Going Dutch

Dutch Oven

Photo from Campfire Cooking

This is the secret to eating well in the woods.  Go ahead and buy one, you’ll thank me later. A couple of meals out of this sucker and you will begin to scorn indoor kitchens.  The Dutch oven is a humble apparatus; just a simple cast iron kettle with 3 little legs, a lid and a handle that is basically the outdoor counterpart (and superior) to a crock-pot.  The oven cooks things any way you can imagine (steamed, fried, simmered, roasted, baked…) with heat from gray coals.  Here’s a survey of what can be made in this incredible kettle; everything from pineapple upside-down cake to gourmet pizzas to my personal favorite, the Mountain Man breakfast casserole.  These ovens are so special that there are Dutch Oven Societies (I’m serious, check out the  Arkansas Dutch Oven Society’s webpage) around the nation that share recipes, host cooking competitions, and spread Dutch oven culture around the world.   I can’t wait to use mine next week at Lost Maples State Natural Area.  I’ll be making the Mountain Man Breakfast and a dessert, and will be sure to let you know how they turn out!

Dutch oven

Outdoorsmen have used Dutch ovens since the 17th century. This photo was taken from Legends of America.

Some Tips:

  • Do everything you can—mix batters, chop vegetables, prepare meats—in a clean kitchen beforehand and transport ingredients in large Ziploc bags to save work at the campsite.
  • Line the oven with aluminum foil when baking for easier clean-up
  • Cook low and slow—the easiest way to ruin a Dutch oven dish is to burn it with high heat.
  • Heat should always come from gray coals because flames will cook the food unevenly and slowly and may damage the enamel on the oven.
  • Never use soap when cleaning!  Like all cast iron cookware, the oven takes on the flavor of what it comes to contact with—you would rather this be bacon and biscuits than soap.
  • The only other tools you’ll need are a wooden spoon for dishing and thick leather gloves for manipulating the coals and lid.

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