Dutch Oven Cooking 101

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 14, 2010

Outdoor magazines always make camp cuisine look so appealing. Steam rises from pots of savory venison stew. Golden brown biscuits peek from under the lids of Dutch ovens, and children crowd around mouth-watering desserts.

So why is it that real outdoor dishes usually are burned, raw or seasoned with ashes?

The blame doesn’t belong with equipment makers. It is not really the cook’s fault, either. The problem is lack of experience. Most of us cook in kitchens the majority of the year. It should come as no surprise that we have trouble using a whole new set of equipment. We simply don’t use Dutch ovens and other camp cookware often enough to get really good with them.

Enter the guys in white hats — the International Dutch Oven Society. This group has solutions, in the form of educational programs that make camp cooking all but foolproof. I know, because several years ago I took an intensive two-day Dutch oven instructor training course taught by IDOS instructors. I went in hardly knowing the difference between a Dutch oven and a Crock-Pot. At the end, I was roasting chickens, whipping up casseroles and turning out flawless pineapple upside-down cakes.

You can, too. Here’s how.

The first thing you need is faith. You must believe you can cook anything in a Dutch oven that you can cook on your gas or electric range and oven at home. This belief is supported by history.

Pioneers who ventured into the wilderness did without lots of things, but great food was not one of those things. They took with them cast-iron pots with tight-fitting lids. Records from pioneer times — like Lewis and Clark’s journals — describe sumptuous meals of roast buffalo hump, boudin blanc, sourdough bread and cakes, pies and bread pudding larded with wild fruits and nuts.

Their Dutch ovens were not the flat-bottomed variety that city folks placed on iron grates in fireplaces. Pioneer ovens had legs to hold them above glowing coals pulled out of the campfire. With ovens like the pioneers had, you too, can cook fantastic meals. You could even do it with coals from a wood fire, but there is an easier way that makes successful Dutch oven cooking possible, even for greenhorns.

Most problems with Dutch oven cooking arise because they don’t come with thermostats. Imagine what would happen if you lost all the dials on an electric kitchen

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