What’s the difference between a Dutch oven and a slow cooker?
Should you have both in your kitchen?
Will one or the other suffice?
In this comparison of Dutch ovens vs. slow cookers, you’ll get the answers to those questions and more.
You’ll learn how they differ in terms of versatility, performance, ease of use, price, downsides, and more.
Use the links below to navigate the comparison:
- What Is a Dutch Oven?
- What Is a Slow Cooker?
- Dutch Oven vs. Slow Cooker: Comparison Chart
- Ease of Use
- Reduction and Flavor
- Construction and Materials
- Cleaning and Care
- Can You Use a Dutch Oven as a Slow Cooker?
- Bottom Line: Do You Need a Dutch Oven, a Slow Cooker, or Both?
A Dutch oven, sometimes called a cocotte, is a large, deep pot with a heavy, tight-fitting lid. Most are made from heavy-duty materials such as cast iron and enameled cast iron.
The base and handles are all one-piece cast together during the manufacturing process.
Thanks to their thick construction and heavy lids, Dutch ovens are best known for superior heat and moisture retention.
They’re incredibly versatile. You can use Dutch ovens to sear meats, slow-cook soups and stews, and even bake bread. However, they are best for slow food preparation — braising, stewing, and pot roasting.
Le Creuset and Staub are two of the most popular Dutch oven brands. Both offer a range of sizes, styles, and colors.
The most famous slow cooker is the Crockpot — the first slow cooker ever made.
It was invented by Irving Naxon, and the original name was the Naxon Beanery. He wanted to keep his home cooler in the summertime, and his invention enabled him to cook meals without turning on the oven.
Like a Dutch oven, a slow cooker cooks food at a low temperature over a long period. Unlike a Dutch oven, a slow cooker is powered by electricity. It’s stationary; it sits on a countertop and cooks your meal from start to finish.
The slow cooker insert is a pot that holds the food, while the heating element surrounds the insert to cook the food. You can hand-wash the removable insert and wipe down the heating element with a damp cloth.
While people often use the terms Crockpot and slow cooker interchangeably, there are many other quality slow cookers. Like Crockpot, brands like Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, and All-Clad feature slow cookers with manual or digital settings.
Manual slow cookers often use a dial that allows you to choose the temperature or amount of cooking time.
Digital slow cookers may also offer manual operation but are usually programmable. Depending on the model, you can choose a cooking time in 30-minute increments up to 24 hours. Some models are also Wi-Fi-enabled and compatible with Alexa voice commands.
Even though most slow cookers are powered by electricity, some brands also feature oven-safe inserts. For example, All-Clad’s Deluxe Slow Cooker has a cast aluminum insert you can use on gas and electric cooktops. It’s also oven-safe up to 400°F.
Dutch Oven vs. Slow Cooker: Comparison Chart
Here’s a quick look at the differences between a Dutch oven and a slow cooker.
Swipe to view the entire chart on mobile.
|Dutch Oven||Slow Cooker|
|Versatility||Can sear, brown, slow cook, boil, fry, and braise. For use on cooktops and in ovens.||Can slow cook and braise. Connects to an outlet.|
|Ease of Use||Requires interaction.||You can set the timer and let it work without interaction.|
|Reduction||Perfect for developing complex flavors and reducing sauces.||Creates high condensation levels resulting in thinner sauces.|
|Design||Available in multiple colors and shapes. Designed for stove or oven.||Available in limited colors, designed to sit on a countertop.|
|Construction||Enameled cast iron or bare cast iron.||Heating element is metal, insert is stoneware or cast aluminum.|
|Cleaning||Hand wash only.||Hand wash only.|
|Sizes||1 to 13 quarts.||1.5 to 10 quarts.|
|Storage||Heavy, but small enough to store in smaller spaces.||Larger footprint makes it challenging to store.|
|Downsides||Heavy. Expensive. Requires more attention.||Slow cook time. Limited uses.|
|Price||$$–$$$ (skip to price comparison chart)||$$–$$$ (skip to price comparison chart)|
Dutch ovens offer more versatility than slow cookers. Think of them as multi-purpose pots suitable for use on a cooktop, in an oven, and, depending on the material, on a grill or in a smoker or broiler (bare cast iron only, not enameled).
Dutch ovens can slow cook, sear, make gravy, develop sauces, and boil water. The ability to sear or brown meat before slow cooking changes the color of the finished meal and helps develop more flavor.
