On our last several camping trips we have prepared at least one Dutch Oven meal, and while at Port St. Joe, we prepared several different items to share in a group dinner. I was first introduced to the Dutch Oven during our trip to the Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Tennessee. Based on that one experience, I was brave enough to fix a Dutch Oven dinner for John and me on our trip to Michigan in October.
Cast iron Dutch Ovens were an essential piece of cookware for early pioneers and chuck wagon cooks. With the right size oven, you can prepare a whole meal for a crowd of people. The fact that I can do it means it is really pretty easy.
This article lays out the basics of materials needed and how to use the oven. There are no recipes here. If this sounds like something you want to try, search online for Dutch Oven recipes.
The requirements are very basic: charcoal briquettes and starter fluid, the Dutch Oven, and utensils for moving hot coals and lifting the hot lid and the hot oven. The oven is a heavy cast iron pot with a fitted lid. The lid must have a handle on the top. A lifting hook is very useful for lifting the lid or the entire oven by the bail handle. If the oven does not have a bail, heavy oven mits will be needed. Dutch Ovens are identified by their diameter and 10-inch and 12-inch are the most common, useful sizes.
1. Review the recipe, not only for the ingredients, but for the number of charcoal briquettes needed for the right temperature in the size oven used. Count out the number of briquettes needed (I usually add two or three in case one or two break). Assemble the ingredients for your recipe.
2. Start the coals. It will take the charcoal 10 to 20 minutes to turn ash white (depending on the brand used) indicating they are ready to use.
3. While the coals are lighting, line the oven with a Dutch Oven parchment liner or aluminum foil (this really makes clean-up much easier). Prepare the recipe and put it in the oven.
4. Once the briquettes are mostly white all over, they are ready for cooking. Using tongs, place the required number of briquettes on the ground. Arrange in a circle that will support the oven, plus one or more, depending on the size of the oven, toward the middle for even heating.
Place the oven right on the coals, then place more hot coals on the oven lid, again according to the suggested number from your recipe. Typically, there are nearly twice as many coals on top as under the oven. The heat radiates down from the lid. The recipe may suggest rotating the lid from time to time to deliver even heat and avoid scorching the food in spots.
5. Wait. Go do something. Set the table. Have a glass of wine. Let the oven do its work. Rotate the lid every 15 or 20 minutes or as directed. Wait at least three-fourths the planned cooking time before you check progress. When checking, be ready with your fork or whatever you are using to check “doneness.” Replace the lid as soon as you have checked.
Note: A batch of coals is good for about an hour of cooking. If the cooking time is more, start another batch of coals about fifteen minutes before you expect to need them. If the oven has feet, you can slide fresh coals under the oven, adding them to the coals that are about burned out. Add coals on top, too.
6. When done, remove from coals and set in a protected spot. It is hot. Serve when ready. For baked goods, once done, remove the lid and allow the oven to cool. To remove biscuits, use a pot holder or mit to protect your hands from the sides of the hot oven.
Dutch Oven biscuits are just as good as any others—they may be a little oddly shaped, but they taste just as good. (The light spots on top of the biscuits were from our experiment putting a small pat of butter on each biscuit during cooking. I don’t think we will do that again.)
Once you have cooked a few meals using Dutch Oven recipes (that include the number of coals for the proper temperatures and size of oven) you will be able to adapt many of your favorite recipes to Dutch Oven cooking.
You should be able to purchase a Dutch Oven cookbook wherever you find Dutch Ovens and in most book stores. Also, there are many recipes and more tips at various sites online.
There are many good sources for Dutch Ovens. For outdoor cooking, make sure you get an oven with legs on it. Here in middle Tennessee, Lodge Manufacturing is a local business making reputable iron cookware, including a complete range of sizes of Dutch Ovens, useful accessories, and cookbooks. For more information go to: https://www.lodgemfg.com/
It is easy to quickly master The Basics of Dutch Oven Cooking for a variety of meals and baked goods. This article provides a simple step-by-step guide to get started.
The Basics of Dutch Oven Cooking provides a step-by-step guide to getting started.