|Dutch Oven Cooking|
Dutch ovens have been used by people for hundreds of years and are still popular today. When the American frontier was being settled, pioneers cooked outdoors, in a fireplace or in a lean-to behind the cabin. Large, heavy cast iron pots were made with lids and placed directly into the coals of an open fire. It has been said that the final design of the Dutch oven was done by the skilled craftsman, Paul Revere and this design is still in use today.
The cast iron pot was produced in large numbers by New England manufacturers. Dutch traders purchased many of these pots for trading with Indians. The pots became known as "Dutch ovens."
As the exploration movement traveled west in America, so did the Dutch oven. It's recorded that one of the most important pieces of equipment in the Lewis and Clark expedition was a large Dutch oven. There have been no improvement made on the cast iron pot from that time to now.
There are present day aluminum Dutch ovens but many feel the cast iron is still the best for cooking if weight is not a problem.
Dutch ovens have a flat bottom sitting of three short legs protruding about two inches. It has a strong wire bail and the lid is made of the same heavy cast iron material with a small handle in the center. The rim of the lid is flanged so that hot coals will stay on the lid while cooking. Dutch ovens come in different sizes with the 12" pot being the most popular. They range in weight from 7 to 30 lbs.
Preparing the Dutch Oven For Cooking
1. Make sure the lid fits properly on the pot before purchasing it. If by some chance you have a poorly fitting lid to your pot, there is a remedy. Smear valve grinding compound on the rim of the pot and the edge of the lid and rotate the lid until you have a good fit.
2. Wash the pot thoroughly with hot water and soap. A brillo pad is really the way to go here. Manufacturers coat new Dutch ovens with protective waxes or oils and they must be removed. This should be the only time your Dutch oven will be washed with soap. Dry the pot quickly. It will rust if you don't.
3. Season or sweeten the pot. Grease the Dutch oven with a thin coat of vegetable oil or lard using a cotton cloth. Do all surfaces inside and out including the lid. Do not use butter, margarine, or salad oil.
Place your Dutch oven, with its lid ajar, in your home oven at 350 degrees for one hour. Open the windows - a slightly unpleasant odor and some smoking may occur. After baking, allow the oven to cool slowly. Apply another thin coating of oil while it is still warm. Bake the oven again for one hour and let it cool to the point where it can be handled. Reapply a thin coat of oil for the third and last time. Your oven is now ready to use. You will notice that the oven has turned golden in color but continued use will form a real black surface. The blacker the pot, the better. This procedure will only have to be done once unless rust forms or the coating is damaged in storage or use. If that happens it is easy to season the pot again.
Cooking With a Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are known for their versatility in cooking. They can be used to deep fat frying, shallow frying, roasting, baking, boiling or stewing.
There is a formula for controlling the heat in a Dutch oven but it is simple. Take the size of your oven, for example a 12", add three more coal briquettes to the top (15), and subtract three from the bottom (9). This technique will maintain an even temperature of 325 to 350 degrees. For every 2 coals added or subtracted to this amount, the temperature will be affected by 25 degrees.
8" oven - 10-11 coals on top/ 5-6 coals on bottom
10" oven - 13 coals on top/ 7 on bottom
12" oven - 15 on top/ 9 on bottom
14" oven - 17 on top/ 11 on bottom
16" oven - 19 on top/ 13 on bottom
This is a good formula to start with but take into account that it will vary from food to food, wind conditions (if cooking outdoors) and outside air temperature. Here are some general guidelines to use when experimenting with the Dutch oven:
1. Soups, stews or liquid dishes need more heat on the bottom than on the lid. Place 2/3 of the coals below and 1/3 of the coals on top.
2. Meat, poultry, potatoes, vegetables and cobblers require equal distribution of heat on top and bottom.
3. Cakes, bread, biscuits and cookies require most of the heat to be on top of the oven with very little on the bottom. Place 1/3 of the coals below and 2/3 of the coals on top.
There are a few more things to remember about temperature control. Rotating the oven a third of a turn every ten minutes is helpful. Rotate the lid a third of a turn in the other direction.
If you are baking bread, rolls or cake, remove the oven from the bottom coals after 2/3 of the cooking time. It will finish cooking from the top heat. This will keep the bottom from burning.
Also, try using a round cake rack placed in the bottom of the oven for breadstuffs and pies. It keeps food from sticking to the bottom and makes cleaning easier.
The following is a guide showing which pots are more useful according to serving size and type of food:
5" oven = 1 pint - serves 1-2: any food
8" oven = 2 quarts - serves 2-4: vegetables, desserts
10" oven = 4 quarts - serves 4-7: beans, rolls, cobblers
12" oven = 6 quarts - serves 12-14: main dishes, side dishes, rolls, desserts
12 Deep" = 8 quarts - serves 16-20: turkeys, hens, hams, standing rib roasts
14" oven = 8 quarts - serves 16-20: main dishes, side dishes, rolls, potatoes, desserts
14 Deep" = 10 quarts - serves 22-28: turkeys, hens, hams, standing rib roasts
16" oven = 12 quarts - serves 22-28: any food for a large group
Flat bottomed ovens (bean pots) are suited for cooking on a wood stove surface.
