Casserole vs Dutch Oven: Know The Difference

Casserole vs Dutch Oven: Know The Difference

Say Goodbye to the Casserole vs Dutch Oven Confusion

If there’s something that gets even veteran cooks confused in the kitchen, it’s definitely the casserole and the dutch oven.

It’s hardly surprising because both are versatile cooking vessels that look incredibly similar, serve almost the same purposes, and are often referred to interchangeably. You can thank some manufacturers for that (not!).

But while it feels like nothing could go wrong if you carry on with the thought that “they’re both just cooking pots at the end of the day”, you could be setting yourself up for some disappointing cooking results because they’re not exactly the same thing.

Part and parcel of what makes a great cooking experience is to first know what you are using, and how to use it effectively and efficiently. The fact that you’re here means you understand this and you’re looking to ensure a great time cooking.

So let’s cook away the confusion and get to know these cookware for what they really are!

What is a Casserole?

Did you know that the word casserole has two different meanings? One meaning refers to the cookware itself, while the other refers to a one-pot meal cooked in the oven. For instance, lasagne is one simple example of a casserole dish out of the many casserole dishes in the world.

The casserole cookware comes in various shapes and forms. The most common ones being the casserole pot and the shallow casserole dish which is known as a roasting pan or baking dish.

A casserole looks like a much smaller version of a stock pot. It’s often found in a round or oval shape with high walls, two handles, and it almost always comes with a lid.

On the other hand, shallow casseroles rarely come with a lid, are often found in a square, oval, round, or rectangular shape, and have two handles.

You’ll find the casserole in almost any home and professional kitchen as it is a more versatile and shallower dish compared to the stock pot. And for purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to the casserole pot as the casserole.

Here’s a fun fact - the word casserole is actually a French word that means “cooking pot”, which is said to highly likely be the reason why cooking pots are often referred to as a casserole.

Dutch oven on an induction stovetop. Photo by Alfonso Escu.

What is a Dutch Oven?

Dutch ovens are synonymous with low and slow cooking thanks to the material it’s made from, its high and thick walls, and tight fitting lid which sometimes come with basting spikes on the underside. They are large pots and fantastic slow cookers that are more often than not found in a round shape, but you can also sometimes find oval-shaped ones.

A Dutch oven is heavier than your average cooking pot because it is typically made from raw cast iron. As a type of cast iron cookware, Dutch ovens have a classic, rugged look that may not be everyone’s cup of tea especially if aesthetics are fundamental to your needs.

You’ll probably also find that there’s a similar looking cooking pot called a French oven. But these refer to colourful enameled cast iron, making the French oven a prettier alternative to Dutch ovens. In essence, an enameled Dutch oven is known as a French oven, while raw cast iron Dutch ovens without the enamel coating are just simply Dutch ovens.

People who enjoy outdoor cooking will often find the cast iron Dutch oven as their number one choice thanks to its versatile and near indestructible nature. That said, this only applies to raw cast iron as enameled cast iron is the more fragile option between the two.

Similarities between Casserole Dishes and Dutch Ovens

1. Versatility

The casserole dish and Dutch oven boast incredible versatility in the kitchen. From low and slow oven cooking to curries and braised meat dishes, both casserole dishes and Dutch ovens can handle almost anything the recipe calls for while doing it well.

That said, you can use a casserole dish in place of a Dutch oven, but you cannot use a Dutch oven in place of a casserole because of its physical construction.

2. Cast Iron Construction

Both the casserole dish and Dutch oven are available in cast iron. You’ll often find French brands referring to casserole dishes and Dutch ovens (or rather, French ovens) made from cast iron interchangeably because of how the word casserole can mean cooking pot or pan in French.

3. Lids

Tight fitting lids are found on both the casserole dish and Dutch oven to ensure they retain moisture inside along with heat.

This is one of the features that often throw people into confusion because at a glance, they simply look like two cooking pots.

