By R. Maxine Lundquist
The first secret to Dutch oven cooking is to remember that these cast iron kettles are the original slow cooker. There are many different ways you can use one, but here is the classic slow-cooker use for having a hot meal ready when you come back from a long hike or a day’s fishing:
- In the morning, dig a hole in the ground slightly taller and larger around than the Dutch oven you will be using. Build a fire in the hole using hardwood and let it burn down to coals.
- In the meantime, prepare your Dutch oven meal. (Camping and Hiking Ideas Hint: Just about any slow-cooker recipe will translate well into a Dutch oven using this method.)
- Place tinfoil over the mouth of the pot and put the lid on. Cover the lid with an old cloth or more tinfoil.
- When you are ready, rake the coals from the hole, place the Dutch oven inside the hole, and then put fresh coals from the campfire around and over the oven.
- Shovel a few inches of soil over the top and flatten surface with a shovel or press soil down with feet.
- That’s it! Go hiking, go fishing, do whatever. At the end of the day come back, dig up the oven and your meal will be hot and ready.
Dutch oven cooking is more than food preparation—it is an art that you practice in the wilderness. From the moment that you haul out that heavy black kettle from its place in the back of the trailer you have committed yourself to an effort that feeds, not only the camper, but the heart of history. You are embarking on a cooking journey that began well over three hundred years ago, to end up here, now, at the campsite with you and the watering mouths that wait for your creation. Out of respect for that journey, let’s review The Big Three for perfect Dutch oven cooking:
- Select the right pot. Never buy a Dutch oven without legs. Flat bottoms are notoriously hard to cook in, because you cannot regulate the coals underneath properly. Make sure the lid fits securely, with no gaps. The center of the lid should have a handle so you can remove it with ease, and don’t forget to make sure the wire handle itself is strong and easy to move. Pick a medium sized pot, 12”. It holds enough stew for 6-10 people, and is large enough to do a little baking in. Larger pots are very heavy, smaller ones don’t hold enough.
- Don’t forget to cure your Dutch oven. Do this at home. Take out one oven rack from your home oven and preheat the oven to 200°F. Set your Dutch oven inside (be aware of the legs; make sure they don’t bang the heating element. If you can, lay the lid on the rack and the oven on top of the lid) and leave it there for a good ten minutes. Using oven mitts, remove the pot and wipe it inside and out with a small amount of shortening, inside and out. When completely coated, increase home oven temperature to 350°F, place pot back inside and “bake” for one hour. Turn off the smoke alarm for this, as there will be smoke. After an hour, turn off your home oven and let the whole thing cool on its own, preferably overnight. Your Dutch oven is now ready for use.
- The secret to Dutch oven cooking temperatures. Got your 12” oven? Place the diameter + 2 coals in a circle under the oven, and the diameter – 2 coals in a circle on top, i.e. 12” oven means 12+2=14 coals in a circle under the oven, and 12-2=10 coals in a circle on top on the lid. If the pot is 10” it is 10+2 and 10-2, and so on. Always the diameter plus two coals under and the diameter plus two coals on top. The circle beneath keeps the center from forming a hot spot and burning your food, and put two of the coals in the center on top of the lid as well as the rest in a circle to ensure even heating. This will give you an internal temperature of 350°F. Want to raise the temperature? Every extra coal under and extra coal on top will increase the temperature by 50°F.
So there you have it, folks. Remember these three things and you will do more than make a meal—you’ll make history! For Dutch oven recipes, click here.