When it comes to cooking outside, most everyone turns to the grill. As for me, I use the Dutch Oven. It may look intimidating, but I promise you, it’s one of the simplest, greatest ways to get the best flavor out of your meat. It just requires a bit of common sense and a side of patience.
So, if you up to the challenge of the dutch-oven cooking, let’s start with a few basics:
1. What is a dutch oven?
A dutch oven is a cast pot of almost any size. It has thick walls, usually made of cast iron or aluminum and comes with a tight fitting lid.
2. If I don’t have a dutch oven, what should I look for when buying one?
Fist and foremost, I recommend cast iron over aluminum dutch ovens. Some folks believe that aluminum can have negative health effects, so I’ve personally never used it.
Second, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying what’s known as a “camp” or “outdoor” dutch oven. These will have 3 short legs on the bottom with a lid that has a lip around it for holding coals, compared to the flat based dutch ovens with no legs, and no ridge around the outer edge. These flat based ovens are primarly used for cooking indoors.
And third, you’ll want to pick out just the right size. If you’re going to buy just one, I’d recommend going with the 12” round, and about 4 or 5” deep. This will accommodate cooking up most roasts, and chickens, with room to add vegetables.
To make it easy for you, I recommend going with the Lodge Logic™ 8 Quart Cast Iron Deep Camp Dutch Oven (go with the 12” diameter, 5 inch depth), because it’s better quality than most all I’ve seen, and accommodates to most occasions. This size can typically hold enough to serve at 8 – 25 people for the main dish, and about 40 if you’re making a side dish.
3. What can I make in an outdoor dutch oven?
You can cook almost anything in your camp dutch oven, from roasts to whole hams! Below is a very general recipe that should guide you through any dutch oven dish.
- 1, 12 inch cast iron dutch oven
- 1 Pair of welder’s gloves (don’t lift the hot lid without these guys)
- Anywhere from 22 to 28 depending the temp your recipe calls for
- 1-4 lb cut of meat, pork or beef or bison all are similar
- Veggies to your liking (potatoes, carrots, Celery onions or any other root vegetables are a great place to start)
- Cooking oil
- A bit of flour
- Liquid (water, wine, stock) water is the last choice but certainly works fine
First place your dutch oven on right on the ground (little FYI, when most people Then, you’ll want to get the bottom of the cast iron pot nice and hot. Place several pieces of lit lump, briquettes, or coals under the dutch oven to the right heat for your desired recipe. Once it’s hot flour the meat, add the oil, and brown the meat on all sides. Next add your liquid of choice, and all the veggies. Then put the lid on top, making sure it is secured tightly.
Next you’ll want to add the coals or your heat source of choice on top. My rule of thumb is to add about three times the amount of fuel on top as you have on the bottom. For example, if you have 3 coals on the bottom, you would want to place eight or nine on top. This blog breaks down the top to bottom and temp ratios pretty well. (http://www.chuckwagonsupply.com/faqs.html)
It will take a bit of practice and some peeking at the food being cooked to get the heat right for your desired recipe, so pay occasional attention and add or remove coals or charcoal as common sense dictates. You might burn your cast iron pot or even your food, but it’s all about sensing when you’re working with a cast iron pot, so don’t give up. Just let it burble a bit, not bubble, just a little tip to know when it’s too hot or not hot enough.
You will need to cook this for at least four hours and up to six is probably better. You will know the meat is finished when it is fork tender. When ready, season to taste and enjoy.
I truly believe that food cooked in a cast iron dutch oven using coals or charcoal delivers a distinct, unique flavor that makes it all worthwhile. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.