Dutch Oven Basics
Possibly, the biggest secret in Dutch oven cooking is controlling temperature. If there are too many briquettes on the bottom, the food will risk burning. And if there are not enough briquettes on the top, the food will probably be on the raw side or cooking times will be very long. Temperature control is almost as
much feel as it is anything else. There are some basic guidelines for controlling the heat, but with all of the environmental factors it is an estimate at best. Almost everything can be cooked in a 325°F to 350°F oven. It is also probably the easiest temperature to attain. The more time that you spend cooking with Dutch ovens, the less time you will spend counting briquettes.
There is one fairly easy way to find out the cooking temperature of the Dutch oven, how long you can hold your hand about 2” above the coals? It is not perfect, but it is way to get close to the oven temperature.
· 7 seconds – 250°F to 300°F
· 5 seconds – 300°F to 350°F
· 2-3 seconds – 350°F to 400°F
Using charcoal briquettes are the easiest way to achieve consistent cooking times and temperatures.
Charcoal briquettes will also typically burn hotter and longer than coals from a fire. If you need to use coals from a fire, make sure that they are all of about the same size. Place the briquettes equally around the rim of the lid and in a circle on the bottom. Try to avoid placing briquettes directly under the center of the oven, especially the smaller ovens. The proper layout for coals or
briquettes under the oven is circular. Coals should be approximately one inch apart in a circle under the oven. Never place coals directly under the center of the oven, if you do, you will create a hot spot and burn whatever you are cooking. By placing the coals in a circle, the natural conductivity of the oven will distribute the heat evenly and effectively.
How Many Briquettes Are Required For Cooking
Always use good quality briquettes. Once you get use to one brand, try not to change unless you have to. One brand may typically burn a little hotter but not as long, while another brand may burn a little cooler but a little longer. The accepted rule of thumb for a 325°F to 350°F oven is take the oven diameter, double it, that will be the number of briquettes that are needed. Always be patient and resist the desire to add too much heat. The most common cause of burned or dried out food is too many briquettes. Also remember that it is easier to add briquettes (heat) than it is to remove it.
Weather conditions, such as wind, humidity, sunlight and temperature, will all play a major factor in how much heat may be required for cooking. Briquettes will typically last anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes based on weather. If the conditions become windy, there will be a lot of heat loss from the sides, build a windbreak around the cooking area.
The type of cooking that you are doing will impact the placement of the briquettes:
Roasting: The heat source should come from the top and bottom equally (about 1:1 top to bottom).
Baking: Usually done with more heat from the top than from the bottom (about 3:1, top to bottom).
Frying, Boiling: All of the heat should come from the bottom.
Stewing, Simmering: Almost all heat will be from the bottom (about 4:1, bottom to top).
Where you are cooking will also influence the number of briquettes required on the bottom. If you are cooking on bare earth, more briquettes are required than if you are cooking on a metal table or on concrete.
When you need a longer cooking time, you will need to add additional briquettes to the oven. When doing so, reduce the number of briquettes by 2 or 3 on top and bottom because the oven is already pre-heated.
That is if you are using 14 briquettes on top and 4 briquettes on the bottom, you will need to add about 12 to the top and 2 or 3 to the bottom.
Cast iron does distribute the heat fairly well, but you can still get hot spots. The best way to avoid hot spots is to rotate the oven about one quarter turn and the lid about one-third to one-quarter turn in the opposite direction every 15 to 20 minutes. Since most of the Dutch oven recipes can be done with the briquettes set up for baking. Below are some guidelines for baking with a Dutch oven with the following conditions: the Dutch oven and charcoal are placed on a metal surface (such as a metal table or a metal pan), the ambient temperatures are moderate (70°F), and there is little to no wind. Again these are just guidelines.
Briquette – Temperature Chart Oven
Top/Bottom 300°F 325°F 350°F 375°F 400°F 425°F 450°F
slow slow medium medium Hot hot Very Hot
8” – total 10 11 12 12 13 14 15
Top/Bottom 8 / 2 9 / 2 9 / 3 9 / 3 10 / 3 11 / 3 12 / 3
10” – total 16 17 18 20 21 23 24
Top/Bottom 12 / 4 13 / 4 14 / 4 15 / 5 16 / 5 18 / 5 18 / 6
12” – total 23 25 27 29 31 33 35
Top/Bottom 18 /5 19 / 6 21 / 6 22 / 7 24 / 7 25/ 8 27 / 8
14” – total 31 34 37 39 42 45 47
Top/Bottom 24 / 7 26 / 8 28 / 9 30 / 9 32 / 10 34 / 11 36 / 11
16” – total 41 45 48 51 55 58 62
Top/Bottom 3 1 / 10 34 / 11 36 / 12 39 / 12 42 / 13 44 / 14 47 / 15
One rather novel feature of using Dutch ovens is the ability to stack them. Using multiple Dutch ovens allow one to cook more than one dish at a time while conserving charcoal. When stacking Dutch ovens you only need to add briquettes to the top of each additional oven per the chart. For example, stacking a 12” on top of a 14”, you would use 9 on the bottom and 28 on the top of the 14” oven and 21 on top of the 12” for a total of 49 briquettes. You can safely put a total of three Dutch ovens in a stack. This does require a little
more watching and planning of what goes on each layer (always go largest on the bottom to smallest on the top).
