Dutch Ovens: 5 steps to better camp cooking

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Dutch Oven

The Dutch Oven will transform your camping experience.  If you are outside with the family, you all will be burning calories, even more so if it’s cool. Living off burnt sausages and burgers for more than a day is not the answer.   With a Dutch Oven you can get a good warm meal with all the nutrients to refuel the family, preventing some of those “tired and irritable” moments.

1. Dutch Oven: What is it?

A Dutch Oven is a large cast-iron pot.  Simple.  But, like most simple things, it is really effective.

It is very easy to cook with, and as you can get heat to the food from above and below, it works as an oven, enabling you to stew, boil, fry, bake and roast.

Watch our video that explains how it works:

2. Seasoning your Dutch Oven

Before starting out with your dutch oven you need to season it.   This is puts a non-stick coating around your oven, protecting the metal from rust, and making it easier to clean up when on camp.

  • If new, clean your dutch oven (the only time you do this with water and detergent), and dry it – you don’t want water getting to the cast iron.
  • Smear a thin layer of unflavoured vegetable fat all over.  Inside, outside, lid, legs, handle – everywhere.
  • Put it on your BBQ.  You need to cook the fat into the iron to give it the non-stick coating.
    You can do this in your oven, but this process smells, so I recommend you do this outside.
  • Repeat at least twice to ensure all the oven was covered.  Do it more if you can as that will give the oven greater protection and it will be easier to clean on site.

You may need to repeat this process (except the first step) at the start of each season.

3. Cooking

Cook with charcoal briquettes.  These give a lot more control over the temperature as they are a uniform size (unlike lump wood), and give a relatively consistent heat (compared to a fire).

You don’t necessarily need many, for example, five below and a few on top may be enough for a stew.   The more you add the hotter the oven.

You will need to get a supply of briquettes to replace those that burn out.  You can place new briquettes next to ones that are still hot, or alternatively, get some started by placing them around the edge of the fire.

To start the initial batch of briquettes off you can use a briquette starter.

We use our Dutch Oven over a BBQ that perfectly fits our oven.

Follow this guide to position the briquettes for different types of cooking:

  • Baking: More heat from top so bottom doesn’t burn.
    3/4 coals on top; 1/4 underneath.
  • Roasting: Heat comes from both top and bottom.
    1/2 coals on top; 1/2 coals underneath.
  • Stewing and simmering: Most heat from bottom.
    1/4 coals on top; 3/4 coals underneath.
  • Frying and boiling: All the coals underneath.

To avoid heat spots, which can cause food to burn, rotate the oven about every 10 minutes.   Twist the oven about 1/3 of the way around (lift it, twist it, and place a leg where the previous leg had been).  If you have coals on top, twist the lid in the opposite direction.

I also recommend you get some Hot Gloves, a pastry brush for sweeping ash away from the lid before you open it, and a Lid Lifter or suitable hook to lift the lid off without touching it (and it also keeps the coals balanced on there without them falling off!).   You should also find something to place the lid down on so it remains upright but not get covered in mud or grass.  We use the griddle from our portable BBQ, since that is not in use when we have the oven on it.

Our Dutch Oven plus BBQ set up

4. Cleaning

After serving up the meal, start the cleaning process.  This sounds a lot of work but it really isn’t.

  • Remove all food.  Any burnt on food gently scrape away with a wooden spoon.  Do not use a metal spoon as that will remove the seasoning.
  • With the oven cool, add a few inches of water.
    Never add cold water to a hot oven as it will crack the metal.
    I recommend leaving your oven to cool and warm some water in the kettle (doesn’t need to be boiling).
  • Place the lid back on the oven and warm it up.   Since the oven is seasoned, this process will pull the food way from the oven’s sides.
  • Try and get the above going before you eat (it only takes a moment)… then enjoy your food.
  • Once full (you, not the oven), remove from heat and let cool.  Then discard the dirty water and rinse out with warm water.   The oven should be clean.  If not, repeat.
  • Dry the oven, then place on a low heat, over the fire, or next to the fire, with the lid slightly off.  This will remove any remaining moisture within the pores of the iron.
  • Finally, before packing it away, use a paper towel and smear unflavoured vegetable oil over the oven to give it a bit more protection.  Wipe off any excess.

Never use soap.  Detergent will remove your seasoning.

5. Get one

As with most things, you can get Dutch Ovens and related equipment from Amazon.

Dutch Oven Camp Recipe Favorites

Try these Dutch Oven favorites.

Cooking should be relaxed and simple.  Chop an onion, thrown in some spuds, add a tin of beans, and have a beer…

Obviously safety around hot things and campfires must be understood by kids, but helping cook in a dutch oven is something they will enjoy.

Cowboy Stew

A favorite of “Stinky Pete” I guess. You don’t have to stick to the recipe exactly for it to work.

Follow our step-by-step guide to this really simple recipe.

Breakfast

When waking up on a cold damp morning, getting the fire going and a warm breakfast is just what’s needed – something you can’t do if you are mainly camping off BBQs.

  • 1lb Sausages (Quorn ones work well as well)
  • Frozen Hash Browns
  • 12 Eggs (yes, a lot)
  • 1/2 lb Cheddar Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper

Grate cheese.

Preheat Dutch Oven with coals underneath.

Cut or tear sausages into little pieces and put in oven.  Stir until sausage is cooked (or just heated through if using precooked sausages).

Add the hash browns.  Stir and fry until hash browns are browned.

Remove from coals.  Mix eggs and pour over the top of the sausage and potato base.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cover Dutch Oven and add coals to the lid to cook the eggs from above.

When eggs are cooked, sprinkle cheese, cover and cook for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

Pizza Casserole

This is a creative meal.

  • 2 packs of rolls
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Jar of pizza sauce
  • Mince

Grate the cheese (or slice mozzarella).

Brown the mince in Dutch Oven then remove.  Let the oven cool.

Line the bottom of the oven with 1 pack of rolls – can use sliced bread if rolls are not available.

Spread pizza sauce over rolls.  Add mince.  Add cheese.  Add the remaining pack of rolls to the top.  Bake (i.e. most of the coals on top) for 30-40 minutes.

More Dutch Oven Recipes

Others like Girl Scout Stew is a favourite of ours, but as you can see there’s a lot you can do (including puddings).   Amazon has some Dutch Oven recipe books for more inspiration.

Cooking the Dutch Oven Way, 3rd (Cookbooks)
 Cooking the Dutch Oven Way

 

 

Gav Grayston
Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) ....but unfortunately spends too much time behind a computer keyboard than he would like! Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.
Gav Grayston

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