Dutch Oven Cooking – Getting Started

| January 4, 2012 | 3 Comments

Biscuits, just a few simple ingredients is all it takes, but how you bake them will make a world of a difference. If you have yet to experience the warm, buttery taste of biscuits cooked in a Dutch oven after a long day of paddling or hiking, you seriously need to add it to your top ten lists of things to do this year. To my personal delight, I was thrilled to find out that we were going to start selling Lodge Cast Iron Cookware and was first to pick up a copy of “Camp Dutch Oven Cooking 101”. That said, I thought I would share some of my research and readings based on the same questions I used to have.

Typical Dutch Oven Design

So what’s a Dutch oven anyway?
People often get confused because they look more like pots but a few design elements give way to their name. They are made of iron and consist of a tight fitting flanged lid and bottom legs, which allow a fire source to be under and over the pot contributing to more of a “baking” effect. The oven is placed directly over a hot bead of coals and concurrently coals are placed on the lid.

What gives it such a unique flavor?
Several things actually. Camp cooking always seems to result in some amazing food partially due to being extremely hungry after a long day of hiking and paddling but much credit needs to be given to a Dutch oven’s seasoning. That is the preparation and long-term use of your oven with essential oils. One self proclaimed camp cook expert once told me that the older your oven, the better your food will taste due to years of flavors and natural oils being absorbed into the inside of your Dutch oven. Of course, while you can cook fast and hot, much of it is also a result of slow cooking similar to that of what you may experience when using a crock-pot.

Speaking of seasoning, what’s that all about?
Unlike most pots and pans, Dutch ovens need to be seasoned prior to their first use and as maintenance. Seasoning simply means coating your oven with a layer of oil or grease to keep your food from sticking, your oven from rusting and ultimately contributes to a unique flavor. Most ovens, including Lodge Cast Iron come pre-seasoned but if you don’t care for your oven or rarely use it, you may have to periodically re-season it. To properly season your oven, follow the manufactures recommended procedures or search online, you’ll find a ton of how-to’s.

Camp Chili (Image source: Lodge Logic)

How do I cook?
You’ll need to either dig a shallow hole or use a protected fire ring or pit to cook in. The idea is to keep the oven protected from cold and winds. Charcoals briquettes are the easiest to use due to their consistent size. You’ll simply heat up coals (always have extra coals ready to use) and place an even layer under the oven and top of the lid. Most Dutch oven cooking is done at 350 degrees but this will vary depending on what you are cooking. Lodge Cast Iron recommends that you calculate the number of coals by doubling the the of oven diameter. For instance, for a 12” oven you will use 24 coals. However, always use two-thirds on the top of the lid, since heat rises you will need more to keep heat coming from the top. Additionally, too much heat on the bottom of the oven can cause your food to burn.

What can I cook?
You name it, you can do it. I personally prefer hearty meals such as stews, roasts and chili for dinner and a variety of egg dishes for breakfast. I can’t go without biscuits or cornbread but my all time favorites are cobblers. I mean WOW, you’ve never eaten cobbler until you’ve tried one from a Dutch oven. Seriously, hooked for life! Wish we had space for recipes but here is a link with a few you can start with. “Camp Dutch Oven Cooking 101” also offers a variety of simple recipes too.

How do I clean and store it?
Unlike conventional pots and pans, you DON’T use soap when cleaning your Dutch oven. You’ll need to clean with hot water and a stiff brush. Once cleaned, dry thoroughly with a towel and immediately wipe a light coat of cooking spray or vegetable oil on all interior and exterior surfaces. Store in a cool and dry place with folded paper towels inside and between the lid and the oven to allow air to circulate.

Now that’s a pretty high level overview. There are so many different sizes and types of ovens, and accessories available are plentiful. I recommend you purchase a book or spend some time online researching cooking methods and recipes, but beware, don’t do any of this while hungry!

Do you do any Dutch oven cooking? Share your experiences, tips and recipes below!

Happy “Dutch” oven cooking!

Roland @ACK

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Category: Camping/Hiking, Product Reviews

Comments (3)

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  1. Brian says:

    I kayak with an aluminum Dutch Oven (DO). It cooks a little differently than cast iron but weighs much less. Biscuit dough on top of stew is like a pot pie. Chicken and dumplings are good in a DO too. I use canned chicken in a mylar pouch. DO pizza with red wine is another favorite.

    Camp fire coals are trickier to use until you figure out the right amount of coals to use. Briquettes are easy to count and are much denser so they stay hotter for longer than wood coals. The biggest problem with briquettes is the space they take up in the hatch. The others in the group appreciate you making the fire to get the coals ready as they gather around to prepare meals and share the days paddling experiences.

    For me, a pair channel lock pliers and heat resistant gloves are necessary. When packing, the inside of the DO can store things too. Some DOs come in a zipper pouch which makes them much easier to handle and it keeps the inside of the hatch cleaner.

  2. Dave says:

    While the zippered storage bags for DO’s are great for handling, keeping debris out of the DO itself and keeping the inside of the hatch cleaner, its a great idea to further pad the bottom of your bag prior to putting your DO inside of it. The legs can wear/tear through the bag, leaving them unprotected. And while it would take a decent drop, one of the last things you’d need on a trip is to have a leg penetrate your hull. Try cutting old closed cell sleeping pads to fit or, cut and shape a length of small diameter pool noodle around the bottom (inside) of your storage bag. A simple idea that will make your bag last longer and protect the investment you have in a quality DO, like those offered from Lodge Manufacturing.

    Also, if you are utilizing your DO for storage on your trip, be certain to empty it immediately when you get back home. This would be obvious to most users, as they clean them prior to storage and until the next trip. However, if you forget and leave something as simple as gloves or anything else inside (that has collected moisture during your journey), it could potentially start to oxidize, eventually turning to rust and requiring you reseason your cooking vessel.

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