When I think of Dutch Oven cooking I usually have visions of campfires and Scout Camp, of apple cobbler and savory stews. But as I further my preparations for TEOTWAWKI I realize that I want my Dutch ovens at my retreat.
Any heavy pot with lid can be used and called a Dutch oven. But when I say Dutch oven I am referring to the three legged cast iron (or aluminum) covered pot that is normally used outdoors.
Much of the information I give you is basic and you may wish to explore these topics in depth. One of the best sources of information would be your state’s Dutch Oven Society. There you can find classes, recipes and knowledgeable people.
My first introduction to the outdoor art of Dutch oven cooking was at a Boy Scout Leader Introduction to Outdoor Skills class.
The aromas coming from the cooking fires on that autumn morning are still in my memory.
I purchased my first Dutch oven soon after returning home from that training weekend. Years later my collection has grown to fourteen Dutch ovens and now I usually teach that class at the training once or twice a year.
Not only does food taste better cooked outdoors, it tastes better yet when cooked in a good quality Dutch oven.
Let me help you avoid some mistakes and perhaps some disappointments in buying and using a Dutch oven.
As I said earlier, I definitely want Dutch ovens at my retreat. You can bake bread, pies, cakes, and biscuits. You can make stews, casseroles, and other dishes. A Dutch oven can act as a type of pressure cooker to tenderize tougher meats.
Buying Your Dutch Oven
Like any tool, quality counts!
If I could have only one Dutch oven I would buy a quality, name brand, twelve inch cast iron, three legged oven with a rimmed lid. By rimmed lid I mean a mostly flat lid that has a raised rim around the edge. This rim helps to hold coals during the cooking process. FYI, some Dutch ovens have a domed lid, some with points on the inside which helps in self-basting. While these have their place and use, I would stick with the campfire style oven.
There are many brands of ovens on the market. The most common is probably Lodge. They are US made and excellent quality. My first oven was a Lodge.
Camp Chef also offers ovens in a variety of sizes and styles. I believe that they are now all Chinese made. I do have some and like them very much.
Cabela’s offers Dutch ovens under their own name. Like everything from Cabela’s, they are great. Also they have one of the best Customer Service Departments anywhere.
There are other brands out there, some custom made, and some junk. I have one of those junkers and use it fairly often. It just doesn’t cook evenly or retain its finish. It is however expendable and that matters when teaching Boy Scouts how to cook in one.
You should be able to purchase a good quality twelve inch Dutch oven for less than $80 USD. It would be frugal of you to pick it up at the store if you can versus having it shipped, as they are quite heavy.
Your New Dutch Oven
After you have unpacked your Dutch oven you will notice one of two things:
- Your oven has a nice black finish or
- Your oven looks like raw metal
If the former, all you need to do before using is to wash it, as it is already seasoned. More and more ovens are coming seasoned from the manufacturer. NEVER USE SOAP ON A SEASONED DUTCH OVEN! I suggest you use warm water and baking soda. Rinse with hot water, wipe out with a paper towel, and let air dry.
Once your oven is clean you may use it, or put away for later use. If it is going to be several days before you use it, or you live in a humid area, I suggest you oil it. You may use any good grade vegetable oil. I prefer olive oil spray like Pam. Lightly oil the oven and lid inside and out. Take a clean paper towel and make sure the entire oven is covered, removing excess oil.
Store your oven with the lid ajar or the oven setting on the lid in a dry area. Many manufacturers also make storage bags for their ovens.
If your oven looks like raw metal then it probably has not been seasoned. Many of the lower end ovens are raw. Also many people prefer to season their ovens themselves.
Seasoning a New Dutch Oven
Seasoning is basically taking oil and baking it onto the metal giving it a slick (almost Teflon-like) finish (patina).
Wash your Dutch oven with HOT soapy water. Okay I know I said to never use soap on your oven, but yours is not seasoned yet. Soap will remove the patina on your seasoned oven and will leave a soapy taste in food.
Scrub your oven thoroughly with a plastic scrubber. Wash it inside and out. You need to remove the oils used in manufacturing and those used in protecting from rust during transit.
