Cooking With A Dutch Oven
By Kyle MacNall
Dutch ovens have been around for hundreds of years and the design has remained the same: big, heavy, clunky and black. Because of this, many Dutch ovens can be found collecting dust in garages, sheds and basements across America. The basement was where my father kept his for about 10 years after he was given one for Fathers Day. Until one year, he finally dusted it off and we took it on our annual camping trip. The first thing we cooked was a pineapple upside down cake similar to the recipe in this issue. The Dutch oven has been with us every year since.
Anything you can cook in the oven or on the stove top at home can be cooked in a Dutch oven. Starting out, some easier options are to cook a stew or chili, simply using the Dutch oven like a big pot. A Dutch oven can also be used as a pan. You can fry up bacon and eggs for breakfast. When you’re ready to try something a little more advanced, you can slow roast a chicken or some baby back ribs.
A new Dutch oven must be seasoned before use. There are a few different ways to do this:
Option 1: Bake it for an hour in your oven. However, you should probably open the windows and turn off the smoke detectors first.
Option 2: If it will fit, place the Dutch oven in your outdoor grill and close the lid. Heat until it is too hot to handle and remove with gloves or a Dutch oven hook. Let it cool and then, while still warm. rub it down with oil and repeat.
Option 3: Just use the Dutch oven as a deep fryer and fill it full of grease. Then fry yourself up some fish or chicken. Once it cools, wipe out the grease. (Tip: This option is a lot more rewarding then trying to get the batteries out of the smoke detector.)
The key to cooking with a Dutch oven is good coals. It’s very important to be able to maintain a constant temperature when cooking. Nowadays, most Dutch oven cooking is done with charcoal briquettes. With charcoal, build a small base of coals about the size of the lid in your fire pit or on the ground. Let the coals burn until they are all completely white. Then, with tongs or a spade, move about 10-15 of the coals to the side. Fill Dutch oven with food, put on the lid and place the Dutch oven on top and in the center of the remaining coals. Then take the coals you have set aside and place them on the lid. Your Dutch oven is now ready to cook.
We always cooked the traditional way with wood coals from the fire. When using wood, it’s important to have good hardwood like oak or maple. The hardwood will burn slower and hold a higher heat in its coals. Build a small to medium size fire with logs 3” to 4” in diameter, just as you would any campfire. Allow the fire to burn for 20 to 30 minutes or until there are only a handful of hot blackened chunks of wood left. Now, like with the charcoal, set aside 5-6 good coals from the wood. Level off a spot for the Dutch oven and place the coals on the lid. Cooking times will obviously vary depending on what you’re cooking.
They may be big and clunky, but Dutch ovens can be the ultimate cooking tool when camping. One can simply throw together a meal in the Dutch oven, place it on coals in the afternoon and have dinner ready when everybody comes back to the camp site for dinner. Enjoy a camp fire and maybe s’mores that evening, and have hot coals ready in the morning for breakfast. So, if you have one of those Dutch ovens that are stored in your basement, dust it off and take it on your next camping trip. If you do not have one, just go to your local surplus/outdoors store and buy one!