What is a Dutch Oven?
Are you outgoing? Do you love to camp with friends and family? Do you love the great outdoors? Have you ever wondered how you can use all the cooking techniques such as baking, roasting, stewing, simmering, frying, boiling, steaming over a camp fire? Well since you are here you already know the answers to all these questions and you certainly know that all these techniques and many more can be done over a campfire using only one tool, the dutch oven. For now let’s just think of the possibilities. Think of all of the goodies you can make in the oven, or all of the meat you can roast on your grill even all the soups and stews you have ever had in you life. All that can be done next to your tent over the camp fire next time you go camping.
All these techniques can be incorporated into two dutch oven cooking techniques. Cooking with your dutch oven or cooking on it. First technique is when you cook food directly on the bottom of your dutch oven and the second is method is when you place the food into a second dish and then this dish is place on a trivet inside your dutch oven to prevent burning.
Things you’ll need or find useful
Fire is no game and the Dutch Oven is constantly on fire and to handle this utility you will need a good pair of gloves. They will save you a lot of time since you don’t have to wait for the tool to get cold. Work style gloves will do just fine but you should always consider getting a pair of fire handling gloves since you will be doing a lot of stuff around the hot fire. Fire handling gloves offer thicker leather and they have insulation inner layer.
If you are into camping, the great outdoors or survival prepping then you know all about the importance of a shovel to be present around the campsite. The shovel is also very important when it comes to maintaining a camp fire and cooking with a Dutch Oven. A garden shovel will do just fine and it will be used for stirring the coals and lifting them out of firepit to the oven.
Next tool you need to think of getting before you start using a Dutch Oven is fairly important one, a pair of hot pot pliers. Before you chose the pot pliers you need ones that have specially designed jaw that grips the lid strongly. The handle has a hook that is used to grab the bail handle when it is too hot to hold by hand or when it is hanging down in the coals.
Oven maintenance and preparation
If your oven has an aluminum body and since aluminum doesn’t rust the maintenance is very simple. You just need to watch it with soap pretty good and then wash it with water until you are satisfied. From experience, if you treat your aluminum oven just as a cast iron oven, the surface will develop a resistance to food sticking to it. Food will not stick as much as to untreated one.
The cast iron ovens will last you a generation if you take good care of it. If you take care of it properly since the day you have bought it will ensure you a good dutch oven for many years to come. Don’t forget to remove the protecting coating all cast iron ovens are shipped with. Scrub your oven very good with a steel wool before the first use. After, it needs to be rinsed very good and then towel dried and should be sitting for some time to air dry. While the oven is drying you should pre-heat your kitchen oven to 350 degrees. After some period of time or when your iron cast oven appears dry place it in the kitchen oven with its lid slightly to the side leaving a small opening. Leave the oven inside for some time but don’t over do it. Make sure it’s warm but not too hot so that you can hold it with bare hands and handle it. This pre-heating does two things, it drives any remaining moisture out of the metal and opens the pores of the metal.
Using a paper towel apply a thin layer of peanut, olive or plain vegetable oil. Make sure that the oil covers every part of the oven on the inside as well as on the outside. Bake it in your oven for an hour on 350 degrees with the lid slightly open. This process creates a protective coating over the metal.
After the oven has cooled off and is cold enough to be hand held and handled apply another thing layer of the oil you used in the previous process and make sure every spot is covered. Bake the oven again for an hour on 350 degrees and let it cool when done. Wait until its cool enough to handle and apply one more layer of oil while its warm and let it cool. Make sure that it has 3 layers of oil, 2 baked layers and one after baking layer.
If done right this process of pre-treatment should be done only once. But if you notice rust forming on your oven or you notice the surface of your oven is damaged then you need to clean the rust and repeat the pre-treatment process. You will know you have done it right when you noticed that the coating that formed after this treatment turns black with age. If no noticeable damage exist and if the coating turns black then you have done a very good job maintaining your Dutch Oven and you use it correctly. But this is not all, the coating doesn’t let oxygen from the air to react with the metal thus preventing the metal to rust. But there is also a cooking application to the coating as well. It forms no sticking surface on the inside of the oven where food won’t stick as much during cooking. If done right it should be as good as any factory anti-sticking coating.
Dutch Oven Cleaning 101
Aluminum ovens should be cleaned like ordinary pots and pans by using soap, hot water and scrubbing.
For cast iron ovens, the clean process is in two steps. First, food is removed and second, maintenance of the coating. To remove stuck on food, place some warm clean water into the oven and heat until almost boiling. Using a plastic mesh scrubber or coarse sponge and NO SOAP, gently break loose the food and wipe away. After all traces have been removed, rinse with clean warm water. Soap is not recommended because its flavor will get into the pores of the metal and will taint the flavor of your next meal.
After cleaning and rinsing, allow it to air dry. Heat over the fire just until it is hot to the touch. Apply a thin coating of oil to the inside of the oven and the underside of the lid. Allow the oven to cool completely. The outside will need little attention other than a good wipe down unless you see signs of rust forming.
- You cast iron Dutch Oven should never be placed in water for a long time, or have water on it or in it. No matter if you have applied a good coating on it, it will rust anyway.
- We have already mentioned this one. Avoid using soap. Avoid as in never use soap. It will get into the pores of the metal and it will taint your meals. But accidents happen don’t they. If you accidentally use soap then remove the coating by scrubbing it and reapply the coating.
- Never place your cast iron Dutch oven over direct hot flame. Aluminum can take it well but cast iron will crack over such high temperature.
- Cast iron distributes heat very well it has good conductive properties. So don’t be in a rush trying to heat it up. Your food will burn and you might even damage your oven.
- Don’t try to cool your Dutch oven down fast by applying very cold air, ice or water. Rapid cooling will result in damaging your oven for sure.
Now after you know what you can do to protect your oven and how to take care of it, let’s see what you can actually do with it. The first thing you need to know is that one charcoal briquette reaches up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. 20 pieces will reach temperature of around 500 degrees.
- Roasting: Equal amount of heat should be applied to the top and the bottom. Equal amount of coals should be placed on the top and the bottom.
- Baking: Done by applying more head from the top than the bottom. Greater amount of coals should be put on the lid of the oven in the ration 3:1
- Frying: All of the heat should be coming from the bottom of the oven.
- Stewing: Almost all of the heat should come from the bottom. Only small amount of coals should be placed on the top. The coals should be place in the ratio 4:1.
- Food is fairly raw or not crispy enough. We recommend to always consider how much quantity you will put in the basket. Overloading the basket will cause your food to cook way slower and never get as crispy as you might want it. You will always get the best results if you use it multiple times in a row when you are cooking large quantities.