How to Cook with a Dutch Oven

| June 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Each year, millions of campers and backyard fire pit owners enjoy the scrumptious tastes of foods prepared over the smoky tendrils of a glowing fire. And those who know how to cook with a Dutch oven enjoy a wide variety of flavor-bursting foods every time they prepare an outdoor meal.

Of all the campfire cookware on the market today, the most widely used and indispensible piece is a Dutch oven. Cast iron Dutch ovens are easy to use, versatile, and long-lasting. They work for baking, stewing, roasting, steaming, and deep frying among other things. With a little practice you can use them to cook meats, vegetables, breads, desserts, and soups.

The following video will give you some basics on cooking with Dutch Ovens:

Characteristics of Dutch Ovens

While some heavy duty pots, especially those that are enameled, are suitable for campfire cooking, you just can’t beat the qualities of a Dutch oven. They come in sized from very small to very large. The most common sizes are 10 and 12 inches in diameter. There are several parts of a Dutch oven:

  • Lid Quality lids have a lip around the edge for retaining hot coals. They also have a loop on top for easy lifting with a lid lifter. Lids are designed to be turned over and used as a pan as well.
  • Bail or Handle A sturdy wire bail allows you to lift the entire oven out of the fire or to hang it from a tripod.
  • Legs Three short legs on the bottom of the oven allow it sit atop a bed of coals. The legs also make it possible to stack several ovens on top of one another while keeping hot coals above and below each oven this is a great space saving way to cook.

Dutch ovens are available in either cast iron or aluminum so it’s worth taking a look at the pros and cons of each.

  • Cast Iron

Pros—distributes heat evenly, retains heat well, won’t melt or disfigure in a fire, allows a smoky taste in the food
Cons—heavy, heats slowly, needs special care, can crack if dropped

  • Aluminum

Pros—heats quickly, lightweight, low maintenance, doesn’t rust
Cons—heats unevenly (has hotspots), does not retain heat well, can melt in a fire, sometimes gives food a chalky taste.

The overwhelming majority of people who cook with Dutch ovens prefer cast iron because it heats and cooks evenly.

Take Care of Your Dutch Oven and it Will Last a Lifetime

The first thing you’ll need to do with a brand new Dutch oven, or one that has been sitting in uncle Egbert’s attic for decades, is to cure or season it.

Step 1 Clean a new oven with soapy water; lightly sand old ones.
Step 2 Heat in your oven at 200° (keep the lid on).
Step 3 Coat all surfaces with oil and cook for one hour at 350°.
Step 4 Let it cool naturally, don’t submerge it in water or snow.

The curing process creates a protective coating on the cast iron that keeps it from rusting. It is vital that you apply a thing coating of oil to all surfaces after each use. You many need to re-cure the oven from time to time, especially if the metal gets scratched or scraped (by utensils for example).

After each use, clean your cast iron Dutch Ovenby scraping burnt food with a plastic scraper, washing with water (avoid soap if possible, it can erode the cure), rinse thoroughly, and apply a thin coating of oil to all surfaces.

TIP  Never used metal brushes or scrapers as they will remove the coating you created with the curing process which will then have to be re-done.

When not in use store them in a dry location. A storage bag will keep your Dutch oven dry and protected from dirt.

The following video will help you cook some basic meals with your Dutch Oven.

Cooking with a Dutch Oven

Step 1 Start a Fire and Arrange it for Cooking

Start a fire (see “How to Start a Fire in a Fire Pit”) that is large enough to produce the quantity and intensity of coals to heat all of the Dutch ovens you plan to use for the entire time you’ll be cooking.

Establish an area for cooking and an area where the fire will remain burning and produce more coals.

NOTE  You can also use charcoal briquettes if they are available. Briquettes burn more evenly and produce consistent heat.

Step 2 Prepare the Ingredients

Just follow the directions in your recipe. You can find countless Dutch oven recipes online or in cookbooks.

Step 3 Use Your Dutch Oven(s) to Cook the Food

There are several ways you can heat, and thus cook, with a Dutch oven.

  • Set it on a bed of coals that are evenly disbursed. You can also place coals on top of the lid for more heat. This is the best method when baking bread, rolls, or biscuits.
  • Set the oven on a sturdy grill or grate.
  • Hang it from a tripod; just be sure it’s low enough to get hot.
  • Place the oven on a gas burning stove or grill.
  • Use a swing arm to cook in an open hearth fireplace.
  • Bury it in the ground with hot coals for slow cooking.

When using hot coals, regulating the temperature becomes easier with experience. A few recommendations include:

  • Add or remove hot coals as needed.
  • Place coals below the oven in a circular pattern, but not directly in the center.
  • Place coals on the lid in a circular pattern and in the center.
  • Always spread coals evenly.
  • You can research many formulas and theories on the size of coals or embers and how what temperatures they produce. With a little practice, you’ll have it down in no time.
  • If steam is escaping from the lid, you’ve got too much heat.

TIP  Build heat slowly. You can add more as needed, but once you’ve turned an oven of potatoes into black, crusty rocks, there is no special trick to save them.

TIP  Brown meats in oil or fat to seal in juices before cooking. This makes them taste better and the browned surface is more visually tantalizing.

Step 4 Stir and Flip the Food as Necessary

For this step you’re going to need a few specialty items.

  • Lid Lifter This allows you to safely lift a lid or entire oven and move it to a safe location.
  • Lid Stand This can be a brick or a log. It just needs to be a place you can set the lid so it won’t be in the dirt while you’re stirring food or adding ingredients. Be sure not to set the lid on something is will burn as it is extremely hot.
  • Utensils Use wood or plastic spoons and spatulas so the cure coating doesn’t scrap off. Long handled utensils are best to keep your hands from the heat.
  • Gloves Wear heavy gloves whenever you work near Dutch ovens.
  • Whisk Broom Use a whisk broom to sweep away any ashes left on the lid after you remove the coals. This keeps them from getting into your food. Do not use nylon or plastic bristles as they will melt.

Step 5 Remove Dutch Ovens From the Heat and Serve Dinner

Use the lid lifter to safely remove the oven from the fire or coals. Then just remove the lids and serve up the feast you have prepared.

You can continue to keep cooked foods warm by placing a few small coals below the Dutch oven or on the lid, whichever you prefer.

Dutch Ovens Offer Some Really Great Benefits

Popular outdoor cooking recipes include chicken, bread, vegetables, potatoes, and cobbler. Dutch oven cooking enables you to enjoy delicious smoky, natural flavors you just can’t get anywhere else. You can use them when camping or in your back yard. They’ll take a little more work than cooking in a conventional oven, but Dutch oven cooking is just as much about the experience as it is about the food.

Watch the video: Dutch Oven Cooking Part 3: Gourmet Meals

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