprise that Dutch ovens often get passed down to feed a whole new generation of hungry bellies.
For something I use almost daily, I don’t know much about how this kitchen workhorse is made, and why the Dutch get all the credit in the name. After some research, here’s what I found out.
Why It’s Called a “Dutch” Oven
To reveal why it’s called a “Dutch” oven, first, some history: In Dutch Ovens Chronicled: Their Use in the United States, John G. Ragsdale wrote that people have been cooking in metal vessels over open fire for centuries and by the 16th century, cast iron pots were commonly found in European households—they were referred to as “kettles” or “pots.”
The English made these fire-safe pots by pouring molten iron into molds made of clay or loam—soil containing sand, silt, and clay. There were some drawbacks to this technique: the mold was rough, making the surface of the pots bumpy and uneven. Plus, the molds often broke after one use.
In an effort to improve their technique, Englishman Abraham Darby traveled to Holland in 1704, where foundry—factories that cast metal—technology was more advanced. There, he observed the Dutch cast brass vessels in dry sand molds, which melt at a higher temperature than iron, making it an ideal material.
Darby took the technique and eventually perfected an iron-casting method that resulted in smoother pots using sand molds. In 1708 he patented it, started producing cast iron pots in mass, and shipped them worldwide. It is believed that due to the inspiration Darby drew from those Dutch foundry workers, the pots are called Dutch ovens.
Are Dutch Ovens Still Cast in Sand?
Popular Dutch oven makers still use the same sand mold technique Darby pioneered centuries ago. Brands like Lodge and Made In provide full descriptions of their process on their websites, and you can actually see Le Creuset’s sand molds in action in this YouTube video.