Food Skills

CookingDutch Oven Care and Use

1. Introduction

Here is some reference material for anyone  who is planning or cooking a meal for six to ten people. For larger groups, most of the recipes can be easily doubled or tripled and two or more Dutch ovens may be needed. Most of the information has been targeted toward the first time Dutch oven user, although, the more experienced cook may find a tidbit or two here and there. I hope this posting will entice all of you potential Dutch oven cooks to “give ‘er a try.”

 

 

2. What Your Dutch Oven Can Do

Cooking techniques such as roasting, baking simmering, stewing, frying, boiling, steaming, and many others are easily done on the campfire with only a single utensil, the Dutch oven. Think of the possibilities, delicious fresh baked bread that will rise up and lift the lid, cobblers made from berries picked fresh at the campsite, incredible deep-dish pizzas, stews, quiches that melt in your mouth, Cornish game hens roasted to perfection, and imagine a chocolate cake a foot in diameter. These and many, many more are very possible and sometimes easier than they are at home. With very few exceptions, I have been able to duplicate my home recipes on the campfire using the Dutch oven.

All recipes use one of two Dutch oven techniques, cooking with your Dutch oven or cooking in it. The first is when the food is placed directly in the bottom of the Dutch oven. In the second method, food is placed in a second dish and this dish is then placed onto a trivet in the bottom of the Dutch oven. The reason for the trivet is to elevate the dish above the bottom of the oven to prevent burning.

3. A Little About the Dutch Oven

Before we get started, we should review some of the things you will need to know before purchasing your first Dutch oven. There are literally hundreds of option and size combinations available, so it would be impractical for me to tell you which oven is the one for you. Because each type of oven is designed for a different type of cooking situation. I will go over the various options and you will have to decide which ones you will look for. In shopping for an oven, you should look for one that is obviously well made. Look at the bail handle, it should be of heavy gauge wire and securely attached to molded tangs on the side of the oven. Ovens that have riveted tabs should be avoided. Most oven handles will lay down against the side of the oven in both directions, but if you look hard enough, you will find some that allow the handle to stand up at a 45 degree angle on one side. This allows you easier access to it when positioning or removing the oven from the fire.

Another area that bears close examination is the handle on the lid. It should be a loop attached to the lid on both ends and hollow in the center allowing it to be easily hooked. Stay away from the ones that have a molded solid tab on the lid for a handle. These are very difficult to grasp and manage with a load of coals. The loop style offers much better control. While examining the lid, check that it has a lip or ridge around the outer edge. The lip keeps the coals from sliding off of the lid. Don’t get me wrong, the ridgeless ones can be used but it is difficult to keep coals on the lid and if you are not meticulous in cleaning the ash from the lid each and every time you open the oven, you will end up with ash and/or sand in your food. The lip virtually illuminates the problem and the lid can be lifted even fully loaded with ash and coals with little difficulty.

Another feature to look at is the legs. The most common variety is one with three legs, although flat bottomed ones and four legged ones can also be had. For outdoor cooking, legs are a necessity; they maintain the height of the oven above ground allowing air for the coals underneath. The flat-bottomed ones can be set up on rocks (which are scarce as hen’s teeth here in Florida) or up on steel tent pegs. If you figure in Murphy’s Law here, the flat bottom ovens are best left in the store or on the kitchen stove where they were intended. I highly recommend three legs over four simply for the stability factor. It is much more stable with three legs sitting on rough ground than with four.

The last option to look at is a second handle attached to the lid or upper rim on the oven base. Some ovens are offered with a skillet type handle attached to the lid. This, in theory, is a good idea, but in reality they seem to be more in the way than of assistance. The handle does assist in using the lid upside down as a skillet or griddle but when using it as a lid, they get in the way of the bail handle and also misbalance the lid when lifting by the center hoop. They also tend to be in the way during storage and packing situations. Fixed handles on the oven base, with one exception, should be absolutely avoided. I believe the theory behind these handles was to make the oven easier to position in a deep fire pit. If you insist on considering the handle, take a couple of red bricks with you to the store and place them in the oven. Then give her a lift by the handle and you will see the uselessness in the handle. A loaded 12″ oven can weigh 20 to 25 pounds, a real wrist breaker. The one exception is a small tab sometimes offered which is about 1 to 1-1/2″ deep and 2-3″ wide on the upper lip of the oven. This tab makes pouring liquids from the oven very easy and its small size has never caused storage or packing problems for me.

When someone mentions “Dutch Oven” most people immediately think “Cast Iron”, but Dutch ovens are supplied in aluminum also. An aluminum oven weighs only 6-1/2 to 7 pounds opposed to around 18 pounds for the cast iron oven. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

The most obvious aluminum advantage is weight, 11 pounds lighter. Additionally, because aluminum doesn’t rust, care is restricted to simple washing with soap and water. Aluminum tends to heat faster requiring less preheating time but they don’t retain the heat very long after the coals are removed. Also because aluminum reflects more heat than cast iron, more coals will be required to reach and maintain a set temperature. Also on windy days, you will see a greater variation in temperature than one of cast iron. Where weight is very critical, most of the disadvantages can be overcome. For canoeing, backpacking or trips where weight is a problem, aluminum ovens are the answer.

