The Dutch Oven Cooking is so popular because it is so versatile. Anything you can cook at home in your oven or stove you can cook with a Dutch oven.
Since the average Dutch oven does not come equipped with a constant thermostat like your kitchen stove or oven you must exercise great care in controlling the amount of heat.
This is done by regulating the number of coals you cook with on the top and bottom of the oven. Various types of cooking call for different placement of the coals.
The first thing you need to start is a good bed of coals. The most convenient method is to use charcoal briquettes. They are plentiful, easy to use and provide a long-lasting source of good heat.
Wood coals are fine to use also. The method I prefer is lighting my coals in a charcoal starter chimney and using what I need and keeping the remainder in the chimney to ignite more briquettes to use as I need them.
A good rule of thumb is to arrange the charcoals in a checkerboard pattern, leaving a 2 – inch square between them. The heat is regulated by adding or removing coals as needed. Because charcoal briquettes burn so hot it will be necessary to check your food often.
Use the following guidelines for these types of Dutch Oven Cooking:
The heat should all come from the bottom. Place coals under the oven as needed.
The heat will usually be more from the top than the bottom. Use a 3:1 lid to the bottom ratio for placing your coals. Check often and remove or replace coals as needed.
The heat source should be equally balanced between the top and bottom. Use a 1:1 lid to bottom ratio.
The majority of the heat should come from the bottom. Use a 4:1 bottom to lid ratio.
USING THE LID
Because the lid is shaped like a very shallow bowl when inverted it is ideal as a frying pan or griddle. Turn it upside down and place it directly on the coals. This is a great way to fry scrambled eggs or pancakes.
One technique that can be used with a Dutch oven is the inverted oven for baking. This turns your Dutch oven into an oven and allows you to use the inverted lid to fry your dinner in. Dig a small hole about 8″ – 9″ in diameter and 3″ -4″ deep. Place coals in the hole to a depth of about 1″. Place a rack over the coals. It needs to be 2″ – 3″ above the coals. Place your cake, pie, or biscuits in a pan on the rack and cover with your inverted Dutch oven. Spread coals over the bottom of the Dutch oven. Place the inverted lid on the upturned legs and allow it to warm for a few minutes. It can be used to fry hamburger, bacon, eggs, or whatever you desire. The item being baked will take about as much time as your oven at home.
Dutch Oven Cooking
A common problem of inexperienced Dutch oven cooks is to overheat the oven by using too many coals. Cast-iron retains and distributes heat very well.
Using too many coals to cook with would be like trying to cook everything in your oven at home with it turned on full blast. Use the minimum amount of coals to start with and add only as needed. Don’t make the mistake and do not use a lot of heat at the beginning to “get it started.”
Since cast-iron retains heat so well you may not be able to “slow it down” once you “get it started.”
This will prevent the horror stories you hear about cakes that are charcoal on the bottom, black on the top, and dough inside.
Check your cooking often and make the necessary adjustments to control the heat. I have found it handy to keep a pair of tongs in my cook kit to move coals around with. They are convenient and safe.
When cooking outdoors with a Dutch oven you have many options because of its versatility.
You can cook directly in your fire ring atop the coals of your campfire. Another way to cook is to place a double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a level piece of cleared ground, spread your hot coals on it and put the oven on the coals. This minimizes the use of fire rings and has a more minimal impact on the ground.