Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Care and Keeping of Dutch Ovens

Of all the handy inventions that has been given to mankind, I have to rate dutch ovens above the computer, the internet, the cell phone, and even, dare I say it, the ipod. We didn't come to learn about dutch ovens until we had moved out to the edge of nowhere. Avalanche, Rockslide and I went out with the scouts one fine spring day. There were a lot of scouts, and they all wanted to have their own campfires. We didn't have a Coleman stove, and had kind of chickened out and brought a few sandwiches, some chips, apples, cookies etc. The Scouts were making pizza, popcorn, and the campfire dinner with hamburger, carrots, and potatoes wrapped in tinfoil and put on the campfire. These last could probably be fairly edible if the hamburger was extra lean, the potatoes and carrots were cut into little pieces and the whole thing was seasoned and cooked well - something that is only theory to me. I have never seen one done well. So we ate our dinner, and were still a little peckish. The Scoutmaster asked us if we wanted to have some of his dutch oven dinners. We had no idea what a treat we would have. Dutch oven chicken, cheezey potatoes, cherry cobler.... mmmmm.... Much better than the greasey hamburger, - rare in the inside and cooked to a burnt crisp on the fireside, crunch and burnt potatoes and carrots that the traditional dinner gave us. Our sandwiches had been good, but we really liked this new style of cooking.

Fade back about 15 years. We were on the farm and inflation was roaring along at about 15 percent and we had a lot of exhortation to get our food storage in church and had been making some progress in that area and decided to test it out for a week. It taught us that we didn't have a good way to cook things, and that we didn't like textured vegetable protein at all.... and probably some other lessons as well.

So let's concentrate on food today. Water is probably more important to have if you can't get it, but lets start with food. We didn't have dutch ovens! Yikes, looking back, how strange is that? If you don't have a dutch oven, get one. Save for one, let Santa know it's on your list, use some of the stimulus package money this spring to buy one or more.

I like the ones without the legs. The camp ovens are really better if you are going to use them outside a lot, but you can use the classic ones all the time in the oven, and get your recipes dialed in and then take them outside and use them with briquettes. You will need to have a few small rocks or something else to act as legs, or the oven with smother the briquettes, and you will have very pink, tough and juicy chicken. :)

Dottie asked me to send her some information on dutch oven cooking so that she can put it into the cookbook she is putting together. (Mostly Grandma's recipes, but also other family favorites that anyone has and wants to share).

I got this chart and placement instructions from


So maybe this will be helpful. I don't use recipes or charts much, so I am not much help. But maybe I should.

Don't use the briquettes that are supposed to give things a mesquite or other wood flavor. They are made from wood rather than coal, and have a LOT less heat in them... you can use them, but not on a 1 to 1 basis with the chart below. They have less heat, and they burn out quicker, so you might need 1.5:1 or 2:1

If your meat is still a little frozen - more time, more briquettes.

If is is really cold out side - same as above. If the wind is blowing, shelter the ovens, or you don't have a prayer.

You can use them on a regular campfire just fine too. Bring a fireplace ash shovel so that you can heap the coals on top. Also, buy a lid lifter, or have a pair of vise grip pliers handy.

There are lots of little gadgets that can be handy to have, but are not totally necessary. I like the smooth bottom ovens designed for using in the kitchen oven. They nest inside each other, and take less room. But you need to have something to set them on so that the coals or briquettes aren't crushed and can still get some air. Railroad spikes work well for this. So does several little rocks....

You need to have some kind of pliers or forcips or something to move the coals around. Good to have a whisk broom too, to sweep off the top before you serve. I hope this is helpful.

This chart will show you how many briquettes you need to use to achieve a certain temperature in your Dutch oven. The numbers across the top refer to the cooking temperature you wish to achieve. The number down the side refers to your Dutch oven's diameter. So if you have a 12 inch Dutch oven and want to cook something at 350 degrees, for example, you would need 25 briquettes.



































Briquette Position

Now you know how many briquettes to use to get a certain temperature. The next question is how many briquettes go on the top, and how many go on the bottom? Use this guide:

To Roast
Put ½ of the briquettes on the bottom, ½ on the lid.

To Bake
Put 1/3 on the bottom, 2/3 on the lid.

To Simmer
Put 2/3 on the bottom, 1/3 on the lid.

Also, realize that a briquette has a heat curve - at the start they put out very little, then the heat rises in sort of a bell shaped curve, reaches a peak and starts to fall of as the fuel in consumed and the actual hot part gets to be as big as a marble, surrounded by a lot of fluffy ash. Don't be fooled...

The more you use your dutch oven, the better it will cook, in that all the little pores in the metal will become filled with carbon, and it will have a slick finish that is very durable.

When you are first seasoning an oven the process is to coat it with oil and bake it at 450 deg F for an hour or so. This will kind of make a slick surface, but it is just a start. For the first dozen or more times, I would just use it to make meat dishes, or bake bread in. If you have a lot of liquid, and especially if there are acids (fruit based desserts), that will dissolve the seasoning coating, and you will have to add more oil and bake it again. Bread is good, put a lot of pan spray in and bake without a lid. Or with one, except for the last few minutes to brown the loaf. And, yes, it won't be shaped like bread you buy in the store.

One more nice thing about DO cooking. It is easy to store a bag of match light briquettes in a closet. They can be used on a propane or coleman gase stove as well, but if push comes to shove, you can gather up some sticks and dry branches from a nearby tree and have a warm meal.

Well, that should get you started. And that is kind of the whole point of this blog. Once you start using a dutch oven in your cooking, I think you will be hooked. And it won't seem so weird either. After the first time you have a power outage that last for a few hours, you will be glad of the water, warm clothes and blankets, and food that you have in you home.


The Nurse said...

good tips... especially how many briquettes go on your dutch oven etc... that part was always scary to me. i do need to buy one of the ovens. i just have 2 pans... do you know where i can buy a few and the prices?

pixiestylist said...

i remember when k8 won nationals you cooked our food in dutch ovens on the patio of our hotel room. i guess i'm your daughter, cuz i didn't think it was wierd at all, i thought it was GENIUS! :)

Sailor said...

Hi K8,
I have some links in the article about outdoor ovens, and about 'classical' ovens. They take you to different web pages at Lehmans.com.

Hi Pixie,
Yeah, I guess that mostly I am cheap. We had dinner for about 10 if I remember for under $10...maybe closer to $5 back then. You gotta do what you gotta do. And with dutch ovens you can feed the family and not go broke.

Andrew said...

K8 -

We got ours at Wal-Mart and Cabellas. Both have good selections and reasonable prices. I think we paid around 30-40 for both of ours.