Dutch Oven Basics

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a flame roasted hot dog or three followed up by a s’more or two. In fact, that’s one of our favorite meals. But sometimes we like to up the ante in the camp kitchen, and there’s no better way to do that than with a Dutch Oven

Dutch Ovens can be intimidating. They’re heavy (except for anodized aluminum models), and they require specialized care and specialized cooking methods. While all these things are true, they’re not as true as you might think, and the trade-off is oh so worth it. We are here to help you demystify the rewarding (and delicious) art of Dutch Oven cooking, so read on for a short primer then give it a try. You’ll be glad you did!

Seasoning

Even if you’re not familiar with seasoning your grandmother probably is. Cast iron is porous, which means while it’s great at holding and releasing heat and flavors evenly it’s also sticky – unless you season it. The seasoning process bakes lubricant (fat in this case) into the pores thereby making the cast iron less sticky. I’m sure there’s a technical term for all that, but we’re here for grub, not science. The seasoning ingredient is your choice. Lots of people use bacon fat. I don’t because I’m allergic to pork and I don’t want everything I cook to taste like bacon. To each his own, but my preference for seasoning is a flavor neutral, and more important cheap, lipid like canola or vegetable oil.

We’ll post a tutorial soon, but all you really need to do is rub every square inch of your Dutch Oven(s) liberally with the fat of your choice and bake it at 350 for a couple hours. Word of caution; if you do this in your oven turn on the exhaust vent. There will be smoke. If you have a gas grill I recommend using it. Just leave the burners on low and check up on things occasionally until the process is complete. Charcoal grills work too, but ain’t nobody got time for that – unless you do, in which case by all means proceed.

Speaking of complete, how will you know? The Dutch Oven will tell you, grasshopper……… Just kidding. Take it out after a couple hours and wipe off any excess oil. That’s it! You’re seasoned.

Care

Once you’ve seasoned your Dutch Oven you need to take care not to remove the seasoning. Ideally you’ll be able to handle clean-up with a paper towel or three. Plastic scrapers are great for stuck on bits, and rinsing with hot water or even washing with a few drops of dish liquid are fine on occasion. Just be sure your DO is completely dry before you put it away. I like to leave mine on a low flame for a few minutes after towel drying to ensure there’s no water in the pores.

Cooking

Dutch Oven cooking is all about trial and error. You may have read Dutch Oven recipes that call for a specific number of briquettes for a specific time. The problem with that is 1) Some cooks (yours truly included) prefer not to use briquettes; opting instead for coals from the fire or lump charcoal and 2) outdoor cooking means widely varied weather conditions, and widely varied weather conditions mean widely varied heat requirements. I prefer to simply load up the coals and check the precious contents more often than more, ahem, dedicated DO cooks might like. I’m sure purists would be aghast, but I’ve never had any complaints about the results.

But……..

I once won an anodized aluminum Dutch Oven in a Dutch Oven cooking contest. I was so impressed with it I bought another, and more often than not those two rascals are my weapons of choice in the camp kitchen. They’re light – clocking in at about one third the weight of their cast iron brethren, easy to care for – no seasoning required, dishwasher safe and rust free, and they work really well; not quite as well as cast iron, but really well. I still love cast iron, but like I said, but…….

Ready to try some Dutch Oven cooking? Sure you are! If you have questions just drop me a line.

See you out there!

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