Camp cooking doesn’t need to be a hassle. And Dutch oven camping recipes can make even the most complicated camping meals easy. Dutch ovens are versatile, easy to clean, and can take a beating. Just the kind of cookware you need to take on your next rugged outdoor adventure.
While Dutch ovens tend to be on the heavier side, the benefits of bringing one camping outweigh the drawbacks. Almost any meal can be prepared and cooked in one pot and it can be heated either on a camp stove, a grill grate or directly on your campfire coals.
Here’s some information that will help you get to know your Dutch oven a little better and some yummy Dutch oven camping recipes to try at home or on your next camping trip.
- What is a Dutch Oven
- Types of Dutch Ovens
- How to use a Dutch Oven When Camping
- Easy Dutch Oven Camping Recipes
- Dutch Oven Chicken Recipes
- Dutch Oven Bread Recipes
- Dutch Oven Desserts
- The Best Camping Dutch Ovens
- Other Recommended Gear For Dutch Oven Camping
What is a Dutch Oven?
At it’s simplest, a Dutch oven is a cooking pot. Most are made of cast iron, hence why they are so heavy. Some are bare cast iron and others are enameled. These ovens have been around for hundreds of years and while no one knows their exact origin, we do know that versions have been used all over the world.
Why do they work so well? It’s all in the iron. Cast iron conducts heat really well and this means it will cook very evenly and efficiently. Heating food in a Dutch oven with the lid on is a lot like heating food in your oven at home. The cast iron gets hot and creates radiant heat inside the pot, which cooks your food from all angles evenly. This means you can cook almost anything in your Dutch oven including bread, meats, soup, and casseroles.
Cleaning Your Dutch Oven
Cleaning your Dutch oven is not difficult, but it is different than how you probably clean the rest of your pots and pans. Make sure to follow these few rules when cleaning your oven:
- Never EVER use soap – soap will remove the seasoning, cause it to rust and damage the oven
- Wash it right away – preferably while the pot is still hot
- Dry it immediately – this will help avoid rust
- Rub oil on it after each cleaning – once it is completely dry
- Season it regularly – if food seems to be sticking to your pot, you need to season it more often.
If food does get stuck to the inside of the pot and it isn’t loosening easily, try adding a 1/4 cup of coarse sea salt and scrubbing with a non-abrasive brush. If that doesn’t work, fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil. This will soften stubbornly, stuck on food and help it to wash off more easily.
Dutch ovens are also non-stick. That’s right, no more adding cooking spray, oil or butter to keep food from adhering to the bottom of your pot. Dutch ovens are “seasoned”, which means they are treated with oil and heat to keep food from sticking, and to keep your oven clean and free of rust. Here is a great article on how to properly season your cast iron cookware to keep it in tip-top shape.
How can you season it while you’re out at a wilderness campsite? First, kudos to you for hauling it out there. Second, just fry up some thick sliced bacon or have a fish fry and wipe it clean with a rag afterward. The oil will protect it until you can bake it in your oven at home.
Types of Dutch Ovens
There are so many different types of Dutch ovens on the market right now and each one has its advantages and disadvantages. It all depends on what you plan to use it for. Here is a breakdown to help you decide which oven is right for you.
Camp v.s. Kitchen Dutch Ovens
If you start exploring your cast iron cookware options, you’ll quickly see that Dutch ovens are mainly broken down into two categories: Camp or outdoor ovens and kitchen ovens or bean pots.
You may be thinking, isn’t a pot a pot? But the subtle differences that help classify each oven can actually give you radically different results in food quality, pot durability and ease of cleaning among other things.
Camp Dutch Ovens
A camp Dutch oven is a cast iron pot with 3 legs on the bottom, a flat lid with a 1-2 inch lip, and a wire handle. The legs on this pot help the oven to sit up off the coals allowing air to circulate below. The lip around the circumference of the lid holds coals so you can easily heat from the bottom and top of the oven.
These are usually the go-to ovens for campers since you can add coals to the top. By adding coals to the top, you more evenly distribute the heat and the cast iron will act more like a conventional oven than like a typical cooking pot.
Kitchen Dutch Ovens
A kitchen Dutch oven has a flat bottom without legs and a domed lid. Often the underside of the lid will have iron spikes for basting. When the condensation forms on the top of the lid during cooking, the spikes help to evenly distribute the liquid over the food rather than letting it run to the sides and pool.
Don’t be fooled. Just because this oven is labeled for the kitchen, doesn’t mean it can’t find a place around your campfire. This pot is usually best used on a propane stove top, hung from a strong tripod, or even stacked on bricks in your firepit. But you will have to go to some lengths if you want to add coals to the top of this oven.
Cast Iron v.s. Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
Dutch ovens typically come with one of two surfaces. You can purchase one with bare cast iron or you can choose to buy one that is enameled.