Slow cookers aren’t designed to sear. Instead, you’ll have to brown in a separate pan before slow cooking, adding to your overall prep and cleanup time.
While some slow cookers feature oven-safe inserts, most are designed for use only with the companion heating element.
Both Dutch ovens and slow cookers can handle simple, slow-cooked recipes. However, if you want to do everything from browning meat to finishing a meal under a broiler, you’ll need a Dutch oven.
Neither option is difficult to use, but slow cookers are more simple and hands-off. They have straightforward manual or programmable settings, making temperature regulation easy and creating a true set-it-and-forget-it experience.
Plus, the slow cooker can keep your food warm for hours after it’s cooked. This feature is ideal for holiday gatherings, potlucks, or any other occasion where you want to keep food warm without a fuss.
For example, the Crockpot 7-quart slow cooker allows you to program cook times from 30 minutes to 20 hours. Once cooking is complete, it automatically switches to warm. Your food is served at the same temperature, no matter when you lift the lid.
The Hamilton Beach 6-quart slow cooker comes complete with a temperature probe you can use for meat. The probe goes into the meat through a slot on the lid before cooking begins. You set the desired temperature, and the slow cooker will switch to warm once the meat reaches that temperature.
Also, the Crockpot 6-quart MyTime slow cooker adjusts its cooking cycle to ensure meals are ready when you want to eat. It skips the warming feature to avoid overcooked meals.
Conversely, Dutch ovens require more attention and hands-on work — especially when cooking on a stove. They’re pretty hands-off when using them in an oven unless you need to remove them to add ingredients or baste food.
Although Dutch ovens are masters at heat retention, they won’t stay warm for hours as slow cookers can. Once you remove them from the heat, the temperature will slowly decrease.
When it comes to complex flavor development, Dutch ovens are superior. Let’s look at how Dutch ovens and slow cookers handle Maillard browning, also known as the Maillard reaction.
The Maillard reaction, named after French chemist L.C. Maillard, is a complex reaction that occurs as foods brown or sauces reduce. The reaction produces flavor concentration that significantly transforms the appearance and taste of foods.
A Dutch Oven is conducive to creating this reaction. Thick cookware walls heat from all sides, including the top, allowing browned bits to form at different levels — on the bottom, on the sides in contact with food, and on the lid.
If you’re using the lid, cracking it slightly will encourage evaporation that can intensify the process and produce rich flavors.
Slow cookers can’t produce this reaction or result. Cracking the lid drastically impacts the cooking temperature, and food won’t cook properly. Plus, slow cookers only heat from the bottom.
Condensation, as opposed to brown bits, forms at the top and on the sides, resulting in thinner, less flavorful sauces.
Also, Dutch ovens can withstand higher temperatures than slow cookers. Thus, more moisture escapes, reducing liquids and concentrating flavors. Most slow cookers can only reach 300°F at the highest setting.
Both can cook tender, juicy, and flavorful meals. However, for maximum flavor development for your favorite braised short rib recipe or caramelization on that beef stew, a Dutch oven is the clear winner.
In terms of Dutch ovens, there seems to be no end to creative designs.
You can find standard round or oval Dutch ovens and ones shaped like fruit or animals. For example, Staub features a Dutch oven shaped like a pumpkin with a knob lid that looks like a stem.
Dutch ovens come in a large array of colors, depending on the brand. Le Creuset is the gold standard for Dutch oven colors — offering 18 different colors, some solid and some in gradient-style color palettes.
Dutch ovens are often showpieces and workhorses combined. Some home chefs leave them out on display. The utilitarian design of most slow cookers just doesn’t command that same attention; therefore, they’re usually stored.
Most Dutch ovens are made from enameled cast iron. However, you can find some made of stainless steel, bare cast iron, and heavy-duty glass.
Dutch ovens require a multi-step process. You can watch the making of a Le Creuset Dutch oven to get an idea of the process.
Slow cookers have three parts — a heating element, an insert, and a lid.
The heating element is a metal frame with a power cord. A metal casing houses the insert.
The most common and affordable inserts are ceramic, but some are cast aluminum or enameled cast iron.
Finally, lids are typically tempered glass with a rubber edge to maintain a tight seal and keep moisture and heat locked inside.
Some cookware brands are now combining the designs to offer the best of both worlds. Take a look at the All-Clad Dutch Oven Slow Cooker.
