by Leon Pantenburg
If you’re one of those folks without power, heat or warmth because of the recent snow storms, you probably know that you need a cooking tool that can bake, boil, fry and saute. And it should be able to function with a variety of heat sources, since you don’t know when the electricity might come back on.
My nomination for this wonder implement has been around for hundreds of years. It’s easy to find, cheap and effective. Go get a cast iron or aluminum Dutch oven. This cooking tool has a proven track record, and it can use virtually any heat source.
Hurricane Katrina was due to hit land in a few hours, and my relatives in Mississippi, about 150 miles north of New Orleans, weren’t sure what was going to happen. I overheard my wife talking on the phone to her sister, Patti, of Clinton, Mississippi. In the middle of the hurricane preparation discussion, they started talking about recipes and what to cook, using a cast iron Dutch oven!
Everyone near Katrina faced a potential power outage that could last indefinitely. There was a discussion of evacuating, versus staying put. Among the urban survival necessities in any natural disaster is a way to cook and purify water by boiling.
We had given Patti a hand-me-down cast iron camp oven with the lipped lid and three legs. Designed to be heated on top and bottom with campfire coals or charcoal, the camp oven was considered a necessity on the American frontier for at least two centuries. That type oven was taken on the Lewis and Clark expedition, was used by travelers on the Oregon trail, and was indispensable in countless cabins, lean-tos and soddies.
Technically, a “Dutch” oven has a rounded top and no legs and can be used in a conventional oven on top of a stove, or on an outdoor propane fish cooker of grill.
Today, a camp oven is on my short list of tools for my disaster survival kit. And if you’re one of the people stranded at home because of the record snows, or are anticipating some sort of disaster, you need a Dutch oven, too.
A Dutch oven can be used to boil water, make a stew, bake bread, and cook virtually anything that can be fitted inside. And if you were forced to evacuate an area, a camp and/or Dutch oven is compact and light enough to be easily transported. My wife’s advice to her sister was to go to Walmart, get at least 50 pounds of charcoal and three of the round, 14-inch diameter metal pet food dishes. Put the oven, these items and some basic cooking utensils in a square milk crate for storage.
I’ve been cooking with Dutch ovens at hunting and fishing camps for decades, and on many camping trips and Boy Scout and Girl Scout outings. Beginners frequently ask for a list of tools to get started in Dutch oven cooking. So, here’s the basic, bare-bones list of Dutch oven survival kit necessities, proven over the years.
- 1 – 12-inch Lodge brand shallow cast iron oven: I like Lodge cast iron best, because it is made in America and has a proven quality record, but that’s just personal preference. Other experienced Dutch oven cooks may use different brands, such as Camp Chef, so chose whatever you like. You’ll get what you pay for. A cheap, poorly-made oven won’t work particularly well, and you’ll probably end up replacing it with a quality piece. Sometimes, I take an aluminum oven on outdoor excursions instead of cast iron to save weight.
- 3 – shallow metal pans with lipped rims: These are critical, and common dog food pans work very well. Put one pan underneath the oven to protect the coals from dampness and help regulate heat; and another pan is used to store coals. The third is a spare that is used to cover the oven and protect it from rain or snow while cooking.
- 1 – lid lifter: In a pinch, a pair of channel lock pliers will work.
- 1 – trivet or tripod: This is a wire or metal rack that holds the lid while you stir the contents of the oven or adjust seasonings. It keeps the lid out of the dirt and clean.
- 1 – knife. You probably don’t need a tactical or survival knife, (even though, in an emergency, any knife you have is a “survival knife”) but you will need something that will work for food preparation.
- 1- nylon spatula: This is used for cooking and cleaning the oven.
- 1 – large nylon spoon.
- Source of heat: Charcoal is easy to use, and generally, in good supply. But when the charcoal runs out, you can use firewood, driftwood, coal, wood scraps from a dumpster etc. Shipping pallets, generally found about anywhere, burn quite well. If the pallets are made of hardwood, which many are, then you’ll get great coals! You can also prepare for disaster by integrating an outside heat source into your normal cooking routine. My propane fish cooker stays operational year-round on my patio, because it is used constantly. Even when there is snow on the ground, we still go outside to fry bacon or cook fish.
The lid lifter, trivet, “survival knife,” spatula and spoon all fit inside the oven. All these items fit into a nylon commercial Dutch oven holder. Another great way to carry everything is in a square milk crate. Put the metal pans on the bottom, and the oven won’t tip over. The loaded crate stacks nicely.
Cleaning a Dutch oven is easy. Take the spatula, scrape out any food residue, and fill it with water. (Never put cold water into a hot oven. It might cause it to crack.) Put the oven back on the coals, and boil the water. Usually this will be enough to clean the oven, and all that remains is to scrape out the softened food debris and wipe it dry. Hit the cast iron with a light film of oil to protect against rust.
Obviously, there are other “nice-to-have” cooking items that could be included. But this basic Dutch oven survival kit will get you by.
For more information about Dutch ovens and cooking outdoors, contact: