The dutch oven is a remarkable cooking tool, especially when cooking over an open fire. Learn to control the temperature of the oven and you're well on your way to cooking like an expert.
The dutch oven concept has been around seemingly forever. Various designs have been an open fire cookware staple, for both indoor open fire kitchens and out-of-doors campfire cooking, since colonial times.
"Bake Kettles", as they were once known, have undergone some changes in design since those early days, and in fact Paul Revere is credited with the design features of a lipped cover and legs attached to the bottom.
You can make soups and stews in them, fry and saute in them, and even bake in them. Their multi-use feature may be part of what makes them intimidating to use if you don't understand the basic operating principle of this time worn cooking tool.
Here, John Townsend presents the basics of dutch oven cooking, particularly as it concerns controlling the internal temperature of the oven.
After a wonderful little anecdote about the experiences of an early 19th century woman - Catherine Strickland Parr - with her "bake kettle" on the frontiers of Canada, John delves into the nuts and bolts of dutch oven cookery.
It's all about achieving a balance of heat on the inside of the oven, and keeping that internal temperature consistent throughout the cooking process. We do this by heating, with coals, both the top and the bottom of oven.
So, you'll need a strong bank of coals to last the entirety of the cooking time. You'll also need - if you're planning on baking something like bread, as he does here - a trivet and plate upon which to set the dough inside of the oven. You don't want baked foods to sit directly on the floor of the oven.
A scoop full of coals underneath the oven and a scoop on top of the lid surprisingly brings the temperature up a significant degree. This is really a trial and error process, wherein your experience and ability to adapt is paramount to cooking success.
So it would behoove you to practice with your dutch oven and a thermometer in order to get to know what the internal temperatures will be with each scoop of coals.
Once you've got that formula down, you're pretty well good to go. Two scoops of hardwood coals underneath the oven and three scoops on the lid bring the internal temperature up to around 350 degrees. Of course these temperatures depend on a number of factors, such as how big your scoops are, the presence of outside wind, and so on.
Given a relatively short amount of time and practice, you should be able to master dutch oven cooking.
Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.