It features a Dutch oven that can be removed from the heating element and used on a cooktop or oven up to 500°F.
Dutch ovens and slow cookers are both easy to clean by hand washing. Yet, they are different in that you’ll need to remove the insert on a slow cooker to wash it. Never submerge the heating element in water. Simply wipe it down with a damp cloth.
Many slow cooker inserts are dishwasher safe. Some Dutch ovens claim to be dishwasher safe, but I recommend hand washing them to preserve the enamel coating. Harsh detergents can wear it down, and sharp utensils can scratch it.
You can choose from a range of sizes with Dutch ovens and slow cookers. Both are measured by capacity in quarts.
Dutch ovens range from 1 to 13 quarts and are primarily round or oval. Slow cooker sizes are typically between 1.5 to 10 quarts, but some commercial slow cookers are available in larger capacities.
Below are examples of Dutch ovens and slow cookers to give you an idea of capacity and dimensions. Note that the slow cooker models’ dimensions include the heating element and insert (unless explicitly stated).
(L x W x H)
|Le Creuset Oval Dutch Oven (5-Quart)||10 lbs, 4 oz||14.57” x 9.33” x 6.57”|
|Le Creuset Oval Dutch Oven (8-Quart)||15 lbs||16.9” x 11” x 7.3”|
|Staub Dutch Oven (7-Quart)||15 lbs, 3 oz||13.86 x 11.02 x 7.09|
|Lodge Dutch Oven (6-Quart)||14 lbs, 4 oz||13.5” x 11” x 4.7”|
|Crockpot Cook Slow Cooker (6-Quart)||7 lbs, 14 oz||10.4” x 16.5” x 11.4”|
|All-Clad Slow Cooker (6.5-Quart)||12.5 lbs||19.87” x 14” x 11.38”|
|Cuisinart Slow Cooker (4-Quart)||9 lbs, 8 oz||10.5” x 16.5” x 8.7”|
|Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Slow Cooker (6-Quart)||11 lbs, 4 oz||11.22” x 17.13” x 10.94”|
Because they are both heavy, Dutch ovens and slow cookers are challenging to store. That said, Dutch ovens have a smaller footprint than slow cookers, so they fit in tighter spaces.
When storing a Dutch oven, measure the intended storage space to ensure a proper fit. Also, place it in an area where you won’t have to lift it over your head or bend in an awkward position.
The same goes for slow cookers, except you’ll need more room because of the heating element. Double-check the dimensions to ensure the one you want will fit your space.
While Dutch ovens and slow cookers offer many benefits, there are also downsides to consider. Before purchasing, think about how these issues will impact your lifestyle.
Dutch ovens are:
- Heavy: Dutch ovens weigh between ten and twenty pounds, and they get even heavier with food. If you drop an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, it could chip and expose the unseasoned, bare cast iron surface.
- Reactive: If they are made of bare cast iron, you can’t prepare acidic dishes like tomato sauce in them because it will strip away the seasoning.
- Manual: You can’t program them like slow cookers.
- Expensive: Dutch ovens are generally more expensive than most slow cookers and other cookware options. However, there is a range of options. Lodge makes a high-quality and affordable Dutch oven (see my review), while Le Creuset and Staub Dutch ovens are significantly more expensive.
- Labor-intensive: They require more attention than slow cookers. You may need to add liquids, stir, or shift from cooktop to oven to get the best results.
Slow cookers are:
- Heavy: With some weighing 20 pounds or more, they can be difficult to maneuver.
- Time-intensive: They take a long time (at least four hours) to prepare dishes. So be careful not to underestimate the amount of time a meal will take.
- Not foolproof: Most slow cooker meals add all the ingredients at once, making it impossible to correct the recipe if something isn’t right.
- High moisture producers: They add a lot of condensation back into food which thins out soup, stew, and sauce.
- Extra steps: Some recipes require you to brown meats in a pan before adding them to a slow cooker. Slow cookers don’t get hot enough to sear.
- Lack of temperature control: The overall quality of the meal sometimes suffers due to the inability to precisely control the temperature on many models.
Prices vary between Dutch ovens vs. slow cookers. Both feature high-end, mid-range, and budget options. While there are entry-level Dutch ovens and slow cookers for less than $100, some top brands can be two or three times more expensive.
