It’s not uncommon to find a heavy duty, cast iron Dutch oven in the kitchen of many homes. An experienced cook knows the importance and convenience of owning such a well-seasoned cooking implement. A good Dutch oven has a tight fitting lid and works perfectly for braising meats in the oven or on the stovetop. After proper conditioning and seasoning they are easy to clean up and become a staple in meal time prep.
What many people don’t know is a sly benefit of those fabulous cast iron Dutch Ovens: they transition really easily into outdoor cooking. The cast iron behemoths have been around for centuries and are thought to have taken a ride across the ocean and come to the Americas with Columbus half a century ago. Over time they made their way into indoor kitchens as lifestyles changed. Now they are also commonplace camping accessories for boy scouts and many campers across the Western United States.
Dutch oven cooking is extremely fun, and a great way to cook meals outside. To get started cooking outdoors with yours you’ll want to purchase a few accessories to make the adventure a little easier. These aren’t necessities, but having the right tools always makes a project go more smoothly. Bare minimum buy a lid lifter, and a set of gloves. You’ll appreciate having both.
When taking a Dutch oven outside, you’re going to need an alternative heat source to do your cooking with. Unless of course you can easily transport your stove as well! When cooking with a Dutch oven most people use charcoal to provide the heat they need although a wood fire words too. Wood is just harder to control to heat. When working with charcoal, a chimney starter is an easy way to get charcoal briquettes lit and create the coals you need to cook with. It’s basically a hollow metal tube with vent holes in each side and a metal grate close to one end. You fill the top end of the chimney starter with charcoal and then stuff wadded up newspaper in the bottom section. When lit, the flames flick upwards and ignite the charcoal without lighter fluid. Within 10-15 minutes the briquettes are ready to use.
Now that the coals are ready to work with, you need a pair of extra long tongs to move them around. This pair can get as dirty and grungy as you want. Their sole purpose is to safely move coals from the chimney starter to the Dutch oven, and then move them as needed. Just make sure no one catches you flipping their steak with them!
Cast iron isn’t a good conductor of heat, so it takes a little bit more time for your Dutch oven to warm up. But once it gets warm, it gets really hot, and stays hot for a long time. This is one of the features that make it so good to use for cookware. However it also means you have to be really careful to not get hurt. Invest in a good pair of heavy duty, heat resistant gloves so you can move your Dutch oven around easier and (hopefully) avoid getting burnt.
When cooking with charcoal, you place some of the briquettes under your Dutch oven, and about 1/3 of them on the top flanged lid so the heat radiates from both the top and bottom to cook food evenly. To prevent the top of your dish from scorching it’s necessary to periodically rotate the lid, moving the localized heat from the coals. A lid lifter makes this process much simpler than trying to rotate the lid using gloves. An 18-24” long handle keeps your hands away from the heat and will quickly grab the handle, and let you spin the lid in whatever direction you want. It also makes it easier to remove the lid completely when cooking if you need to check on food.
Don’t get caught standing there, trying to stir your food, or check on its progress with no clean place to set the lid! The truth is once in a while you’ll need to take the lid off your Dutch Oven. With coals on top of it, you need to be careful where you set it to prevent knocking ash everywhere. There will also be condensation on the underside of the lid from cooking so setting it on the ground isn’t exactly a feasible option unless you want to end up with a bunch of dirt from the ground in your food. Having a nifty lid stand to set your lid on will keep it clean and prevent having ashes knocked everywhere.
Recipes involving some meats, and or baked goods such as breads or rolls, might instruct you to place a trivet rack in the bottom of the Cast Iron Dutch oven. A trivet rack lifts the food up off the bottom of the Dutch oven to keep the underside from scorching. You can also use a trivet to smoke meats with wood chips or steam veggies for a healthy side dish. It opens up many different cooking options when using the Dutch oven.
A well seasoned Cast Iron Dutch oven is known for its easy clean up. When done correctly, the coating that forms on the cast iron makes it pretty much nonstick. After cooking simply wipe out or scrape out as much food residue as possible and then pour some boiling hot water into the Dutch oven. Allow it to soak for a few minutes and then using a plastic pan scraper, gently scrape the remaining food residue off. They typically have rounded corners that have been specifically designed to get into the joint between the side wall and bottom, ensuring everything gets clean.
Dutch oven cooking is a great way to add culinary creativity to your camping excursions or outdoor meals. The cast iron cookware is known for its durability, ability to hold heat for long periods of time, and easy clean up. One of the best parts to Dutch oven cooking is that with the accessories mentioned above, you can easily transition your beloved pots from kitchen to camp use!
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