The Cosmo Casserole's side handles allow easy handling.

4. Side Handles

You’ll find that every casserole dish and Dutch oven have side handles that can easily be held even with oven mitts worn. This makes it that much easier for recipes that require you to transfer the cookware from the stovetop to oven and to serve dishes effortlessly from oven to table.

5. Oven-Safe

Casseroles and Dutch ovens are both made for oven use, making both oven-safe. The only factor that separates the two when it comes to oven usability is the degree of heat they can tolerate, which ultimately depends on its material.

6. Shape

With the exception of shallow casserole dishes like the roasting pan and baking dish, both the casserole dish and Dutch oven are available in the classic round and oval shapes.

Key Differences between the Casserole Dish and Dutch Oven

1. Material

Here’s where casserole dishes and Dutch ovens start to divert. Casserole dishes are available in a variety of materials, namely ceramic, non-stick, cast iron, aluminium, glass, and even stainless steel.

Then you have Dutch ovens which are primarily made from cast iron, with the exception of enameled cast iron where the enamel coating is made from high-fired powdered glass. 

This particular type of cast iron bears a stronger resistance to thermal shock. But while it does have its resistance, it’s best to avoid putting it through extreme temperature changes.

2. Heat Retention and Heat Distribution

A casserole dish may not retain heat as effectively as a Dutch oven, especially if it isn’t made from cast iron. Cast iron naturally retains heat at a consistent temperature and for a longer time, making it great for recipes that call for slow cooking and simmering.

This makes it a great energy saver as you don’t have to keep the stove running for an extended period just to maintain the temperature of your dish.

But because of its overall thicker construction and heat retaining properties, cast iron does not distribute heat evenly and quickly as compared to a casserole dish. 

While most claim that cast iron distributes heat quickly, it is almost always observed to do so only when used in the oven. It doesn’t distribute heat as well on the stovetop.

3. Thickness and Weight

I'd always strongly recommend those who struggle when it comes to lifting heavy cookware to use a casserole. Regardless of what a casserole is made from, it is almost always much lighter than a Dutch oven. The only exception would be a cast iron casserole which is almost, but still not as heavy as a Dutch oven.

This makes the casserole dish an ideal cooking vessel to serve in style directly from the oven to table, perfect for dinner gatherings and vibrant housewarming parties.

4. Type of Lids

Remember how we mentioned that both the casserole dish and Dutch oven have their own tightly fitting lid, which makes it a little challenging to tell them both apart?

This would probably come as a surprise because the lid is also what sets them both apart. More notably the type of lid used for each respective cookware.

A casserole dish’s lid can either be an opaque lid or a glass lid to make it easier for you to monitor your dish as it cooks.

Whereas the lid of a Dutch oven comes opaque and it is almost always covered by basting spikes on its underside. This ensures that the food cooking within is continuously basted with the food’s natural juices, enhancing its flavour by leaps and bounds.

Dutch oven used in outdoor cooking. Photo by Sinethemba Gomba.

5. Durability

When it comes to durability, the cast iron Dutch oven takes lead here thanks to its near indestructible nature.

While both can handle high temperatures, casseroles are able to tolerate high heat up to a limited degree, while Dutch ovens can withstand extremely high heat.

The Dutch oven’s rugged nature also makes it suitable for outdoor cooking on hot coals, where it is highly resistant to scratches and dents.

French ovens in various colours. Photo by Cooker King.

6. Design Aesthetics

If aesthetics are your top priority when it comes to selecting cookware, then a casserole dish like the stunning Cosmo Casserole will be the perfect choice for you. It comes in a variety of stunning colours that will complete your home and kitchen's overall theme. In a hurry to get a beautiful cookware for your upcoming dinner party? Click here to order yours here today.

That said, the Dutch oven does have its aesthetic with its rugged, dark look. If you want the benefits of a Dutch oven but you want the colours of a casserole dish, your best bet would be French ovens. The only downside is that they are notoriously expensive.

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