Every year I go on two or three car-camping or base-camping trips with friends, and I always find that I’d like to contribute more to cooking on these trips. When I was younger, my father always talked about cooking in the Dutch Oven on scout trips, but he never showed me how to use one. Two years ago, I borrowed one of his old rusty Dutch Ovens, and refurbished it, then tried using it on a camping trip in the Adirondacks. The results mixed, but I wanted to keep trying, and it is still a work in progress. Here is what I have learned so far about Dutch Oven Cooking
Refurbishing Your Dutch Oven:
If you have an old hand-me-down Dutch Oven, it might need some care before you can use it. Refurbishing is actually pretty simple. First, you want to clean it thoroughly with soap, water, and a sturdy brush or sponge. This should be the only time you ever use soap on your oven. After you’ve removed all the grit, grime, and rust that may have been stuck to your oven, you want to thoroughly dry it. Use a paper towel to remove most of the water, then place it on a bed of hot coals or in your oven at home. Let it sit in the heat until it is completely dry.
After you’ve cleaned the oven, it needs to be re-seasoned. If you’ve just dried your Dutch, wait for it to cool. Once it is cool, cover every surface of the oven and its lid with vegetable shortening, like Crisco. Once you have applied a smooth, even layer of shortening, wipe off any excess, and place the oven back in the heat for 45-60 minutes. Repeat this process several times until the oven is black. Here is some more information on caring for your Dutch Oven: http://www.dutchovendude.com/dutch-oven-seasoning.shtml
Preparing Coals for Dutch Oven Cooking:
Many people prefer to use charcoal briquettes when cooking with a Dutch Oven, because counting the number of briquettes is a convenient way to regulate cooking temperature. I prefer to use a wood fire, as it is more natural. As usual when cooking with a wood fire, you don’t actually cook over burning wood, but over a bed of hot coals. I have found that to build up a sufficient bed of coals, you need to build a fire large enough that it takes 1-2 hours to burn down. Once the wood has burnt down and there are very few flames left, spread out the coals into a smooth surface, using a stick or shovel. Now you can place the oven on the coals and allow it to start heating up. Some recipes will need you to place hot coals on top of the oven as well as under it. In these cases, it might be a good idea to use charcoal briquettes, as it will be easier to avoid getting ash into your food.
Dutch Oven Cooking:
Cooking with a Dutch Oven on natural wood coals requires careful monitoring of temperature. When pre-heating the oven, I check its temperature by dripping water onto the lid. If the water sizzles off, it is hot enough to add your food. While cooking, you will want to occasionally open the lid to check how violently is boiling. I think of a Dutch Oven somewhat like a slow cooker or crock pot: it should never come to a violent boil. If it does start to boil violently, move it to a cooler area on your coal bed, or remove some coals from underneath.
The first thing I tried cooking that actually worked out was a simple vegetable side dish for my friend’s BBQ Chicken. To make it, we chopped up carrots, celery, potatoes, and onions and placed them in the oven. Then we poured in two cans of beer and sprinkled a generous portion of seasonings (Webber Beer Can Chicken) over the top, stirred, and closed the pot. I monitored the progress of the veggies by occasionally opening the oven and stirring. When they were tender, I removed the oven from the heat and let it sit while we continued to cook the BBQ Chicken.
My next successful experiment was to bake sweet potatoes in the Dutch Oven. To do this, I first poked each potato with a fork to allow steam to escape from the inside while cooking. Then I lathered each spud with olive oil and sprinkled on seasonings. I placed the yams into the oven and poured in a can of beer, and in an hour they had the consistency of butter. I think this is my new favorite way to cook sweet potatoes.
My Dutch Oven Chili Recipe:
The most complicated recipe that I have tried successfully has been for Paleo Chili. I borrowed most of my chili recipe from http://www.paleonewbie.com/paleo-crockpot-chili-recipe/, but have made a few modifications for my own personal taste. Here we go:
- 2 lbs. of ground beef
- 1 lb of cubed stewing beef
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 red and 1 green bell pepper, both diced
- 4 medium carrots, chopped
- 1 zucchini squash, chopped
- 4 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- (1) 28-ounce can of crushed or stewed tomatoes
- (1) 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
- (1) 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
- 3 tbsp. of chili powder
- 1 tbsp. of oregano
- 1 tbsp. of basil
- 2 tsp. of cumin
- 1 tsp. of salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. of cayenne
- *I have left a few ingredients out. I need to have some secrets.
- Sauté the onion and garlic together in a pan using a bit of coconut oil.
- Brown the ground beef in the same pan.
- Add all the ingredients to the Dutch Oven and stir, then close the lid.
- Occasionally open the lid to stir.
- Never allow the chili to reach a full boil. If it goes into a rolling boil, remove it from the heat.
- Cooking time should be 2-3 hours, or until the beef cubes are cooked through and all the vegetables are soft.
- If you are camping, it is easiest to sauté the onion and ground beef on a propane stove.
- When packing up to go camping, you may want to pre-portion all of the spices into a single container, rather than carrying along all of the individual spices in their own containers.
Cleaning up after Dutch Oven Cooking:
After using cooking in your Dutch Oven, you must clean it. Use water and a sponge (but no soap!) to remove all remaining food, being careful not to leave anything behind. If there is a large amount of burnt food inside the oven, scrape it off with a wooden spoon. Once all the food has been removed, pour about a cup of water into the oven and place it back onto the hot coals, placing the lid slightly ajar. Allow that water to completely boil off, then remove the oven from the coals and put it in a safe place to cool off.
Future Dutch Oven Cooking Experiments:
I plan to continue to develop my skill cooking with the Dutch Oven, and to practice with more recipes. One of the recipes my father always used to talk about was Peach Cobbler, I tried making it, but I think it will take further refinement.
Do you have any favorite Dutch Oven recipes?