The Donabe Pot: How to Use and Clean This Japanese Cooking Essential

Discover the art of traditional Japanese cuisine with the donabe pot! Also known as a “donabe rice cooker” or just “donabe,” this versatile earthenware vessel, essential in any Japanese kitchen, effortlessly steams, stews, and simmers a variety of dishes. While it can seem intimidating to use at first, a donabe is actually quite simple to cook with, and will bring new depth to your everyday recipes.

In this article we will explore the various types of donabe, and the correct techniques for using and maintaining a donabe pot, ensuring it brings flavor and durability to your culinary repertoire for years to come.

 donabe kaki

What is a Donabe?

The donabe pot is a traditional Japanese cooking vessel made of clay specifically for use over an open flame. The word "donabe" is pronounced “doh-nah-bey”, and literally translates to 'earthenware pot,' With a history dating back over 10,000 years, the donabe reflects the longstanding Japanese culinary emphasis on harmony, simplicity, and respect for natural ingredients. Many Japanese households have several donabe pots, each meant for different types of meals.


donabe pot camping


Donabe Benefits

Using a donabe in your cooking has several benefits that have helped the earthenware pot secure its place in the Japanese kitchen over thousands of years:

Gentle and Even Heat Distribution:

Donabe pots are made from clay or earthenware, which naturally provides excellent heat distribution. This ensures that food is cooked evenly and prevents any particular area from getting too hot, reducing the risk of burning or uneven cooking.

One Pot Meal:

Necessary more than ever in this busy day and age, donabe pots are particularly for creating flavorful one-pot meals. You can prepare a variety of dishes in a single pot, such as hot pots, stews, soups, rice dishes, and even steamed dishes. This makes cooking and serving more convenient while allowing the flavors to meld together. It is also easier than ever to find various one-pot donabe recipes on the internet for every palate.

High Heat Retention:

The clay material used in donabe pots has impressive heat retention properties. Once the pot is heated, it retains the heat well, which is particularly useful for dishes that require simmering or keeping warm for an extended period. This can save energy and maintain food temperature. Food also continues cooking after being removed from the flame, adding depth to the flavor of dishes.

Sense of Community:

Donabe pots are often visually appealing and can be brought directly from the stovetop to the dining table. This creates an inviting and communal dining experience as you can serve the meal in the same pot it was cooked in, adding an element of rustic charm. It is common in the colder months in Japan to find families and friends gathered around one donabe, creating a sense of togetherness.


Eating from donabe together


How to use Donabe

Donabe are best suited for stews, soups, and slow-cooked dishes, and not for fried foods. There are a few things to keep in mind when cooking with a donabe in order to get the best flavor while maintaining the earthenware:

Seasoning (if required):

Always follow the manufacturer's directions before cooking with new donabe, as unglazed donabe pots may require seasoning to seal up pores in the clay and ensure that the pot does not crack. One of the most common methods of seasoning donabe in Asian countries is to utilize the starch in rice to fill in the pores.

how to take care of donabe pot

Follow these simple steps to season a donabe before its first use:

  1. Ensure the outer bottom of the donabe pot is dry.
  2. Pour water into the donabe, filling it up to about 70%~80% capacity.
  3. Add cooked rice to the water. The rice should be at least 1/5 of the volume of the water - more rice is better than less.
  4. Stir the water and rice mixture thoroughly.
  5. Cover the donabe with its lid and cook the rice-water mixture over low to medium-low heat until it starts to simmer. Do not let the mixture come to a boil.
  6. Uncover the donabe and keep the heat on low, stirring occasionally until the mixture becomes paste-like. Be careful to not burn the bottom of the mixture.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the pot and mixture cool for 1-2 hours.
  8. Remove the rice paste and rinse the pot thoroughly with water.
  9. Allow the donabe to dry completely before cooking with it for the first time.


Cooking with a Donabe

cooking with donabe

Can donabe be used on a gas stove, in the oven, or on an induction cooktop?

Yes, it is possible to cook with a donabe on a gas stove, in the oven, and on induction cooktops, but there are some considerations to keep in mind for each type of cooking method:

Gas Stove:

Donabe pots can be used on gas stoves, which provide direct flame heat. Make sure to place the pot on a burner that's appropriate for its size, and adjust the flame to the desired level. When heating the pot, start with a low flame and gradually increase it to prevent thermal shock and potential cracking. Avoid placing the pot over an excessively high flame, as this could cause uneven heating and potential damage to the pot.


