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Volume III
July 12, 2013

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n


By Alice Osborne

We took our 1955 Westerner restored trailer to Jackson, WY over the 4th of July for some fly fishing with our kids and had a blast. One of the especially nice features of the trip (besides the awesome fishing), I have to say, was the terrific meals we enjoyed while basking in this paradise setting.

The reason the food was so good? Our secret was a tool you hear about a lot, but not many people use that much: the DUTCH OVEN. There are a few things to do and know, but it's really not that tough. The thing that confused me was creating an internal oven temperature using coals--this is really the trick to good Dutch oven cooking. So that said, here's the lowdown, nicely explained in a copy of an old Sunset Magazine Aunt Annie passed on to me years ago.

First, gather your gear. Here's a checklist of what you need:

  • A made-for-camping Dutch oven--one with feet and a flanged lid--both the 4-qt. (10 in.) and 6-qt. (12 in.)
  • Long tongs
  • Thick gloves
  • Charcoal briquets (regular, not competition-style) and newspaper
  • Fire starter
  • Charcoal chimney starter for lighting the briquets or a campfire with hot embers (It's easier to control the heat with charcoal than with embers.)
  • Cleared, fireproof area--a fire ring, if your campsite has one--or bricks, concrete, or sand with a double layer of heavy-duty foil set on top.

Next, prep the fire. If using charcoal, light 50 regular briquets in a chimney starter and burn until spotted gray, 15 minutes. If using a campfire, mound hot embers (2 to 3 qts.' worth) to the side, clearing a level space the size of the dutch oven.

Then arrange the coals: Method A: Bottom heat cooking: When you just need concentrated heat from underneath (for sauteing, making a quick meat dish, or a quick-cooking a stew or chowder, for instance), just use tongs to spread the coals into an even layer the size of the Dutch oven and set the pot on top.

Arrange the coals: Method B: Top and bottom heat cooking: For recipes like long-cooking stews and other dishes, heat needs to come from top and bottom. Use tongs to arrange some of the coals in a circle a little smaller than the circumference of the Dutch oven. Set the oven on top, then arrange the rest of the coals evenly over the lid.

Arrange the coals: Method C Baking: Here you still need heat coming from top and bottom, but the coals must be arranged carefully for even browning.

Use tongs to arrange some of the coals in a circle a little smaller than the circumference of the Dutch oven. Set the oven on top, then arrange a single ring of coals on top of the lid, around the lip. Space a few more across the lid.

Check the food: To check on the doneness of your food and the oven's internal temperature, lift the lid occasionally by sliding tongs through the pot lid's ring and bracing them against the edge of the lid closest to you.

Tweak the temperature: To decrease heat, scrape away some fuel. To increase heat, or to cook longer than 45 minutes, add 5 to 6 new briquets to both the top and the bottom of the Dutch oven (touching lit ones, so they'll ignite) about every 30 minutes, or add wood embers. If briquets don't light, be ready to ignite them in the chimney.

There are oodles of Dutch oven recipe books and online Dutch oven recipes, but I have to say the best help I found was in a few recipe books DVO sells as part of their e-cookbook collection. The important thing though, is to just give it a try. While camping is always fun, it can be much more delicious--DUTCH OVEN delicious--if you step out of the proverbial grilling of hot dogs and hamburgers and give this great tool a workout!


Alice Osborne
Weekly Newsletter Contributer since 2006

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