When you think of camping, you think of a fire, and you probably think of roasting hot dogs over this fire. Realistically, is there anything else you need? Probably not, but when I'm going camping in a place that I can drive to, I like to bring along a dutch oven. If I don't make dinner in the oven then I at least want dessert. Because it's super simple and it goes hand in hand with cooking over the fire.
First things first: What is a dutch oven? Well a dutch oven is a cast iron pot with three legs and a flanged lid, designed to hold coals on top. The technical name is a camp oven, but it sounds so dumb, so we've stuck with dutch. The main heat sources for a dutch oven are either wood or charcoal briquets, which make it a sensible cooking method for meals at home as well as in the woods. The ovens were developed in England and Holland in the early eighteenth century, and they've been utilized on the American frontier ever since settlers began moving west.
Cooking in a dutch oven is extremely simple. This is the main reason they were so popular with settlers. The cast iron heats slowly, minimizing risk of burning the food, and once heated, keeps a consistent temperature. They are designed to hold the moisture in, so it takes very little water to cook food, including pot roasts. The oven can also be used as a deep fryer, either in the pot or on the lid. But the best part about the oven is that cleaning up is almost effortless. The pot needs to be seasoned before it's initial use, which helps keep the food from sticking to the sides, and as long as it's cleaned and cared for after every meal, the surface of the pot becomes better seasoned with use. Dutch ovens also come in a variety of sizes, so you can buy them according to your situation, whether you're cooking for one or an entire family.
Dutch ovens can be purchased at most camping stores or farm supply stores. Examples of major manufacturers are camp chef, and lodge, both have websites to purchase ovens and other equipment. There are a few other makers, but I'll let you find them.
So first off, I mentioned seasoning. Before the first use you'll need to remove the wax from the oven by either burning it off or scouring it off. After this you'll coat the iron with oil or crisco. Stick it in the oven for an hour between 375 and 400 degrees, let it cool for a few minutes and repeat the process once more. You're ready to cook!
To heat a dutch oven I take the size of the oven, and then add two more on top, and take two from the bottom. So with a ten inch oven you'd use twelve on top and eight on bottom. This is easy to remember because you're always doubling the amount of briquets according to the size of the oven, in this case using twenty briquets. This should heat it to 325 degrees. In colder temperatures you'll need to add more briquets, as well as in windy conditions. Also note that charcoal briquets have chemicals that burn hotter than wood briquets, so if cooking over a fire you'll need to add quite a few more. Place the briquets in a consistent pattern above and below the oven, to heat it thoroughly and avoid heat buildup in one spot. When cooking in multiple ovens, stack them to better utilize the heat. Briquets will need to be replaced about every 45 minutes when cooking meals that take longer, with wood briquets replace more often. If you need a higher temperature, the general rule is that every two briquets adds 25 degrees to the cooking temp. When boiling a stew, almost all of the heat will come from the bottom, so a four to one ratio should be employed, so with a ten inch oven there would be sixteen on bottom, and four on top. Check the suggestions given from the source of your recipe.
This is the part where you need a little creativity, because you can cook just about anything you want, but you may need to experiment to get the recipe just right. There are plenty of recipe ideas up for grabs on the internet, so a quick search will help you out with anything you're wanting to cook. For this article, I'm making peach cobbler and I'm using a ten inch oven.
You'll need to round a few things:
1 box of yellow cake mix
3 15.25 oz cans of peaches in syrup ( or a similar amount)
Cinnamon & sugar to sprinkle over
Combine the cake mix and the syrup from one and a half of the cans, you may need a little more or less liquid, and this'll will just come with practice, I find that having it a little on the runny side helps the moisture underneath to escape, and I like less goop, so I do it that way. Then remove the remaining syrup from the peaches and put them in the dutch oven. Pour the cake batter over the top, sprinkle the cinnamon & sugar to your liking, and bake at 325 degrees for around 45 minutes or until it appears done. Stick a spoon in it the check the consistency of the cake mix, again, all about personal preference, this dessert won't hurt you if it's not completely cooked, gotta love eggless treats!
You'll want to clean the oven while it's still warm, just by scraping the remaining food out, then simply rinse it out with hot water, dry with a paper towel, and apply a small amount of oil to the iron and you're done. If you're nervous about germs, you can use a few drops of dawn when rinsing it, but make sure to apply the coat of oil.
Store with a folded up paper towel slightly propping up the lid, allowing the oven to breathe.
This is just one idea, and I know it seems like a lot of information to follow, but once you've done it twice, it becomes second nature. Most of the time I don't use a recipe, I just throw in ingredients and let it do it's thing. You can never go wrong with a cube steak, potatoes, carrots, onions, and cream of celery soup, all amounts added to your liking. Be sure to google other ideas, you'll be amazed at just how versatile the dutch oven can be!