The Best Dutch Ovens for Bread Baking
I wouldn’t say that there is technically a best dutch oven for bread baking. Rather there are many amazing options including the Challenger Bread Pan, Lodge Dutch Oven, and Emile Henry Bread Cloche.
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You may or may not know that I am a professional baking instructor and bread is my specialty. I love teaching sourdough bread baking and other artisan style breads. I own many different styles of pots for bread baking and use them all in my classes.
I find that that the best way to bake these types of breads, that have a thing crackly crust and a chewy middle, is by using a pot or dutch oven to bake in. Commercial bakeries have special ovens with steam injectors built in. This allows bakers to pump steam into the oven during the first part of the baking process, allowing the crust to stay moist and fully rise before it fully sets.
There are many different methods that home bakers use to create this environment at home. Some bakers use a baking stone or baking steel and create a steam bath in the oven. But I find that putting the loaf directly into a pot with a lid on it, is the easiest and most reliable way to create this environment.
Types of Dutch Ovens and Pans for Bread Baking
Over the years, I have worked with quite a few different kinds of vessels for my crusty breads. I want to share with you the pros and cons of each one so that you can best choose which pan will suit your needs.
Cast Iron Pans
Cast iron is one of the best materials for bread baking because it holds heat very well. There are a few different cast iron options that I enjoy using.
Challenger Bread Pan
*My pick as best pan for the serious bread baker!
I'm not going to beat around the bush here. The Challenger Bread Pan is by far my favorite pan for artisan bread baking. Of all the pans I own, I will always grab this one first.
Full disclosure here, I was sent this pan by Challenger to try out. I have owned it for almost a year now and use it frequently. All opinions are absolutely my own.
The Challenger Bread Pan was designed for bread bakers by a bread baker. This means that it addresses a lot of the things that frustrate bread bakers about other pans.
The first pro is its size. It is big enough to bake a very large loaf (they’ve gone up to a 1.5 kg loaf!) and the shape allows you to bake a variety of styles. You can bake boules, batards, 2 demi baguettes, and even focaccia.
The low profile shape of the base, also allows you to very easily transfer your loaf into it without burning yourself. I just tip my dough right into it, rather than using parchment paper. And the lid has handles on top which makes it very easy to pull off for the last part of baking.
The seal on this pan is also amazing. It traps the steam inside incredibly well, producing great oven springs.
The biggest thing to consider when purchasing this pan is definitely the price. This is the priciest of the pans that I own. It typically sells for $295, however it is currently on sale for $225. I’m not sure how long that price will last.
A few other things to consider is that this pan is quite heavy, weighing around 21 lbs. It is also not quite as versatile beyond bread baking as some of the other pans I will review. It is the most versatile for bread baking, but it isn’t all that practical to be used for other things in the kitchen.
Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven
*My pick for the most economical option
The Lodge full cast iron pan is the first vessel I purchased for bread baking. I used it for many years before I ever branched out into other pans. It is a very solid pan with lots of flexibility.
This pan is one of the most affordable options. Depending on what size you purchase, it runs anywhere from $40-60. I own the 4.5 qt size, and this is the smallest I would suggest going. A 5 qt or 6 qt is going to give you more flexibility.
The benefit of a pan like this is that it can be used to make many things outside of bread baking.
There really aren’t too many cons of this pan. I own one and use it very frequently. The biggest thing is just that because it is round, you are limited with what kinds of breads you can bake. A boule is really the only shape that works well in this kind of pan. Additionally, you need to be careful when dropping your dough into this option if it is preheated, since the sides are so high.
Some people do report that they struggle with getting bottom crusts that are too dark with this pan as well. While I don’t have this issue, this can be remedied by placing a broiler pan or a few sheet pans stacked on each other under the pan in the oven.
Lodge Combo Cooker
*My pick for the most bang for your buck
Knowing what I know now as an experienced bread baker, I likely would have purchased the Lodge Combo Cooker over the cast iron dutch oven. While this option is typically slightly more expensive, it is by far the most bang for your buck if you are looking for an really economical option.
This option is extremely versatile, as it is essential two pans in one. You get a deep skillet and a shallow skillet/griddle that fit together to create a pot. I like that you can use the shallow side as the bottom so that you don’t risk burning yourself as much when you transfer your dough into it.
This option is very affordable, selling for around $45. If you live in a small space this might be the best option for you as it can be utilized for most of your cooking as well as your bread baking.