Be careful with aluminum, it will melt! The melting point of aluminum is (cast alloy 43 is 1065 to 1170 deg F Ref Perry’s Handbook of Chemical Engineering 6th ed p 23-40 Table 23-6). Other alloys are higher melting point up to 1200 deg F. The melting point of cast iron is 2100 deg F to 2200 deg F (same reference). It is possible to generate that kind of temperature if the oven is in direct contact with the coals below it or if there are too many coals below the oven.

Personal Note on Aluminum:

With charcoal on and under when a strong wind came up a blast furnace effect caused the bottom to sag and the lid was dripping molten aluminum into the cake! The top held its shape, but there are little metal balls stuck all over the inside of the lid. I always thought they were indestructible until then. Milt Forsberg, SM, Troop 7, Champaign, IL

Aluminum is ok if properly used. Keep coals from contact with the bottom of the Dutch oven. Only use the number of coals needed to prepare the meal. Melting point of aluminum is (cast alloy 43 is 1065 to 1170 deg F Ref Perry’s Handbook of Chemical Engineering 6th ed p 23-40 Table 23-6). Other alloys are higher melting point up to 1200 deg F. The melting point of cast iron is 2100 deg F to 2200 deg F (same reference). It is possible to generate that kind of temperature if the oven is in direct contact with the coals below it or if there are too many coals below the oven. Aluminum is ok if properly used. Keep coals from contact with the bottom of the Dutch oven. Only use the number of coals needed to prepare the meal. Spread the coals below the oven out to evenly distribute the heat. Train the boys in the proper method of using an aluminum Dutch oven. Spread the coals below the oven out to evenly distribute the heat. Train the boys in the proper method of using an aluminum Dutch oven. Ralph Romig, Scouter

When weight is not a problem, the cast iron oven has the upper hand. Cast iron reacts more slowly to temperature changes so don’t burn food as easily if the fire flares up and they retain heat for quite a while after the coals have been removed, keeping food warmer longer. Also, because they retain heat well, they fair better on windy days with smaller variations in temperature. Cast iron absorbs a great deal of heat, consequently, they require fewer coals to reach and maintain a set temperature. Weight is its obvious disadvantage, but there are others. Clean up is not as simple, but done regularly and correctly, it is not much of a chore. Rust is the other; bare cast iron will literally rust overnight if not protected. This protection naturally must be done each time it is used but is part of the cleanup procedure and fairly simple. After all, I’ve got Tenderfoot Scouts that are 11 years old that do it like clockwork.

The last thing you must consider is the size of the oven. They range from the tiny 4″ to the giant 24″ monsters. Personally, I have ovens ranging in size from 6″ to 18″. For small group or patrol situations, 10″-12″ will serve rather adequately for almost all circumstances. As a review, you should look for a 10″-12″ oven that is obviously well made and of good design. It should have three legs, loop type handle and a lip on the lid and a strong bail type handle for the bottom. You can choose other options but those are personal preferences and totally up the user. Weather to choose cast iron or aluminum should be based on the service conditions the oven is going to be MOST used in.

Now that you have decided the type, style and options, where do you find one? Check your Boy Scout Troop Equipment Catalog or your local Boy Scout Equipment Center. Many good sporting goods or camping supply stores also will carry them. Also, restaurant supply houses may stock them or will have a catalog they can order them from. From my experiences, the restaurant houses typically cost a bit more but the ovens are commercial quality and they usually have a better selection to choose from. Another option is mail order. Companies such as REI, Campmor, etc may carry them but look out for the shipping charges on the cast iron ones. In your shopping around by mail, it is best to request their shipping charges and add that in when comparing to local prices.

If you go into the store armed with information, you should have little problem in selecting an oven for your needs and it will be the start of some long-lived happy memories. One word of fair warning, SHOP AROUND! I have seen the same 10″ oven by the same manufacturer range in price from $25 up to their mighty proud $60, so be careful. Demand quality, a poorly made oven with lots of options is not worth the time to carry it to the car.

3a. Other Things You Will Need

A good pair of leather gloves can save time and prove invaluable around a hot fire. A pair of Work Style gloves will do, but I recommend you look at a Fire and Safety Supply house or a store that supplies fireplace accessories and locate a pair of fire handling gloves. Although these typically cost more, they offer thicker leather and an inner insulating lining. They allow you to literally place your hand into hot coals, though I don’t recommend doing so. Because of my experience on the Fire Department, the extra protection and quality far outweigh the few extra dollars they cost. You will have to weigh the quality against the higher price for yourself.

Something else you will need is a shovel. The standard garden type will be sufficient. It will be used for stirring the coals and lifting them out of the firepit to the oven. The style and length of the handle is up to you, the user. The longer ones are great but not practical on hikes and canoe trips. While the short “ARMY” folders are great for hiking and canoes, they suffer from short handles, getting you and your hands closer to the fire.

