Dutch Oven Cooking

Crafted for cooking over coals and beloved across the nation, camp ovens blaze a flavorful trail.

Cooking over a campfire in a camp Dutch oven. Photo by Getty Images/GMVozd.

The image of Dutch ovens that used to come to mind was my mother’s enormous crimson Le Creuset pot, which she always used on the stove to cook homemade chili or potato soup. But after spending time with the participants of the National Dutch Oven Gathering (NDOG) in Hutchinson, Kansas, I realized my mistake. A true Dutch oven actually looks much different.

Dennis Slane and Barry Trimmell — experienced Dutch oven cooks, members of the Ozark Dutch Oven Group, and teachers of NDOG’s “Dutch Oven 101” class — refer to the flat-bottomed Dutch ovens we use on kitchen stovetops as “bean pots.” To them and many others, a true (or “camp”) Dutch oven is a cast-iron or aluminum pot that sits on three short legs and has a flat, handled lid with a rim around the edge. These Dutch ovens are meant for outdoor cooking. The legs allow coals to be set beneath the pot, and the rim on the lid keeps coals from rolling off the top.

Cookware Options

Slane and Trimmell are both collectors of Dutch ovens — everything from small 8-inch and popular 12-inch models of different depths to discontinued 6-inch and 16-inch Dutch ovens. Despite their love of unusual Dutch ovens, if you only have one pot to buy, they wholeheartedly recommend the 12-inch option. Slane says, “The 12 regular, which we call ‘shallow,’ is the equivalent surface area of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. That’s why I recommend a 12-inch, or the 12-inch deep in case you want to make a little extra. You can always cook less, but you can’t always cook more.” And while they both agree that the best Dutch ovens are cast iron, they also have aluminum pots in their collections. Aluminum ovens weigh a third of their cast-iron counterparts, heat and cool faster (both an advantage and a disadvantage), and don’t require seasoning. While apt to get hot spots, they’re dishwasher safe. Because they provide less consistency and flavor, Trimmell mostly uses his for prep work.

Cooking in a cast-iron Dutch oven, with coals on top of lid. Photo by Getty Images/Angela Schmidt.

No matter which model you choose, there are some needed steps to prepare your pan, particularly if it’s cast iron. Before using a Dutch oven for the first time, Trimmell makes certain the pot and lid are a perfect match. To do so, he adds valve-grinding compound to the groove where the lid meets the pot, puts the lid on, and turns it 100 times to the right, then 100 times to the left. “It takes metal off the lid, and takes metal off the pot,” he says. When he’s finished, that lid and pot are a perfect fit for life.

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