A Dutch Oven Cooking Primer, Part 1

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By Archie and Linda Dixon, authors of Just Dutch It!

image by grggrssmr

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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27 thoughts on “A Dutch Oven Cooking Primer, Part 1”

  1. Mike in Virginia

    Hi, perfect timing for this article, because I just got a yard-sale special (but brand-new never-used) cast iron dutch oven as a gift for Christmas. It is not the camp style, however; instead, it has a flat bottom with no legs and a smooth, normal-looking rounded lid. The handle is very stout, and could easily support it even if it were filled with lead shot, so the dutch oven could certainly hang over a fire safely or sit on the grill surface of a BBQ. But it will not hold coals on top.

    Should I consider this thing just a big cast iron pot? Or can I still use it to do things like bake biscuits or cornbread on my gas grill? Sure, the camp-style oven is more versatile, but this is the one that I have and I'd love to use it. I've got some wonderful 40+ year-old cast iron skillets already, so I know how to season and clean cast iron cookware. I just don't know how to bake with this type of dutch oven. Thanks for any pointers you can provide!

    1. Hi Mike,
      This type of cast iron works for soups, beans,etc. and also pit cooking. It would be tough to bake in it, since you need coals on the top. If your BBQ is one that will regulate the temp. and airflow like a "Big Green Egg" BBQ/smoker, then you could use it to bake in. Linda Dixon

    2. use tin foil around the base of lid tuck it under and pinch the top part of tin foil like you would a pie crust then you can add coals. that's what i do and i have made pineapple up side down cake my pot is a number 8 yard sale find over 10 years ago. i also use it to fry meat on top of my wood stove

  2. I love my cast iron ware. It's hard on the arthritic wrists, but it cooks so wonderfully. One tiny complaint about your article, though. I've always washed mine with soap. Once well-seasoned, soap and hot water won't take the seasoning off. Just wash, dry right away, and set it on a low fire on the stove (or grill, or where ever you are cooking) and let it dry thoroughly for several minutes. While still fairly new you'll want to smear a little oil on it. Once it's an old standby you can treat it like any old pan. NO AUTOMATIC DISHWASHERS though! That caustic detergent will take the seasoning right off in pits and crumbles.

    1. Hi Midge,
      That is correct. If you are a "seasoned" user of cast iron, and your cast iron is well seasoned, a little soap and water is fine, but as you said, dry immediately and heat to remove any moisture. Linda Dixon

    1. LOL Sunshine. Don't be a crappy cook. Get a couple of beginners cookbooks, seek out good simple recipes on-line, learn where your strengths and weakness are. You don't have to be a "fancy" cook to be a good one. Most of the time, the hearty simple meals are the best.

    2. My favorite cookbook is "Yum! I Eat It!" – a 1970s kids cookbook that has recipes for things like scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. Yes, I do need remedial help. :-p Kids cookbooks are good, though, because they don't assume you know ANYTHING. Good luck!

  3. I have several camp Dutch Ovens (very popular within the teardrop trailer community) and they should indeed be part of any preparedness plan. Highest praise for Lodge of Tennessee — made in America and excellent value. The "Lodge Logic" line is pre-seasoned and only gets better with use (especially cooking yummy high-fat stuff like bacon). Also keep your eyes peeled for great old cast iron — such as the legendary Griswold line and Wagner. Those are collectibles but frequently turn up in garage sales.

    Here's a website with good basic info and recipes:
    http://camp-cook.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=9&…

  4. I once broke a couple of toes by dropping a 12 inch Griswold skillet on my foot. I never thought my choice of cookware would be dangerous! Be sure to check out Boy Scout manuals and cooking sites on-line. They have hundreds of good tips and recipes for dutch oven cooking and good eats for "Out of the electric kitchen" cooking.

    1. One of the things we did in Scouts was to place a few small stones equilateral between the legs, around the base, just in case and for stability. Of course, you have to make sure you aren't using sandstone. I wouldn't be fun to have a rock explode under your oven.