What is an enameled Dutch oven? It is the same design as a bare cast iron oven, however, it has been painted with a glossy enamel paint. This paint is there to protect the surfaces of the oven from wear and tear. Sounds pretty good right?
Why would anyone purchase a bare cast iron oven then? While the two share a lot of similarities, there are also some key differences that can affect your camp cooking.
Enameled cast iron has durability on its side. Due to the protective coating, the oven is much less likely to rust. It also stands up much better to acidic foods like tomato sauce or campfire chili.
But bare cast iron has its advantages as well. First, due to the seasoning (as long as you are keeping up with it), the pan is really non-stick. Enamel pans still require some oil or spray to keep food from adhering to the bottom.
Bare cast iron also wins in overall durability. While the enamel may keep the oven from rusting and does protect it from food acidity, it can chip off. It can also be easily damaged by high heat, like the kind you get from a campfire.
Lastly, bare cast iron also wins when it comes to price. Typically, enameled cast iron Dutch ovens will cost a bit more than their more basic cousins.
How to Use a Dutch Oven When Camping
At home, most people use their Dutch ovens inside their conventional ovens to cook everything from bread and frittatas to bacon and stews. But while camping, most people don’t have the luxury of a conventional oven at their campsite.
That’s why Dutch ovens are so awesome! They can act just like the oven you have at home as long as you have a good heat source.
But what is a good heat source exactly? It depends on what you are cooking. You can use your Dutch oven as a pot on your propane stove if you want to boil water or heat up a soup. But you’ll get the most out of it if you use it as a real oven.
There are two methods that work best for Dutch oven cooking. One is to cook directly in the hot coals and the other is to hang the oven from a tripod above the coals. You’ve probably seen the tripod method used a lot in old cowboy Westerns, but the traditional way was cooking directly in the coals.
Dutch Oven Cooking in Coals
When cooking directly in a bed of coals, the best Dutch oven to use is a camp oven. This is the oven that has the three feet which will keep it stabilized in the coals. It also has a wire handle that will make it easy to pick up and put down, as opposed to the kitchen oven which only has side handles.
It is important that your coals all be approximately the same size. That is why it is so popular to use charcoal briquettes rather than wood coals from a campfire. But either way, you choose to do it, try and find coals that are all relatively the same size so the heat will be evenly distributed. If they aren’t, you may end up with some burned food on the bottom of your oven.
There is actually a formula for how many coals you should use. The general rule of thumb is 2 briquettes, or similarly sized wood coals, for each inch of diameter. So if you are baking in a 12-inch oven, you will want to use 24 briquettes. Here is a good chart to follow for different sized ovens and cooking temperatures.
Don’t forget about the lip around the edge of the lid. It’s time to add some of those hot coals to the top of your oven so you can more evenly distribute the heat. The chart in the link above will also show you how many of your total briquettes should go on the bottom and how many should be placed evenly around the top.
Remember, everything about Dutch oven cooking is hot. The oven is hot, the coals are hot and the wire handle is hot. Always use some really good fire safe grill gloves to avoid getting a burn. You don’t want to ruin your camping trip just as the food is ready.
Dutch Oven Cooking with a Tripod
First and foremost you will need the right equipment. You must have a Dutch oven that has a wire handle that it can be hung from. Many kitchen ovens only have side handles and a loop at the top of the lid. Camp ovens are the go-to for this kind of set up, but you can find kitchen ovens with handles, or add your own as long as it is sturdy and will hold up to high heat.
Tripod cooking can be a little bit trickier simply because you need a great set up. Your gear should be top notch. That means a very strong and sturdy tripod that will be able to take the weight of your whole oven and the food you add to it.
The area where you are cooking needs to be generally flat so that your tripod will not be off balance and leaning. Furthermore, the area needs to be free of rocks and other debris including tree roots.
When you set the legs of your tripod, make sure that they are safely secured on, or preferably in, the ground. If they are leaning on a stone, branches, or other debris, there is a good chance it will come tumbling down as soon as you add your oven.
Try setting everything up, even adding your oven to the chain, before lighting a fire. This way you can be sure the set up is sturdy and you won’t have to work around flames and hot embers.
Once your tripod is all set up and you have your fire going, add your food to your oven and hang it by the metal chain from the center of the tripod. The real benefit of tripod cooking is that you can move the oven up or down, closer to or further from the flames and coals, to adjust how much heat it is getting. Bring the pot closer to the flames to the get the contents boiling, then bring it up higher and let it simmer till done.
Now that you know a little bit more about Dutch ovens and how to cook with them, let’s take a look at some delicious recipes you can try today.
Easy Dutch Oven Camping Recipes
With any cooking technique, there is a learning curve. Some foods and recipes take a bit more finesse and experience to master. But some recipes are easy enough for even a novice to pull off. Here are some incredibly easy Dutch oven recipes that you will have no problem making, even if you are a first-timer.
