Dutch Oven Cooking

What is a Dutch Oven?
Dutch Ovens are heavy-duty cast iron pots with a lid on top that forms a good seal. They usually have three legs on the bottom and are used for cooking with hot coals. The lid is recessed to hold coals and has a handle on it and the bottom of the oven (pot) has a bail type handle on it. You can use them for baking, roasting, simmering, stewing, frying, boiling, steaming, keeping food warm and many other types of cooking. They're an all purpose camping pan. 

All recipes use one of two Dutch oven techniques, cooking with your Dutch oven or cooking in it. The first is when the food is placed directly in the bottom of the Dutch oven. In the second method, food is placed in a second dish and this dish is then placed onto a trivet in the bottom of the Dutch oven. The reason for the trivet is to elevate the dish above the bottom of the oven to prevent burning.

Things You Will Need
A good pair of leather gloves can save time and prove invaluable around a hot fire. Something else you will need is a shovel. The standard garden type will be sufficient. It will be used for stirring the coals and lifting them out of the fire pit to the oven. The style and length of the handle is up to you. The longer ones are great but not practical on hikes and canoe trips. While the short "ARMY" folders are great for hiking and canoes, they suffer from short handles, getting you and your hands closer to the fire. Another item which will prove to be worth their weight in gold is a pair of hot pot pliers. The pair listed in the Boy Scout Troop/Patrol Equipment catalog are probably the best designed for the job. They are inexpensive, well built, and light weight. The pliers have a specially designed jaw that grips the oven lid very securely. The handle has a hook that is used to grab the bail handle when it is too hot to hold by hand or when it is hanging down in the coals.

How to 'Season' Cast Iron Cookware 
Seasoning is the process of allowing oil to be absorbed into the iron, creating a non-stick, rustproof finish. Here's how to do it: 

  1. Wash with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. Rinse and dry completely.
  2. Oil the cookware (inside and out) with MELTED solid vegetable shortening.
  3. Turn upside down on the top rack of a 350F pre-heated oven.
  4. Put aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any excess drippings.
  5. Bake the cookware for one hour at 350F.
  6. Let the cookware cool slowly in the oven.
  7. Store, uncovered, in a dry place when cooled.

Another method for Seasoning Dutch ovens is to get some heavy, spicy bacon or sausage and cook it in them. Next, completely cover the inside (and outside if you like) of your Dutch oven with the grease. Next you will want to bake it in the oven at 450 for 20 minutes or so. For a real deep seasoning, and especially for new ones, it's necessary to do this two or three times.

Cleaning Your Oven
For cast iron ovens, the clean process is in two steps. First, food is removed and second, maintenance of the coating. To remove stuck on food, place some warm clean water into the oven and heat until almost boiling. Using a plastic mesh scrubber or coarse sponge and NO SOAP, gently break loose the food and wipe away. After all traces have been removed, rinse with clean warm water. Soap is not recommended because its flavor will get into the pores of the metal and will taint the flavor of your next meal. After cleaning and rinsing, allow it to air dry. Heat over the fire just until it hot to the touch. Apply a thin coating of oil to the inside of the oven and the underside of the lid. Allow the oven to cool completely. The outside will need little attention other than a good wipe down unless you see signs of rust forming. As a suggestion, it is a good idea to keep a scrubber for cast iron and never use it with soap.

Heat
You can figure that each charcoal briquette is worth about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. 
20 coals will give about 500 degrees.

Techniques
ROASTING:
The heat source should come from the top and bottom equally. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1 to 1 ratio.
BAKING:
Usually done with more heat from the top than from the bottom. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1 to 3 ratio, having more on the lid.
FRYING, BOILING ETC:
All of the heat should come from the bottom. Coals will be placed under the oven only.
STEWING, SIMMERING:
Almost all heat will be from the bottom. Place the coals under and on the oven at a 4 to 1 ratio with more underneath than on the lid.
THE LID:
The lid can be placed on the fire or stove upside down and used as a skillet or griddle. Using the lid in this fashion, you can make virtually error free pancakes and eggs that don't run all over. This is because most lids are shaped like a very shallow bowl so things naturally stay in the center, even if the lid is not level.

Measurements
Here are the abbreviations that will be used here:
pkg - Package
lb - Pound 
oz - Ounce 
Tbs - Table Spoon
tsp - Tea Spoon
gl - Gallon
qt - Quart 
pt - Pint 
c - Cup (8 oz)

Here are a few measurement conversions you may need:
1 Tbs = 3 tsp 1 Stick Butter = 1/4 lb or 1/2 c or 8 Tbs
2 Tbs = 1 oz
1/4c = 4 Tbs 1 lb bread loaf = About 17 slices
1/3c = 5 1/3 Tbs 1 1/4 lb loaf = About 20
1/2c = 8 Tbs 1 1/2 lb loaf = About 23
1 c = 8 oz
1 qt = 4 c
1 gal = 4 qt
2 c = 1 pt


If you have a question, comment or suggestions, please E-mail:  Michael Warner

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