Dutch Ovens are increasingly popular for cooking outdoors—hotter than Five-Alarm Chili!
Whether this is because food seems to taste better when cooked in them, because they’re easy to use with a campfire, or because they harken back to mountain men, cowboys, and Civil War soldiers, many folks agree that Dutch ovens are, well, cool.
Getting started in Dutch oven cooking requires some gear. At minimum, you’ll need a lid lifter, tongs, heavy gloves made especially for camp cooking, wooden utensils, charcoal briquettes, and a Dutch oven, which can range from 5 to 22 inches in diameter and be purchased new or used.
What Makes It “Dutch” Cooking?
Ideas abound about how the flat-bottom cast-iron kettle got its name. John G. Ragsdale, author of Dutch Ovens Chronicled, Their Use in the United States (University of Arkansas Press, 1991), floats three theories:
- In 1704, Englishman Abraham Darby visited a Dutch foundry and observed the process for casting brass in dry sand molds. Later, he perfected the method for iron and attributed it to the Dutch.
- The pots became associated with the early Dutch traders who peddled them.
- Dutch settlers in the Pennsylvania area used similar cast-iron cooking vessels.
The International Dutch Oven Society (IDOS; www.idos.com) has chapters in more than 20 states, and the number continues to grow. Canada has a chapter in Ontario.
A Colonist’s Crock?
A popular myth suggests that Paul Revere—the excellent metalsmith who made the famous 1775 Midnight Ride—adapted the Dutch oven’s lid to include the flanged lip that holds the coals on top. In fact, the Dutch oven’s lip and three legs—which allow the pot to sit over (not in) coals—appeared in the early 1700s.
How to Arrange Your Briquettes
- To stew or simmer: approx. 1:1 ratio, above to underneath
- To broil: checkerboard pattern, approx. 2:1 ratio, above to underneath
- To fry or boil: checkerboard pattern, all underneath
- To bake: approx. 2:1 ratio, above to underneath
It’s Pot Skill, Not Pot Luck
Anyone can cook almost anything in a Dutch oven, as long as the pot has a well sealing lid and the temperature is controlled. A secure lid allows heat and internal pressure to build, while preserving moisture so that the food is gently steamed from the inside out. Controlling the temperature takes practice. To attain the 325° to 350°F temperatures required by many recipes, cooks apply a simple formula: In general, use twice as many charcoal briquettes as the size of the Dutch oven. A 12-inch oven would use about 24 briquettes. As a general rule, to increase the temperature 25 degrees, add three briquettes. Place one underneath the pot and two on top. Briquette placement, both on the lid and under the pot, is crucial, too. To prevent hot spots, rotate the lid and pot 90 degrees every 15 minutes, depending on sun, wind, and altitude. Seasoned veterans believe that the nose knows when food is done. Lifting the lid to peek inside can release moisture and lengthen the cooking time.
Join The Dutch Oven Club
IDOS chapters host cook-offs, seminars, demonstrations, and events for the entire family, including Dutch Oven Gatherings (DOGs), where people get together to cook, chat, trade recipes, and eat. Kids have their own cooking event—a Puppy.
Dutch Oven Recipes
Here are a couple of our favorite Dutch Oven recipes which we featured in The Old Farmer's Almanac.
Click to find seven more Dutch Oven recipes.