If you can cook in a dutch oven you can cook anywhere and anyplace–literally and figuratively. Yes, you can cook indoors and outdoors, in a stove, over a fire, in a hearth, on a wood stove, even in a sun oven, which is all pretty amazing. But there is something about that knowledge that spills into other parts of your culinary life. Maybe, it's the nostalgic images of our ancestors cooking over an open flame in a dutch oven that gives you confidence that the way has been paved, perhaps it's simply the knowledge that if you can't get it to work the way you want with one method you can find another, or maybe it's just the attitude of if they're hungry they'll eat it as people have done for centuries because what is cooking in the dutch oven is what's for dinner.
Getting Started with Dutch Oven Cooking
Dutch ovens can be made of ceramic, clay, or cast iron. I will be focusing on cast iron dutch ovens in this post as they are the most common and most versatile dutch ovens.
Cast iron dutch ovens come in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes. The reason for different sizes is pretty obvious, you can cook different amounts of food. However the reasons for the different styles and shapes might not be as obvious, at least they weren't obvious to me when I first started using them. Let me run through them for you.
Here is a close up of it. The lip is designed to hold charcoal so that when you cook in a dutch oven you can actually turn it into an oven with heat radiating from the bottom and the top. Placing charcoal on the top of the lid is used to accomplish this and is what allows you to bake in a dutch oven.
Some dutch ovens also have feet. They are designed to help you place the dutch oven in a bed of hot coals without the coals touching the bottom of the pot, which helps prevent burning. Also they make dutch ovens easy to stack so that you can cook multiple dishes with minimum heat. (See the first picture in this post to see how they might stack.) The feet make this style of dutch oven really hard to put inside a conventional oven.
Here is a side view of the dutch oven with the lip on the lid and the feet on the bottom. These dutch oven are really designed for off-grid cooking and don't do well in conventional ovens, as I've already mentioned, but also they won't work on conventional stoves either.
Here is a dutch oven without a lip on the lid. It's also my favorite because I cook with it outside and inside. You can put coals on the top but it's more difficult to get them to stay. You can use a metal pie crust shield to help the charcoal stay on top in a pinch.
You'll notice this dutch oven does not have feet either. So I can place it on my stove too.
This is the inside of the same dutch oven. As you can see from the picture it needs to be re-seasoned. I will say that if you cook outdoors with any cast iron it's harder to keep them in tip top working order, at least it always has been for me. When I use them outdoors I am often camping away from home with less than an ideal kitchen, so by the time I can give them the attention they need many times the damage has already set-in. That's not to discourage you from cooking in a dutch oven, but I would recommend starting out cooking at home with them and cast iron in general where you can easily take care of them in your home before venturing out into the great outdoors.
Notice these spikes on the top of the lid. Those actually have a purpose too. They are there so the condensation will drip back down and not stay on the lid because water will rust cast iron.
Here is a dutch oven with no feet but it has a lid with a lip. You can cook outdoors with this oven but it wouldn't easily stack onto another dutch oven, the trade off is it will easily fit in a conventional stove and/or oven
This is a lid lifter and is a must have if you cook outdoors – at least it makes it much, much easier. Hang on, and I'll show you what I mean.
I'm about to cook “Beef” Stroganoff and a Peach Crumble here. I love using a chimney to light charcoal because we only use all natural charcoal and I'm not a fan of lighter fluid.
Be careful when you dump the charcoals out. This charcoal was probably dumped out a little too soon, if it had been close to someone the wind could have sent those sparks into their face or clothes.
Here is how you want your charcoal to look before you place your dutch oven in on top.
For the “Beef” Stroganoff I didn't need any top coals so I used my indoor/outdoor dutch oven. I simple set it on the hot coals.
Now, let me show you how that lid lifter works. Simply hook it onto the lid.
And lift the lid off. Yeah, you could do that with a glove but I'll show you why the lid lifter is so much better in a minute. Here is a shot of the “Beef” Stroganoff. I'm not sure I've mentioned that my family and I are vegetarians so this is a mock Beef Stronganoff, but don't let that scare you. I suggest a substitution for meat lovers.
Easy “Beef” Stroganoff for the Dutch Oven
- 2lb tofu crumbles (you can use ground beef)
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 cans organic mushroom soup
- 1 pint organic sour cream
- 32 oz mushrooms
- 2 packages whole wheat pasta
- Saute diced onion and mushrooms in a pan.
- Place onion, mushrooms, soup, and tofu crumbles in dutch oven.
- Place oven over 15 to 20 hot coals for about 45 minutes. Add sour cream 15 minutes before severing.
- Serve over whole wheat pasta.
To make the peach cobbler I needed to create an “oven effect” with heat on the top for the crust. So I placed charcoal on top of the dutch oven.
See why that lid lifter comes in handy? Even with a glove that would be dangerous to lift up to check the cobbler.
You can see the cobbler bubbling through the crust.
I know this turned out really good because there were no left overs! The cobbler looks a little dark for two reasons. First, I used home canned spiced peaches which contained dark cloves and cinnamon that turned the peaches a little dark and also cooking in cast iron can often turn your food a little dark.Print
Peach Cobbler Crumble Dessert for the Dutch Oven
- 3 quart jars of home canned peaches (you can use store bought)
- 1 1/2 C fresh ground soft white wheat (you can use cake flour)
- 1/2 C quick oats
- 1/4 t salt
- 1/2 C brown sugar
- 1 1/2 C coconut oil
- 1/2 t baking soda
- 1/2 C chopped pecans
- 1/2 t nutmeg
- Place peaches in dutch oven.
- Mix together coconut oil, salt, soda, brown sugar, and nutmeg.
- In a separate bowl mix together oats, flour and pecans.
- Mix coconut oil mixture with the four mixture.
- Spread mixture over the peaches. Place dutch oven over 6 hot coals and place 15-16 on the lid. Cook for about 45 minutes or until bubbly.
- Cooking with Cast Iron: How and Why to Get Started
- How to Season Cast Iron Cookware
- How to Restore Cast Iron Cookware