With so many people at home, sourdough bread baking has gotten hugely popular in the past year. But getting great results can be tricky, because sourdough needs some coaxing to bring out its best qualities. One fail-proof trick is to use a Dutch oven--but what's the best Dutch oven for baking sourdough bread? And what makes it the best?
Here, we'll take a look at the best Dutch ovens for sourdough bread. Find out what makes a Dutch oven great for bread--even if it's not necessarily the best choice for other cooking tasks.
Best Dutch Ovens for Sourdough Bread at a Glance
Why We Picked It
Best Overall (round):
-Pre-seasoned bare cast iron
-No heat limit
-Excellent for bread, not great for braising
-Great for camping
-5 qt. about $45; 7 qt. about $70
-5 qt about 13 lbs
-Made in USA.
It's an affordable choice that's perfect for sourdough boules. The dark color won't show staining. If you want a dedicated bread oven, bare cast iron is the way to go--though you can also use it for camping gear.
Most Versatile Bare Cast Iron Pot:
-Pre-seasoned bare cast iron deep skillet
-3.2 qt, 10.25" skillet, about 13 lbs (total)
-Tight-fitting lid, serves as skillet
-No heat limit
-Great as skillet or for camping
-Made in USA.
The 3.2 qt size is a little small, though probably large enough for most standard-sized boules. It's also an excellent size for a deep skillet, perfect for stir frying, deep frying, sautéing, and much more. The skillet-lid just adds to the versatility.
Best Enameled Oven (round):
-Shape and size great for boules
-6.5 qt., about 16 lbs
-Stainless lid pull
-Oven safe to 450F
-Should not pre-heat empty
-Made in China.
-For a dedicated bread oven, an inexpensive enameled one is best. They get stained and discolored at the high baking temps and you don't need the high-end enamel (as on Le Creuset). You can also use it for other things, but if you go with a low cost one, you won't feel obligated to.
Best Overall Oval:
-Best for batards
-7 qt, about 16 lbs
-Tough porcelain enamel finish
-Stainless lid pull
-Oven safe to 500F
-Should not preheat empty
-Made in China.
We couldn't find an oval bare cast iron oven, so we recommend this inexpensive one for batards. Large size is very versatile. Good for all-purpose or dedicated bread oven. A 5 qt oval is also a good choice (about $75).
Best 100% Stoneware Dish:
-4 qt, 5.2 lbs
-Shaped for batards
-Excellent all-around casserole dish, lighter than cast iron
-Handles are smallish
-Made in Thailand.
A much lighter-weight choice than cast iron. The stoneware holds heat which makes it good for baking bread. Note LC's stoneware is NOT made in France.
Why Is a Dutch Oven So Great for Sourdough Bread?
Sourdough is a "wild" yeast that has a tendency to be finicky and inconsistent. Therefore, a hot oven--even one you add steam to--often isn't the best environment to get the results you want.
To get good results, you need a small, enclosed space that holds in steam. This is the best way to replicate professional bread ovens with steam injectors.
This means that a heavy-gauge Dutch oven is the perfect tool for baking sourdough bread. The heavy material hangs onto heat, which creates even baking and good browning. The heavy lid holds in steam, which helps the bread raise and creates that wonderful thin-and-crispy crust and the soft, open crumb so desirable in sourdough loaves.
You can't use just any Dutch oven, though; you need--as we said--a heavy Dutch oven. For example, the Dutch oven that came with your stainless or nonstick cookware set is not a good choice. These pans can't hold onto heat the same way cast iron and 100% stoneware can, and the lids are too light to hold in steam ideally. (And in the case of the nonstick, the high oven temps may degrade the nonstick coating and possibly release toxins.)
Thus, you need a heavy Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid.
One of the very best materials for this is cast iron. It has all the properties required to create bakery-perfect sourdough boules and batards (depending on whether it's round or oval).
100% stoneware or ceramic is also a good choice. Stoneware is insulative, so it holds onto heat well, and the lids, though perhaps not as heavy and tight-fitting as cast iron, are pretty good at retaining steam.
Since stoneware is lighter than cast iron, it's a good choice for anyone with strength or ergonomic issues.
