5 Pro Tips for Dutch Oven Cooking
Dutch oven cooking can take some practice to perfect, and often will require some fine-tuning in the field. However, with a few basic tips in your back pocket, your next camping meal will not only be easy, but delicious too. Here are a few things to keep in mind…
1) Coal count – For baking and roasting you’ll generally need two times as many coals as the diameter of your Dutch oven. For example, if you have a 12” oven, light 24 coals. For frying, simmering or boiling, the general rule of thumb is to use as many coals as the diameter of your oven. Twelve coals for a 12″ Dutch oven, etc. Keep in mind, for recipes that take longer than 45 minutes, you may need to add additional coals to keep the oven heated.
2) Placing your coals – When baking in a Dutch oven, you want the majority of the heat coming from the top so the bottom of your dish doesn’t burn. Many people like to use a 3:1 ratio with the majority of coals on top. For simmering or stewing, the basic ratio is 1:3 with the majority of coals on the bottom, and for frying or boiling, all heat should come from the bottom, so place all coals beneath the Dutch oven.
3) Temperature control – While many recipes will call for a certain number of coals, Dutch oven cooking is definitely not an exact science. To better gauge the temperature, try the “hand test.” Remove the lid, place your hand just inside of the oven and see how many seconds you can keep your hand there. For each second, count down in increments of 50 from 550. If you can hold your hand there for 1 second, the oven is at approximately 500 degrees, and so on. To increase the heat, you can add coals. To decrease heat, remove coals.
4) Keep it covered – To check on a dish, use tongs or a lid lifter tool to remove the top of the Dutch oven and set aside. When baking, however, you don’t want to open the lid until your recipe is close to completion (you’ll likely smell the deliciousness in the air). Unlike a normal oven, it takes a long time to build heat back up inside a Dutch oven after being opened.
5) Prepare for the elements – Altitude, humidity and even the weather can impact your Dutch oven cooking. For higher elevations and higher humidity, you may need to use more coals. In windy conditions, your coals will burn faster and hotter, so create some kind of wind shield to block your oven from the wind. And in rainy or wet environments, a cheap cookie tray or fire pan, is not only more fire-safe, but can help keep your coals dry and burning.
Ready to try Dutch oven cooking? Get the recipe for our Dutch Oven Chicken Enchilada Pie.