Dutch Oven Basics (a very short guide)

If you happen to have some time, nothing tastes better when you are camping than Dutch oven dinners or hot breakfasts. In fact, after our last trip, the kids requested "camping breakfasts" every month, even when we aren't camping. Over the next few months, we hope to post some good camp cooking recipes.
Dutch Oven Basics (a very short guide with references)
Your Dutch oven should come with a decent instruction manual and maybe even a cookbook. Besides that, there are quite a few good Dutch oven cookbooks and tutorials available, both in print and online. See, for example, www.dutchovenmania.com and www.dutchovendude.com. Utah State University Extension Service has a complete (but short) guide to equipment and techniques. This is to be expected since the Dutch oven is the official cooking instrument in the state of Utah. Idaho State University also has an online guide and cookbook. I've found dozens of Scout cooking books available online as well. If you have a favorite guide, let us know and we will put it here as a link.

Use and Care
Take care of your Dutch oven and follow the instructions you got with the oven. It probably wasn't cheap if you went for good quality. Most Dutch ovens come pre-seasoned, which is great. Don't let the oven stand in water since it will rust. If possible, I line my ovens with heavy duty aluminum foil or parchment paper before adding food. That makes clean-up a snap. 

Besides your Dutch oven, you should have a lid lifter,  heavy leather gloves, tongs for moving charcoal briquettes around, and a charcoal chimney starter. A place to put the lid is also nice so it doesn't get dirty. 

Cooking Notes
It helps me to remember a few things:
1. Use the coals to create a specific temperature (as if you were baking in an oven or cooking on a stovetop).
2. The heat never is even so you need to rotate the pot one direction and lid in the opposite direction to avoid burned spots. You can rotate the pot by 1/3 each time, putting the legs down in the gaps in the coals. Rotate the pot every 15 minutes or so, unless it is bread or something delicate. Then, you need to rotate more often.
3. The environment influences how the food cooks (if it is windy, for example, or a high altitude).
4. Have extra coals on hand to fill in where the coals burn down if you are going longer than 30 minutes.
5. Plan at least an extra hour for everything and have snacks on hand for munching while you wait!

The most common temperature for most recipes is 350°. You can get to that general temperature various ways. Here are several common ways used in Dutch oven cooking to estimate that baking temperature.

1. Doubling the oven size. Take the size of the oven (12", for example), and double it (24). Put 1/3 of the coals on the bottom (8) and 2/3 on the top (16).
2. Rule of 4. Take the diameter of the oven and add 4. That is the number of coals for the top. Take the diameter and subtract 4. That is the number of coals for the bottom.
3. Rings of coals. Place the charcoal briquettes between the legs of the Dutch oven in a ring. Place the briquettes in a ring around the top edge of the lid. You should be close to the numbers recommended by the other two methods. Add a second ring on top to bring it up to 375°.

If you are boiling, stewing, or frying, you put most or all of the charcoal underneath. If you are baking breads, you want more heat on top and less on the bottom. You can spread the coals across the top of the oven to even out the heat. If things aren't cooking fast enough, add more coals, but watch so it doesn't burn.

I would be thrilled to have you add any tips or experiences to this basic guide.


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