Most donabe pots are safe for oven use, but you need to ensure that your specific donabe pot is oven-safe before using it in this way. Generally, glazed and partially glazed donabe pots are oven-safe, while fully unglazed pots might be more susceptible to cracking in the dry heat of an oven. Always check the manufacturer's guidelines and recommendations for oven use and follow them closely. When using a donabe in the oven, start with a cold oven and allow the pot to heat gradually along with the oven temperature.

Induction Cooktops:

Some donabe pots can be used on induction cooktops, but it depends on the specific pot's material. Induction cooktops require magnetic materials for effective heating, so if your donabe pot is made from clay that isn't induction-compatible, it won't work on an induction cooktop. However, there are induction-compatible donabe pots available that can be used on these cooktops.


How to Cook Rice with a Donabe Pot

cooking rice in donabe

Rice cooked in a donabe is said to be more delicious than that cooked in an electric rice cooker, and more and more young people in Japan are starting to turn to donabe for this reason. While it may take a few more steps, the end result is definitely worth the effort.

Here are the basics of how to cook rice in a donabe:

  1. Measure the rice and rinse it under cold water until the water runs clear. This helps remove excess starch and prevents the rice from becoming too sticky.
  2. Optional: soak the rice for about 30 minutes before cooking to improve its texture. Drain the soaked rice thoroughly.
  3. Place the rinsed rice in the donabe pot. Add the appropriate amount of water based on your rice type (usually 1 1/4 cups of water for 1 cup of rice). You can adjust the water amount according to your desired rice consistency. More water = softer rice, less water = firmer rice.
  4. Place the donabe pot on the stove over medium heat.
  5. Once the rice and water start simmering, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with the lid.
  6. Allow the rice to simmer covered on low heat for about 15-20 minutes. Avoid lifting the lid during this time to prevent steam from escaping.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest with the lid on for an additional 10-15 minutes. This allows the rice to steam and become fluffy.
  8. After the resting time, remove the lid and use a rice paddle or fork to gently fluff the rice. This helps release excess steam and ensures an even texture.
  9. Your rice is now ready to be served as a delicious side dish or part of a meal!

freshly cooked donabe rice

How to Clean Donabe

how to clean a donabe

Cleaning and maintaining a donabe takes a little extra care to maintain its longevity.

To clean a donabe pot, ensure it's cooled down completely to prevent cracking before gently scrubbing its interior and exterior using warm water and a soft brush or cloth.

For stubborn residues, sparingly use mild dish soap, but rinse thoroughly to prevent soap absorption and avoid soaking the pot, as prolonged exposure to water can weaken the clay. If you have accidentally burned food inside the donabe, boil water in the pot to help loosen the residue, then gently scrape stuck-on food with a wooden or silicone utensil.

Making sure to not leave food in the pot for prolonged periods of time and cleaning the pot straight away after use will go a long way in reducing overall cleaning effort and time.

Never use abrasive materials or scouring pads, and avoid dishwashers, as they can damage the delicate clay, and always allow the pot to air dry completely before storing in a cool, dry place. Avoid strong dish soaps and bleach as they can also damage the pot, and re-season according to the manufacturer's directions if necessary.

Proper cleaning maintains the donabe's integrity and ensures safe, flavorful cooking.

What Kind of Donabe to Buy

donabe buying guide

Donabe are available in various materials, sizes, and shapes, each tailored to specific cooking needs. Here is a concise guide to help you make an informed choice:


Donabe pots come in different materials, primarily glazed and unglazed clay. Glazed donabe pots have a protective coating that makes them easier to clean and maintain, while unglazed versions have a more rustic appearance and are often used for traditional hot pots.

Common Sizes for Different Household Sizes:

Small (1-2 people): Donabe pots with capacities of around 1000-2000ml (1 to 2 quarts) are ideal for smaller households. They are suitable for intimate meals, dishes that require less volume, or dishes served in a separate donabe for each person.

small donabe 

Medium (3-4 people): Donabe pots with capacities of around 2000-3000ml (2 to 3 quarts) are well-suited for families of 3 to 4 people. They offer versatility for cooking a variety of dishes.