For current prices, please refer to the following chart:
|Le Creuset 5.5-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Le Creuset 3.5-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Le Creuset 8-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Staub 5.5-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Staub 7-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Lodge 6-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Epicurious 6-Quart Dutch Oven||Amazon|
|Crockpot 7-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
|Crockpot 4.5-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
|Crockpot 6-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
|Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
|Elite Gourmet 3.5-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
|All-Clad 6.5-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
|Cuisinart 7-Quart Slow Cooker||Amazon|
The short answer: Yes, you can use a Dutch oven as a slow cooker. But they do not function identically.
While cooking with a Dutch oven, you may want to add more liquid, especially when using a slow cooker recipe, because liquids will reduce faster in the Dutch oven.
The average slow cooker temperature is 190°F degrees on low and can reach 300°F on high. You can mimic those temperatures by cooking with a Dutch oven in an oven. On a stovetop, it’s harder to regulate temperatures unless you have temperature-controlled burners.
If you decide to cook with a Dutch oven on a stovetop or in an oven, you’ll need to make sure you are home to watch it. You’ll also need to ensure there is space on the stovetop or in the oven for long enough to prepare the meal.
Once you start cooking, you can’t move the Dutch oven. It must stay connected to its heat source to cook.
However, you can easily move a slow cooker to another outlet to make room because the heating element and insert are together.
Some slow cookers, like the Crockpot Cook & Carry model, are designed for travel with locking lids. So, you can cook a meal at home, lock the lid while you travel, then warm it up at your destination.
Now that you know how Dutch ovens and slow cookers compare, which one do you need? Or do you need both?
Before I offer my recommendation, let’s recap some of the main points to consider:
- Heat source: Dutch ovens require a cooktop or oven to cook food. Slow cookers require an outlet and a flat surface to cook food.
- Versatility: Both types of cookware can cook slowly at low temperatures, but the Dutch oven can also boil, bake, sear, and fry.
- Labor required: While Dutch ovens and slow cookers are both easy to use, Dutch ovens require much more attention. Once you set a slow cooker, you leave it alone until the meal is finished.
- Flavor: Dutch ovens are better than slow cookers for flavor development and reduction of sauces.
- Design: Dutch ovens offer more colors, shapes, and style elements than slow cookers.
- Construction and materials: Slow cookers have a metal heating element and an insert made from stoneware or cast aluminum. Dutch ovens are usually made from enameled cast iron, bare cast iron, or glass.
- Clean-up: It is best to hand wash Dutch ovens and slow cooker inserts. The heating element on a slow cooker only requires a wipe down with a damp cloth.
- Storage and size: Both are heavy and come in various sizes, but slow cookers are generally larger and harder to store in small spaces.
- Cost: While both feature a range of price points from low to high-end, small slow cookers are usually cheaper than small Dutch ovens.
Bottom Line — Dutch ovens and slow cookers can prepare many of the same dishes. Yet, they’re different enough that you may want to buy both.
Dutch ovens are suitable in so many cooking scenarios, allow for precise temperature control, and are masters at building complex flavors. Slow cookers are great for set-it-and-forget-it meals and perfect for busy lifestyles — but you’ll trade convenience for control.
If your budget only allows space for one, choose a Dutch oven. You can slow cook and sear, boil, brown, broil, and even bake. It’s a versatile choice that gives you more for your money. And, with a variety of color and shape choices, you can even find one to match your personal style.
If you’re ready to buy or just want to learn more, the Dutch ovens I recommend are Le Creuset, Staub, Made In, and Lodge. Check them out at the links below:
- Le Creuset Dutch Ovens on Amazon
- Staub Dutch Ovens on Amazon and Zwilling.com (Zwilling owns Staub)
- Made In Dutch Ovens on MadeInCookware.com
- Lodge Dutch Ovens on Amazon and Walmart.com
- Can You Put a Crock-Pot in the Oven? (Quick Safety Guide)
- What Size Crockpot Should You Buy? (Quick Guide)
- 6 High-Quality Alternatives to Le Creuset Dutch Ovens
- Lodge Dutch Oven In-Depth Review
- Great Jones vs. Le Creuset: Which Dutch Oven Is Better?
- Lodge vs. Tramontina: Which Dutch Ovens Are Better?
- Lodge vs. Le Creuset Dutch Ovens: What’s the Difference?
- Stock Pot vs. Dutch Oven: Do You Need Both?
- Oval vs. Round Dutch Ovens: Which Shape Is Better?
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