The lid can also be placed on the fire or stove upside down and used as a skillet or griddle. Using the lid in this fashion, you can make virtually error free pancakes and eggs that won’t run all over. This is because most lids are shaped like a very shallow bowls so things naturally stay in the center, even if the lid is not level. Use a trivet or three equal sized stones or bricks to support the lid while cooking. Another tip for cooking foods that have high sugar content (fruit desserts) or even when you are learning is to line the oven with heavy duty aluminum foil. But if you watch your heat, lining the oven is not needed.
Seasoning your oven:
Once you have a Dutch oven, it must be cured or seasoned (some new ovens are now available preseasoned).
This process will keep your oven from rusting and produce an interior coating that will prevent food from sticking. The process is actually quite simple. If you have an old rusty oven, scrub it well and use a fine-grade sandpaper, a brass wheel or steel wool to clean up and expose the entire surface, inside and out. Once the metal is exposed, or if you are curing a new oven, follow the following procedure:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 350°. Place a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your
oven to catch any drops of the oil that may drip off of your Dutch oven that will be
applied in step 4.
2. Wash the entire Dutch oven well with hot soapy water (this is the only time you should
use soap). This will remove the waxy coating from a new oven and any fine metal dust
remaining in an old reconditioned one.
3. Dry the Dutch oven completely. Heat your Dutch oven, upside down, in the oven in your
4. While the Dutch oven is hot, take a small amount of oil or shortening (only use good
quality oil or shortening), and while wearing oven mitts or heavy leather gloves, use a
clean cotton cloth or paper towel to wipe the entire surface well, inside and out, to coat it
with the shortening or oil.
5. When the Dutch oven is coated, heat it to 350° for an hour. If you do this in your house,
expect some smoke.
6. If this is the initial seasoning, apply an additional coating of oil.
7. After an hour of heating, turn off your oven and let the Dutch oven cool slowly. Do not try
to force the cooling of a cast iron Dutch oven or skillet, unless you want to risk cracking
8. The Dutch oven will start turning a dark brown or black during the seasoning process and
will continue with each time used.
This initial seasoning of the Dutch oven can also be done on a charcoal grill or a gas grill. If using a charcoal grill; start a hot fire, set the oiled oven on the grate, put the lid on and let the coals burn out. If using a gas grill; pre-heat to at least 400°F, set the oiled oven on the grate, close the lid and leave it on for at least 2 hours.
Once you have your oven cured, it is ready for cooking. However, after each subsequent use and cleaning, you maintain and strengthen the cure by wiping a very light coat of oil, or shortening over the dry, warm oven. Do not use too much or a rancid smell may develop.
Selecting a Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens come in a large variety of sizes and shapes. When selecting your Dutch oven, there are just a couple of things that you will need to keep in mind.
· Who do you typically cook for?
– How many people?
– How much do they normally eat?
· Where will you typically cook?
– Stove / Oven
· What do you think that you will typically cook?
The most versatile Dutch ovens are probably the 10” and 12” sizes. You can easily cook any recipe for an average sized family in either of those sizes.
Sizing your oven:
The first thing you need to decide on is oven size. Sizes are either specified by diameter or by capacity. For example, a 10” oven, 10” is the approximate diameter at the bottom of the oven and it has about a 4 quart capacity.
The chart below is a guideline in determining what size oven is needed for a one pot meal or a side dish.
Oven Size Oven Capacity Main Dish Side Dish
8” 2 quarts 2-6 8-10
10” 4 quarts 4-12 16-20
12” 6 quarts 6-18 24-30
12” deep 8 quarts 8-24 32-40
14” 8 quarts 8-24 32-40
14” deep 12 quarts 16-30 48-60
What to look for:
When buying a cast iron Dutch oven, whether new or used, look carefully at these important areas:
· Legs: Does the oven you are looking at have three good legs? Only buy a Dutch oven with legs, also
called a camp oven. Some are manufactured with flat bottoms and are far more difficult to use while
camping and are best suited for use in an inside kitchen. The legs should be long enough to provide
clearance to the briquettes and lid handle that will be under the oven.
· Fit: Does the lid fit well? The lid should lie flush with the lip of the oven all the way around, with no
significant gaps. A good seal also helps with successful cooking.
· Lip: Does the lid have a lip? The lid should have a lip all around the outer edge to keep the ash from
the charcoal from making its way into your food.
· Consistency: Does the thickness of the walls appear to be consistent. There will be some
inconsistencies. However, any area that is substantially thicker or thinner (more than 15%) than the
surrounding areas will produce hot or cold spots during cooking and cooling. This variation in
thickness will also make the oven much more likely to crack or warp. Pay special attention to the
bottom and the lid.
· Handle: Does the lid have a handle? A securely attached loop handle will make lifting and rotating
the lid much easier.
· Bail: Does the Dutch oven have a wire bail handle attached to the oven itself. It should be easily
movable and strong enough to use for carrying or hanging a heavy pot full of stew without difficulty.
· Finish: Does the Dutch oven have heavy pitting? Look for an oven with very little pitting. Heavy
pitting will make it difficult for the seasoning to adhere.
· Lodge is just one of several manufacturers that have a consistent quality across their product line.
If these areas pass inspection, you’ve got a good Dutch oven. Take it home and start having fun.