Another item that will prove to be worth their weight in gold is a pair of hot pot pliers. The pair listed in the Boy Scout Troop/Patrol Equipment catalog are probably the best designed for the job. They are inexpensive, well built, and light weight. The pliers have a specially designed jaw that grips the oven lid very securely. The handle has a hook that is used to grab the bail handle when it is too hot to hold by hand or when it is hanging down in the coals.

3b. Preparation of Your Oven

For aluminum, your pretreatment is simply washing well with soap and water. Some aluminum ovens are shipped with a protective coating and a simple washing will remove it. Since aluminum doesn’t rust, no further protection is required, however, I have found that if you treat the aluminum like the cast iron oven, food will not stick near as often as the untreated oven. This pretreatment is at the user’s option, so if you just want to wash it and be done with it, you can.

Cast iron ovens, if properly cared for, will last many a generation. I know several individuals that have Dutch ovens belonging to great-great- grandmothers, dating back well into the 1800s. Personally, I have an oven that belonged to my grandmother and dates back before the turn of the century.

Although this book is oriented toward Dutch ovens, the treatment and care instructions are applicable to any cast iron skillet, griddle etc.. The secret of cast iron’s long life is really no secret at all. Constant and proper care beginning with the day it is purchased will keep the oven in service for many years. All quality ovens are shipped with a protective coating that must be removed. This will require a good scrubbing with steel wool and some elbow grease. Once removed, the oven needs to be rinsed well, towel dried and let air dry. While it is drying, this would be a good time to pre-heat your kitchen oven to 350. After it appears dry, place the Dutch oven on the center rack with its lid ajar. Allow the Dutch oven to warm slowly so it is just barely too hot to handle with bare hands. This pre-heating does two things; it drives any remaining moisture out of the metal and opens the pores of the metal.

Now, using a clean rag or preferably a paper towel, apply a thin layer of salt free cooking oil. Oils such as peanut, olive or plain vegetable oil will be fine. Tallow or lard will do also but these animal fats tend to break down during the storage periods that typical Boy Scout Dutch ovens experience between campouts and are not recommended. Make sure the oil covers every inch of the oven, inside and out and replace the oven onto the center shelf, again with the lid ajar. Bake it for about an hour or so at 350. This baking hardens the oil into a protective coating over the metal.

After baking, allow the oven to cool slowly. When it is cool enough to be handled, apply another thin coating of oil. Repeat the baking and cooling process. Again reapply a thin coating of oil when it can be handled again. Allow the oven to cool completely now. It should have three layers of oil, two baked on and one applied when it was warm. The oven is now ready to use or store.

This pre-treatment procedure only needs to be done once, unless rust forms or the coating is damaged in storage or use. This baked on coating will darken and eventually turn black with age. This darkening is a sign of a well-kept oven and of it’s use. The pre-treatment coating’s purpose is two fold, first and most important, it forms a barrier between moisture in the air and the surface of the metal. This effectively prevents the metal from rusting. The second purpose is to provide a non-stick coating on the inside of the oven. When properly maintained, this coating is as non-stick as most of the commercially applied coatings.

A Personal Favorite Method of Sweetening:

Another method for “sweetening” Dutch ovens is to get some heavy, spicy bacon or sausage and cook it in them. Next, completely cover the inside (and outside if you like) of your Dutch oven with the grease. Next you will want to bake it in the oven at, oh, say 450 for 20 minutes or so. For a real deep seasoning, and especially for new ones, it’s necessary to do these two or three times. If you can get your hands on it, use some really spicy Pennsylvania Dutch sausage. By the way, this will not make the pan bake everything real spicy or anything, it just gives it a light flavor.
— Jim Van Hecke/Jason Keen, Scouters

3c. Cleaning Your Oven

For aluminum ovens, the cleaning is the same as for ordinary pots and pans. Use soap, water and scrub as usual for your other pans. More often than not, cleaning cast iron ovens is much easier than scrubbing pots and pans. For cast iron ovens, the clean process is in two steps. First, food is removed and second, maintenance of the coating. To remove stuck on food; place some warm clean water into the oven and heat until almost boiling. Using a plastic mesh scrubber or coarse sponge and NO SOAP, gently break loose the food and wipe away. After all traces have been removed, rinse with clean warm water. Soap is not recommended because its flavor will get into the pores of the metal and will taint the flavor of your next meal.

After cleaning and rinsing, allow it to air-dry. Heat over the fire just until it hot to the touch. Apply a thin coating of oil to the inside of the oven and the underside of the lid. Allow the oven to cool completely. The outside will need little attention other than a good wipe down unless you see signs of rust forming. As a suggestion, it is a good idea to keep a scrubber for cast iron and never use it with soap.

