Cast Iron Dutch Oven

"Perfect for Camp Dutch Oven Cooking"

Cast iron Dutch oven cooking makes incredibly delicious food!

Just imagine - you're doing some outdoor cooking in a dutch oven - you crack the lid a bit to see how the cooking is going and the tantalizing aroma hits your taste buds with a vengeance! You just can't wait for a bite!

A cast iron dutch oven is equally good to use in your kitchen - either on the stove top or in the oven. For using inside, you would buy a flat bottom one versus one with legs for outside cooking. A cast aluminum dutch oven is better for inside use than outside also.

What Is It?

If your parents or grandparents didn't use a cast iron dutch oven, you might be asking "What is a Dutch oven?"

To put it simply, it is a heavy, thick-walled cooking pot with a tight lid. It is very versatile - it can be used as a frying pan or a deep fryer - it can be used as a baking dutch oven for biscuits and desserts - it can be used for making stews or ham and beans - it can be used for roasting a chicken or other meat.

If cared for properly, a cast iron dutch oven can last for generations - there are many being used today that belonged to early day pioneers.

Types of Dutch Ovens

A cast aluminum dutch oven is lightweight and easier to care for - you can wash them with soap and water. They don’t rust and they don’t need seasoning. They heat up quickly, but they also loses heat faster.

The biggest problems with aluminum dutch ovens is that they don’t cook evenly and can have hot spots. Their cooking ability is greatly affected by wind.

These dutch ovens will melt if they get too hot, which can happen if they are placed directly on coals.

Cast iron dutch ovens are preferred by dutch oven enthusiasts - you can find cook offs and competitions all over the country that hilight camp Dutch oven cooking.

They will last hundreds of years with proper care. They have even heat distribution and retain heat for a time to finish cooking after removing from the coals. They have more heat retention in windy conditions.

A benefit that you might not think about - cooking in cast iron adds iron to your food.

The downside for cast iron dutch ovens is that they are heavy and when filled with food, are even heavier. They can also rust if they are not properly seasoned and cared for.

Camp dutch ovens - cast iron is preferred.

They should have small, sturdy legs for air circulation when cooking.

The bail should be strong, heavy wire with a 45 degree option for easier picking up.

The lid is flat with a lip around the edge so you can put coals on top.

They should have a molded loop handle on the lid for easier removal with a lid lifter.

The sizes range from 5 inches to 23 inches and some are deeper than others. But these can be really heavy when full of food.

You can use a flat bottomed dutch oven with a tripod over a campfire or with bricks placed underneath it so the briquettes don’t get smothered.

Kitchen dutch ovens - can be either aluminum or cast iron.

They have flat bottoms with no legs and will work on any stove - electric, propane or gas, or wood stoves.

They usually have a domed lid without a lip on the edge.

How to Buy A Dutch Oven

Whichever type of dutch oven you choose, don’t go with the cheap ones. I don’t mean any that are on sale, but rather ones that are cheaply made. They burn - cook unevenly - legs fall off! The best ones cost only a little more and are well worth it!

You can sometimes find a good cast iron dutch oven at flea markets, thrift stores or garage sales. They aren’t that difficult to clean up and reseason, so if you find one, go for it.

Things to look for when buying a used cast iron dutch oven:

  • Cracks or chips would be bad - rust can be cleaned up.
  • The lid should fit tight and have a molded loop handle.
  • The wire bail should be strong.
  • The legs should be strong with no cracks.
  • No riveted loops!

Things to look for when buying a new cast iron dutch oven:

  • Look for one that is well made with consistent thickness in the walls.
  • The bail should be strong and heavy and attached to molded loops, not riveted ones.
  • The lid should fit tight.
  • The lid handle should be a molded loop.
  • It should have 3 short and study legs.

Seasoning A Dutch Oven

Seasoning a cast iron dutch oven creates a non-stick cooking surface and prevents rusting.

Use soap and hot water to remove the protective coating - this is the only time you will use soap on your oven.

Rub vegetable oil on all the surfaces inside and out - on the lid too.

Put on a cookie pan and bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours.

Turn off the oven and let it cool inside it. Repeat the oiling and baking process once more.

When it is just warm, rub it with a little oil and a paper towel - wipe off the excess and it’s ready to use.

You can use a gas barbeque to season a cast iron dutch oven - no smoke inside the house.

I prefer to season my cast iron pans when I am camping. You use the same method with warm coals and it works really well.

For a rusty pan that needs re-seasoning - remove the rust with a wire brush or steel wool, then wash with hot soapy water and re-season.

Dutch Oven Care

Taking care of your cast iron dutch oven properly is really important. They will last for generations when they are cared for in the right way.

They should always be seasoned before using them the first time. You can buy some that are preseasoned, but I still season them first before I use them.

To clean your cast iron dutch oven, use a brush or wooden utensil to remove stuck-on food. If you absolutely can’t get stuck food off, you can put the dutch oven in the fire and burn it off. Don’t have the fire too hot, or your oven might warp and crack. You will have to re-season it.

Use a stiff brush, not metal, to clean with hot water. Dry with warm heat. After each use and cleaning, wipe the surface with a little vegetable oil while it is still warm.

If you will be storing your oven for some time, put it in a cool, dry place with a piece of paper towel in it. Don’t store it with the lid on tight - you can put something across the top to keep the lid open a little bit.

