The humble Japanese donabe pot is the key to unlocking bonafide Japanese cuisine in your home. With over a century’s worth of history, it has earned its place in the kitchens of nearly every Japanese household.
On this page, you can view our handpicked collection of Japanese donabe pots, all authentic and 100% made in Japan.
Learn About Japanese “Donabe” Earthenware Pots
What exactly is a Japanese donabe?
The “do” in donabe stands for clay, while the “nabe” means pot. So, the Japanese word “donabe” literally means clay or earthenware pot. It is one of the oldest traditional cooking vessels in Japan and can be used in pretty much any kind of setting, whether it be a humble family home or a high-class Japanese “ryotei” restaurant.
Is the Japanese donabe the same as a Chinese sand pot or a Dutch oven?
Japanese donabe are generally interchangeable with Chinese sand pots. The main difference is in the materials used and appearance. Chinese sand pots are made of a special clay that gives the pot a sandy texture, and they often have a wire frame or cage to help protect the pot and distribute heat more evenly. Japanese donabe use a different kind of clay that results in a much smoother texture, and they do not necessarily need a wire frame to prevent cracking or distribute heat evenly.
Similarly, you can generally use a Japanese donabe wherever you’d use a Dutch oven. However, Dutch ovens tend to be thicker and heavier, making them the tool of choice for baking where something needs to be heated at a rather high temperature for a long time. You can try to use a Japanese donabe for baking, but you might run the risk of cracking it due to the high temperature. Bake with a donabe at your own risk.
What can you cook in a Japanese donabe?
Traditional Japanese donabe have thick and dense walls, so they build up heat slowly and remain at peak temperature for long periods of time.
This means that Japanese donabe are perfect for any kind of dish that requires amazing heat retention. Some examples are stews, hot pots, and shabu shabu.
Japanese donabe can even be used to make rice, with many believing they are superior over normal pots or even rice cookers thanks to their gentle and even heat distribution that beautifully draws out the sweetness of the rice.
And just like any other somewhat shallow pot, Japanese donabe make excellent vessels for any type of one-pot meal.
How to season a Japanese donabe
Clay is naturally porous, so seasoning (called “medome” in Japanese) is necessary to prevent breakage, damage, smells, and stains. Some brands will pre-season their pots, saving you the work. But if yours doesn’t come pre-seasoned, you’ll have to do it yourself.
There are two main ways you can season your Japanese donabe:
1) Fill the Japanese donabe with water and add 1 cup of cooked rice. Bring it to a gentle boil and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature naturally before discarding everything, rinsing with normal water, and air drying completely.
2) Fill the Japanese donabe with water and add 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix everything together and bring it to a boil, cooking on low heat for 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature naturally before discarding everything, rinsing with normal water, and air drying completely.
How do you use a Japanese donabe?
Before Cooking: Make sure the bottom of the Japanese donabe is dry. Also, never heat the pot empty unless you want to damage it.
Gas/Electric/IH: Japanese donabe are made of clay, so they are meant to be used on a gas stove. However, recently more brands have been creating donabe that can be used on electric stoves or IH. Make sure to check the compatibility before buying one.
Temperature: Japanese donabe can crack under high temperatures. Do not go beyond medium heat, and if you do cook at high, don’t do it for too long. Also make sure to avoid rapid temperature changes, as that can also cause donabe to crack.
Deep Frying: Please do not deep fry in a Japanese donabe. They are not made to handle high temperatures and can crack if you do so.
How do you clean and take care of a Japanese donabe
Regular Use: Once cool to the touch, hand wash with some soap and a soft sponge or cloth. Do not scrub too harshly or soak in soapy water for a long time. Flip upside down and let it dry overnight or wipe dry with a paper towel or dishcloth.
Dishwasher: Please do not put your Japanese donabe in the dishwasher. There is a chance it may crack or break.
Burnt Bits: To get rid of stubborn stains or bits of food, add water and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat off and wait until it reaches room temperature. Then discard the water and scrub with a soft sponge or cloth.
Bad Smells: Add some water and tea leaves to the pot and let everything soak for 30 minutes. Discard everything, rinse with normal water, and dry. You can use baking soda instead of tea leaves.
Patina: Some Japanese donabe get darker in color the more they are used, forming something similar to a patina. This is completely natural and not something you need to wash or scrub off. Please note that this does not mean the Japanese donabe is nonstick - if you fry anything in it, you will need to use oil.
Hairline Cracks: If you see any hairline cracks, season the pot again according to our instructions. If water leaks regardless, it’s time to buy a new Japanese donabe.
What kind of Japanese donabe should I get?
Size: Base the size off the number of servings you’ll be cooking. Japanese donabe sizes are often written as 号 or “go” in Japanese. Multiply that number by three to figure out the diameter of the pot in centimeters (e.g. 5号 x 3 = 15cm diameter pot). 5号 is suitable for 1 person, 7号 for 2-3 people, and so on. That said, the exact sizes can differ slightly depending on the brand even if they all use 号, so we recommend looking at the product measurements before making a purchase.
Purpose: If you plan to use a Japanese donabe for a very specific purpose, it’s worth checking out its shape. For example, those planning to use it to cook rice prefer Japanese donabe that are deep and thick walled, with a rounded bottom to make it easy to scoop out every last grain of rice. People who want to use it as a sort of hot pot, shared between many people, opt for a more shallow and wide Japanese donabe to make it easier for multiple people to take from it at the same time.
Weight: The heavier a Japanese donabe is, the better its heat retention. However, that doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t lift it up!
Level of Care: Do you mind going through the hassle of seasoning your Japanese donabe? If not, maybe choose one that’s preseasoned.
Appliance Compatibility: Most Japanese donabe are only compatible with gas stoves. If you use IH or plan to use it any time in the future, make sure you get an IH-compatible Japanese donabe. Similarly, some Japanese donabe can be put in the microwave for short periods of time, but not all.
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