Rinse well with copious amounts of hot water. I will fill my oven with water and place it on the stove bringing it to a slow boil. Drain your oven, towel dry with paper towels (I always use paper towels with my ovens to avoid previous odors including fabric softeners on dish towels). If the water was hot enough the remaining water will soon evaporate.
With the oven still warm lightly coat your oven with a quality pure vegetable shortening like Crisco. Make sure the oven and lid are thoroughly covered inside and out.
Place the Dutch oven upside down on a rack in the kitchen oven. Place the lid right side up on a rack. (Place foil under the oven to catch dripping oil). Bake your oven at 350 degrees F for at least an hour or until smoke quits coming off the Dutch oven. I usually try to do this when my wife is away from the house. I also try to open a window or two to help eliminate the aroma and smoke.
You can also do this outside on your gas fired grill, although I don’t personally think it does as good a job.
One of the secrets of Dutch oven cooking is to keep your oven very clean.
Some people will line their ovens with ready made foil liners, parchment liners or aluminum foil. I too sometimes use these items, but usually only when I am making a desert with a lot of sugar which tends to burn onto the bottom of the oven. Using liners does help in the cleanup, but it does change the taste of many foods.
After using your oven scrape out any remaining food. I always use wooden or plastic utensils to avoid digging into the patina. Using a plastic scrapper is very handy at this point. Remove as much food as possible.
Wipe the oven with a clean paper towel, adding a little warm water as necessary. Wash the oven with another paper towel and warm water. DO NOT USE SOAP AND DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE ELSE TO DO SO EITHER!!!
You can use a plastic scrubber if there is a spot or two that needs extra cleaning. Sometimes I will use table salt to scrub the oven. Make sure that you rinse it very well as the salt will corrode the oven.
Rinse well with hot water, wipe out with paper towels, and oil with a high quality vegetable oil (again I prefer spray olive oil).
Note on storing: If you use too much oil on your oven it will thicken as lighter materials evaporate leaving a gummy mess. The oil will also turn rancid (although that doesn’t really hurt anything). This is why I use the olive oil cooking spray. It leaves a thinner coating of oil.
When you heat your oven for use the rancid oil will cook off enhancing the patina.
Sometimes you may put your oven away with moisture inside and it will rust. If it is very minor just scour it with a plastic scouring pad or table salt and a paper towel. Rinse, dry well, oil and use or properly store.
A friend of mine once brought me a beautiful fourteen inch Dutch oven that he had been storing in an outbuilding. The roof must have leaked and filled the oven with water. The outside was perfect but the inside totally rusted.
There are several ways to treat this, but my method was to get a plastic pan large enough to put the oven in. Then I filled the oven with Classic Coca-Cola. In about two days it was totally clean. I washed it in hot water, dried it well and treated it as a new raw oven.
Storage is particularly important, especially in a humid environment. Always make sure the oven is clean, dry and oiled. Store with the lid askew or separate from the oven. Storage bags are helpful.
I take 3-4 pieces of electrical wire about four inches long. I bend them first in a “U” shape. Then I take one leg of the U and make a second bend about halfway down, at 90 degrees out. I place these over the rim of the oven with the straight part inside. Then I place the lid on, place in the bag and store. This keeps the lid from settling in and making a seal, trapping moisture.
I also will place a folded paper towel in the oven to absorb moisture and/or excess oil.
Aluminum Dutch Ovens
I have not mentioned anything up till now about aluminum Dutch Ovens. Some people do not care for them, but I feel that they have a place in Dutch oven cooking.
There are several manufacturers who make aluminum ovens, including GSI and Camp Chef.
Warning! Do not preheat an empty aluminum Dutch oven with the lid on. It can weld shut, destroying your oven.
Some advantages to aluminum ovens are the lesser weight, faster heat-up, and ease of cleaning.
Just wash your aluminum oven like any pan, in hot soapy water.
Also you do not need to season your aluminum oven although you may if you wish. If you do then treat it like cast iron and do not use soap in it.
I have taken one of my aluminum Dutch ovens backpacking…try that with a cast iron oven!