15 Secrets to Dutch Oven Cooking
There are few experiences like cooking outdoors with an enormous cast-iron pan, although cast iron can be tricky to master.
Are you ready for this installment of Outdoor Cooking? I am too!
Cooking in a Dutch oven is one of life’s pleasures, I think. It’s hard to duplicate the feeling of cooking outdoors in a big, cast-iron pot over hot coals. It’s hard to duplicate that flavor too — a cross between cooking over a fire and using a slow cooker. I love it (if that wasn’t already obvious). :)
Dutch ovens have been around for years and years and years. Now that most of us do our daily cooking indoors on and in modern stoves and ovens, it seems like Dutch oven cooking is more for hobbyists and campers. If you haven’t enjoyed Dutch oven cooking as the cook or the eater, you’ve been missing out! It’s a lot of fun.
Cooking with a Dutch oven might seem a little intimidating or complicated. I totally get that! But what you put into the Dutch oven is pretty simple and uncomplicated; the cooking part is where it can get a little tricky. There’s a bit of a learning curve to get the timing and temperature just right, but once those two things are covered, you’ll be set.
You can cook or bake practically anything in a Dutch oven — they are incredibly versatile. Over the years we’ve modified old family favorites for use in a Dutch oven as well as finding new ones.
So, it’s time to pull out your favorite recipes and a pen and paper to take some notes!
You will want to purchase or borrow a few things to get ready for your Dutch oven cooking adventures. You don’t need a ton of equipment, but there are a few essentials that you don’t want to be without. I’m listing them here and will cover each in a bit more detail as we go along.
-One or two Dutch ovens (or more if you’ve got a crowd!)
-Charcoal chimney starter
-Something to put the lid on (a muffin tin works well)
-high heat resistant gloves
-lighter fluid (optional, not pictured)
DUTCH OVENS AND PREPARATION
As with anything, cooking with Dutch ovens does require a some planning and preparation. Secret #1: You should buy a Dutch oven a little before you plan on using it to make sure you have time to properly season it. A well-seasoned Dutch oven makes for happier cooking and cleaning up. Seasoning means that it’s been rubbed with oil or vegetable shortening and baked in an oven for a few hours to develop a nice, black coating on the surface of the entire Dutch oven. It will become further seasoned as you use it, eventually becoming nonstick.
Treat Dutch ovens as you do cast iron skillets and pans. If you’ve used those, it’s the same process for seasoning and care. There are aluminum Dutch ovens available, but the most common ones sold and used are cast iron. That’s what we’ll be talking about in this post.
Dutch ovens come with heavy lids that provide a good seal during cooking. Because the Dutch ovens are made of heavy cast iron, they retain heat very well. In fact, they can stay warm for hours and hours after cooking. Dutch ovens are best used for recipes requiring a long, slow cooking time, like stews, roasts, chili, etc. But they can also be used for things that cook in 30 minutes or less, like quick breads, rolls, cakes and cobblers. Dutch ovens lend great flavor to food from the oven itself and the charcoal briquettes. (You can’t get that from your indoor oven or a slow cooker!) Though I’m not covering the techniques in this post, dutch ovens are great for cooking bread and deep frying, as well.
Generally the cooking temperature will be about 350-400 degrees F. The cooking heat is generated from using coals placed underneath the pan and on top of the lid. You’ll see Dutch ovens with flat bottoms or with three little legs. The flat ones are better for indoor cooking. The ones with legs are the kind for outdoor use. I’m sure they were designed that way for other reasons too, but the little legs are nice because the Dutch oven keeps upright much better over the coals.
Let’s talk about the charcoal for a minute because it is such an important part of Dutch oven cooking!
For getting the coals hot, we prefer using a charcoal chimney starter.
The advantage of a charcoal starter is that you can get the coals started quickly and (usually) evenly. The tall chimney shape keeps the coals protected from wind and keeps them together as they heat up. I honestly would recommend investing in one if you do a lot of cooking with charcoal. Secret #2: The charcoal needs to be started about 20-30 minutes before you plan on starting to cook. If you use a charcoal starter, it might only take 15 minutes. I use that time to mix my ingredients together. By the time I’ve put everything into the Dutch oven, the coals are hot and ready to be used.