  5. When I was in Boy Scouts, to keep baking pans (mostly for biscuits) off the bottom of the oven we used metal pop bottle caps. Those would be hard to come by now but the caps off beer bottles would work. The caps have several advantages over the aluminum foil roll: 1) they are cheep, 2) they can take a higher heat than the foil, 3) the cap ensure a level surface to bake on without having to fiddle with getting the foil even. There is no waste using the caps because unlike the foil they can be used over and over. Finally, if whatever you are backing escapes the pan the caps are supper easy to clean.

    1. That reminds me of my friend who uses canning bands (the bands that screw on the canning jars to keep the lids on) to keep the pans off the bottom of the oven. I tried it at our last youth camp-out and they worked great!

  6. i love all my cast iron cook ware i have effectively phased out all aluminum cook ware due to the effect that it has been linked to causing alzheimers the only pans we have are glass enamel ware or cast iron

  7. I love my dutch oven. My only regret is that I don't use it enough. Fifteen years ago we moved 900 miles away and I gave away most of my cast iron cookware (all but the dutch oven and the flat "tortilla" pan). I miss it and am in the process of acquiring new ones as I need them or find them. I had an aebleskiver pan and am having a difficult time finding a new one.

      1. Bought one at Walmart couple of years ago ~ grandsons LOVE it!! a lot of fun but sooo messy. It actually works though and the boys have come up with some great ideas to "stuff those puffs" 🙂

  8. “…modern day charcoal briquettes are the best. And, they are easy to store, not dangerous in any way…”

    Oh, yeah? They can be used to make explosives, e.g. in mines, just by dunking them in liquid oxygen or liquid air (the advantage is that they are only briefly dangerous, when freshly prepared, so they need special equipment to prepare them but no special storage). There are some videos out there showing someone demolishing a barbecue by running liquid oxygen into its charcoal, with a lit cigarette in the charcoal for ignition. I have sometimes wondered if nitrous oxide would work too.

    1. But then you're doing something to them, not just storing them. You even said they don't require special storage. Sand can be made into glass, but that doesn't make sand itself fragile, or clear.

      That is, however, interesting info. So thanks!

  9. I’m pretty sure it was a previous article here that gave preference to Lodge ovens over Camp Chef. I bought a Lodge based on your testimonial and my wife and I fell in love with dutch oven cooking. So, we had to expand our cookware. I must admit, I couldnt resist the cheaper prices of Camp Chef and purchased my second oven from them instead of Lodge.

    “Aha”, I exclaimed to myself as I noticed they both cooked food very well. My smuggness quickly disappeared when I noticed my Camp Chef lid was missing a large chunk from the rim.

    Its not that one “cooks” better than the other…its the craftsmanship and thus, durabilty.

    …and that’s all I have to say about that. 🙂

  10. I'm a long time cast iron cook, especially with Dutch Ovens. I'm glad to see that people are willing to try an old tried and true method of cooking. My preference is for American Made cast iron. I have a collection consisting of Griswold, Wagner and Lodge well represented. None of them are just for show, they all get used! Only two of my pans were purchased new, a 14" deep DO and a Lodge 6" DO. The rest have been rescued from garage sales, estate sales or second hand shops. I get a special kick out of taking a really ugly pot and making it useful again. I'm looking forward to reading your new cookbook.

  11. I have the Lodge Double Dutch Oven 5 quart, which I love! It has a flat top you can put coals on, but if you turn it upside down, you can also use it as a skillet, and if you need a LOT of coals, turn it upside down on the bottom pot. I like the handles, and I need to make some wire hangers for it, but I’d mostly use it on a grill rather than hang it. I’m going to remember to pack some canning jar rings inside it for indirect baking – great idea! I couldn’t try it out last year, but this year it is going to get a workout. I just set up the grill and will look in my Lodge cast iron cookbook for some recipes to practice with. We are over 70 and will shelter at home for most things, but if we have to evacuate, I have two bugout bags and a Solo stove, plus a concrete rocket stove I built after finding usable debris after my neighbor’s house burned down, so it cost nothing. I just picked up two reflective windshield covers for solar cooking, too, so that gives me 4 ways to cook, and biomass fuel is easy to find here. We live very near a national forest and have a lot of tree debris after a hurricane, but my two huge sycamores drop twigs constantly and I save up. I also have a large supply of charcoal and a ferro rod, plus strike anywhere matches, which are very hard to find.

