If you are feeling the need to add to your ever-growing stash of camping gear, then I would highly recommend making your next acquisition a Dutch oven.
We have been toying with buying one for over a year now, making excuses like ‘it’s just too heavy’ or ‘we don’t really have space to store it’ or ‘cooking with it seems too complicated’. Well let me tell you, our camping menu before going Dutch has faded very quickly into insignificance, and we seriously question how we went for so long without a camp Dutch oven!
They’re not too heavy, it’s not too complicated to cook with them and you WILL find space to store them. So maybe now’s the time to throw your excuses in the pan and get gourmet with with your campfire cooking.
What is a Dutch oven?
A Dutch oven is a large metal pot, usually cast iron, used for cooking in an oven, on the hob or more traditionally by surrounding them with hot coals. They have a lid with a handle and the outdoor types of Dutch ovens have three legs to enable the coals to sit underneath them.
How to choose a Dutch oven for camping
Whether you are buying your camp Dutch oven brand new or second hand, make sure of the following:
- it has legs – preferably no less than three!
- it has a good solid handle on the lid
- the lid fits snuggly
- the metal is a consistent thickness throughout
- the thin metal handle attached to the oven itself (called the bail) is strong enough and easily movable
You should also consider the size of the Dutch oven and whether you’ll most likely be feeding an army or keeping it to a cosy meal for two:
Why are Dutch ovens so good to cook with when camping?
This is a whole other article altogether, so take a look at these recipes which might help answer the question! But to summarise:
- Dutch ovens are highly versatile
- You can use them to bake, roast, boil, fry and stew
- You can just throw everything in a Dutch oven, leave it for hours, and then dinner is done!
- The flavour of the food cooking in a Dutch oven is like nothing else, there is a depth to it – food tastes like it’s been cooked on a campfire without tasting like the campfire itself (if you know what I mean?)
- Dutch ovens are highly durable
Seasoning a Dutch oven
The origins of the Dutch oven dates back to the early 1700’s when an advanced system for producing them was developed in the Netherlands. There have been some significant upgrades in their production since then with many brands now arriving in store pre-seasoned. However if they haven’t been seasoned then this is an essential bit of preparation that is easiest to do BEFORE you head out into the wild.
A well seasoned Dutch oven will make it much easier to clean, has non-stick properties and adds that delicious smokey flavour to your dishes.
Bought new, Dutch ovens have a protective coating that needs to be removed. A good scrubbing with some water, soap and wire wool should do the trick. Dry it with a towel ready for seasoning.
Here’s a quick guide on how to season a Dutch oven at home:
- Preheat the electric/gas oven in your kitchen to 350° F
- Open windows and turn off the smoke alarm
- Put the Dutch oven, lid and all, into your kitchen oven and heat until it’s almost too hot to handle
- Remove from oven and using a paper towel, rub a thin layer of cooking oil over the entire pot, including the lid and legs
- Put the pot and lid back in the oven on the top shelf
- Place a baking tray on the shelf below to catch any dripping oil
- Bake the Dutch oven for one hour
- Turn off the oven and let the pot and lid cool in the oven
- Repeat the whole process
- Finally, remove from the oven when cool, and wipe with a clean dry cloth
Cooking with a Dutch oven
To get cooking with a Dutch oven, you need to get yourself set up (yes, a few more bits of gear I’m afraid). Your new and upgraded camp kitchen will need:
- a Dutch oven
- a bag of coals or briquettes
- a long pair of tongs – to move and place the coals
- a lid lifter
- a pair of heat resistant gloves
- a small broom – to brush the ash off the lid before you take the lid off the pot
Step 1: get the charcoal lit
Use a fire pit or BBQ/grill to light the charcoal or briquettes and nurture them as you would for a BBQ.
Step 2: get the food in the pot
Once the coals are good to go, get your ingredients in the pot and cover with the lid.
Step 3: arrange the coals
Use your tongs to place the coals on the lid and under the pot. Not just anywhere though. There’s a science to this: two coals are used per inch of oven diameter with three extra on top and three fewer underneath.
Pot size = 12 inches
Total No. of coals = 24
No. of coals underneath = 9 (12 coals – 3)
No. of coals on top = 15 (12 coals + 3)
This maintains a steady temperature of 325 – 350ºF and you can even adjust the temperature: the general rule is that two coals = 25°F.
Step 4: leave the food to cook in your Dutch oven
It’s tempting to take off the lid and check the progress of your camping culinary creation. But it’s best to try to leave the oven to work it’s magic and only take a peek when you start getting wafts of what soon will be making it’s way into your hungry belly! If you simply can’t contain yourself then use your lid lifter to take a look inside, but be very careful that the ash doesn’t fall into the food.
Step 5: sweep off the ash
Now that the ‘dinner’s ready’ call has been made, use the tongs to take off the coals and then brush off any ash that has formed on the lid. This will stop it getting into the food when you take the lid off.
Do’s and Don’ts
- place your Dutch oven on a heat proof surface when cooking
- secure the lid properly so heat doesn’t escape
- use wooden cooking utensils
- brush the ash off the lid before taking it off
- use a sponge and water to clean out the pot after use
- re-season with oil after each use
- use plastic or silicone cooking utensils
- ever pour cold water into a hot Dutch oven – it could crack
- drop it – they can break!
- scrub it with a scourer or wire wool to clean it
- use strong detergent – it will remove the seasoning
- leave water in it – it will rust
Dutch oven camping recipes
Now that you know how to use your new portable oven, you just need to choose what to put in it! Whatever you decide, the joy of Dutch oven cooking is sure to make your first meal a smouldering success.