A Simple Guide to Dutch Oven Cooking for Everyone

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Guest post 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 an extended period?

Ice storms and tornadoes take out power lines for weeks. Earthquakes break natural gas and electrical lines. Hackers breach power grids and knock out power.

All of these scenarios have happened. And any of these emergencies could happen to us today.

So, how would you cook food?

Enter Dutch Oven cooking.

image: dutch oven cooking

Why Knowing How to Cook in a Dutch Oven is a Valuable Skill

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 will run out of fuel if you have to use it for very long.

The Dutch oven, however, is a multi-tasking genius.

Long before refrigerators, gas stoves, ovens, microwaves, and instant pots, this versatile piece of cast iron cookware fed hardy folk. Cooks on cattle drives, pioneers crossing the plains, and even Lewis and Clark.

Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and baked goods are all within your grasp. It passes the off-grid cooking test!

And what about fuel?

Wood and buffalo chips are okay, but modern-day charcoal briquettes are the best. And, briquettes are easy to store and not dangerous in any way. Plus, if they get wet, you just dry them out before using them.

What Kind of Dutch Oven Cooker Should You Buy?

You need a “camp” type Dutch oven. This isn’t the kind you see in cooking magazines, but the kind you take camping and use for outdoor cooking. It’s made out of cast iron (there are also aluminum ones), has a flat bottom, and three short legs.

The dutch oven cooker should have legs because these 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, which is also important for proper cooking temperatures.

Using one without legs is totally doable, however. You just have to deal with creating a stable base; legs take care of a lot of that for you.

What size do I need?

Now some important questions: What size do I need? How many ovens should I have? This is something you need to think about.

A 12” oven is a good starting point. I also like a 14” and a 10”. With three ovens, you can cook your meals very quickly, although this could change depending on how many people you’re cooking for. This article will help you assemble and Dutch oven survival kit.

You may also want to look at how deep they are as well. Deep ovens are useful for things like soup.

Stack cooking is a great technique that maximizes your charcoal by stacking graduated sizes of ovens on top of each other. For example, you could stack a 14”, 12”, 10”, and a 5”. The charcoal on top of one oven becomes the briquettes underneath the base of the one stacked on top.

How do I care for it?

  1. 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 the manufacturer put on unless instructed otherwise. 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.
  2. Next, 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.  Instead, 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 for one hour. You may get strange-smelling fumes, so open a few windows. Repeat this process two more times. Now your Dutch oven is ready to use. You’ll notice it has turned a golden color, but it will have a black shine after continued use.  This is what we want. If it does rust, just repeat the above process.
  3. After cooking in it, scrape out any remaining food with a spatula. When it has cooled slightly, put an inch or so of water in it and return it to the coals to boil and steam out the stuck 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, wiping off any excess.
  4. I always store my ovens with a small wad of aluminum foil under the rim of the lid. It’s 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 very hard to get the cover off after it has been stored for a long time. Be sure to keep it in a dry place.

Warning: Do Not Put Cold Water In A Hot Dutch Oven. It Could Crack!

Tools Needed for Cooking in Dutch Ovens

You will need several tools to begin cooking in your Dutch oven.

  • Lid lifter and/or long-handled tongue and groove pliers
  • Gloves
  • 16” or longer tongs
  • learn how to store charcoal.)
  • Vegetable oil and applying clothes or paper towels
  • Bricks for lid cooking

Also, when cooking in your Dutch oven, it must be on a flat surface clear of dried weeds, grass, etc.  This is where a Dutch oven table is nice but not necessary. A 12” square concrete stepping stone is an inexpensive item to cook on. I recommend two, so you have one for the charcoal chimney.

image: dutch oven cooking on a

How To Cook In A Dutch Oven

Once the briquettes are hot, what comes next?

You’ll need to place the hot coals (they are ready to use when they have white ash on part of them) evenly spaced around in a circle the size of the Dutch oven. Then, place the top coals evenly spaced on the lid. Use the tongs to do this.

Each recipe tells you how many briquettes to use. The basic rule is this. If it is a 10” oven, use 20 coals; use 24 coals for a 12″ oven, etc.  Just double the diameter of your oven, and that’s the number of coals you’ll need to cook with. This equals about 350 degrees.

For a cooler oven (like needed for granola), use less; for a hotter oven (like with rolls), use more.

When baking, you need twice as many coals on the top as on the bottom. This is because heat rises; therefore, more heat is needed on the top.

With your Dutch oven, you can fry, bake, boil, or use the lid as a griddle.  Anything you cook in your kitchen oven or on the stovetop, you can cook with a Dutch oven!

