Dutch-oven cooking is not only flavorful but also a lot of fun! Just because you’re cooking over a fire, you don’t have to eat hot dogs. Learn about Dutch-oven cooking and three great recipes to try!
How Does a Dutch Oven Work?
Dutch-oven cooking is all about cooking in a cast iron pot over a campfire, wood fire, or charcoal. Dutch oven can range in size from 5 to 22 inches in diameter and can often be found for sale new or used.
Anyone can cook almost anything in a cast-iron 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 at the same time preserving moisture so that the food is gently steamed from the inside out. Lifting the lid to peek inside can release moisture and lengthen the cooking time.
Heating the Dutch Oven
The secret to cast-iron cooking is temperature control to avoid burning the food. It’s easy to learn, but don’t be dismayed if you overcook the first time out. 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. So, a 12-inch oven would use about 24 briquettes.
Also, some briquettes go on the bottom and some on the top; many people overheat the bottom. Here’s the rule: Take the diameter of the Dutch oven and add 2 or 3 to get the number of briquettes to use on top. Subtract 2 or 3 from the diameter to get the number of briquettes to use on the bottom. For example, with a 12-inch Dutch oven, use 14 or 15 briquettes on top and 9 or 10 briquettes on bottom for a total of 23 to 25 briquettes. This gives an approximate temperature of 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a general rule, to increase the temperature 25 degrees, add three briquettes. Place one underneath the pot and two on top. 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.
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
What Else You Need to Get Started
Before starting, you will need a few supplies: a lid lifter, tongs, heavy gloves made especially for camp cooking, wooden utensils, charcoal briquettes, and your Dutch oven.
Of course, you’ll also want to bring your own eating utensils, folding chairs, drinks, and side dishes. Consider where you’ll place your hot Dutch oven so it’s off the ground; this could be a simple metal pan propped on bricks or a special metal table.
Also, if you are camping, check ahead to see if there are enough fire pits or fire rings or, barring this, if you can cook on charcoal outside of the fire pits.
What Makes It “Dutch” Cooking?
Ideas abound about how the famous 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 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.
3 Favorite Dutch Oven Recipes
Chili and a dessert cobbler are the most common Dutch oven recipes, but you can cook nearly everything in a Dutch oven—from Italian fare to turkey to brownies!
These recipes are geared for cooking over campfires. However, many Dutch oven recipes can also be cooked on the stove, in the oven, or in a slow cooker, so feel free to use what you’ve got on hand.
Campfire dump cake is one of our favorite camping desserts. A classic dump cake is made with a can of crushed pineapple and pie filling. We think cherry filling is a perfect match!
Savor this Dutch Oven Lasagna recipe that can be cooked over an open fire outdoors (or on the stove and in the oven). Move over, campfire hot dogs! It’s time for a savory Italian dish!
This cheesy potato dish loaded with bacon is classic Dutch oven cooking! Whether you’re camping or cooking at home, this is alway a hit. We prefer Yukon Gold potatoes.
More Great Dutch Oven Recipes
Here is a list of other recipes that can be also cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven, whether on a stovetop or an outdoor fire.
Lentil Soup With Vegetables
Good Luck Hoppin’ John
Pasta Greens and Feta
Chicken and Dumplings
Classic Beef Brisket
Bacon, Sausage, and Bean Soup
Grampa’s Baked Beans
Best Broccoli Soup
Irish Beef Stew
Have you ever tried Dutch-oven cooking? We’d love to hear what you’ve cooked and welcome recipe ideas!