updated August 2015
The Dutch Oven is a baking tool. Coals applied to the Dutch Oven heat the air inside and the heated air cooks the food. Yes, some use their Dutch Oven as a pot, in which to boil food, but if you cook beans or stew, why not top them with biscuit dough or corn bread batter and make use of the baking qualities of your Dutch Oven?
Coals placed on the lid of the Dutch Oven radiate heat down into the air and food below. Thus you need to get much more heat on top of the oven than under it.
For example, if you have charcoal left over from an evening’s barbecue, you can cook a pineapple upside down cake by placing 6 to 8 briquettes under the oven and 14 to 18 on top.
Cakes and light pastries require special care not to burn on the bottom. The simple ready-made biscuits and sweet rolls you can buy in the dairy section of the grocery store are excellent practice items.
Campfire coals will only mean a little more attention thatn charcoal. Driftwood found along gravel bars on Interior Alaska rivers is unlikely to produce lasting coals. You'll need to add burning wood to the top of the oven.
With practice you can judge the temperature of the coals with your hand. Proper bottom heat will allow you to hold your hand an inch or so from the coals for 10 to 15 seconds. Top heat will only allow you to hold your hand close for only a second.
Once you learn heat control for the Dutch Oven you can cook almost anything. I usually plan meals based on the ingredients I am willing to carry for a particular trip. Canoe trips have different requirements than car camping, snow machining, or river boating. Alas, the Dutch Oven is not for backpacking, but you can apply your campfire baking skills to aluminum foil meals and food cooked directly in the fire!
Just remember--heat on top cooks, too much heat on the bottom burns.
Lodge Manufacturing Company Charcoal Baking Temperature Chart
Want to know more?
The International Dutch Oven Society offers lots of information and recipes. Visit their Web site at: www.idos.com
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