Can I Substitute a Dutch Oven for a Crock Pot?
I got this question in my inbox a few days ago. I think it’s a pretty good question. The beauty of a crock pot is that the heat comes from the bottom and the sides and is kept low and consistent with a thermostat. The heavy lid locks in moisture, so you truly can just set it and forget it. Just walk away for a few hours and come back to a beautiful braise, stew or chili.
I am a big proponent of the crock pot for braising. But, maybe you have limited space. Or maybe you have cats that might jump up on the counter and burn themselves on a hot crock pot while you’re away at work. Regardless, the short answer to the question of substituting a Dutch oven for a crock pot is “yes.”
After all, the crock pot was designed to take the place of a Dutch oven in the first place, so cooks wouldn’t have to heat up their oven to cook a meal. The main concern in adapting a crock pot recipe for a Dutch oven is temperature regulation. Most crock pots have two heat settings: low and high. Depending on the source, these could convert to about 175°F and 195°F, respectively, or it could just refer to low and high wattage and not temperature at all.
Since there is no Low or High setting on an oven thermostat, we kind of have to take a guess. One thing about cooking in a Dutch oven inside a conventional oven is that usually the cooking process is a bit faster than using a Crock Pot. If a crock pot recipe calls for 8-10 hours of cooking, you can probably complete the cooking in the oven in about 3 1/2-4 hours. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’ll have the temperature twice as high in the oven.
When using a Dutch oven, I generally heat all the ingredients on the stove top until they reach a boil and then put them in a preheated 210-225° F oven. This very low oven temperature will ensure that your food reaches a safe temperature but will cook proteins gently so that they stay moist and tender. While I have seen braising temperature recommendations as high as 325°F, I maintain that braising should be done slowly and at a low temperature.
I would absolutely use a Dutch oven in place of a crock pot if I needed to, and I would keep the oven set no higher than 225 degrees F. I would cook the meat until fork tender, which I generally find takes between 3-4 hours.