Are There Other Options for Sourdough Bread?
Oh, yes. You can buy a dedicated bread-baking vessel called a cloche. It's a heavy stoneware or cast iron design with a shallow base and a deep lid. This design makes it easier to place raw loaves in it without burning yourself (as can easily happen with a pre-heated Dutch oven).
If you're a serious bread baker, then you may want to invest in a cloche, or maybe even more than one so you can bake different types of loaves and rolls. But cloches are only good for bread, and they tend to be expensive. Thus, most novice bakers prefer an inexpensive Dutch oven.
Can You Use a Dutch Oven for Other Types of Bread?
Sure--any type of high-hydration, no-knead dough will do very well in a lidded Dutch oven.
You can also use a Dutch oven to make any type of bread (or rolls) without the lid, like a standard bread pan.
You can use it with yeast bread recipes, but it may not be necessary because yeast bread rises more easily and doesn't need the extra help of the steamy, enclosed environment.
What's the Best Size Dutch Oven for Baking Bread?
This depends on what size loaves you want to make, but in general, you don't want to go smaller than 4 quarts or larger than 7 quarts. A standard 5-6 quart Dutch oven is good for almost all the loaves you will want to make.
An oven as small as 3 quarts will work for most loaves, but a larger size increases the versatility, making it possible to make all sorts of sizes and even make rolls in the Dutch oven
If you're going to be making standard-sized loaves, a 3.5 quart will work (like the Lodge deep skillet option in the table above). But if you want the most versatility, don't go smaller than 5 quarts.
If you want to make batards instead of boules (i.e., oval loaves instead of round ones), then you may want a slightly larger size oven, like the 7 quart Lodge in the table above. Batards may have a nicer shape when made in a larger oven. But if you don't want to go that large, a 5-quart will be just fine, too.
If you're going to use the oval oven for other things besides bread, the larger size is good for roasting chickens and other large cuts of meat, while the smaller sizes--less than 5 quarts--are great for side dishes and smaller cuts of meat.
Pros and Cons of Seasoned Cast Iron
For a dedicated bread Dutch oven, we think bare, seasoned cast iron is the best option, but like anything, it has its pros and cons.
Bare, well-seasoned cast iron is our first choice for bread baking. The heft and heavy lid are great for hanging onto both heat and steam. The dark color hides all the splotches and staining that can happen at high heat (especially if your oven is less than pristine). However, bare cast iron Dutch ovens aren't great for other kitchen tasks like braising--which, other than bread, is the main thing people use a Dutch oven for--because long liquid cooks can strip seasoning. They are great for camping (again, the dark color hides staining from campfires), but in the kitchen, seasoned cast iron is best as a dedicated bread-baking vessel.
buy Lodge Pre-seasoned dutch oven on amazon:
If you want a more versatile bare cast iron vessel, this Lodge combo-cooker is a good choice. You can use it as a deep skillet (good for so many frying tasks), the lid as a shallow 10.25-inch skillet, and you can use either the lid or the bottom for bread: if you use the lid to hold the loaf, then this combo cooker basically becomes a bread cloche:
Because this is more of a big, deep skillet than a Dutch oven, it has many more uses in the kitchen; this is enhanced by the two-in-one feature (two skillets in one).
Its only drawback is that at 3.2 quarts, it's on the small side: it will hold a standard loaf without a problem, but you won't be able to go any larger than that.
buy Lodge combo cooker on amazon:
Pros and Cons of Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron is our second choice for bread baking. But it's more versatile than bare cast iron, so if you can only have one Dutch oven, you should go with an enameled one.
An enameled cast iron Dutch oven is a fabulous, versatile kitchen tool. But for baking bread, we suggest buying an inexpensive one. You don't need an expensive one for bread (though you should own one for everything else!), as it's the cast iron and not the enamel that makes it great for baking, and it will just discolor and stain from the high oven heat that bread-baking requires.
Enameled cast iron is easier to care for than bare cast iron, too, but you may not want to scrub it the way you'll need to to get rid of high-heat splotches and stains--so again: for bread, get an inexpensive one, and use it just for bread.