A Personal Favorite Method of Cleaning:

Add 1 to 2″ of clean water and bring to a boil (uncovered) this will open the cast iron pores and allow the food to release. Scrape again, if the water is very dirty repeat with fresh water and after boiling pour off 1/2 the water. (Trick) wad up a foot long piece of aluminum foil and use it to scrub the DO. For all of you who now protest, I encourage you to try this because it has never harmed our seasoned DO’s. The foil is soft enough that it actually self-destructs as it removes the toughest particles. Rinse the DO and add 1″ water and boil. Discard water, dry with paper towels and oil interior with 1T vegetable oil, same for lid.
— Greg Gough, Scoutmaster Troop 201, Ozark, MO.

3d. A Few No-No’s

  • Never, and I repeat, NEVER allow cast iron to sit in water or allow water to stand in or on it. It will rust despite a good coating.
  • Never use soap on cast iron. The soap will get into the pores of the metal and won’t come out very easy, but will return to taint your next meal, though.
  • If soap is used accidentally, the oven should be put through the pre-treatment procedure, including removal of the present coating.
  • Do not place an empty cast iron pan or oven over a hot fire. Aluminum and many other metals can tolerate it better but cast iron will crack or warp, ruining it.
  • Do not get in a hurry to heat cast iron, you will end up with burn’t food or a damaged oven or pan.
  • Never put cold liquid into a very hot cast iron pan or oven. They will crack on the spot!

4. Tips on Cooking

Enough about the oven and on to what you can do with it! You can also figure that each charcoal briquette is worth about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. 20 coals will give about 500°.

4a. Techniques

ROASTING:

The heat source should come from the top and bottom equally. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1 to 1 ratio.

BAKING:

Usually done with more heat from the top than from the bottom. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1 to 3 ratio, having more on the lid.

FRYING, BOILING ETC:

All of the heat should come from the bottom. Coals will be placed under the oven only.

STEWING, SIMMERING:

Almost all heat will be from the bottom. Place the coals under and on the oven at a 4 to 1 ratio with more underneath than on the lid.

THE LID:

The lid can be placed on the fire or stove upside down and used as a skillet or griddle. Using the lid in this fashion, you can make virtually error free pancakes and eggs that don’t run all over. This is because most lids are shaped like a very shallow bowl so things naturally stay in the center, even if the lid is not level.

4b. Measurements

Here are the abbreviations that will be used here:

  • oz – Ounce
  • tsp – Tea Spoon
  • lb – Pound
  • Tbs – Table Spoon
  • pt – Pint
  • c – Cup (8 oz)
  • qt – Quart
  • pkg – Package
  • gl – Gallon

Here are a few measurement conversions you may need:

  • 1 Tbs = 3 tsp
  • 1 Stick Butter = 1/4 lb or 1/2 c or 8 Tbs
  • 2 Tbs = 1 oz
  • 1/4c = 4 Tbs
  • 1 lb bread loaf = About 17 slices
  • 1/3c = 5 1/3 Tbs
  • 1 1/4 lb loaf = About 20
  • 1/2c = 8 Tbs
  • 1 1/2 lb loaf = About 23
  • 1 c = 8 oz
  • 1 qt = 4 c
  • 1 gl = 4 qt
  • 2 c = 1 pt Stick butter
  • Bread loaf, 1-1/4 lb loaf and 1-1/2 lb

 

Campfire Cooking 101
by Susan Kane

There is nothing quite like waking up at a campsite to the smell of bacon cooking over an open fire. Yet campfire cooking can produce so much more than bacon. A simple grill over a bed of coals can yield a variety of wonderful meals, and cooking options aren’t just limited to grilling. With a few pots and pans, a Dutch oven and a fire pit – even a tin can stove – the possibilities are limitless.

The following primer on campfire cooking explains how to set up and start a simple fire, build a suitable fire pit, and cook virtually anything that you would in your own kitchen.

Building A Campfire

Once the food items, recipe, and cooking method have been selected, the fire should be built to suit the recipe. Let’s start with a basic fire, which should cover the majority of your grilling and frying needs.

Pick a safe area to build the fire. If camping on public land, be sure that the area and fires in general are both approved. Make sure the ground is level, and that nothing is hanging overhead that could catch fire. Remember to always have water handy.

Then dig out a small, shallow pit in the ground in which to build the fire. Surround the pit with rocks, keeping them the same size if possible so that a grill can be placed evenly on top. Without a level grilling surface, food may not cook evenly, and even worse, it may slide off the grill. If you can carry charcoal to the campsite, that makes things very easy, but if not, follow the simple fire making plans below. (Take plenty of matches or a strong lighter. It may look like fun to rub sticks together to start a fire, but it is often difficult and always time consuming, so give yourself a break.)

A “teepee” or “tipi” fire is a common and effective to start many types of fires. Build a pyramid with a few short sticks, each about 1 inch in diameter and 8 inches long, with one end of the sticks touching one another at a point on top. Stick the other ends in to the ground, forming a tepee shape. There should be enough space between the diagonal sticks to allow adding small, dry sticks, pine needles or scraps of paper for kindling. Make sure to leave room for air to circulate.

