Coals on top of the Dutch Oven in the campfire

Dutch Ovens: 5 steps to better camp cooking

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Oct 2011; updated May 2023.

Learn how to do real camp cooking with a Dutch Oven. Say 'No' to burnt sausages and pot noodles when camping.

Dutch Oven

The Dutch Oven will transform your camping experience. 

Living off burnt sausages and burgers 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 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:

YouTube Video Thumbnail

2. Seasoning your Dutch Oven

Before starting with your Dutch Oven, you need to season it.   This 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 do not 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 must cook the fat into the iron to give it a 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 make it easier to clean at the campsite.

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 those still hot or get some started by placing them around the fire's edge.

You can use a briquette starter to start the initial batch of briquette.

We typically use our Dutch Oven with our tripod.

Using the Briquettes for Dutch Oven Cooking

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

  • Baking: More heat from the top so the bottom doesn't burn. 3/4 coals on top; 1/4 underneath.
  • Roasting: Heat comes from the 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.

Lifting the Lid

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 on so it remains upright but does 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.

Dutch Oven over Campfire

Our Dutch Oven by the campfire. Note the stones helping to secure it.

4. Cleaning

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

A Dutch Oven needing a clean

Time to clean the Dutch Oven

  • Remove all food.  Any burnt food gently scrapes away with a wooden spoon.  Do not use a metal spoon, as that will remove the seasoning.
  • Add a few inches of water with the oven cool. 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 (it 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 away 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 it on 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, use a paper towel and smear unflavoured vegetable oil over the oven to give it more protection.  Wipe off any excess.

Never use soap.  The detergent will remove your seasoning.

Hot Water in Dutch Oven for Cleaning

Using warm water to help clean the Dutch Oven

5. Get one

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

You can get Dutch Ovens in several different sizes (and stack them on top of one another if you need to cook more things with the same coals).

Dutch Oven Camp Recipe Favorites

Try these Dutch Oven favourites.

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

Kids must understand safety around hot things and campfires, but helping cook in a Dutch oven is something they will enjoy.

Cowboy Stew

Cowboy Stew

A favourite 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.


When waking up on a cold damp morning, getting the fire going and a warm breakfast is 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 the 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 - you can use sliced bread if rolls are unavailable.

Spread pizza sauce over the 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.