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The 10 Best Potjies And Dutch Ovens Of 2017

…and some useful accessories

Some of the products reviewed here are country specific and may not be available in the Amazon US store

A potjie (pronounced Poy-key) can best be described as a heavy-duty cast iron pot with three legs, that sits comfortably oven an open outdoor fire. As you can probably guess from the name, it is of South African origin. As with a wok, the curved shape at the bottom causes the liquid to accumulate at the deepest point of the pot – which is also the hottest. This reduces the likelihood of the pot burning in the way that a flat-bottomed pot might.

The potjie does in fact have a flat-bottomed cousin (or possibly ancestor): the Dutch oven. This may have legs like the potjie, but the legs tend to look stunted, effectively just feet. And some Dutch ovens don’t even have that. Indeed, at least some Dutch ovens, can actually be used inside an oven as heavy duty casserole pots.

And of course both potjies and Dutch ovens can be used over a gas flame indoors. Indeed so can a potjie. But that is not what they are designed for. They are designed for outdoor use over a wood or charcoal fire on the ground. Also, they are quite large, and you wouldn’t want one to topple over onto you from stove height.

The traditional three-leg arrangement enables the potjie to stand over the fire. With a Dutch oven, because the “legs” (AKA “feet”) are shorter, there is not much room for the wood or charcoal underneath. One can, of course, dig a small diameter fire pit and place the Dutch oven over that. But the more usual method is to hang the pot over the fire from a tripod, using a chain.

So, you ask, what are potjies and Dutch ovens used for?

In the case of a potjie, the answer is basically making a good stew, at a slow and steady pace. And because they are made of heavy cast iron, you can also fry in them. The idea – typically – is that you start off by frying some onions, then add the meat and get it get a bit brown on the outside and then you add liquid for it to stew. At that stage you can also add potatoes, carrots and any other vegetables that you want to cook in the stew.

In some respects, a Dutch oven is more flexible. Because it is flat-bottomed and doesn’t have the potjie’s characteristic bulge in the middle, it can be used for frying meat or baking bread. In fact very often, the lid of a Dutch oven can be turned upside down and used as a de facto frying pan or skillet.

Some potjie’s and Dutch ovens have rimmed lids so that you can put hot coals on top and cook the food from above as well as below. The rim holds the hot charcoal and stops it falling off.

One important point we must make here is that potjies usually need to be seasoned before first use, to get rid of any industrial oils left over from the manufacturing process. But we’ll discuss that in our TIPS AND TRICKS; Preparing a Potjie or Dutch Oven for First Use.

In this review, we’ve taken a look at the best potjies and Dutch ovens on the market, as well as some of the best accessories for them.

10 Best Potjie and Dutch Ovens

PLEASE NOTE: All of these products are made of cast iron unless otherwise stated.

Big BBQ Potjie South African Cast Iron Cooking Pot

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Big BBQ Potjie South African Cast Iron Cooking Pot

This is an 8 litre potjie from Big-BBQ, suitable for 6-8 people. A standard, cast-iron potjie with three legs and a heavy lid, this range comes in three sizes. The one we reviewed is the largest of the three (Potjie # 3), an eight litre beast for 6-8 people.

It can be used for cooking on gas, charcoal or wood. Obviously with a potjie, the choice of fuel doesn’t affect the flavour or taste of the food, because the food is cooked inside the pot. But we feel that it wouldn’t be a true potjie experience unless it was used outside over real wood or at least natural, lumpwood charcoal.

Even if you cook the usual meat, potatoes and vegetables in the potjie, one thing we advise (especially if you are unsure about how many of your invited guests are coming) is that it is worth cooking some additional starch separately. In our case, we chose kasha (buckwheat) a Russian and slavic favourite. We cooked this in a saucepan indoors. (The kitchen opens directly onto the garden.) The extra starch should always be cooked separately. Rice or couscous are also suitable alternatives.

Of course with that, plus the potatoes, plus the bread to mop up the gravy, you might think that we kind of overdosed on the starch. And to tell the truth we did somewhat. But we also made sure there was plenty of meat (oxtail). And with this slow cooking it was extremely tender – almost falling off the bone.

