Cooking in a Dutch Oven
Fall is here, the time for last minute camping trips before we winterize our trailers (here in the West), sit around campfires gazing at colorful leaves and beautiful sunsets, and ……why not try a little Dutch oven cooking? Did you know that anything you cook in your kitchen, in oven or on stovetop, can be cooked over coals or campfire?
If you are local to me (Greeley/northern Colorado), come to my workshop this Saturday, October 13 at the Farr Library. Sponsored by the High Plains Library District, host of my 2018 Writer in Residence opportunity, it will be from 2-3 p.m. and my friend Sue and I will be cooking and serving some tastings of several recipes: Colorado beef or bison stew, beef or bison chili, meaty red beans and rice (for a little Southern kick), and cornbread which goes with Southern or Western cooking, or just about everything.
Yes, you can cook stews and chilies and cornbread, biscuits, apple cobblers and pies and other desserts, tri-tip or pot roasts, just about anything you do at home tastes delicious cooked over the coals outdoors. About the only difference between an indoor and an outdoor Dutch oven is that the outdoor Dutch ovens have legs so they can sit over coals and create a draft to keep the heat going,
Here are a few tips which I will cover at the workshop in case you can’t make it (or if you want to refer to it later):
Dutch Oven 101 Basics
Use lump charcoal; it burns hotter.
Air draft keeps the coals hot. (This is one reason for legs on the pots.)
Buy high quality cast iron. Used is fine as long as it’s in good condition, but even with that, it is usually easy to refurbish (cure) them. Lodge is the best brand. Their web site is a great resource for how to cook in a Dutch oven.
Always clean your Dutch oven immediately after cooking. Wash by hand. Use no soap or very little soap and if you do use it, remove it right away. Stirring water with a metal or wooden spoon, pine cone or scrubby helps scrape off caked on food. Using tin foil, foil pan, or parchment liners help keep it clean but Dutch oven purists don’t use inserts. Dry oven immediately after cleaning and place over warm/hot fire, coating it with olive oil, to dry thoroughly. Wipe out with a Bounty paper towel (doesn’t shed lint). Store oven with paper or hand towels between the lid and the pot so that it is not closed all the way.
Lid lifter to lift the top, rotate oven and lid, and carry hot oven
Trivet – used to lift oven off coals and for serving
Lid stand for placing lid (can use trivet)
Small shovel and tongs to move hot charcoal
Fire starters or newspaper and matches and lighter
Anything you cook in your Dutch oven at home can be cooked at your campsite in a Dutch oven. The main difference is that outdoor Dutch ovens have legs so that coals can be placed underneath.
Determine Cooking Temperature:
Most cooking in a Dutch oven is done at 350 degrees. To determine the amount of coals required to produce a 350-degree oven, double the diameter of your oven. For example, if you are using a 12-inch oven, you will need 24 coals, while a 10-inch oven will require 20 coals. If you are using a “deep” oven, add 2 or 4 more coals. There are charts available for determining how many coals should go on top and how many on bottom. Adjustments must be made in wind. Temperature charts for how many coals to use on top and bottom can be found on the Lodge web site or in their cookbooks, in the Sisters on the Fly cookbook, and eventually on my web site.
Here is a sample recipe:
Dutch Oven Stew
1 pound of stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes (can use beef, bison, or elk; if meat is lean, adding a couple of strips of bacon for fat is a good idea)
1 or 2 onions (I use sweet), diced
4-8 potatoes, depending on size (I usually use red but Yukon Gold and others are good too), cut into 1 inch cubes (I partially peel my potatoes; they can be fully peeled as well.)
1 cup baby carrots
½ cup celery, diced or sliced
handfuls of other vegetables on hand such as mushrooms and root veggies
12-24 oz. of beef or bone stock
Adding 1 or 2 cans of mushroom soup is an option
Season with salt, pepper and seasonings of choice. I like Tony Chachere’s. Can include bay leaves or even curry.
Make sure there is enough stock or water to cover well all ingredients.
Cover bottom of Dutch oven with canola or vegetable oil and heat to medium high sauté temperature. Dredge stew meat in flour and seasonings of choice and brown meat in skillet. Add onions and a pat or two of butter. Lower heat as necessary. After meat is brown and onions are beginning to become clear, add 12 oz. of beef or bone broth stock. Bring mixture to simmer and keep enough briquettes to maintain the simmer for an hour or so until the meat and vegetables are fork tender. Cook the meat in the broth for 30 minutes to an hour before adding vegetables if possible to make sure it gets really tender. Vegetables will take about 30 minutes if chopped into bite-sized chunks. Cornstarch thickener is optional, especially if the soup is omitted. I prefer the natural flavors of the liquid. Because stew flavor gets richer and the meat gets more tender with time, make sure you have a supply of hot briquettes to replenish the coals.
Serve in bowls. Delicious with a Dutch oven corn bread or crusty French bread or baquette. At home, I often serve it over rice but don’t usually cook rice while camping. Keeps it simple.