Lots of campers put Dutch ovens to use this time of year. A Dutch oven is typically a heavy, metal-covered pot used for cooking. They come in all different sizes and different materials. When someone mentions Dutch oven, you picture cast iron. Camp Dutch ovens have legs and a lid with a rim for outdoor usage. The legs allow you to place your pot over coals, while the rimmed lid allows you to place coals on top.
Some Dutch ovens are made from aluminum. Aluminum is lighter than cast iron, it doesn’t rust and its care is restricted to simple soap and water washing. Aluminum tends to heat up faster, but doesn’t retain the heat for very long after the coals are removed. Also, more coals are needed to reach and maintain temperature. If you’re canoeing or backpacking and weight is a factor, aluminum would be an advantage.
In my opinion, cast iron is typically the way to go. It reacts more slowly to temperature changes, so you won’t burn food as easily. It retains heat longer after the coals are removed, therefore, keeping food warm longer. With cast iron, cleanup can be simple – as long as it is properly seasoned and cared for. A bare cast iron oven will rust overnight, if not taken care of.
When seasoning a Dutch oven, the objective is to bake a coating of oil on the surface of your pot. The seasoning prevents your oven from rusting, creates a non-stick cooking surface (making for easier clean up) and adds a subtle flavor to your meals.
Dutch oven cleaning tips
For best results when cleaning your Dutch oven, use a plastic scraper or mesh scrubbing pad to remove excess food. Finish cleaning the inside of the oven with warm water and a dishcloth. Then rinse with hot water. Dry your oven with a paper towel or warm it (just until it’s hot to the touch) over your fire until it’s completely dry. Use a paper towel to apply a thin coat of either peanut or vegetable oil over the entire oven. Make sure to wipe out excess oil.
When your oven is being stored, place a folded paper towel between the lid and oven. This will absorb any excess oil and allow some air into the oven. Dutch ovens also can be stored in wooden boxes or canvas bags specifically made for them.
Dutch oven cooking tips
Roasting — coals should be placed equally on the lid and under the oven
Baking — place 2/3 of your briquettes on the lid and the other 1/3 under the oven
Frying/boiling — all briquettes should be placed under the oven
Stewing/simmering — place 1/3 of your briquettes on the lid and the other 2/3 under the oven
Lid for a griddle — place your lid upside down and use it as a skillet or griddle.
Bake a cake — a 10-inch x 2-inch cake pan fits into a 12-inch Dutch oven. Place a few 3/8 inch washers or nuts in the bottom of your oven to raise the cake pan off the bottom. This will give you indirect heat and lessen the chance of burning the cake.
When learning to cook with a Dutch oven, regulating your cooking temperature is the hardest thing to figure out. Quality charcoal is a must. Kingsford works great because it’s uniform and always cooks the same. It also tends to burn longer than other brands. Avoid Match Light brand, as it tends to burn too hot and doesn’t last long. Kingsford generates good heat and last for about an hour. For recipes that cook longer than an hour, you will need to have additional charcoal to replenish the burned up briquettes. Since the oven is already hot, you won’t need to use as many as when you started cooking. Replace 2-3 on top and bottom and go from there.
The general rule of thumb to produce roughly 350 degrees of heat, is to take the size of your Dutch oven in inches and double that number to get the number of briquettes you will use. A 10-inch oven would need 20 briquettes.
Easy Peach Cobbler
2 (30-ounce) cans sliced peaches (drained and cut into bite size pieces)
1 yellow cake mix, dry
1 can lemon-lime soda
Into a 12-inch Dutch oven, add the drained and cut-up peaches. Pour cake mix over peaches, then pour soda over the cake mix. Stir to mix completely. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.
When cooking outdoors use 16 briquettes on top and 8 briquettes under. Rotate oven and lid every 15 minutes.
With proper care and seasoning, your cast iron will last for years and years. The cast iron Dutch oven and skillets I use daily in my home are mostly Griswold brand, and are from the early 1900s.