This pan is a bit smaller in capacity that I typically want for bread baking. With the lid it is around 3.5 qt. This will work for most average size boules, but you really can’t go too big with your loaves.
This shape and size also limits you to only baking boules.
Enamel Coated Dutch Ovens
Lodge Enamel Dutch Oven
*My pick for the most versatile beyond bread baking
Lodge enamel coated dutch ovens are one of my favorite options for both versatility and value for the price. I prefer using enamel coated pots for making stews and braises because the light coating is easier to see what is happening in the pan. And while the pure cast iron pans can essentially be used in the same way the enamel coated ones can be, I find these to feel more versatile due to the coating.
These pans also have knobs on top that can be heated up to 500 F, while many enamel coated pots have knobs that can not be heated past 425 or 450 F. Lodge enamel dutch ovens run anywhere from $60-80 depending on the size you land on, which is very affordable compared to many other types of brands of this style.
Just like I have mentioned with other dutch ovens so far, you are really limited to the shape of loaf you can bake in these. I love baking batards (oval loaves) and a boule is the only kind of loaf that works well in these pots. That said, it bakes a beautiful boule and I have two of these pots.
Le Creuset Dutch Oven
Le Creuset Dutch Ovens are the high end version of the Lodge. It is highly sought after, and many people love it for the aesthetic it adds to their kitchen.
These pans are beautiful and come in a wide variety of colors to match any kitchen. Many also claim that the way these pans are coated in enamel is less likely to chip than with the Lodge. (I will say that, I have never had an issue with chipping with my Lodge pans and I bake with them very frequently.)
The Le Creuset pots do tend to be wider than the Lodge pans and have straighter sides, which gives more surface area on the bottom of the pot for when you do use it for searing meat.
I’ll be honest, I think the biggest reason to purchase this pot over other options is just a love for Le Creuset and a desire to own one. I don’t see a lot of advantages of it over other, more affordable or versatile options.
Le Creuset dutch ovens are considerably more expensive than Lodge, ranging anywhere from $250-400 depending on size and color that you choose.
Many of the Le Creuset pots also have a knob on top that can not be heated past 450 F. For bread baking, you typically want to ability to reach 500 F. However, you can purchase separate steel knobs that can be switched out on your pot if needed.
Other Specialty Pans for Bread Baking
*My pick for the best gift
Emile Henry Bread Cloche
Full disclosure, I was given an Emile Henry bread cloche a few years ago to test out. However, all opinions are completely my own.
A bread cloche is a dome that goes over a base to trap steam inside. The shape of the dome helps to keep the crust moist until it has fully risen.
I love how big the dome is on the the cloche. It allows plenty of room for very large oven springs. I also love that the base is almost completely flat so, again, you don’t have to deal with tall sides when working with a preheated vessle.
The Emile Henry cloche does instruct that it does not need to be preheated before putting the bread inside. It even suggests that you can proof your loaf in it before putting it in the oven. However, I do find that I get better oven spring when I do preheat it and I prefer to proof my dough in a proofing basket.
I also think this is aesthetically one of the most beautiful options. It comes in a variety of colors and it is really unique. A bread baker would be thrilled to get one of these.
This is one of the less versatile options. It works well for boules, and you can also bake dinner rolls or a few bagels at a time in it. I don’t find it to be wide enough to bake a batard in it however.
This can also tend to be on the pricier end. Depending on the color you decide on, it can run anywhere between $90-130.
Le Creuset Covered Casserole Dish
I purchased a Le Creuset oval casserole dish before I owned the Challenger Bread pan. I wanted to be able to bake batards (oval loaves) and this was the pan I landed on for this.
This is a much more affodable option to owning a Le Creuset than their dutch ovens are. The covered casserole dishes are about $115 and can be used both for bread baking and for things like baked dishes.
This is a great option if you prefer baking batards rather than boules.
This dish cannot be used on the stove top the way dutch ovens can be.
Many bread bakers love to bake in clay pots rather than dutch ovens.
Clay pots hold heat very well and release it more slowly than dutch ovens do which can lead to a bigger oven spring. You can use these pans for much more than bread baking. They work well for baked dishes and braises as well.
I find it a bit more difficult to get a really crispy crust in clay pots. They can also be a bit trickier to handle since they do not have handles the way other pots do.