This potjie was excellent value for money. And the results that came out of it were excellent, setting a benchmark for the other products to be reviewed.

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Big BBQ Potjie South African Cast Iron Cooking Pot

Dutch Oven – 8ltr – Cast Iron Camp Cooking Pot

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Dutch Oven

 

This Dutch oven, from the charmingly-named Ronnie Sunshines, includes a lid-lifter and a storage bag. It comes pre-seasoned. However, some people say that you should never trust manufacturers pre-seasoning and should add a layer of oil and bake it on. We didn’t go that far. We did, however compromise by scrubbing it thoroughly, boiling some water in it, and tossing out the water. Then we wiped it dry, oiled it and started cooking. (Some would say that this is seasoning. However, we describe true seasoning in our TIPS AND TRICKS.)

The lid is rimmed so you can add hot coals to it and cook with dual heat from above and below. That is actually the traditional way to use a Dutch oven. We tried that and then – just to really put it through its paces – we then took the coals off with tongs, took the lid off, turned it upside down (over the coals we’d just taken off it) and used the inside of the lid as a frying pan. We fried a few chopped opinions and used them as a perfect accompaniment to the meat, potatoes and carrots.

The more adventurous among us – i.e. the men – put the food into thick, soft pita pocket bread. For some reason, it was only the men preferred this approach, even if the gravy tended to leak out of the bread. The women on the other hand (possibly choosing to be more practical) adopted a more conventional approach, eating off of plates. They either steered clear of the starchy bread altogether, or used it to mop up the gravy.

The stew (lamb off-the-bone) was incredibly tender and tasty and we think it fair to say, that we got an excellent result from this Dutch oven. More generally, we must point out that this product is extremely versatile and can be used for baking and roasting as well as stewing. This can be done out of doors over a fire or hot ashes. But the pot can also be used over a conventional indoor hob or even in an oven.

When coupled with the versatility of the lid – holding hot coals on one side, or serving as a skillet on the other – this is truly a useful piece of cookin kit. And the lid-lifter means you don’t have to worry about burning yourself. Best of all, it also has a proper hanging handle with a little nook for the chain hook to grip onto. This is something that all Dutch ovens should have but none of the others did.

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Dutch Oven

Cast Iron Stock Pot POTJIE (7.8 Litre)

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Cast Iron Stock Pot POTJIE

This potjie by Warrior may not have the pedigree of some of the name brands, but it yields excellent results if you use it right. The range comes in four sizes and we chose the second largest. (NB the largest is 1.5 litres larger, but costs £11.00 more. The next one down is 1.8 liters less but costs only £7.00 less. So the jump to the largest in the range, comes at a premium price.)

The manufacturers say it needs seasoning before first use and they are right. But the method they suggest is what we at mybbq.life call seasoning lite. Basically it involves washing it with hot water, using a non-abrasive, soft cloth to remove the wax layer and then drying it immediately. Then rub cooking oil on the inside and burn it off. They recommend cleaning the pot with hot water and drying with a cloth immediately after every time you use it and after that to wipe on a light layer of oil.

This is sound advice and we did it this way, the first time too, without opting for the more radical method of cooking actual meat in it and throwing it away before first use.

The results of the cooking, over hot charcoal, were good. It can also be used on an electric hob but the makers warn to keep the heat at or below mark 3. Otherwise the pan could crack, because cast iron conducts heat so much better than steel. (Alternatively, one can cook on a higher heat by inserting a simmer ring between the hob and the pot.)

The makers also advise that the pot will improve with age if it is treated right. This basically means following their instructions on cleaning, drying and oiling.

So far, the pot has held up very well, as well as producing some excellent culinary results. The lid and pot are a good fit (something that is not always the case with potjies) and it seals the steam in very well, allowing the escape of just enough to convey the smell of the food and make the user and guests hungry and eager to eat!

