A Dutch Oven Cooking Primer, Part 1
By Archie and Linda Dixon, authors of Just Dutch It!
Have you ever wondered how you would cook when there is no gas or electricity for any length of time? There is a real possibility that this could happen. For instance, ice storms can take out power lines for weeks. Tornadoes do the same, and earthquakes break natural gas and electrical lines. Another possibility is a virus in the computer system of your power company. Any of these emergencies could happen to us today. Think about it. There’s not always sun to use your solar oven, the barbeque grill doesn’t bake bread very well, and that camp stove is going to run out of fuel if you have to use it for very long. So, what do you use for long-term cooking?
Easy. Get back to the basics. Use what the cooks on those cattle drives, the pioneers crossing the plains, and Lewis and Clark used — the good old Dutch oven! And what about fuel? Wood and buffalo chips are okay, but modern day charcoal briquettes are the best. And, they are easy to store, not dangerous in any way, and if they get wet, you just dry them out before using.
OK, if the stores are out of food and everything in the refrigerator and freezer is eaten up or spoiled, what will you eat? Hopefully you have food stored and you know how to fix it. You will have to use your #10 cans of dried or freeze-dried foods, if you have some, and those cans or jars of tomatoes, peaches, soup, etc. in the pantry, basement or garage. In Part 2, I will share with you a sampling of some delicious recipes that use food already in your storage pantry with directions for making them in a Dutch oven. But first, let me tell you about Dutch ovens.
Buying and caring for a Dutch oven
You need to have a “camp” type Dutch oven. This is not the oven you find in your cooking magazines, but the kind you take camping and use for outdoor cooking. It is made out of cast iron (there are also aluminum ones), has a flat bottom, and three short legs. These legs allow you to move briquettes in and out from under the oven, regulating the oven temperature. The lid has a raised rim around the edge so coals will stay on top while cooking.
Now the big question: what size do I need, and how many ovens should I have? This is something you need to think about. If you start out with a 12” oven you will be at a good starting point. I also like a 14” and a 10”. With three ovens you can cook your meals very easily. This could change depending on how many people you are cooking for. Also, you can take advantage of stack cooking. This maximizes your charcoal. Your top charcoal becomes the bottom for the one stacked on top. You may want to look at how deep they are as well. You may want to have deep ovens for things like soup.
Below is a picture of 4 ovens of different sizes stacked up to show sizes and stack cooking technique. Of course to cook you will need to add hot charcoal briquettes. The ovens are 14”, 12”, 10”, and 5”.
Wash your new Dutch oven (or the one you might have picked up at a yard sale) in hot soapy water and scrub off the protective wax or oil put on by the manufacturer, unless instructed otherwise per oven instructions. To do this, use a stiff brush or green scrubbing pad. Dutch ovens are iron and will rust if not kept dry, even for a short time. This will be the only time you should need to use soap on your oven. Be sure to dry your oven quickly.
Now you need to “season” the oven. While still warm from washing, wipe the dry oven and lid with a lightly oiled paper towel or cotton cloth. Use regular vegetable oil. Don’t pour oil into the oven. Pour the oil onto a cloth, then wipe. After oiling the Dutch oven, place it in your kitchen oven on the bottom rack at 350 degrees with the lid ajar. Bake one hour. You may get strange smelling fumes, so open a few windows. Once the Dutch oven has cooled down, remove it, oil it, and bake it again. Leave it in the kitchen oven until warm, remove it, then oil it lightly one more time. Your Dutch oven is ready to use. You will notice it has turned a golden color. But after continued use it will have a black shine. This is what we want. If it does rust, just repeat the above process.
After cooking in it, scrape out any remaining food with a spatula. After it has cooled slightly, put an inch or so of water in it (Do Not Put Cold Water In A Hot Dutch Oven! It Could Crack!) and return to the coals to boil and steam out the stuck on food. After several minutes, remove it from the coals, and when it’s not too hot to handle, lightly scrub it with a brush or cleaning pad. Dry and lightly coat with oil.
Be sure your oven is clean and dry. Lightly coat it with regular oil and wipe off the excess. I always store my ovens with a small wad of aluminum foil under the rim of the lid. It is also recommended to place a piece of paper towel or cotton cloth in the Dutch oven to absorb any moisture. If you don’t crack the lid with foil or something similar, I have found it’s very hard to get the lid off after it has been stored for a long period of time. Make sure you store it in a dry place.
Coming tomorrow, Part 2. You’ll learn tips for cooking in a Dutch Oven as well as some great recipes. For more information and to order Archie and Linda’s book, visit their website, Just Dutch It.
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