The Science of Dutch Oven Cooking
Author: Jamie Brinkerhoff
I enjoy cooking with a Dutch oven, whether it be over a campfire or a camp stove. There is an art to cooking in a Dutch oven. Once you get the hang of it you can cook or bake anything that can be cooked or baked in your modern kitchen at home.
I have baked rolls, cake and even pizza in a Dutch oven. One dish meals such as stews and soups are the best when made in a Dutch oven. Meat, even the cheapest cuts can be made tender and delicious in a Dutch oven.
There are a few tricks concerning the cooking source that are important to successful Dutch oven cooking. They can make the difference between undercooked or burnt food.
When I am preparing a meat dish such as ribs, chicken or roast, I like to brown the meat in the Dutch oven on a camp stove. Then the flavor from the browned meat is in the Dutch oven and adds to the taste of the finished product. Also this gets the Dutch oven hot so when it is placed on the coals, they maintain the heat and energy isn’t lost trying to heat the Dutch oven up.
The heat for Dutch oven cooking can’t be too hot or too cool. To take a line from the three bears, it must be, “just right.” This might seem hard to determine, but if you are using charcoal briquettes it as easy as counting the number of briquettes to put under and on top of the Dutch oven.
Put as many briquettes under the Dutch oven as it size and two more than that number on the lid. That will give you a temperature of 350 degrees. For example if you are using a size 12 Dutch oven put 12 bricketts under the Dutch oven and 14 on the lid. If you are baking anything I recommend using bricketts.
If you are using a campfire you need to burn the wood down to coals and use the coals to heat the Dutch oven. I like to keep a campfire burning to replace coals as needed. Usually ever 30 to 40 minutes. This requires you to make a place outside of the campfire to place your coals for the Dutch oven. If you don’t do this and leave the Dutch oven in the fire pit with the fire burning you will probably end up with the food burned on the side closest to the fire.
I usually use a fire pan of some kind, the lid of a metal garbage can works great, to put the coals in. That makes for easy clean up of the ashes and you don’t have coals and ashes scattered all over your campsite.
Cooking with wood coals requires some skill learned by experience to determine the proper temperature for the food you are cooking. There are different types of wood that make better coals than others. Usually we don’t have the luxury of having the best wood available every time and just use what is available. So it takes a little more watching to make sure the dish you are preparing gets properly done. I don’t worry about this too much when cooking meats and stews. This may be more of a problem when baking products such as cakes and rolls. The correct and consistent temperature is more important when baking so the item doesn’t burn or become under cooked. Doughy rolls or soggy cake is a real disappointment after all the work you go through to make them.
You can also just use a camp stove and not have a fire or coals at all. This works great with one dish meals and dishes with a lot of moisture in them. A camp stove doesn’t work that great for baked items though because there isn’t any heat on the lid.
The best thing to do is just try it find Dutch oven recipe that looks good. They are on the internet or in special Dutch oven cookbooks. Follow the instructions and you will have a great meal that tastes better than anything you have ever cooked before. Especially if you cook it while camping in the mountains.
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