Once you have built the basic tepee starter fire, you can surround it with a log cabin fire, which provides a great bed of coals for cooking. Layer several logs of roughly the same length and diameter in a miniature log cabin frame. As you build up the wood, lay the logs nearer the center as you go up. Eventually the fire will resemble a log cabin base that, as it gets higher, looks more like a pyramid. The tepee will be in the middle of the log cabin. Once this burns down it will give you a nice bed of coals. Place the grill on the rocks around the coals and you can start cooking. The grill will allow you to cook anything that a barbecue at home would allow.

Tin Can Cooking

Tin can cooking is limited to small-scale cooking for one or two people, but it works well in camping situations where wood fires are prohibited or where firewood isn’t readily available.

Start with a clean 1-gallon tin can; new, empty paint cans work well and are available in many hardware stores. Cut a small flap into one side, big enough to allow a tuna can to be inserted (about 3 inches by 4 inches). Pull the flap open. With a punch-type can opener, punch three or four holes on the other side of the can.

The heat source will come from a buddy burner, about the size of a tuna can. Buddy burners can be found in some sporting goods departments but are fairly simple to make on your own, and it costs next to nothing. Just take a clean, empty tuna can; cut corrugated cardboard into strips no higher than the tuna can; and roll the cardboard and place it in the tuna can. Then pour melted paraffin wax over the cardboard until the can is filled with wax. Adding a small wick in the center will allow quick and easy lighting.

Place the tuna can into the tin can and light. The flame produced by the wax and cardboard will burn hot and long enough to cook a variety of meals in a skillet or saucepan on top. To modify the heat to your needs, a damper can be created by attaching a coat hanger wire to the lid of the tuna can. Temperature can be adjusted by covering the tuna can with its lid. Remember that metal will get hot, so use oven mitts when moving the damper.

Pit Cooking

This cooking method takes time, but once the pit is set up and the food is placed in it, the work is done. A cooking pit works by retaining heat in rocks and coals that are buried in the ground. The pit starts off very hot but as time goes by the coals cool down allowing the food to cook until done. This method works especially well with Dutch ovens and other covered cast iron cookware. Food that is simply wrapped in aluminum foil also cooks well in a pit.

Dig your pit two to three times larger and deeper than the cookware being used (or the amount of foil-wrapped items). Line the pit with flat rocks. Build a fire in the pit, with enough wood to produce a lot of coals, and let it burn rapidly for at least one hour. Logs between 2 to 4 inches in diameter work best. Large foods like a turkey or ham will need bigger coals from bigger logs, but the bigger the log, the longer it takes for coals to produce. Generally, it takes about one hour to heat the rocks and to fill the pit with coals, and then you’re ready to cook.

Waiting for the coals to form is a good time to get the food ready, adding whatever seasonings are needed, mixing ingredients, and wrapping the food twice in heavy-duty aluminum foil or placing in a Dutch oven or other cast iron cookware.

Push the hot coals from the center of the pit and place them to the side. Starting with the food items that need the greatest amount of cooking time, lower them into the pit. Make sure each item doesn’t touch another, which will cause them not to cook as well. Cover each item with coals and continue layering the food and coals as needed. Cover the coals with 4 to 6 inches of dirt.

As mentioned before, this method does take time and it takes practice to get everything cooked at the same time. An average chicken will take about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to cook. An ear of corn, however, takes less than 30 minutes. Judge the rest of the food and food placement with this in mind. When the time is up, uncover the food using a small shovel, but be sure to not pierce the aluminum foil or jostle the lid on your cookware.

Cook Virtually Anything

When you prepare food outdoors, there are several ways to duplicate indoor cooking using the methods described above. By duplicating the cooking method that you need, you can cook all your favorites at your campsite.

Follow this simple guide to match the type of cooking you want to do:

Bake (cooking with dry heat)

  • Tin can stove
  • Dutch oven
  • Pit cooking

Boil (cooking with water/moisture)

  • Tin can stove
  • Dutch oven
  • Pots or cans on a grill over coals

Braise (sauté in a small amount of fat, then finish in a covered pan with liquid)

  • Frying pan on a grill over coals
  • Dutch oven

Frying (cooking with a small amount of fat)

  • Frying pan on a grill over coals
  • Aluminum foil Dutch oven (Personally I think this is wrong)

Roasting (cooking with dry heat)

  • Tin can stove
  • Dutch oven
  • Pit cooking

Introduction  |  Selecting  |  Seasoning  |  Cleaning

Restoring  |  Regulating  |  Tools  |  Tips

 

Introduction

The page is really dedicated on how to cook in a dutch oven, not what to cook. We do have some recipe links at the bottom of the page. Whatever recipe you decide to cook, knowing how to cook it properly is probably the most important thing you can learn. Personally I never look for “Dutch Oven” recipes, I simply look for “recipes”, because what ever you can cook in your house, you can cook in a Dutch Oven, and for some unknown reason it tastes better.

OK Lets get started. There are two basic kinds of Dutch Ovens; Cast Iron and Cast Aluminum. This page will focus solely on Cast Iron. You need to pick a quality Dutch Oven, there are hundreds of brands out there but only two I’d recommend; either Lodge or Maca. Buying cast Iron can last a life time. I have 3 pieces that I use regularly which were my great grandmothers from the early 1900’s, still as good as the day she bought them.

