Over time you’ll find yourself adding various pieces of individual cookware to your kitchen collection.
One of the most sought-after is the Dutch oven. This vessel is ideal for cooking deeply flavorful one-pot foods slowly, thanks to the excellent heat and moisture retention it provides.
A high quality Dutch oven from market leaders like Staub or Le Creuset will make a significant dent in your kitchen budget. Cheaper models, sadly, provide poor results more often than not.
What can you use in place of a Dutch oven though? Here are the best alternatives I think you should consider:
- Slow Cooker
- Instant Pot
- Casserole Dish
- Electric Fryer
- Air Fryer
- Oven Safe Skillet
Starting with the best at the top, I’ve listed these in order of how effective I believe each one to be.
As a bonus, a slow cooker is also the easiest option to work with all-round. That’s a large part of why it gets my strongest recommendation.
In the rest of this guide I’m going to go into more detail about each one of these options. I’ll also include some buying recommendations so you can explore the choices in greater detail.
(Head back to my massive cookware guide when you’re done for more help with this side of kitchen life!)
#1 Slow Cooker
A slow cooker is something of a secret weapon for those who’d love to own a Dutch oven but can’t justify the cost of a high-end model.
If you think of a slow cooker as a throwback to the 70s though, think again! They’ve enjoyed an explosion of popularity in recent years.
As work hours go up and free time goes down, more and more of us are turning to this set-and-forget style of cooking.
Slow cookers are best used when you’re working with things like stews, curries and certain pasta dishes. You get very similar cooking results compared to a Dutch oven, with the food staying deliciously warm & moist too.
The flip side? You can’t sear meat in a slow cooker the same way you can with a Dutch oven. If that’s important for your dish, you may need to do a little extra prep work on the stovetop first.
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“Browse around the related products, but I wanted to highlight a slow cooker that packs the biggest punch when balancing affordability with performance.
“The basic Crock-Pot slow cooker is a fairly primitive appliance, but has long been the go-to choice for slow cooking on a budget.”
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#2 Instant Pot
One of the brands that’s really capitalized on the slow cooker revival is Instant Pot. The key difference here, however, is the speed of operation.
Unlike a Dutch oven – or a slow cooker for that matter – the Instant Pot works much more quickly to achieve very similar results.
The reason for this increase in speed lies in the way the Instant Pot efficiently traps steam within its sealed walls.
This leads to much hotter cooking temperatures then you’ll find even in a Dutch oven! As a result, the cooking time is reduced significantly.
This obviously introduces its own issues which you need to be aware of.
You should use less liquid than normal in your meal preparation for a start. As so much more of the moisture is retained, you risk cooking up a sloppy mess if you forget to adjust for this.
It’s also recommended that you add any dairy components separately, and towards the end of the cooking time.
Again, it’s that high heat that’s problematic here, as it can curdle the contents if it gets out of control!
Still, it’s hard to resist the temptation of buying an actual R2D2 kitchen appliance…
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“This is the classic Instant Pot, currently available in 3, 6, 8 & 10 quart sizes. On the subject of sizes, check the measurements on the listing carefully before buying.
“These things are surprisingly bulky on the countertop, and you’ll need a permanent home for it with access to a power point!”
#3 Casserole Dish
The humble casserole dish does a pretty good job of mimicking the heating effects of a dedicated Dutch oven.
Even better, you very likely already have one of these in your collection of basic kitchenware.
The key advantage is that very few casserole dishes are supplied without lids. Having a lid means you can do a much better job of retaining both the heat and the moisture of your slow-cooking food.
When it comes to standard cookware you likely already own, I would consider this to be the best “at-hand” alternative to a Dutch oven.
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- Cast iron is unparalleled in heat retention and even heating. The smooth glass surface won't react to...
- Lodge Enamel Casserole Dish is the perfect tool to marinate, refrigerate, cook and serve.
“A cast iron casserole dish will last you a lifetime if you take good care of it.
“Lodge specializes in producing high quality cast iron cookware that’s much more affordable than the biggest brands. This particular model is layered with enamel too, which makes clean-up and general care much easier.”
#4 Electric Fryer
Dutch ovens are popular tools for frying. The high sides reduce the risk of hot oil splattering on your poor arms for a start!
It’s quite an expensive tool to use for just this one job, however, and so you might consider investing in an electric fryer instead.
The disadvantage of using this sort of appliance? These things are quite bulky when you consider they’re only really designed to tackle one thing well.
You really need a permanent home for one of these appliances, and that home will also need to be within easy reach of a power outlet too.
A Dutch oven, on the other hand, offers more versatility in the kitchen. It can also be stored anywhere you have the space for it once you’ve finished washing up.
Still, I think a countertop fryer is a perfectly good alternative to a Dutch oven if you’re focusing mainly on frying jobs.
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“You might not be familiar with the Secura brand, but it’s carved out an excellent reputation for making high quality electric fryers that don’t cost a fortune.
“Its 1700 Watt fryer consistently picks up accolades, but it’s worth browsing through the entire product range. Some are bulkier than others, and this is another appliance that really needs its own permanent home on the countertop.”
#5 Air Fryer
As I approach my mid-40s there’s something about the thought of regular deep frying that makes my arteries twitch a little. I’ve found Harvard’s cooking oil resource very useful for staying on top of this.
Fortunately, the air-frying method has become more popular in recent years, and there are many cost-effective appliances to consider.
Air fryers have more in common with a standard convection oven than a deep fryer though.
The inside is heated with an element and there’s a fan, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Inside an air fryer, that fan works much harder. As a result, the air is circulated more vigorously, and so you get the same crisping effect on your food without the overdose of oil.
Again, this is a more suitable solution if you were planning on using your Dutch oven for frying tasks in particular.
If that sounds like you, but you want to eliminate fats and calories wherever you can, this is a very good option to explore.
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“Cosori is one of the biggest brands in air frying, and I believe its signature Air Fryer Max XL will offer you the most versatility in your own kitchen.
“It’s not the simplest appliance to operate, but once you’ve found your favorite settings you’ll be well on your way to practically oil-free cooking. In fact, the company claims this fryer uses up to 85% less oil than a standard deep fryer.”
#6 Oven Safe Skillet
One of the biggest advantages of a Dutch oven is that it can be transferred from the hob to the oven without switching cooking vessels.
This is ideal for getting things off to a fast start (think searing meats), before transferring everything to the oven for a slower burn.
If you own a skillet that’s oven-safe, you can use it as a Dutch oven replacement. The heat won’t hold quite as well though, as Dutch ovens typically have much thicker walls.
Skillets lack lids too, which can be problematic for retaining both heat and moisture.
Still, one way around this is to tightly bind an aluminum foil covering over the top of your skillet. It’s not a like-for-like replacement, but will do much to solve the heat and moisture retention problems.
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“Throw a rock at the usual online kitchenware markets and you’ve a pretty good chance of hitting a skillet! Although there are lots of options here, I have to make another Lodge recommendation.
“It’s made of hard-wearing cast iron, but aimed squarely at those who need to make their budget go further. Although it’s supplied pre-seasoned, you will need to top the seasoning up in the long run.”
I hope that’s given you plenty of food for thought on what to use if you don’t have a Dutch oven.
If your budget is tight, you can get excellent results from a casserole dish and you almost certainly already own one. Try it out and see how you get on.
Otherwise, I think investing in an affordable slow cooker is the way to go.
You can make plenty of tasty, flavorful meals with these things, and the results will be comparable with even the most expensive Dutch oven.