Dutch Oven DO9 Cast Iron Camping Cooking Pot 9QT

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Dutch Oven DO9 Cast Iron Camping Cooking Pot 9QT

This 7 litre Dutch oven from CS-Trading comes with a 26 cm lid lifter and a 2.1 litre lid that can be used as a frying pan or skillet. In fact the lid has three short feet that enable it to balance when you turn it over, so it is very easy to put in on a thin layer of hot coals and fry something in it. We tried our usual fried onions and then got a bit adventurous and tried frying mushrooms too. (Unfortunately we forgot that mushrooms cook quicker and also give off liquid which then slows down the browning of the onions even further.)

The lifter has a protected handle making it easier to grip, in addition to giving protection against conducted heat. The pan is pre-seasoned, but the caveats above apply to this one too. We washed it out with hot water just to make sure.

As with other Dutch ovens, you can also bake bread in this one. In fact, as bread takes less time than a stew, you could bake the bread first and then do the stew. We did it this way and let the bread cool down, while the stew was cooking. That might seem like defeating the purpose. After all the idea is to have fresh bread. But letting the bread cool down a bit was actually not a bad idea. Eating really fresh bread can lead to indigestion. This way we got the balance right.

Unlike the other pots we reviewed, this Dutch oven has a heat-protection coil round the handle. But unlike the one from Ronnie Sunshines, it does not have a nook for a chain hook, so is not a proper hanging handle.

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Dutch Oven DO9 Cast Iron Camping Cooking Pot 9QT

Cast Iron Potjie – approx. 6 litres

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6 litre kettle, cauldron

This potjie – also from CS Trading – has only a 6 litre capacity. But it was perfect for its size. It had excellent heat-retention and the lid was a good fit. Unfortunately, the lid was not suitable for use as a skillet, but it had a rim on the top that enabled it to hold hot coals for adding heat to the top of the main pot.

It didn’t come with a lid lifter, but one can buy a lid lifter separately. We found it could just about cook enough for six adults. This is the upper limit for a six liter potjie, which by convention can cook for between four and six people.

We had no problems seasoning and then using this Potjie. More to the point, everyone was pleased with the results.

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6 litre kettle, cauldron

Big-BBQ DO 9.0 Dutch-Oven made of cast-iron

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Big BBQ DO 9.0 Dutch Oven

Another 7.6 litre Dutch oven, this one from Big BBQ. (We looked at one of their potjies earlier.) This one has 4cm legs that give enough clearance to light a fire underneath it. This is just as well, as the handle does not have a nook to catch the hook of a hanging handle. But it does come with a lid lifter, included in the price.

We gave it the usual quick cleanout, despite the supplier’s claim that it was pre-seasoned and then set to work, producing – in short order – two platted loaves of bread and a beef stew. Cooking times were good, as was heat retention and we were more than pleased with the overall results. We were able to place coals on the rimmed lid with no trouble.

One thing that we found a bit disappointing however was that when we tried to use the lid as a skillet, the handle prevented it from being laid flat. The handle extended above the rim of the lid and the lid did not have mini-legs to give it stability. This meant that we had to make some improvizations when trying to fry with it on flat ground. Specifically, we had to use some small stones, carefully inserted, to get it to stay straight. And then we found that in so doing, we were depriving the charcoal briquettes of oxygen and not getting such good heat.

The fact that this was one of the more expensive Dutch ovens, made this a bit of a downer on the whole experience. But then again, using the lid as a skillet is a bonus. And the improvized workaround was at least partly successful.

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Big BBQ DO 9.0 Dutch Oven

DO1 Dutch Oven Casserole Pot Cast Iron without feet

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DO1 Dutch Oven Casserole Pot

This is basically a mini Dutch oven, designed to serve one or at the most two people. With a 13cm diameter and a height of only 9 cm, its capacity is about one litre. The lack of feet, meant we had to hang it from a tripod and chain. But the lid lacked a nook to fit onto the chain hook – a common gripe with a number of these Dutch ovens.

Although small, it is made of the same tough, cast iron as it’s bigger siblings. And like those bigger models it has a lid with a rim for adding coals or briquettes to cook from the top.

Because it is made of cast iron, it still manages to come in a 2.4 kg, despite its small size. We found that by packing it full of meat and potatoes, with not too much liquid, we could get a meal for two hungry people out of it. With the lid on, the initial liquid barely boiled off and it was augmented by liquid from the meat.

