If you've never messed around with a dutch oven before, they can be a bit of a mystery. But once you start cooking with one, you'll never want to go into the woods without one again. Here's a quick crash course so you can level up your outdoor cooking game. Prepare to have your socks rocked off.
Exhibit A: Easy to use
Why even dutch oven? For starters, they’re wicked easy to use and cooking is a piece of cake (speaking of cake, you can make actual cake in the woods in a dutch oven). With most recipes, you just combine ingredients, place the dutch oven on a heat source and relax. And it's impossible to beat that feeling of lifting the lid off a dutch oven to reveal a full pot of delicious food!
Exhibit B: Great for feeding groups
They’re amazing when cooking for a group of people. If you've ever sat above a frying pan trying to cook for a whole bunch of people, you know that it’s no fun. When you use a dutch oven, everyone pitches in on the prep and then you have an hour or so to have fun while the food cooks.
Exhibit C: endless possibilities
You can cook things you would never otherwise cook while camping. A quick Google search will yield more dutch oven camping recipes than you could ever make in a lifetime. Think homemade au gratin potatoes, peach cobbler or cheesy garlic bites (that’s right… fresh bread in the woods). The metal disperses the heat so it cooks from above and below, cooking evenly from all sides. You can cook almost anything that you would normally cook in the oven without the hassle of actually dragging an oven into the woods.
Here are a few quick basics to help you along on your path to camp cook superstardom.
What size/kind to get?
GSI offers three different sizes — 10”, 12” or 14”; and two different finishes — Raw Aluminum and Hard Anodized Aluminum. If you’re going to be cooking for 2-6 people, 10” should do well. The 12” can serve 4-8 people and the 14” is large enough for a medium-sized feast. For finishes, the raw aluminum is more economical, but the hard anodized offers superior durability and gourmet performance without any kind of weight penalty. GSI also offers some useful accessories - a lid lifter makes moving the dutch oven and removing the lid easier (as seen in the pic at the top of this article - so you don't have to mess around with finding a stick) and a dutch oven stand (useful for the 10" version which doesn't include built in feet).
Never use soap. You want your dutch oven to develop a nice seasoned finish, just like your grandma’s trusty cast iron skillet. To clean, scrape all the food out (use plastic or wood utensils, never metal), fill with water and place it back on the heat. The warming water will soften any remaining food and you should be able to just gently scrub it away. Once it’s clean, dry thoroughly and add a coat of vegetable oil evenly to help protect the finish.
Heat: Charcoal vs. Coals from the Campfire
While either will work fine, for the easiest and most consistent cooking, charcoal is the way to go. But sometimes it’s just not convenient to drag a bag of charcoal along with you. In these cases, campfire coals will do just fine. Just make sure you stick to coals and avoid placing the dutch oven directly on open flames as this will almost certainly be too much heat and can even damage your dutch oven if it gets too hot.
So how do I use this thing?
This is where the beauty of cooking with a dutch oven comes to life. They are designed to maintain a consistent temperature throughout, cooking your food evenly while you relax. All you need is a source of heat and it takes care of the rest.
For charcoal, heat about 25-30 briquettes (a charcoal chimney works wonders and ensures all the briquettes are ignited properly) and distribute them above and below the dutch oven once they’re all hot. It’s nice to have a metal shovel to move them around. There are feet built right into the dutch oven so you can set it right on top of the coals and then shovel about half the coals right onto the lid.
For campfire coals, get a good fire going and let it burn down to coals — it’s best to avoid direct flames as they can get too hot. Spread the coals out to form and even circle and set the dutch oven right on top. Shovel some on top and you’re good to go.
Recipe: Dutch Oven Au Gratin Potatoes
- 5-7 large potatoes
- 6 tablespoons margarine (the more, the better)
- 1 medium onion
- 2-4 cloves of garlic
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 8-12oz block of cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
Place the dutch oven over some heat so it starts warming up while you prep everything. Dice the onion and garlic, slice the potatoes into 1/8-1/4-inch slices and shred the cheese. The dutch oven should be hot by now — Heat up half of the butter right in it and add the onions and garlic and cook until they’re cooked through, but not mushy. Add the flour and milk and bring to a boil for a few minutes until it starts to thicken. Rub the rest of the butter around the sides of the dutch oven and dump in the potatoes and cheese. Stir until everything is evenly distributed and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Cover and add half the coals to the lid. With proper heat, it is usually done in about 30-40 minutes (just enough time for a game or two of bocce).
This recipe is easily customized and could be turned into a main course with the addition of some sliced ham or other meat of your choice. Want spice? Add some jalapeno with the onions or some Sriracha right before you add the potatoes. Sick of cheddar? Mix it up with some pepper jack or add in some parmesan.
Next time you’re heading into the woods for a weekend of car camping, bring along a dutch oven and blow some minds!