Dutch Oven Basics
The smell of food wafts through the air and finds you nestled down in your sleeping bag early one fall morning. Your body doesn’t want to rise and shine. It wants to stay tucked away in your tent. However, your nose and stomach win out and you roll out of bed to slip on your shoes and find out what smells so good. The fire is warming camp coffee (which always seems to be the best no matter the brand) and there’s a great aroma of biscuits coming from the Dutch oven sitting on a small bed of coals and covered in the same.
Cooking is one of the highlights of getting outdoors. With the rise of cast iron cooking shows on television, more and more people are being introduced to the joys of preparing meals the way of our forefathers (and mothers). At one time, cooking in a Dutch oven (or an American Freedom Oven, as it was dubbed at one camp I worked at as the director) was commonplace. In today’s world though, it is anything but commonplace. Dutch oven cooking is a joy that can be enjoyed anywhere. If it can be cooked in a conventional oven, it can be cooked in a Dutch oven.
Perhaps the first thing to figure out is what cookware to get. We aren’t going to venture into this argument except to say that my experience is that American-made cast iron cookware tends to be the longest lasting and best made on the market. Don’t be fooled by brand names either. Even some of the most respected names in the industry produce lower quality wares in other countries while making the better items here in the USA. Be sure to read the labels and know what you’re buying. For the beginner, a number twelve Dutch oven is a good all-around piece. It should come with legs and a flat-top lid. This will allow better convection when placed on and under the coals. Plus, it makes it easier to stack multiple ovens.
Once you obtain your wares, the best thing to do is find someone to show you how to use a Dutch oven or just play with it. Purchase one of the thousands of cookbooks, peruse the pages, dog-ear the best sounding and set to cooking some of the best food you’ll ever eat. A good recipe book will chart the number of coals it takes to equal certain cooking temperatures. Most things cook well at 350 degrees as a rule of thumb. You can get this by using roughly seven coals evenly spaced under your oven and twenty on the lid. Properly checking and turning your oven is important too. A good resource for some quick learning tips is at this site.
One of the hardest things about writing an article in reference to cooking is being able to finish it in a short space. Keeping that in mind, here are a few keys things to remember:
- Purchase high quality cookware. If properly maintained, it will last for generations.
- Don’t be intimidated. Anyone can cook in a Dutch oven and it can be done anyplace. (Though I wouldn’t attach it to your backpack). I generally use my front porch to cook on.
- If you find a recipe for your conventional oven, try it in a Dutch oven.
- Share your experiences. Tell others and show them what you learn.
- Use Dutch oven liners for easier cleanup.
You can start from scratch or just dump in premade ingredients. One of the easiest recipes to use is for Apple Cobbler. Are you interested in finding out more? Keep on the lookout on our Facebook page for additional information and classes.
As you begin what will undoubtedly become a love affair with cast iron cooking, remember to have fun. You can take your oven on canoe treks, camp outs, backyard gatherings, family reunions or just about anywhere you can think of. Others will love to eat your delicious concoctions and will stare in amazement at your abilities. You don’t have to tell them how simple it really is. No matter where you choose to spend your time cooking this season, don’t leave the outdoors out. Make it a part of every season.