This is what you need to look for no matter what brand you decide on:

  • The walls of the oven should be the same thickness all the way around.
  • There should only be three pieces in your Dutch Oven; The Body, The Lid and The BailThe roughness of the Dutch is often controversial, I like my new ovens to be rough, it gives the seasoning something to stick to. If your oven is too smooth, then you might experience a peeling of the seasoning under some cooking conditions. Also you’ll find if the ovens don’t have that roughness, sometimes the seasoning will never completely stick to it and you’ll be left with a grayish spot where its smooth.
    • The Bail should be thick and sturdy and should not be attached to a riveted tang. The Tang should be molded into the body of the oven.
    • The lid should fit securely in the body but able to come off without resistance.
    • The Bail should extend beyond the rim you you can get lid lifter on it easily.
    • The Lid Loop should be welded to the lid on both sides.
    • For outdoor Dutch Oven cooking (Is there any other kind?) the Body should have legs on it, normally there will be three legs.
  • Don’t get ovens with really short legs (No issue for Lodge or Maca) this makes it real hard to get coals underneath them and makes it harder to do stacked cooking.

Putting Aluminum Foil in a Dutch Oven is about as close to Blasphemy as you can get.

 

Selecting a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens come in all sizes and shapes; round oval, deep, shallow, skillets, deep fryers, specialty ovens for bread, corn bread, fish, etc. Remember you cook on the top and the bottom in allot of cases, so the shorter the oven the more heat will penetrate the middle of the oven and the taller it is will be the opposite.

Taller ovens are good for large stews, casseroles, bread and other dishes where the heat needs to be more controlled. Dutch ovens are typically measured by their circumference and depth. Typically Lodge Dutch Ovens are the most common you’ll find, but when you need to feed ALOT of people, nothing touches a MACA.

I recommend a 12″ Lodge Dutch oven for anyone just starting out. If you’re a Boy Scout Troop, 12″ Lodge’s are a really good size for patrols. (Follow the patrol method !) It is a very versatile oven and one that is not overly large. Also, most Dutch oven recipes are written for a 12″ or 14″ oven. A 12″ Deep or 14″ Deep Lodge or 13″; MACA Dutch oven would be my next choices.

 

My favorite Dutch Oven, Hands down is a Lodge 14″ Deep; Stews, breads, roasts, chili for the masses. Very versatile for top cooking when the coals don’t need to be so close to the food.

 

Seasoning a Dutch Oven

There are almost as many techniques for seasoning your new Dutch Oven as there are owners of Dutch Ovens. Practically every book on Dutch Ovens includes a section on seasoning your Oven. Also, Lodge and Maca includes directions on this subject with their Ovens. I tend to listen to my grandmother. I have dutch ovens that her mother had from 1910 and I still use them every day. I’ve adapted their techniques to my own because I have more technology available to me than they did.

