Dutch ovens have been used in cooking for centuries and continue to be used to this day. Many people are now realizing the fun of using a Dutch oven for outdoors cooking at home and during camping trips. While the principle of cooking with a Dutch oven is simple, the actual mechanics of working with one can be a little tricky for a person who has never used one before. By following these simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating, delicious, inventive dishes in your own Dutch oven.
Dutch ovens are usually made out of cast iron, a durable material that can resist damage and can hold in heat for a long time. Cast iron is a porous material, however, which can cause foods to stick to it if the Dutch oven is not properly prepared. Cast iron pots need to be seasoned first in order to seal the pores in the metal and to create a virtually non-stick surface. When someone mentions seasoning a cast iron pan, they don’t mean literally rubbing it with salt, pepper, and spices. Instead, seasoning refers to the process in which oil is rubbed into the surface of the pan and allowed to bake into the metal. As it coats the bottom of the cast iron Dutch oven, the oil fills in all the pores and crags, creating a smooth, non-stick surface inside the pot. You can season your Dutch oven on the stove top or in your conventional oven for maximum ease. If you are seasoning your Dutch oven on the stove, rub the inside of the vessel with cooking oil. Place the pot over a medium flame and allow it to heat up. Once the pot starts smoking gently, remove it from the heat and repeat the process a few more times. You should notice that the surface of the inside of the pot begins to change colors and starts to look shiny. Once the inside of your Dutch oven is uniform in color and texture, rinse the pot out with water only. Your Dutch oven is now ready to use. An easier method to season your Dutch oven is to complete the process in a conventional oven. To do this, heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and rub the inside of the Dutch oven with vegetable oil. Place the Dutch oven inside the conventional oven upside down on a rack and place a baking tray underneath to catch the dripping oil. Bake the Dutch oven for one hour and then rinse it out with water.
Learning to control the temperature of your oven is the most critical technique in Dutch oven cooking. Most Dutch oven cooking is done outside where you will need to use hot coals or wood embers to heat your cooking vessel. Dutch ovens are designed with lids that are made to hold hot coals and also have legs that allow you to place the oven on top of coals, thus heating the Dutch oven from both the top and bottom simultaneously. When you can use wood or any other kind of fuel for heating your Dutch oven, the best and easiest way to control the temperature of your oven is by using charcoal briquettes. Regardless of the size of your Dutch oven, a convenient formula for knowing how many briquettes to place around the oven is to multiply the diameter of the pot by a factor of two. For example, if your Dutch oven is 16 inches across, you would need to place 32 charcoal briquettes around the oven to bring the oven to a standard baking temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Studies have shown that each briquette of charcoal will raise the internal temperature of the Dutch oven by approximately 10 to 15 degrees. However, on windy or cold days, you may need to add a few more briquettes to compensate for the weather conditions.
Placement of the briquettes is also important. For simmering soups and stews, you will want to place about 2/3 of your briquettes on the bottom of the pot and the remainder on top of the lid. If you are using your Dutch oven for baking, place 2/3 of the briquettes onto the lid and the remaining 1/3 on the bottom.
Finally, always remember that it is easier to make a slow cooking Dutch oven hotter by adding more coals, but it is very difficult to cool down a Dutch oven quickly if your food is burning thanks to iron’s ability to retain heat. Plan accordingly and go easy with the charcoal.