One of the most family-friendly pieces of cookware you can add to your collection is a Dutch oven. It’s large, roomy, versatile and ideal for comforting, healthy meals such as casseroles and slow-cooked meats.  

There are so many different Dutch ovens out there, made from different materials and boasting different sizes.

That brings us to one of the questions we will answer here today: what is the best size Dutch oven for a family of four?

We will also discuss the dishes which are best cooked in a Dutch oven, and the features to look for when shopping…

See also:
Our review of the best dutch ovens here.

What’s a Dutch oven?

A Dutch Oven is a deep-sided pot with a heavy lid. It generally has very slightly slanted sides and two helper handles for lifting. Dutch ovens are generally made from cast iron, sometimes with a rust-free enamel coating.

However, some brands do make dutch ovens made from aluminum or ceramic. Dutch ovens have been made and used for many hundreds of years, and are often best known for being used on open fires during camping.

If you have an oven, you need a dutch oven, as it’s a hardy, versatile and effective piece of cookware for most stove and oven-suitable dishes… 

Which dishes should be cooked in a Dutch oven?

Casseroles and stews: Dutch ovens are made for stews and casseroles, as the heat is so evenly and consistently distributed. The tight lid locks in the flavor, heat and moisture to help prevent drying.

Combine meats, stocks, veggies, herbs, spices and a simple slurry of cornstarch and water in your Dutch oven and slow-cook in the oven…voila, a superstar stew or casserole.

Bread: Dutch ovens are fantastic for baking bread because it creates a beautiful, thick crust.

Soups: throw your soup ingredients into your Dutch oven and either simmer on the stove or slow-cook in the oven for a richness of flavor.

Risotto: oven-bake your risotto in your Dutch oven for a rich, creamy and soft result without all of the tedious standing and stirring of a traditional stovetop risotto.

Pasta: you can use your Dutch oven to make “one pot pasta” dishes with meats, veggies, sauces and any pasta style you like. Just fire up the stove and cook it all together until tender.

 Chili: throw tomatoes, beans, ground meat, spices and stock into your Dutch oven and slow-cook in the oven to draw the flavors for a warming, one-pot meal.

Whole chickens: nestle a whole chicken amongst veggies, stock and herbs and cook snugly in your Dutch oven for a moist and flavorful family meal.

Slow-cooked meat: use your Dutch oven to make slow-cooked pork and beef which you can shred and pull to use in sandwiches and buns.

What size should I get for my family of four?

I think a good rule to remember is that it’s better to have a Dutch oven which is too large than one which is too small. Having extra room in the pot is fine, whereas not having enough room for the amount of food you need is just a drag.

For this reason, we recommend a 7-quart Dutch oven. This will be more than enough for four healthy servings, plus extras for leftovers or “lunch tomorrow”. You don’t have to make extra, but the choice is there if you want it. See our review of the best dutch ovens.

Another benefit of a larger sized Dutch oven is that you can bake bread and cook whole, large chickens without overflow. A slightly larger size also means that you’re totally covered when the kids have friends over or you have guests turn up for dinner.

What to look for in a great Dutch oven for families

Material: we recommend cast iron when it comes to Dutch ovens. This is because cast iron is heavy, sturdy, and it will last forever without breaking or becoming worn.

The other key reason is that cast iron holds onto heat very well, and spreads the heat evenly throughout the pot.

For a lower-maintenance Dutch oven you could choose an enameled style which doesn’t require any seasoning (non-enameled cast iron requires seasoning to prevent rusting).

Size: as discussed, the size and capacity of your Dutch oven are crucial when cooking for your family of four.

Choose a 7-quart Dutch oven as your starting point so you can have the freedom to make extra portions or bake bread or large soup batches for pre-made lunches all week for the family.

Lid: it’s really important that the lid is heavy and tightly-fitting. This should be a given as this is a key characteristic of a Dutch oven, but it pays to be sure.

Cheaper options which use lighter materials may not feature a tight enough lid, whereas good-quality, heavy dutch ovens are far more likely to have a suitable lid.

This is crucial because it locks in heat and moisture to keep your food moist and juicy.

Safety: make sure your Dutch oven has sturdy helper handles which are large enough to accommodate the hands of whoever’s in charge of the cooking.

Because you will be handling a very hot Dutch oven in and out of the oven, it’s very important that you get a steady grip to avoid dropping or spilling.

Some Dutch ovens feature oversized handles with large loops so even large hands can get a full grip.

Durability: durability is important because the last thing you want is a Dutch oven which is warped, tarnished and downright unusable. That’s where material and quality of design comes in.

Choose a thick, cast iron Dutch oven from a reputable brand (Le Creuset and Lodge are great brands to check out!).

Final thoughts

For your family of four, a 7-quart Dutch oven would be a fantastic addition to your kitchen and something you’re sure to use on a regular basis. Look for a thick, cast iron construction with a super tight-fitting lid and large helper handles for safety.

It’s worth spending a little more money on a high-quality Dutch oven which will last a lifetime (literally!) than opting for the cheaper models which may live to disappoint.

Experiment with your Dutch oven and get the family together to make warming stews, casseroles and soups together, then move onto more adventurous dishes such as bread and risottos.

Your family will thank you!