Dutch Oven Chicken Recipes
Who doesn’t love chicken? Well, vegetarians. But if you are looking for a versatile meat to bring along on your next camping trip, chicken is the way to go. Here are a few delicious Dutch oven campfire chicken recipes that you will love.
Dutch Oven Bread Recipes
There is nothing like a loaf of homemade bread. The crispy crust, the warm chewy inside. Plus it is super cheap to make and goes with just about everything. Never made your own loaf before? Give it a try on your next camping trip. It isn’t as hard as it sounds. And once you taste it you’ll be hooked. Plus there are so many varieties you’ll be sure to find one you love.
Dutch Oven Desserts
Dessert is always a welcome addition to the day, especially when you’re camping. If you’re looking for something sweet, warm and gooey to close out your campfire, but are tired of s’mores, get your Dutch oven ready for these yummy recipes.
The Best Camping Dutch Ovens
When it comes to Dutch ovens, they are not all created equal. A low-quality Dutch oven, will rust faster, be harder to maintain, and will likely heat unevenly due to poor construction.
On the other hand, a quality Dutch oven will be much more durable and will literally last you a lifetime. Unless you are in the mood to head to a junk store or antique shop, find a rusted old cast iron pan or oven and spend countless hours cleaning, reseasoning and restoring it, you will probably opt to get yourself a new one.
Two popular cast iron cookware brands on the market are Lodge and Camp Chef. Here is a little breakdown as to what you can expect from each. Here we’ll be comparing the 12-inch/6 Quart Camp Dutch Oven from Lodge to the Classic 12-inch Dutch Oven (6 quart) from Camp Chef.
Lodge products are the top of the line camping and bare cast iron cookware on the market. While they make a truly beautiful product that will last a lifetime, they have a price tag to match. The 12-inch/6 quart Dutch Oven from Lodge comes in at about $40 more than the Camp Chef oven.
The three benefits that make it stand out from the competition are:
- The lip around the lid is high which helps the coals stay on top without shifting
- The depth of the pot itself (without the lid) is almost 2 inches deeper, which is helpful if you are roasting meats or making large meals where you need more space to fit everything. It can also help with extra room for boiling without boiling over.
- Lodge products are made in the USA.
The Camp Chef oven also has a very solid design and good quality cast iron. This means there aren’t any noticeable hot spots that can lead to uneven cooking or burning.
The deluxe version of their Dutch ovens come with feet on the top of the lid so you can use it as a skillet when you’re not baking in your oven.
While the lids on their ovens have a slightly more shallow ridge than the Lodge lids and Camp Chef’s products are made in China, the quality of the ovens are very similar. If you’re looking for a good oven on a budget, or are trying to buy multiple sizes the Camp Chef ovens stand up just as well as Lodge.
Other Recommended Gear for Dutch Oven Camping
Dutch Oven Liners – If you are looking for a way to avoid cleaning your oven as often, try liners. They will protect the interior of your oven from losing its seasoning since you won’t need to wash it as often.
Lid Holder and Serving Stand – Don’t put your lid on the ground when you move it to stir. A lid holder will keep it safe and secure. It is also a good place to put your whole oven once it comes off the coals.
Gloves – When you are dealing with hot coals and potentially flames, it is important to have a good pair of heavy-duty fire safe gloves to protect your hands.
Tripod – If you want to try cooking off the coals you will need a tripod. Make sure you choose one that is sturdy and well built.
Wooden Utensils – Wooden utensils will help protect your oven from scrapes and dings when stirring and serving. Choose some with long handles so you can stay a little further back from the coals and your ladle doesn’t fall in the soup.
Coal Shovel – Bring a small coal shovel with you to help move them around when you need to spread the heat. This is especially important if you plan to cook using wood coals from your campfire.
Steel Table – If you want to upgrade your camp kitchen, or just have a bad back and don’t want to bend, try a steel table. You can add your coals and oven and cook at a more comfortable height.
Whisk Broom – Having a good little broom comes in handy when you are trying to brush the ash off the lid before stirring and serving.
Charcoal Chimney Starter – A charcoal chimney starter is just a metal cylinder that helps light the coals and get them hot quickly and evenly. It can cut down cooking times by a lot.
Storage Bag – Looking for some added protection for your oven against the rest of your camping gear and the elements, get a storage bag.
Lid Lifter – These tools provide a safer and easier way to either turn your lid without disturbing the coals or letting heat out, or removing the lid.
Dutch ovens are one of the original pieces of outdoor cookware. The fact that folks are still using them today speaks volumes to what a versatile and easy option they are for campfire cooking. If you plan to do much camp cooking, get yourself a Dutch oven and try out a few recipes.