Part 1 – Any foods cooked in an oven, stove top or crock pot can be cooked in a dutch oven. Whether it’s a meal of chili with beans, roast with vegetables or fried chicken, the dutch oven does a great job. Consider these facts when making that purchase:
• Cast iron vs. aluminum – Cast iron pots are thicker and heavier than its counterpart, aluminum, which results in holding heat better. Aluminum weighs less and requires no ‘curing’ or ‘seasoning’ like cast iron resulting in less maintenance; however, heat is not distributed as evenly as the cast iron. Both metals can be utilized on an open fire, buried in the ground, or used with fire coals and briquettes. Aluminum will sometimes give a chalky flavor to foods, whereas iron gives a smoked flavor. Most veteran dutch oven chefs prefer cast iron as their metal of choice.
• Indoor vs. outdoor – The most popular method of dutch oven cooking is using fire coals or briquettes. Cast iron footed ovens with good fitting lids are best used for outdoors. Flat bottomed ovens are great for outdoor camping stoves or indoor RV stove tops.
• New vs. used – Buying new can be more costly than used however; hunting down the perfect oven may be time consuming. When purchasing used, look for flush fitting lids, footed bottoms that are not cracked, bent or broken. Also, check for thickness of the metal which should be consistent throughout. Areas that are thin can cause uneven cooking and can indicate the life of the oven is short.
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Part 2 – Successful Dutch oven cooking is acquired through much practice. You know the saying – ‘Practice makes perfect’? I won’t promise perfect, however, these helpful guidelines will certainly get you started in the right direction.
• A standard Dutch oven is usually 4 or 5 inches in depth and serves 3-4 people. It’s best to purchase bigger ovens when needing a large quantity of stew or cooking a giant roast. However, deeper ovens will make baking biscuits, cakes or breads much more difficult because of the space from lid to bottom.
• A standard 10 inch diameter oven serves 3-4 people. 12 on up to 16 inch ovens will cook up plenty of food for a larger family.
• Great tip – Use poultry watering metal pans for building a fire which is usually found in your local farm supply stores with dimensions 16 inches wide and 5 inches deep. Purchases 3 per oven – Start coals in pan #1. 2) Place oven in pan #2 while cooking – the sides of the pan will keep the heat contained and away from blowing winds. Place #3 pan upside down beneath the pan with charcoals, this allows cooking without causing lasting damage to the ground surface.
• Know the temperatures inside your oven – For 325 degrees, just double the ovens number-of-inches of diameter. Example: the 10 inch will require 20 charcoal briquettes – 16 inch diameter will require 32 briquettes. This works best with good quality brand name briquettes that provide even heating. This temperature gaging cannot be achieved successfully using campfire coals.
Part 3 – With a combination of learning the technique of campfire building along with some great cooking tips, this list of facts will help in getting you on the right track of Dutch oven cooking.
• Leave a “moisture barrier” of at least 1 to 2 inches on top of the oven by not overfilling the pot.
• Cover the Dutch oven with aluminum foil to hold the heat in when you are short of coals or are in a hurry.
• A Dutch oven holds a lot of heat in the sides and lid so move it off of the coals before it is finished cooking and let it finish with just the heat of the pot.
• Add approximately 2 briquettes for every 25 degrees.
• Try not to remove the lid. It helps the Dutch oven operate like a pressure cooker.
• Flip the lid of the Dutch oven over and set it on coals to use it as a frying pan. Cook bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes on the lid like you would a frying pan. Or, place upside down on the oven for holding hot coals for added heat.
• If using wood as a heat source – use hardwoods which burn hotter. For example: mesquite, hickory, cedar and oak work best.
• Testing your new skills will be the easiest of all part of all because any recipe that you enjoy using now that’s done by slow cooker, oven or stove top can be easily done in your Dutch oven.
Part 4 – Caring of your oven is an important part of Dutch oven cooking. As far as clean up goes, once you have a well-seasoned oven, cleanup should be easy.
• Line the inside of the Dutch oven with foil to avoid most all of the cleanup.
• Remove food shortly after finished cooking. Not doing so can result in a metal taste.
• Just wipe out with paper towels using just a small amount of water or oil with salt. This will clean without damaging the seasoning.
• Never use soap. It will damage the patina of the Dutch oven and make it stick to food and run the risk of rusting.
• Never pour hot water into a cold oven or cold water into a hot oven as this may crack the oven.
• Never allow oven to sit in water for this will cause rust. Dry quickly or place on heat to dry.
• When not in use, store lid loosely, never tight. Having the lid on tight will cause the oil seasoning to become rancid. Place a few folded paper towels on the inside of the oven or a bit of aluminum foil to keep the lid ajar to allow for a fresh air exchange.
Once you are comfortable with this fun way of cooking, try using multiple Dutch ovens referred to as Stack Cooking. There are many wonderful resources available to learn more about Dutch oven cooking. Whether from your local library or other informational online websites, doing your due diligent on research is important for your success.
This concludes the 4 part series on Dutch Oven Cooking.