The Campfire Cook’s Most Important Piece of Equipment – The Dutch Oven
Although I know readers normally like to be slowly introduced to a topic or an article, I would rather get right to the point with this one – no camp cook should leave home without their Dutch oven! Although Dutch ovens are often looked at much like Rodney Dangerfield (not getting any respect), your Dutch oven is the single piece of equipment that needs to be included whenever you are planning your camp feasts. It’s extremely functional, very easy to use, can be used for every meal and provides a perfect way for your entire camp “team” to get involved.
The Dutch oven is a cast iron pot with a cast iron lid that fits tightly on top. The oven normally has feet on the bottom and a ring or handle to lift the entire piece of cookware. It looks like a campfire workhorse and that is exactly what it is! The Dutch oven was made for long and slow cooking that takes place directly in, on or buried by the campfire coals or other coal heat source.
Your Dutch oven can literally cook any meal for your camp “team”. You can bake, boil, fry, roast and stew your meals simply by controlling the heat that the Dutch oven is in contact with and where the heat is located. There are several ways to adjust the heat that is in contact with your Dutch oven, but one of the easiest ways is by determining what type of cooking you want to do and then adjust the heat source. Here is a quick chart on how to adjust your heat for cooking:
– Baking: You don’t want the bottom portion of the food to burn so you want to increase heat from the top. Add 75% of your heat source (charcoal, camp fire wood, etc.) to the top of the Dutch oven and 25% of your heat source to the bottom
– Boiling: All of your heat source – 100% – should be at the bottom.
– Roasting: You want an even heat source for the entire length of cooking – 50% of the heat source should be at the top and 50% at the bottom.
– Stewing: There should be more heat at the bottom when stewing so you’ll want 75% of your heat source at the bottom of the Dutch oven and 25% at the top.
When you start thinking about how to incorporate your Dutch oven into your camp cooking plan you should plan an entire day of meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only will you save tons of time planning an entire day, but the Dutch oven also provides a great way to transition from and to each meal. One very easy meal plan would be a hearty 24 egg Breakfast Casserole in the morning (to share, of course!), Chili Mac for lunch and Chicken Enchiladas at dinner time. Don’t forget to plan for dessert which could be brownies or the ever popular Dutch oven pineapple upside down cake! Each of these examples uses a different style of Dutch oven cooking so you’ll want to make sure that your heat source placement is correct.
Dutch oven cooking can really get the whole family involved and this is a sure fire way to let the kids literally make the whole meal (except for handling the hot Dutch oven or coal placement). There aren’t many ways that kids can throw in a bunch of ingredients into a pot and then proudly feed the whole family with the meal they created. The Dutch oven allows kids to mix up one cup of cornmeal, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, 2 cups of flour, one egg, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of honey, 1/2 cup of shortening and 1 cup of milk and pour the mix into an aluminum pie tin. After pouring the mixture into the tin, the kids can set the tin into the Dutch oven and then bake for about 30 minutes. The kids will all have smiles when they can serve the delicious camp cornbread that they made all by themselves with the Dutch oven!
Many people are intimidated by the Dutch oven but by using the techniques mentioned above, along with rolling up your sleeves and diving into one of the easiest ways to cook at camp, should make you want to either grab your Dutch oven (or buy one) and get cooking!