  1. Wash your new Dutch Oven thoroughly with soap and a sponge or plastic scrubber. DO NOT use a Brillo pad or other metal scraper, this will smooth the finish on your oven and make it hard for the seasoning to properly stick to it. As a matter of fact (opinion) the rougher the better. There is a protective coating on new Dutch Ovens that must be removed. The coating is there to prevent them from rusting. Dutch Ovens are cast iron. Rust will appear in a matter of minutes if water is left on them. The coating stops that while they are in shipment. But it must come off before use. This is the absolutely only time you will ever use soap on your dutch oven.After washing, dry the Oven with lintless clean white rags. Don’t use paper towels, they are horrible and leave remnants all over your pot. I tend to head out to Lowes™ and buy “Rags in a Box”. I used these for all my cleaning methods.
    • If your oven comes pre-seasoned you may not need this step, but I do it anyway. I like to know what’s been in my pots before I use them. Pre-seasoned isn’t really that good anyway.
    • Don’t wash your pot unless you are ready to season it. Even the slightest bit of moisture can rust a naked pot.
  2. If you have a gas range turn on a burner and place the lid on the burner for about a minute or two. This will complete the drying process. Do this separately for both sides of the lid and both sides of the “pot.” If you have an electric range turn the oven on “warm” and place the lid and pot in the oven, with the door open. This is a routine you should get into for every time you rinse your Dutch Oven. The heat will pretty much insure no moisture is left on the Dutch Oven.
  3. My grandmother always seasoned her cast iron in the house. This is where I differ from her, you can if you want but the house will stink and chances are you’ll set off the smoke detector. I use my outdoor propane grill. I happened to own a full sized stainless steel Duncane™ with a full hood. Depending on the size of the cast iron you trying to seasoning it should fit under the hood and the hood should completely close.
  4. We are ready. Before starting you’ll need the followingTake a cloth rag and some Crisco and coat the inside and outside of the lid and the pot or the pan. Put the thinnest coat you can get on and still get full coverage. Most others will tell you to really put it on thick, but you’ll end up with problems if you do. If you put it on really thick the grease will bubble potentially creating hard black pockets instead of a completely smooth finish. These pockets, if poked will break and you’ll end up with a divot that will only collect food and make what you’re cooking stick.
    1. Start your oven or grill preheating. Crank it up as hot as it will go with the lid down.
    2. Oven Mitts
    3. Dutch Oven, Cast iron, pot, etc
    4. SOLID shortening, I use Crisco (The white kind) or even better, pure lard.
    5. A Sturdy Lid/Pot lifter or two
    6. A lid/pot Rack for placement between seasoning steps
    7. Resting bars. I use to 1/4′ stainless steel pipes to keep my cast iron OFF the grill surface. You want as little of the cast iron touching your grill as you can. This makes for a better finish and better circulation.
  5. Place the cast iron on the metal resting bars in your grill and close the lid. There is no real set time for how long it should remain there, but here is what to look for. As the cast iron gets really hot, the grease will start to burn leaving a hard carbon based finish. As it burns smoke will begin to appear just above the surfaces. Wait until ALL the smoke has stopped, this will let you know that it is finished for this round. Carefully (Because it’s really hot at this point) remove the pot/pan/lid using oven mitts and the lid lifter and place it on the Lid/Pot rack. Do not put it on the ground, even with legs, hitting the cold ground could crack your pot.
  6. When the pan is still warm but not hot. You should be able to touch it without getting burnt. Please don’t try touching it while it is hot, you’ll have a nasty burn. Once it is barely warm, re-coat the pan with Crisco, again (and always) with the thinnest coat you can and still get complete coverage.Repeat this process 4-5 times and don’t think it looks good after three rounds, keep going. The more you do it the better the season will be. I’ve had pots for 10 years that have never had to be “re-seasoned” and the nothing sticks to them.
    1. As a side note, every scouter should have a tube of toothpaste in their first aid kit. If you should burn yourself during this process, completely cover the burn with toothpaste and let it dry. It immediately takes away the pain, you won’t blister and by the next day you won’t be able to tell you’ve been burned. Over the years I’ve found that regular UltraBrite™ toothpaste works hands down better than any other.
  7. Finally, when you are done let the pot get cold. Place another THIN, THIN, THIN layer of grease all over the surface (inside and out). Cover in a dutch oven case or cloth bag and store until ready to use.

 

Cleaning a Dutch Oven

Items Needed

  • Spray Bottle
  • White Vinegar
  • Scrapers
  • Cloth Rags
  • Heat Source
  • Water
  • Lid lifter
  • Lid rack

I have read more “techniques” about cleaning dutch ovens than I care to share. Most of the time I get a pretty good laugh at the effort people put into cleaning Dutch Ovens. Nothing drives me more crazy than people who don’t know how to care for cast iron and resort to lining it with aluminum foil. UHG. Please don’t do this, nothing causes a dutch oven to cook worst than putting aluminum foil in it. It doesn’t heat evenly, makes it hard to get the food out, sticks to the bottom and worst of all, it causes a reaction that will actually remove your seasoning. Simply put, don’t do it. Cleaning a dutch oven is easy.

Vinegar and water is the only thing you need to clean ANY cast iron.

Vinegar is one of the items I always take with me when I leave for an outside adventure, natural regular white vinegar. I mix the vinegar in a spray bottle at a 3-to-1 mixture 3 water, 1 vinegar. When your Dutch Oven is still warm, spray it on the entire inside surface and put the lid back on for a few minutes. You will notice that all the stuff left in your Dutch Oven is now nice and soft. Just take a scraper of some sort and scrape off the excess. Then wipe with a cloth rag. Repeat this process a couple of times, and you should have one clean Dutch Oven.

Pour the resulting mixture directly into your grease pit. Animals hate the smell of vinegar and they’ll never go near your grease pit once it has vinegar in it. So you don’t have to put your grease pit 2 miles from camp or dig until you hit water to keep the animals away.

Vinegar serves as a tenderizer and a disinfectant. As you know, anything tender cooks faster. Spraying the vinegar solution on meats and vegetable will kill all the bacteria that forms at room temperature. Spraying it on your pots will disinfect them and make them easier to clean. So spraying vinegar on your hands and on the cooking surface you use is also a safe way to go. Remember to heat your Dutch Oven after every cleaning and use to evaporate the moisture from the pours of the Dutch Oven.

After cleaning put back on a heat source until all the moisture is out of your Dutch Oven. Remember Dutch Ovens can get hot fast! Use a lid rack! Remember to coat it with a ultra thin layer of Crisco once it’s cool if you plan on cooking in it again in the near future. If you don’t plan on cooking in it again for a couple of weeks, don’t put the Crisco on it, it will go rancid after a while. Cover the pot with a cloth rag with the edges hanging out and put the lid on it to store it. This lets some air get back inside.

If you had an “oops” and burned the bottom or have some real heavy caked on food in your Dutch Oven, fill it with water, heat it up real hot and put in a cup or so of vinegar. Put on the lid, within 10-15 minutes all the food will have disintegrated to the point that it’ll almost wipe out with a rag.