It’s probably not all that practical. If you are out in the wild, hiking, you would want to travel light. Conversely, if you are at home, you would surely want to dine with friends. Still there must be some market for it. If you’re two people camping with a car it might be suitable. Or maybe a romantic dinner in the garden for two?

Witches Cauldron / African Potjie Pot (Size No 1, 3 litre Capacity)

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Witches Cauldron African Potjie Pot

Another small pot – although not quite as small as the last one. Also, this one is a potjie, not a Dutch oven. At 3 litres, it can cook for 3-4 people. We were two when we tested it and we had some left over, but not much. Then again, we were hungry.

It came with a lid lifter, which added to the value. The seller suggests the pot could be used while camping. Possibly. But not if you’re hiking. Again, there’s the weight – 5 kg

The rimmed lid allows for a few briquettes to add to the heat.

However, if there’s the slightest chance that you’ll be cooking for more than four, then – to adapt a phrase from that man in Jaws: you’re gonna need a bigger potjie.

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Witches Cauldron African Potjie Pot

Cast Iron Potjie, approx 14 litres

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South African Dutch Oven

And talking of bigger potjies – this monster is 14 litres. That’s enough for 10 – 14 people. Of course it also weighs a ton – well 21 kg at any rate. So be careful not to give yourself a hernia when you take it off the fire!

This really is the king of potjies. Make sure that when you use it you’ve invited a lot of guests. There’s no point to it if you’re not going to taking full advantage of it.

Also, unless they are willing to wait for the food, we would suggest that you start cooking before they arrive. They can still wait a bit while you open the beers and stand around the fire. But at least they won’t have to wait too long – even if you do!

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South African Dutch Oven

And finally…

Big-BBQ DO 12.0 Dutch-Oven 14′

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Dutch Oven made of cast iron Pre-Seasoned 14 cast iron cooking pot

Just as there are monster potjies, there are also juggernaut Dutch ovens. This doesn’t quite equal the capacity of the potjie above, but at 12.5 litres, it comes pretty close.

It also comes with some pretty useful accessories, namely the lid lifter and the stand. The stand has multiple uses. For example it can be a temporary place to put the lid while you check the contents of the Dutch oven. It can be used as a pan holder for the lid, when using the lid as a skillet for frying. Or it can be used as a stand for the Dutch oven itself – bearing in mind that this Dutch oven doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And for an item this expensive, we were surprised that it didn’t have a proper hanging handle.

However, the stand does not allow much room for a wood or charcoal fire beneath it. A more practical way to use the Dutch oven – and the one that worked for us – was to suspend it over a fire with a tripod and chain.

Like all Big-BBQ pots, it was pre-seasoned. And like all our pre-seasoned pots, we decided to clean it anyway, just to be sure, using hot water and soap but no abrasives.

We didn’t have a lot of people to cook for, but we tried it anyway, using briquettes on top and below. Heat retention was good and the food tasted fine.

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Dutch Oven made of cast iron Pre-Seasoned 14 cast iron cooking pot

Accessories for Potjies and Dutch Ovens

Aside from your potjie or Dutch oven, there are also some very useful accessories that you might be interested in.

Petromax Cabix Briquettes for Dutch Oven and BBQ

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Petromax Cabix Briquettes

What is this product you are probably asking. Well in a nutshell (or rather a coconut shell) these briquettes are made from coconuts – or, more specifically, the residue of coconut milk production. They are a great alternative to charcoal, burning both hotter and longer. This might seem like a contradiction, but (for the benefit of the physicists among you) it has to do with their energy density. Also, they leave very little ash residue. While charcoal leaves behind an unburnt residue, these briquettes are almost entirely burnt up. This also helps explain how they can burn both hotter and longer.

And these briquettes also have other advantages too. For example, they are CO2 neutral, being made entirely from natural botanic material. You might think the same is true of charcoal, which is made from wood. That is true of most lumpwood charcoal, but charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, are laced with chemicals to help them light and catch the fire. These chemicals give them an unpleasant odor and can affect the food, if you put the food on too early. This is not a problem with a potjie, as the food is cooked in a closed pot. But the smell is still unpleasant. And who wants a nasty chemical smell pervading the atmosphere when they’re out in the garden trying to enjoy the fresh air on a warm or hot day?