Large (5+ people): If you have a larger family or frequently entertain guests, consider donabe pots with capacities of 4000ml (4 quarts) or more. These pots can accommodate larger meals and gatherings.


large donabe



Deep with Tall Sides: Donabe pots with tall sides are excellent for dishes like hot pots, stews, and soups. They provide ample space for ingredients to cook evenly in a flavorful broth. These pots are often designed for use on stovetops or portable burners.

Shallow and Oval: Oval-shaped donabe pots are well-suited for cooking of flat or skewered ingredients. Some oval donabe pots are designed to be used on the countertop with a heating element.


shallow donabe



Intended Use: Decide if you're primarily interested in traditional hot pot dishes, rice cooking, or other specific dishes. This will influence the size and shape of the donabe you choose.

Maintenance: Glazed donabe pots are generally easier to clean and maintain than unglazed ones.

Ultimately, the right donabe for you depends on your cooking preferences, household size, and intended use. Whether you're cooking for yourself, a partner, a family, or a group of friends, there's a suitable donabe pot that can elevate your cooking experience and bring the rich flavors of Japanese cuisine to your table.


considerations when choosing a donabe


Donabe Pots for Sale on BECOS


becos donabe

This glazed donabe by Yamasho Touki is the perfect size for 1-2 people. The glaze makes the pot easy to clean and maintain, and in addition to pot cooking and simmering over an open flame, it can also be used in the oven for baking dishes. It is also microwave-safe, so you can reheat dishes, making it the perfect starter donabe.

Shop Now



4-person donabe BECOS


The next largest size of the glazed donabe by Yamasho Touki, this pot is perfect for 3-4 people. This pot is also microwave, oven, and open-flame safe. Enjoy a relaxing time together with friends or family over this rustic donabe.

Shop Now


donabe mino ware

This colorful donabe by MARUMO TAKAGI is meant for 1-2 people. The most eye-catching feature of this pot is the vivid orange pattern on the lid, which changes color to yellow when the temperature rises above 45°C (113°F). The color change is a sign that the pot is hot, which helps prevent burns. This pot cannot be used in the microwave or oven, but can be used on a gas stove.

Shop Now


kiyomizu ware donabe

This stunning donabe pot by Kyoto-based maker Touan features a beautiful jewel-like crystal glaze. Sure to be a conversation starter at any party, this donabe is compatible with IH, induction cookers, and gas stovetops. It is also microwave and dishwasher safe. With a capacity of 2300ml (2.4 quarts), it is a great choice for entertaining 3-4 people.

Shop Now


carbon donabe

This sleek pot by Homusubi Japan is sized for 1-2 people. Made with expensive carbon that is compressed into an earthenware-like material, this donabe has superior heat conduction properties that allow it to heat very rapidly and evenly. The inside surface is treated with a top-of-the-line fluorine coating, giving it nonstick properties that make it a breeze to clean and even allow for use as a frypan. Is it made especially for cooking delicious meat, vegetables, rice, and fish and is one of the most premium products on the market.

Shop Now



large carbon donabe

The large size of the carbon donabe by Homusubi Japan, this simple yet elegant pot is sized for 3-4 people. As with the smaller size, this donabe is ideal for cooking a variety of ingredients evenly and quickly.

Shop Now

Make a Japanese Donabe Part of Your Kitchen!

donabe party

The donabe pot is more than just a cooking vessel; it's a gateway to a world of rich flavors, cultural heritage, and communal dining experiences. Mastering the art of donabe cooking not only leads to delectable dishes but also a deeper connection with the traditions of Japanese cuisine. Whether you're a solo diner, a couple, or a large family, there's a donabe pot and countless donabe recipes tailored to your needs.

However, the journey doesn't end with the final bite. Proper maintenance ensures that your donabe continues to serve you for years to come. Gentle cleaning and careful handling are key to preserving its integrity and unique seasoning.

As you embark on your donabe journey, consider the diverse options available, from traditional glazed pots to those designed for specific dishes. Each type brings its own charm to your kitchen and dining table, enriching your culinary endeavors and creating memorable moments shared with loved ones. So, go ahead and immerse yourself in the world of donabe cooking – a journey that celebrates both tradition and innovation in the realm of culinary excellence.


Cooking tipsProduct care tips