Last cleaning tip. I don’t usually advertise for products, but get yourself about 20 of the “Lil’ Chizler”. This is hands down the best non-marring Dutch Oven scrapper on the market today and the only cost about $.75 – $1.00 apiece! The best ones I’ve found come from A Happy Camper.

 

Restoring Old or Rusty Dutch Ovens

This is kinda tricky… You can almost recover any cast iron cookware no matter how bad of shape its in, but there are many do’s and don’ts.

It is a multi-stage project to get the job done correctly. Since there is no way of gauging how bad each oven is at the time of restoration, you kind of have to try a few different things to get positive results. Here is what has worked for me in the past. Any time you need to “start over” you can follow these steps.

Electrolysis is the best way to clean one, but since this web site is dealing primarily with scouting I won’t approach that method, it can be hazardous.

  • On your next camp out, when the fire is blazing, place your dutch oven upside down in the fire and let it get red hot. By red hot I mean glowing red hot. This will burn off any food, grease, oil and even bad layers of metal which may remove allot of the rust if there is any. After doing this your cookware is naked, ANY water or moisture that gets on it will rust it immediately so take extreme caution. Also be really careful, when cast iron gets this hot it is dangerous and any sudden temperature changes will crack it.
  • After the fire treatment you may use COURSE steel wool, a wire brush or a drill with a very course cup base steel brush. Make sure it is very course. Remember is previous discussion we pointed out that the last thing you want to do is make the metal really smooth. When it is really smooth, the seasoning or curing process will tend to NOT stick very well. If using a wire brush or course steel wool, use an erratic pattern when removing the rust, this will help prevent the metal from becoming smooth.
  • After successfully removing the rust, immediately go into seasoning mode which is explained in detail in the Seasoning section of this document.

 

Regulating Temperature in Dutch Ovens

Keep in mind the briquettes must be applied to both the top and the bottom. Use only quality charcoal briquettes for consistent temperature control. (We recommend Kingsford but not match light, they burn too fast, maybe use some match light to get the fire going) The chart below tells how many briquettes to use for a desired temperature. As a rule of thumb to achieve 325° use the following method. Take the size of the oven and take that number of briquettes less three for the bottom and that number plus three for the top. For example with 12″ oven you would place 9 briquettes on the bottom (12-3) and 15 briquettes on the top (12+3). This works for Lodge™ Dutch ovens and GSI™ Aluminum ovens.

Note: Adding one set of briquettes (one on top and one on bottom) will raise the temperature of the Dutch Oven approximately 25°. Or conversely removing one set of briquettes will lower the temperature by 25°.

For the MACA Dutch ovens more briquettes are needed to compensate for the depth and thickness of the ovens. Take the diameter of the MACA Dutch oven and add three briquettes for the bottom heat. Then add six to the diameter of the Dutch oven to get the number of briquettes for your top heat. This gives you a temperature of about 325° F. For example with a 15″ Dutch oven your will need 18 charcoal briquettes for the bottom heat and 21 charcoal briquettes for the top heat to achieve a temperature of 325° F.

I recommend Volcano Outdoors Cook Stoves as a means to cook on Dutch Ovens. The temperature regulation is quite different than described above, but once you get used to cooking on one, they are the best dutch oven cookers I’ve used and it’s safe for your scouts!!!!!!. It doubles as a grill and small fire ring. We use it to cook everything in Troop 780. Nothing makes better deserts than this tool! However, often we don’t use briquettes to heat up our stoves, we use hot hardwood coals from the fire.

 

 

Tools You’ll Need to Cook in a Dutch Oven

Here is a small list of Dutch Oven necessities and accessories.



 

Cooking Tips Using Dutch Ovens

When cooking with cast iron, heat the piece slowly. Cast iron works best when there is an even heat source spanning the piece’s bottom. Old-fashioned wood- and coal-burning stoves are ideal for this, but very rarely does a modern gas or electric range provide this type of heat. The solution is to set your burner on very low and allow the cast iron to gradually warm up. You can then turn up the heat to medium or medium-high, as necessary. There is no reason ever to use the highest settings with cast iron, as it collects and conducts heat so readily.

Alternatively, you can evenly heat your ironware by popping it into an oven set on low. Once it’s heated, simply transfer it to the range top and cook as usual

Be particularly careful when cooking with an electric range, because the burners create hot spots that can warp cast iron or even cause it to crack. Be sure to preheat the iron very slowly when using an electric range and keep the settings to medium or even medium-low.

Preheating is not a problem when baking or oven roasting, since the iron will heat evenly in the oven. However, you may find that you do not have to cook the food quite as long as the recipe calls for, because of iron’s heat-retaining property.

Finally, be sure to use the appropriate iron for the task at hand. A three-legged Dutch oven is not the right choice for an indoor stove. Nor should a large baking dish be used on top of the range, unless you can perfectly balance the heat from the two burners it sits across.

Pick the right iron, treat it to the proper cure, dig out your favorite recipes and soon you’ll understand why grandma spent so much time in the kitchen.