First off, what is a Dutch oven? A Dutch oven is basically a deep-dish cast iron or enamel pot with an accompanying lid. There are a lot of ways to cook when camping. Grilling over the campfire or boiling in a pot of water on a stove are common, but Dutch ovens are ideally suited for recipes that require baking. When you set up a Dutch oven to bake, you generally pile a specific number of coals both below the pot and on top of the lid. This allows the iron to absorb the heat from the coals and then slowly release this heat into the oven inside creating the perfect baking environment.
So now that you know what a Dutch oven is, let’s get ready for baking. If you have an outside location where you can heat your Dutch oven like a fire pit or a bar-b-que and you have a ready supply of charcoal, perfect. You are set! If not, you can always use your Dutch oven in your regular oven at the temperature stated in the recipe. Your Dutch oven itself might also require some preparation. If you have never used your Dutch oven before you will need to season it. This means scrubbing it down with a plastic scrubber to remove the wax layer from production, coating it with shortening, and then heating it in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. If your oven is rusty from neglect, you can also use an SOS pad before seasoning. After it is seasoned, you are ready to go.
Now, you will need a recipe. There are many sites on the internet for Dutch oven recipes. They are a great place to start because they will probably give you some tips that I do not provide here. I did a quick search and both and Dutch oven recipes made my mouth water. I recommend trying your hand at pizza, cinnamon rolls, a casserole, or a dessert like a fruit cobble because that is where the Dutch oven shines and where you will win over your family this week and your friends later on this summer. You may want to try a soup or stew eventually, but there is nothing novel about that since you could just as easily cook them on a camp stove. Use a Dutch oven for what only it can accomplish.
Once you are familiar with Dutch oven cooking you can start experimenting by using recipes from your general cook book or by creating new dishes that are completely your own.
To figure out how many coals you should use, use the following calculation. Take the diameter of your oven, say 10 inch, and multiply it by two. This gives you the amount of coals to reach 350 degrees. A 10 inch would be 20, a 12 inch would be 24, and a 14 inch would be 28. After you get the coals started, you will place 10 coals on the bottom and the additional coals on the top. To raise the temperature above 350 degrees, add additional coals to the top of the lid. Each coal raises the temperature approximately 20 degrees. To maintain this temperature be conscious of the size of your coals. They will need to be replaced when they are smaller than the size of a quarter.
Bake and most importantly eat! I think that you can figure out these steps without my help.
Last but not least, don’t let your food coma set in before you clean your oven. This is an art which most people who use cast iron take very seriously. Never use soap to clean your oven and don’t use anything metal, just really hot water and a plastic scrubber. After it is clean, you will need to store your oven with something between the lid and the pot to maintain airflow. This will prevent the oven from becoming rancid.
We at Nevada Outdoor School host an annual Dutch Oven Cook Off in Winnemucca each September where people like you show off their skills on the Dutch oven. There are both youth and adult categories ranging from one to multiple dish competitions. It is a great event and I challenge you to participate this year with your newly mastered skills.
Have fun baking, and remember the best way to keep your oven working well is to keep using it.