Trail Tips: Cooking with a Dutch Oven
One topic that consistently is of interest to four wheelers is the Dutch oven. No matter how much is written or spoken about this handy camp stove, people just eat up the information. I discussed Dutch ovens rather thoroughly in “Tickle The Taste Buds With a Dutch Oven.” However, that was some time ago.
The new year is now upon us. With many 4WD folks setting New Year’s resolutions, I decided to add one of my own. Unlike those involving diet and exercise, this resolution is sure to stick. If you’re not already using a Dutch oven, I encourage you to start. They aren’t expensive or difficult to work with. You’ll enjoy learning a new skill—and savoring your dishes at the camp site.
What kind of Dutch oven to buy
Dutch ovens come in many sizes, as measured by base diameter. Start with a 10” or 12”. Make sure it’s made of cast iron—aluminum ones are harder to control the heat —and labeled a camp Dutch oven. A camp-style stove comes with feet and a lid with a rim around the edge. These features are crucial when using charcoal or wood coals. Camp-style ovens generally are bare metal; enameled ovens are designed for home use.
I like Lodge and Camp Chef brands for their fit and smooth finish. You can find camp-style Dutch ovens wherever sporting goods are sold. Another source is your buddy down the street. You know, the chap who got one for Christmas and tried it once. You can score a Dutch oven for a really good price!
The 12” size will feed four to six people. For two people, a 10” pot would be better. Most camp ovens come pre-seasoned. Seasoning, a term that’s a bit confusing to newcomers, creates a nonstick surface on the inside. I discuss that process in the article referenced above. It’s a fairly simple process, and one that you will become familiar with the more you use your Dutch oven.
The charcoal, and how to use it
Dutch oven cooks prefer the briquette style of charcoal over wood coals. Briquettes burn evenly and provide a more consistent heat source. Kingsford is a very popular brand known for its consistency, though through trial and error, you might discover another that suits you fine.
Many dishes and baked goods take 45 minutes to an hour to cook. You’ll start with about 24 or 25 briquettes for a 12-inch diameter pot or 21 for a 10-inch pot. (The rule is 2 times the diameter of the pot for 325 degrees plus one to get to 350.) After the coals are started (don't wait for full grey color), place them according to the “plus-3/minus-3” rule. This refers to the number of briquettes on the lid and below the pot, based upon the size of the oven. For a 12” pot, you’d start with 15 briquettes on top (12 plus 3), and place nine underneath. Put that 25th coal on the top! Some of the finesse is knowing when to remove coals from under the pot based on needs of your dish and whether you add them to the top or discard them. Extra coal on top forces heat downward (contrary to what you might think—just trust me!) and might be just what you need to put a golden crust on the top.
Rotate the Dutch oven every 15 minutes to even out the heat in the event of a hot spot. Rotate the pot in one direction and the lid the opposite direction. Each is about ¼ turn; it doesn’t matter whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise, as long as you are consistent.
Useful accessories for your Dutch oven
Two really important accessories are the lid lifter and lid stand. Remember that the pot is super-hot during and after cooking. A lid lifter allows you to safely grab the lid. Several styles are available. The Mair brand, featuring what’s called a pistol grip, is my favorite. I thought long would be better for a lid lifter, but in fact, the 15" - 17" length is just perfect.
Oven stands also come in a variety of styles. Their primary function is allowing you to set the lit down, without putting it in the dirt, if you need both hands. Choose one that offers a steady platform and is well made. One thing to note about lifting the lid: Avoid tipping it. You might end up with some extra seasoning in your meal!
Select recipes for the Dutch oven
Now that we have the basics out of the way, it’s time for the fun to begin. You have many options to choose from when using a Dutch oven. In fact, just about anything you can cook or bake at home can be offered at the camp site. These three dishes are fairly easy to prepare and are sure to please everyone at your campsite.
Happy camping—and eating!
Dutch Oven Lasagna
This is a good starting dish for a beginner since it has a lot of liquid. Your greatest risk is burning the noodles on the bottom. No big deal - just don't eat them!
1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion – diced
23 oz spaghetti sauce
9 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
2-1/4 c cottage or ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
13 lasagna noodles
1 bag fresh Broccoli
Oregano: 1 ½ tsp.
Salt & pepper: ½ tbs ea
Basil: 1 ½ tsp
Parsley: 2 tsp
Garlic power: 2 tbs more if people want
Water: 3/4 c + ¼ on bottom
1. Preheat the Dutch oven.
2. Brown the ground beef & onion.
3. When done remove the beef to a large mixing bowl.
4. Add the spaghetti sauce to the beef and mix well.
5. In another bowl (you can do this while the ground beef is browning)
- add the cottage cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Mozzarella cheese
- Salt, pepper, parsley and oregano, and garlic and mix well.