Use some mineral oil to wipe the surface if you will be storing it for a long period of time.

Dutch Oven Tools

Dutch oven tools are probably not necessary, but they can be really helpful:

  • Dutch Oven Table - These are so nice to have - you can put hot coals right on the table and it is a perfect height. You don’t have to bend over and strain your back. It should have a wind screen on 3 sides.

  • Dutch Oven Lid Lifters - I consider these a necessity because it allows you to remove the lid without getting ashes in your food.

  • Charcoal Chimney Starter - This is such an easy way to light the briquettes without using lighter fluid. You just crumple up some newspapers, put in the charcoal and in about 15 minutes, it is ready.

  • Welder’s Gloves - protects you from burns when lifting the dutch oven, especially when you are using your cast iron dutch oven over a campfire.

  • Long Handled Tongs - use these for placing and removing hot briquettes.

  • Whisk Broom - such a simple tool, but it’s really good for brushing ashes off the lid before removing it.

  • Wooden Utensils - Never use metal on your cast iron dutch oven because it will damage your seasoning protection. Wood is better because plastic will melt and is extremely difficult to remove.

Dutch Oven Cooking

The most popular way of cooking with a cast iron dutch oven is to use charcoal briquettes. They are easy to light and provide heat for a long time.

Dutch oven cooking provides incredibly tasty food - meats come out moist and tender, really good desserts are a delight to fix, one pot meals are super easy and you can even bake bread and biscuits. The deeper dutch ovens are the best for baking.

Some people use the lid for frying, but I prefer to just use a cast iron frying pan. Cast iron is wonderful to cook with - I use it at home, as well as for camping.

A fun thing to do with dutch ovens is to stack them when you’re cooking. You can put meat in the bottom one, a dessert in a smaller one on top and some biscuits in another one on top of that. Just make sure the number of coals match what you are cooking.

Some general guidelines for coals used when cooking with a cast iron dutch oven:

  • for frying - all coals are used on the bottom

  • for boiling or simmering - all coals on the bottom or with 1/3 on top

  • for roasting - coals evenly divided bottom and top

  • for baking - more coals on the top - 2/3 on top

Coals should be evenly distributed on the bottom and top around the edges with 1 briquette on each side of the handle. For cooking at 350 degrees, double the size of the dutch oven and subtract 3 for the bottom and add 3 for the top. So if you have a 12 inch dutch oven, use 9 coals for the bottom and 15 coals for the top.

Plus or minus 1 on the top and bottom equals 25 degrees - so if you wanted 325 degrees, you would use 8 coals on the bottom and 14 coals on the top; for 300 degrees, you would use 7 coals on the bottom and 13 on the top.

An easy way to estimate the heat for your cast iron dutch oven :

With your hand 6 inches above the coals on the lid, count “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three”, etc. Take your hand away when it gets uncomfortable - one is hot, two is medium, three is low - more than that is not enough heat.

Always use high quality charcoal - Kingsford, without a doubt, is the best. It burns longer than other kinds. Never use “match light” charcoal.

After cooking for 1 hour, you should remove the coals and replenish them with new ones if you have to cook for a while yet. You can use 2 less on the top and the bottom to finish the cooking.

Be prepared for that if you will be cooking for more than an hour and have more coals ready to use.

Dutch Oven Campfire Cooking

A cast iron Dutch oven is especially good to use when you are camping - food has never tasted so good! Many people feel that dutch oven camp cooking is the only way to go - and for good reason.

For one thing, it is so easy - just load it up with food, arrange hot coals on and under it and you're done. You can then read a book, enjoy the campfire, have a happy hour drink, .....

There are four different ways of Dutch oven campfire cooking -

  • Using coals from the campfire - you need to build a good sized fire and let it burn long enough to make enough coals. Take out some that are the size of briquettes and arrange on your oven. Keep the fire going so you can replenish coals if necessary.
  • Burying the oven in coals - dig a hole in the center of your fireplace about 20 inches deep and 30 inches in diameter. Fill the hole with wood to burn and make coals. Dig out some of the coals, leaving a good base to set your Dutch oven on and cover with the remaining coals (about 3 inches). Cover with 2 inches of dirt or sand and then spread a wet burlap bag over all and weight down with some rocks. When you are ready to eat - dig it up and use a whisk broom to brush all the ashes off the top. Open it up and voilla! - a feast!
  • Using charcoal briquettes - Burn the briquettes in the campfire until they are ready to use - about 15 minutes. Then use as you ordinarily would.
  • Using a tripod - Make a dutch oven campfire that isn't too hot (or too small). Hang the tripod at a height that will keep it cooking like you want. This takes more experience to know just when everything is right - but once you catch on to it, wonderful meals will come from using a tripod with a dutch oven over a campfire.

My dutch ovens that I use just for campfires are stored in burlap bags. They get black from the fire and the bags keep the black soot from getting on anything.

Pine is the most common wood in the Montana mountains, but it doesn’t make very hot coals and they are not long-burning. If you are using those coals, just be prepared with more to replenish and you will do fine.

A shovel is handy for getting coals out of the fire and the long-handled tongs will place them. Just remember that it takes about an hour to make good coals.

Here's to great cast iron Dutch oven cooking!

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