A Dutch oven lid can be used as a skillet for cooking eggs or pancakes over an open fire.
Dutch ovens are also great for "stack cooking." After the first Dutch oven is heated properly, a second oven can be set on top with coals added to its lid. Try cooking a main course in a 14" oven with a 10" oven on top baking bread at the same time.
Cleaning and Caring For Your Dutch Oven
When cleaning the Dutch oven, scrape it out with a spatula. Then, boil an inch or two of water in the oven to steam it out. After the pot has steamed awhile, scrub it with a green, scrubby pad and pour out the water. Wipe it dry and coat it with a light coating of oil while still hot.
Place a couple of paper towels inside the oven so that they hang out a little. Put the lid on top and then store the oven until next time. The paper keeps the lid slightly ajar for air movement and collects moisture to keep the oven dry.
Never allow cast iron to sit in water or allow water to sit in it. The pot will rust!
Never use soap on cast iron. It will get into the metal pores and taint your food.
Never place an empty cast iron oven over a hot fire. It will crack or warp.
Never be in a hurry to heat cast iron. It could burn the food or damage the oven.
Never put cold liquid into a hot cast iron oven. It could crack!
Items For Cooking With A Dutch Oven
1. Leather gloves - to protect hands.
2. Shovel - to move coals ( a folding camp shovel is the best).
3. Whisk broom - to sweep ashes from the lid.
4. Long, Lid Lifter - to remove the oven from heat.
5. Hot Pot Pliers - These pliers have specially designed jaws to grip the oven lid securely.
Now For The Best Part - Recipes!
2 squirrels 1 tsp. Salt 2 quarts boiling water 1/2 tsp. Pepper 3 potatoes 2 C. tomatoes 1 onion 1 & 1/2 tsp. Sugar 1 C. corn 1/4 C. butter 1 C. lima beans
Put 2 squirrels, cut into 6 pieces, into the boiling water. Add potatoes, onion, corn, lima beans, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Add tomatoes and sugar. Simmer for an additional hour. Add the butter and simmer again for 30 min. Bring the stew to a boil and dish out! Serves 4. (One large chicken can be substituted for squirrels. Of course, it would no longer be squirrel stew.)
2 cloves garlic 4 greenpeppers, chopped 1 onion, sliced 3 potatoes, quartered 3 T. shortening 4 carrots, halved 2 lbs. venison (or beef) 2 bay leaves 1 can tomato sauce 6 medium onions 1 C. water salt & pepper to taste
Fry sliced onion, garlic and shortening in Dutch oven. Add the meat and brown. Cover with tomato sauce and water. Remove garlic; add carrots, peppers, potatoes and whole onions. Add more water if necessary along with the seasonings. Cook for 1 hour. Add hot coals to top of lid as well. Serves 6.
Dutch Oven Beans
1 2-lb. Can pork and beans 1/4 C. mustard 4 thick slices of bacon 1/4 C. catsup 1 onion, chopped 1/8 C. cider vinegar 1/2 C. brown sugar
Mix beans thoroughly with onion, brown sugar, mustard, catsup and vinegar. Put into Dutch oven and place bacon on top of beans. Cover and bury in coals at least 1 hour. Serves 6.
1C. & 2T. flour 1/8 tsp. Salt 1/4 tsp. baking soda 2 T. crisco (solid) 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 C. buttermilk
Place 1 T. crisco in bottom of oven. Place coals on lid to bring temperature to 500 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder in bowl. Cut in crisco until mixture becomes grainy. Add buttermilk and stir until dough is formed. Kneed dough briefly on floured surface. Flatten to 1/2" thick. Cut out biscuits with a glass or cup. Place in oven and turn once to coat both sides. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 min.
Sugar Almond Cookies
1/2 C. softened butter 1/2 tsp. salt 1 C. sugar 2 tsp. baking powder 2 C. flour 1 egg 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 1/4 C. crushed almonds
Combine butter and sugar, stirring until well mixed. Blend in egg and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Drop onto greased pie tin. Place on trivet or cake rack in 400 degree oven. Bake for 6 to 7 min.
As mentioned, Dutch ovens are a popular means of cooking. There are Dutch oven Cookoffs every year in the U.S. and there is even an International Dutch Oven Society which Dutch oven lovers can join.
Other neat Dutch oven websites are Marv's Dutch Oven Ideas Page and Chuckwagon. Chuckwagon is a supply company that sells Dutch ovens ranging in prices from $16.00 to $300.00. Shop around because prices can vary greatly. If you choose mail order, keep in mind the shipping costs. Check out Boy Scout Troop catalogues and centers. Good sporting stores or camping supply stores also carry them.
Whatever you do, consider cooking the Dutch oven way. It could become as essential to you as it was to Lewis and Clark.
Good Luck and happy eating!