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Volume II
May 9, 2008

Tip and Tricks for
Successful Dutch Oven Cooking
By Calli Rhoades

Coal Placement for Baking

The "plus 4, minus 4" rule is a good starting point for charcoal distribution when baking. This means the size of the Dutch oven (the number usually appears on the lid) plus 4 charcoals for the top heat and the size of the Dutch oven minus 4 for bottom heat.

Example: 12-inch Dutch oven + 4 = 16 briquettes for top heat and 12-inch - 4 = 8 for bottom heat.

Bottom charcoal placement for all ovens (except the 16-inch) should be a circular pattern placed just inside the bottom edge of the pot and evenly spaced. For the lid, evenly space most of the charcoal around the rim with a smaller circular pattern around the handle.

Rotate the oven clockwise a quarter of a turn every 10-15 minutes and the lid counter clockwise. This will produce even heating. For bottom heat, avoid placing charcoal directly in the center. Heat from outside briquettes radiates inward, eliminating the need for a center briquette.

The one exception to this rule is the 16-inch Dutch oven. Because it is so large, a checkerboard pattern underneath seems to work best. Still be sure to rotate the oven.

It's okay to rearrange your charcoal if necessary. If you find a place not raising evenly or browning as it should, move some heat to it. If there is a hot spot, rotate the oven and rearrange the heat.

Coal Placement for Roasting

For roasting with charcoal us the same number of briquettes on both top and bottom of the oven as the size of the oven. Example: On a 12-inch Dutch oven, use 12 briquettes on top and 12 on bottom.

Other Important Tips for Success

  • You may stack your ovens to save space when you cook. Just be sure to adjust charcoal to accommodate for the change.

  • Take a peek! Go ahead and peek in on your food. You wonít ruin anything by checking to be sure it is cooking evenly and has enough moisture. You can even add water or other liquids during cooking if it looks like it needs it. There is no window on this oven so tip the lid and take a peek to make sure it is turning out perfectly.

  • Cast iron oven MUST be kept dry. After each use make sure they are very dry and leave a sheet of paper towel inside to absorb any additional moisture. If you allow moisture to sit in the oven it will rust so be sure it is dried well and stored properly in a cool dry place.

  • Donít use soap in your cast iron ovens. The oven will absorb flavors which is nice when it taste like delicious foods, but not so great when in taste like dish soap! The soap will not only leave behind a bad flavor, it will also eat away at the protective coating that is built into the oven. Just follow the instructions that came with your Dutch oven and you should be great.

  • Be patient and let your cast iron heat up and cool down slowly. If you try to rush it you may very well crack or warp it and it just isnít worth paying that price. Take the time, let it cool and enjoy it for years to come.

  • Just like any other cooking, quality means everything. Use the best ingredients you can afford. Charcoal briquettes are no exception. They are just as important as the quality of ingredients you add to your recipes. The higher quality will pay off with more even heating and that will make all the difference in the world.

  • Basic tools are needed to make sure you are safe when cooking with Dutch ovens. You will need a pair of this work gloves to protect your hands from the heat. A pair of long tongs are necessary for moving briquettes around, and you will also need some sort of lid lifter (pliers will work if you donít want to invest in others).

    There are many other tools that can be purchased to make some tasks a little easier, but that is really up to the cook. If you are happy with tongs, gloves, and pliers then by all means keep using those. If you are looking for more tools there are things like lid lifters and coal starters that make nice additions for simple cooking.

    Beyond all other tips, just ENJOY! Dutch oven cooking is one of the most fun ways to get out and experience cooking outside of the kitchen. It can be done just about anywhere and with as many people as you want to invite. These little tips will help you get well on your way to a fun outdoor meal.

    If you have any additional tips that you'd like to add, please post them on the Cook'n Club Forum (if you're a Cook'n Club Member)...or e-mail them to

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