One drawback is that you shouldn't pre-heat enameled Dutch ovens, as heating them empty can crack the enamel. We tell you this because we discovered it in our research for this article--but we didn't know that before, and we've been pre-heating our enameled Dutch ovens for at least a year, to no ill effects (other than a lot of unsightly staining).
There are a lot of inexpensive enameled Dutch ovens to choose from, but we like Tramontina because it has a squared off shape instead of the rounded-bottom you see on some brands (like this Lodge). If you like a rounded loaf, then look for the rounded bottom:
Know that the rounded bottom also means less flat cooking surface than other pots of the same size--so if you're using it for more than bread, you may not like this design.
Most inexpensive enameled Dutch ovens are made in China, including Lodge. If you don't want that, the best way to avoid it is to spend the big bucks on a Le Creuset--but trust us: you don't want to use an expensive brand for bread. You're better off buying a bare cast iron oven for bread and using your Le Creuset for everything else (and this is actually our recommendation).
For more information, see our article The Best Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens.
buy Tramontina Enameled cast iron dutch oven on amazon:
We also included an oval shaped oven for those of you who are into batards rather than boules. We couldn't find a bare oval oven, but if we could, that would be our first choice. This 7 quart oven is perfect for batards of many different sizes, and the large size is great for serving many main dish meals.
buy Lodge Oval 7 qt Enameled cast iron dutch oven on amazon:
Pros and Cons of 100% Covered Stoneware Dish
A covered casserole dish is a great kitchen resource. If you buy one, you will want to use it for many dishes besides bread. It's not quite as ideal as cast iron for bread because the lid is lighter and may not hold in steam as well. But even so, many chefs get fabulous bread results with covered stoneware. If you have strength or ergonomic issues, stoneware is a no-brainer choice over cast iron.
You don't have to go with our chioce, the Le Creuset; there are hundreds of other options to choose from. We like the Le Creuset because of its shape and design, and at about $100, the price isn't too bad. But the handles are a little on the small side, and at 4 quarts, the dish itself is also on the small side (though perfect for an average-sized loaf).
You may easily find another option you prefer--we included a link to casserole dishes if you want to browse on Amazon. Just don't go too cheap, or too no-name, because you risk getting toxins in the dyes and/or glazes (e.g., lead, arsenic, cadmium).
buy le creuset stoneware casserole on amazon:
See other stoneware casserole dishes on amazon:
Where Can I Learn More About Sourdough Bread Baking?
We are far from experts in this area, so we don't want to point you in any particular direction.
You can find some great books on bread making, or you can google for sourdough bread and find about a thousand sites that will walk you through the process.
You can also find sourdough starter (if you don't have a friend who can share with you) and other baking supplies on Amazon. Our only advice is that you don't need a lot to get started, so don't overbuy until you're sure of what you need.
Helpful tools include:
- plastic wrap
- nonstick cooking spray
- a dough scraper
- a scale (please weigh your ingredients!)
- parchment paper or silicone baking pad
- at least one nice, large mixing bowl
- and of course, a Dutch oven for baking.
Final Thoughts on the Best Dutch Ovens for Sourdough Bread
We think that for a dedicated bread oven, the best choice is a 5-7 qt pre-seasoned bare cast iron. It's the perfect vessel for sourdough, it can take high heat and not show any staining, it's inexpensive, and it will last forever.
If you want to go the enameled route, you have more options to choose from, but we recommend you go with an inexpensive one. The high heat baking can take its toll on the enamel, leaving it splotched and stained to the point that it's not pretty anymore. You shouldn't pre-heat it empty, either, so that's one less option you have with enameled cast iron.
Stoneware is not quite as ideal because it may not hold in steam as well, but if you have strength or ergonomic issues, it should work just fine. It's also useful for a million other recipes.
Whichever you decide, we recommend that you don't buy an expensive brand: you simply don't need it for bread.
If you want the best of both worlds, buy a cheap, bare cast iron Dutch oven for your bread baking (and camping, if you are so inclined), and invest in a nice Le Creuset that you'll use for everything else.
Thanks for reading!
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