Now how about some recipes so you can start Dutch oven-ing! (That’s a word, right?)

Recipes

I would like to share our story about how we created recipes using only food storage items. My husband Archie decided we needed to write a book about cooking food storage in Dutch ovens. We had cooked many different foods in Dutch ovens: biscuits and gravy, upside-down cakes, cobblers, chicken with rice, beef stew, rolls, and even Chicken Cordon Bleu.

But we didn’t have any recipes using just dried and canned food since that is what we had stored. In an emergency, the power could be out, and we wouldn’t be able to purchase food from the grocery store. There would probably be no fresh meats, no fresh vegetables or fruit, no fresh milk products, and no frozen microwave meals.

We were pretty good at Dutch oven cooking, but I had never used just food storage items to cook with, nor even thought of cooking food storage in Dutch ovens.

That’s when I got to work. I wanted to have recipes we were used to, so I got out some of my favorite recipes and modified them to use only food storage items.

Here are some very basic recipes to get you started. Some alternate ingredients are also listed to make them healthier or tastier. I hope you like them!

Chocolate Cake

  • 10” or larger Dutch oven, 8 or 9 inch round or square pan; serves 9
  • 24 – 26 briquettes; 10 on the bottom, 14- 16 on top; pre-heat 5 minutes; bake 30 minutes

Good:

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 cup sugar

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. vinegar (white or apple cider)

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup water

1/3 cup oil

Directions:

Stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Mix the vinegar, vanilla and water together and then add to the dry ingredients. Add the oil and mix well until smooth and creamy, about one minute. Grease and flour the pan, and pour the batter in the pan. Place pan on foil ring and cook for around 30 minutes. (check after 20 minutes). The cake is done when it has pulled away from the sides of the pan.

Better:

Use white flour in place of whole wheat.

Best:

Use melted butter in place of oil. Dust the top of the cooked cake with powdered sugar.

Banana Bread

  • 12” or larger Dutch oven; 1 loaf
  • 24 briquettes: 8 on the bottom, 16 on top; cook 1 hour

Good:

1 cup sugar

2 cups whole wheat flour

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

1 cup dried bananas, broken into tiny pieces, soaked until tender, and drained

½ cup oil

¼ cup reconstituted powdered milk

1 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

Lightly grease loaf pan. Mix dry ingredients (first 5). Cream together the remaining ingredients, then add wet ingredients to dry. Mix well. Pour batter into pan. Bake on a foil ring for 1 hour. Check for doneness. Cook until done (bread has pulled slightly away from sides). Do not add more briquets.

Better:

Replace whole wheat flour with white flour.

Best:

Replace oil with butter or butter-flavored shortening. Replace ½ of sugar with brown sugar. Add walnuts.

Note: You might say, “Banana Bread out of dried bananas?” Yes, this works really well. It’s better the next day, too, since the banana flavor has had time to permeate the whole loaf. Enjoy this one!

Chicken Noodle Soup

One of my favorites on a cold day is Chicken Noodle soup. Here is my version:

  • 10” or larger Dutch oven; serves 6
  • 20-25 briquettes, all on the bottom; cook 30 – 40 minutes

Good:

5 cups water

2 cups egg noodles

½ tsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. dried onion

3 chicken bouillon cubes

1-3 Tbsp. dried parsley

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

Directions:

Bring 5 cups of water to boil over all the briquets in your Dutch oven. Add all ingredients, making sure the chicken is broken up into pieces. When soup boils again, remove half of the coals and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until noodles are tender.

Better:

Add 1 tsp. celery powder or 1 Tbsp. dried celery

1 Tbsp. dried carrots

Best:

1 can chicken, liquid too

Note: This soup has lots of noodles. If you like broth, cut back on the noodles or add more water and bouillon. Enjoy this with a slice of whole-wheat bread.

Conclusion

Dutch oven cooking is a versatile off-grid cooking option that anyone can learn. It can function with several different fuel sources and can cook a wide variety of foods. I highly recommend adding cooking with a dutch oven to your emergency preparedness skillset.

What are your favorite foods to make in a dutch oven?

Originally published on January 12, 2011, and has been updated.

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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

23 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Dutch Oven Cooking for Everyone”

  1. Excited about this project! I have both Dutch ovens, flat bottom and w/ legs. We've used them both but not as often or w/ as many recipes as I'd like. Looking forward to trying the recipes you so graciously posted!