  12. If you have a rounded lid DO, and a grill with a lid, just set the temp, preheat the DO & lid 5-10 min, gently place the dough in the DO, put lid on, put the lid down on the grill, and bake. Remove the DO lid about 1/2 or 2/3 way done to brown. Just like using the house oven to bake bread in a flat bottom DO. If you have two same size & brand DO’s, camp & flat, you can swap lids. Sometimes other brands will work to swap lids too. I swap lids between my 10″ skillets, flat & camp DO’s, and also my 8″ pieces.

    Lodge has aebleskiver pans, I have one & love it. Husband loves the “donut holes.”

    Cast Iron is like Potato Chips – You can’t have just one.
    I just picked up another 8″ flat DO (perfect for smaller breads) and 5″ camp DO at WalMart.com with free ‘ship to store’. They have a good selection of Lodge cast iron and great prices, I got a nice 12″ camp DO and 10.5″ round griddle from WM last week. This makes 6 camp DO from 5″ to 12″ and 5 flat bottom DO from 6″ to 10″. 5 of these are old ones I restored, plus 5 more old DO to restore. I also have a herd of skillets, new & restored, 6″-12″ and we just added more to restore. Hubby likes helping to clean & restore them. All my cooking is either cast iron or carbon steel wok, (5 round bottom, 6 flat) Cutting ingredients thin, I can stir fry enough for 2 meals with meat, in 5 min total cook time on my propane wok stove, or 8-10 min total with meat on the inside stove, or GasOne butane stove. The 12″ flat or round bottom goes backpacking with us as only pot, depending on which stove(s) we take.

    My favorite DO books are by Mark Hansen, Mark’s Black Pot com. His Black Pot for Beginner’s has so many of our favorite foods, and I’ve picked up several good tips. His Dutch Oven Breads book is great, I’m getting his Best of the Black Pot soon. He’s informative, funny, and his story, on his site, about the too big turkey and CPR is funny (in turkey recipes) and CPR is now a verb here. All his recipes are for outdoor camp DO, BUT if you take his Temp and Heat table (in books & on site left menu) or Lodge’s Temp & Coals, take the number of coals + DO size, then see what the cooking temp is. Then use that if you are baking in the house oven or outdoor grill or earthen wood fired oven. Since we haven’t finished the roof or windbreak wall on our outdoor kitchen, and we’re on a high ridge, if the winds are over 30-40 mph, (flying embers), or it’s storming, (drowned stew with swimming veggies) I often can’t safely cook with coals out there. Yet.

    My Grandma and our ranch cook both taught me to care for cast iron since I was a kid. Clean and heat the cast iron about 125F to 175F, use a non linting cloth (I use a white washcloth), and wipe a super light coating of oil (I use safflower oil) all over the piece, maybe giving it a light wipe with the dry part of the cloth to make sure there is very little oil on. Put in oven with the door closed, turn heat to 400-450F. When it reaches temp, time it for 60 min. When the timer rings, turn off the oven and let cool with door closed. This way you don’t get oil drips, tacky spots, or smoke in the house, as very little smoking occurs. Your cast iron also won’t smoke and/or smell if you cook something at temps higher than you seasoned it at (a friend, her dinner stank, I ended up helping her clean and re-season her DO & skillet). We have pets, and I do not want the smoke in my house, or a mess in my oven. When the iron is cooled to about 150F, do the very light oiling again and repeat the heating and cooling cycle for a total of 3-4 bakes. I mostly do it 3 times, and the iron is nice, black and non stick. If a piece I’ve used seems to need it, I’ll just do a single seasoning, maybe two, usually no need to scrub to metal and totally re-season. If you bake it below 350F, the oil doesn’t always polymerize, which it needs to do.

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