Dutch ovens are a great way to bring the taste of home cooking to the outdoors. To better understand Dutch ovens, I turned to fellow Outdoor Adventure USA member Bruce Crabtree. Bruce has been cooking with Dutch ovens for over 15 years. He recently joined us during a ham radio program to share his thoughts.
A Dutch oven is actually a cooking pot that’s designed to be heated by charcoal or a campfire. They are made of cast iron because iron offers a uniform distribution of heat. Dutch ovens are most often used for baking goods, but are also used to cook with. People make soups, casseroles, and other dishes with a Dutch oven. Dutch ovens can be purchased at most outdoor stores such as Cabela’s, Sports Chalet and Bass Pro. Wall Mart has a limited selection. Stick with high quality Lodge or Camp Chef brands.
The ovens come in a variety of sizes, with the most common being 10” and 12” wide. A 12” pot holds six quarts of food and will serve four to six people. For two to four people, a 10” pot should be sufficient. Be sure you purchase a “camp” oven with 3 little legs and a lip on the lid to hold hot coals.
New ovens have a waxy coating to prevent rusting. Wash in soap and water to remove the coating. The next step is to “season” your pot. Use a paper towel to apply a light coat of vegetable oil (many people use Crisco brand) to all surfaces of the pot and lid inside and out. Do not use lard or other animal fat. It will turn rancid over time.
Place the covered pot in your gas grille, close the lid, and heat to 425 degrees, baking for one and one-half to two hours. This process causes a lot of smoke, so don’t be alarmed. Season several times to give your oven a nice, non-stick surface.
Now you’re ready to cook. Since most folks use charcoal we’ll focus on that. To determine how much charcoal to use, remember the “plus 3/minus 3” rule. Add three coals to the size of your pot for the lid. Subtract three to get the number of coals needed underneath. So, for a 12” pot, you’d use 15 briquettes on the lid and nine underneath.
Form a ring of charcoal under the pot; do not have any coals directly underneath or you’ll develop a hot spot. That’s not important for the lid. Coals can be placed evenly across the top. This arrangement will create an internal temperature of about 350 degrees. Add charcoal if you need a higher temperature. Each additional briquette increases the internal temperature by about 25 degrees.
Most dishes and baked goods cook in 45 minutes to an hour. Rotate the oven every 15 minutes to ensure even heating, and be careful when serving your meal. The oven is heavy and very hot.
Some Do’s and Don’ts to consider:
- Do clean out the pot after every meal. Condensation will form on any leftover food, which will cause the pot to rust. A paper towel is usually all you’ll need to remove food scraps.
- Don’t store without drying. Wipe it thoroughly with a towel or heat the oven over a stove.
- Don’t clean with soap. The porous surface of the oven will capture some of the soap, resulting in an after taste. If the oven has been cleaned with soap, rinse it thoroughly with hot water.
- Don’t use steel wool or abrasive cleaners. These will scratch off the seasoning and make the oven susceptible to rusting. However, you can use steel wool to remove rust spots.
Dutch ovens are a great way to bring authentic cooking to the outdoors. With a little practice you can become a hit with your friends during your next off-road adventure.