In contrast to charcoal briquettes, these coconut briquettes are virtually odorless and smoke-free. Again, this is to do with complete combustion. Smoke is the result of incomplete combustion. And another thing they have going for them is their box shape (5 x 5 x 2.5 cm), which makes them easier to use on the top of the potjie. Once you put them in place, they are less likely to roll or slip.

The box contains 3 kg of briquettes – a plentiful supply when you consider that potjie cooking uses less fuel per volume of food than barbecuing or grilling.

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Petromax Cabix Briquettes

Petromax Unisex PE Maintenance Product for Dutch Ovens

Maintenance Product Dutch Oven Multicoloured

Maintenance Product Dutch Oven Multicoloured

 

This maintenance paste for potjies and Dutch ovens creates a protective layer that improves over time. Originally developed for Petromax wrought iron pans and their cast iron Dutch ovens, it can be used with any cast iron pots and pans and is completely food-safe. All you do is rub it on and it helps to preserve the quality of your dutch oven or other cast iron cooking utensils. Comes in a 250 ml tub.

Maintenance Product Dutch Oven Multicoloured

Maintenance Product Dutch Oven Multicoloured

 

Petromax PE Dutch Lid lifter Oven

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Petromax PE Dutch Lid lifter Oven

This 36 cm lid lifter is very strong and reliable. The way it works is simple: the hook picks up the lid and the bar keeps it straight. It is designed to lift a hot lid from the Dutch oven, without having to use heat gloves or risk burns. There are some Dutch ovens and Potjies that come with their own lifter. But there are others that don’t and if you buy one that doesn’t have its own lifter, then it is worth buying this one.

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Petromax PE Dutch Lid lifter Oven

Petromax Dutch Oven Silver Scrubbing Sponge

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Silver Scrubbing Sponge

The price might seem expensive, but this stainless steel sponge is cleverly designed. Unlike steel wool or brushes, which can shed fibres that might get into food, this “sponge” is made up of thick interlocking rings. The fact that it is steel, might make it seem potentially abrasive because it is hard. But there are no sharp protrusions. It is all based on curvature. And because Dutch ovens and potjies are made of cast iron, they can take a certain amount of punishment in the cleaning process that teflon coated products or stoneware cannot.

Wilderness Guide to Dutch Oven Cooking by Kate Rowinski

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Wilderness Guide to Dutch Oven Cooking

According to a proverb of Chinese sage Laozi in the Tao Te Ching, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. This is equally true in the metaphorical sense. No one is born knowing how to cook with a Dutch oven. You have to learn somewhere, whether it is from a relative or friend, trial and error (a great way to lose friends if you get it wrong for a group of guests) or from a book. The trouble is, there are not too many books on the subject – at least not in English.

So for those of you who don’t speak Dutch or Afrikaans, experienced Dutch oven cook Kate Rowinski brings you this 176 page, illustration-packed paperback that really teaches you the ins and outs of Dutch oven cooking. This book is thorough, covering everything from breads and breakfasts, soups and stews to side dishes,, beef and lamb main courses, poultry, game, pork, seafood and even deserts!

It also covers the basics, including how to heat your Dutch oven. There are quite a few short books out there about Dutch oven cooking, many of them cheaper than this one. But this book was by far the fullest and most detailed. It is the one we recommend.

MyLifeUNIT Campfire Cookware Camping Dutch oven Tripod for Fire Pit

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Tripod

As mentioned above, not all Dutch ovens have legs and even when they do, the legs are usually short and do not allow much room for a fire beneath the pot. The more traditional way of cooking in a Dutch oven over an open fire is to hang the pot by its handle from a tripod, using a strong chain.

That’s what this product is for. A heavy duty tripod provides the stability and a nickel-plated chain hangs from it with an S hook to attach to the Dutch oven’s handle. The tripod can also be used to hang coffee pots and other utensils over an outdoor fire.

It is a lightweight, collapsible and compact design made up of threaded, hollow stainless steel tubes that can be screwed together in a flexible, variable height design. It is suitable for camping, hunting or backpacking.

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Tripod

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