6. Place the layers in the oven in the following order:
- Put ¼ cup water on bottom
- Break up four lasagna noodles into the bottom of the oven. Spread about 1/3 of the meat mixture over the noodles. Spread 1/2 of the cheese mixture over the meat mixture.
- Break up five noodles and place over the top of the preceding mixtures. Spread 1/2 of the remaining meat mixture over the noodles. Spread the remaining cheese mixture over the meat mixture.
- Break up the remaining noodles and place over the cheese mixture. Spread the remaining meat mixture over the noodles.
- Pour the ¾ cup water all around the inside edges of the oven.
Place the lid on the oven and bake one hour or until done. Check occasionally. Everything should be bubbling until the very end when it firms up. Hints: This recipe works well with charcoal (9 briquettes on bottom and 16 on top). Cooking time can be reduced by pre-cooking and draining the lasagna noodles. But that's cheating! Remove all coals on the bottom after 45 minutes.
Add the Broccoli right on top of the Lasagna for the last 15 minutes to steam it.
Triple Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Tim Augustine
Start with a 12" Dutch Oven, cold.
- 1 Box Devils food chocolate cake mix
- 1 box instant chocolate pudding – small box 3.9 oz
- 1 pkg chocolate chips
- 3 eggs
- 1-3/4 cup milk or 1 12 oz can evaporated milk (as is – no water added)
- Butter – 1 pat
- 1 can of chocolate frosting
1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Add chocolate chips last to make stirring easier.
2. Grease oven sides and bottom with cold butter.
3. Pour batter into oven.
4 Place oven over a ring of 9 coals just inside the outside edge – just under the pot.
5. Place 15 coals around perimeter of lid. Cold and wind can have a big impact on timing. Add or subtract coals as needed.
6. Bake for 53 minutes. Rotate oven and lid in opposite directions every 15 minutes. Don’t open it.
7. Remove coals and invert oven to free finished cake onto lid, tapping with a plastic handle if necessary. Invert cake onto plate and cool.
8. Frost it to make a quad chocolate cake!
Hash Brown Breakfast Pizza
Recipe from Daryl Hill (with a few mods!)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Servings: 8-10 slices
1 bag of refrigerated hash browns from the store
2 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded or pepper jack
½ cups cooked bacon, crumbled
bell peppers diced
Sriracha hot sauce (can substitute TABASCO sauce)
1. Cook and crumble the bacon way ahead of time!
2. Preheat oven to 425°F.
3. Spray a cast iron skillet with cooking spray, coating the bottom and the sides.
4. Line the bottom and the sides of the cast iron skillet with hash browns.
5. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
6. While the hash browns are in the oven, crack the eggs into a bowl and mix together with onion and bell pepper.
7. Pour the whisked eggs into a non-stick pan and scramble. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.
8. Remove the skillet from the oven and press down on the hash browns with a spatula to create a firm bottom.
9. Top the hash browns with 1 cup of cheese.
10. Add the scrambled eggs, and top with 1 cup of cheese.
11. Press down with the spatula once more, and top with crumbled cooked bacon (sausage or ham could also be used, or all three).
12. Place back into the oven for 10 minutes. Once cool, slice and serve. Drizzle with Sriracha (or similar) for some spice, or with maple syrup for a sweet touch. So yum.
Dutch Oven Notes:
This is a good example of converting a normal recipe to Dutch Oven. Substitute Dutch Oven everywhere it says iron skillet. If you cook the bacon in your Dutch oven there is no need to spray it with cooking spray. Just pour out the excess bacon fat.
The hash browns are going to be the bottom crust. Pack them down. We want them crisp and brown. Therefore use a lot of coals on top to push heat down to brown them. (Use the normal 9 coals underneath).
Once the eggs are added remove all coals underneath and use the normal number on top (about 15 briquettes).
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Badlands Off-Road Adventure
Off-road trainer Tom Severin shares insight and tips on a variety of topics related to preparing you for that next off-road adventure. With over 40 years of off-road experience, Severin operates under his business Badlands Off-Road Adventures. He is a certified professional 4WD Trainer by the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is a member of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), United Four Wheel Drive Associations and the BlueRibbon Coalition. He also is a certified UFWDA and a CA4WDC 4WD instructor.
For more information about Badlands Off-Road Adventures, visit 4x4training.com.