    Side note – I've tried to stockpile charcoal. The problem is my precious husband ramps up his grilling and smoking and uses it up. Arghhh! Love his cooking, but he won't have any charcoal when it's REALLY needed! HA!

    I'll have to check his Dutch oven baked beans recipe. I think it can be accommodated for stockpile ingredients. They're fabulous!

    1. Rightwingmom,
      You definitely need to store charcoal. We recommend a 30 gallon plastic trash can with a good secure lid. Place 2 large bags (20 lb. the best) in the trash can, then pour loose charcoal around the bags. You can store about 100 lbs. of charcoal this way. Seal it all the way around with duct tape and you have charcoal storage your husband will be less likely to sneak in to. Linda Dixon

      1. Thanks Linda. At one point we had over 200 lbs.
        The trash can and duct tape are a good idea, but he can be a VERY determined grill master. HA!

        We actually have a Rocket Stove and a camping tripod. We've suspended the Dutch oven over a camp fire before with good results. We should get similar results from the Rocket Stove. (Luckily we live in a heavily wooded area so small limbs are plentiful to fuel the Rocket.)

  2. Thank you for the recipes! We usually set up a dutch oven on cinderblocks with a grate over it. But the photo of the dutch oven table looks pretty neat, we have never used one. I get most of my dutch oven recipes from Boy Scout sites, they have tons of recipes with the correct number of charcoals to use for each!

    1. Hi Jan,
      The Boy Scouts have lots of great recipes. Our recipes use ingredients that are all dried/freeze-dried with a few canned items and spices. The recipes are geared towards emergency cooking when all the fresh foods are gone and you have no electricity or gas to cook your food. Linda Dixon

    1. It is a wadded up piece of foil shaped into a ring to keep the pan off of the bottom of the dutch oven. This is to prevent the pan from getting too hot and burning the cake etc. We use a pie tin inverted to do the same thing.

  3. The banana bread looks wonderful, but I have to ask, do they make square Dutch Ovens?? I have only seen (and own) round ones.

    1. I think they put the batter into a loaf pan and then sat it on the foil ring (or foil rectangle) inside the dutch oven. It baffled me at first too.

      1. You are correct. I wrote the recipe and that is what I did. Have the Banana bread batter in the loaf pan, then place pan on smashed coil of foil to cook. This prevents the bread from burning on the bottom (keeping it slightly off the bottom of the oven). Linda Dixon

    2. Emerald,
      The banana bread was cooked by me in my 12" Dutch oven. You can fit a square, round, or rectangle shaped pan into a Dutch oven if you use a large enough one. As you see by reading the recipe, you can bake quite nicely in Dutch ovens. Linda Dixon

  4. Hi-

    In these modern times, it seems some shortcuts are taken in the manufacture of 'Dutch' ovens. I own and use four good ones, and I've discarded (after use) a set of four bad ones. All of my good ones are made by Lodge. I have seen good ones produced by another firm. All imported ovens I have seen or purchased are incorrect.

    The difference is the fitting of the lid. A proper Dutch oven has a lead that forms a good steam seal when simply resting upon the rim of the pot. With this proper seal, that comes from a smooth planar rim and a smooth planar mating surface of the lid, the Dutch oven is actually a pressure cooker. The pressure builds up because the steam can only escape when the pressure lifts the heavy iron lid.

    Cooking times for meats and cakes is very different when comparing a proper Dutch oven to an import version with a poorly sealed lid. When cooking at high altitude, the extra pressure is a very big help.

    I don't work for an oven company, but I've used them for the last 20 years.

    Dave

  5. I get better results with lard or bacon grease for seasoning cast iron, and there are no smelly fumes form the oven such as those from vegetable or seed oils.

  6. OK I feel dumb. Regarding yesterday's question, what I thought were dutch ovens are two deep
    iron frying pans! But I just knew I had a dutch oven somewhere that I got 20 years ago. I searched the basement until I found it, and brought it up and cured it. This is made by Lodge, I am glad to read from Dave that it is a good brand.

  7. About storing charcoal, we made the mistake of trying to store it in the original paper bags. It absorbed lots of moisture from the air and we had trouble getting it to light so I think a garbage can or other container is a must especially if you live in an area of high humidity.

  8. Learn to use wood to cook with as soon as you can. Charcoal will draw dampness over time. Also check out pantherprimitives.com the cook racks that they have you set up and cook over a fire not in it, You adjust your the distance of your dutch oven up or down with hooks on the cross bar to regulate your tempature. And last but not least use the space that your using for charcoal for more food when you have to bug out.

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