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How to Use a Dutch Oven for Camping

July 21 2020

I learned how to cook with a Dutch oven when I was eleven in the Boy Scouts. The Dutch oven, the enormous black pot I could barely lift, made peach cobbler on weekend camping trips. While the Dutch oven was heavy, it was easy and so low maintenance that young kids could learn to cook with it. The recipes were also simple, but the idea of cooking over an open flame as a kid was half the fun.

dutch oven and beans recipe
Today, I use a Dutch oven for the wow effect at campfires, but largely to cook for a lot of people in a laid-back manner. Additionally, the cast iron adds great flavor from all the times I’ve used it.

Why Use a Dutch Oven

  • Convenience. A Dutch oven is great idea if you want to cook and take it easy. There are many easy recipes that you can cook as it heats over the fire, for both simple prep and simple cooking times.
  • Volume of Food. One of the benefits of a large Dutch oven is cooking for a group. Sizes vary, but you can often cook for 4-6 people in one large pot.
  • Cool Factor. I mean, who doesn’t love this method of cooking. It’s simple, cast iron adds flavor, and feels nostalgic in a rustic way.
  • Use the Coals. After all is said and done, cooked and cleaned, you can use the coals to jump start your fire and kick back after dinner.

About Your Dutch Oven

dutch oven cooking

Dutch ovens come in a range of sizes for personal to party-sized use. A solid bet is a 12” Dutch oven that holds 6 quarts of food. This will feed a solid group of friends and hungry mouths around the fire.

Dutch ovens are made of cast iron. Cast iron is very porous, and this porosity tends to lock in flavors to keep seasoning your food in the future (it just gets better and better). However, cast iron is heavy and is best for car camping. Additionally, it requires a lot care. You need to always reseal it with oil to prevent rust and scrub it manually. (Don’t put it in the dishwasher and never use soap; we’ll talk more about this later).

There are also two kinds of Dutch ovens, for indoors and outdoors. Indoor ones are enameled, and you can tell this from a glossy sheen on them, like on a regular household frying pan. This enamel chips over fires and is terrible for the environment. Obviously, go with the outdoor Dutch ovens.

Preparing and Seasoning Your Dutch Oven

One of the first things you want to do with a new Dutch oven is clean it briefly. Companies tend to use some kind of seal to prevent rusting in shipping, so use some soap and rinse it out.

After you’ve done that, you are going to season it with a coat of oil. A coat of oil is essential for (1) flavor, (2) preventing sticking, and (3) and preventing rust.

Get a little bit of cooking oil and place it into the Dutch oven. Then get a rag or paper towels to run it around the entire thing, including the outside. When you’ve oiled the oven and the lid, put the Dutch oven in the oven in your house at 300°F for 60-90 minutes.

Dutch ovens are very porous and heat from your kitchen oven will dilate the pores, allowing the oil to get all the way in there. Let the Dutch oven cool and you’re set! For a video demonstration on how to season your Dutch oven, check the link below.


How to Use a Dutch Oven at the Campsite

cooking at camp site

After you’ve cooked and prepped your food, you want to light your coals. A nice bed of coals in a fire pit is a great way to start, and you should wait until they are white.

dutch oven with coals on top

Your oven should have a few short legs to stand on to keep it off the ground and over the coals. Then, throw about a dozen on the top of lid to keep heat above and below. The dense cast iron will heat evenly and cook your food from all sides of the oven.

The above method is the traditional method, but some people use a tripod to suspend a Dutch oven, usually a smaller one. This tripod method puts some distance between the oven and the flame source for recipes that call for lower temperatures and longer cooking times.

Two Simple Dutch Oven Recipes

Savory: One of the classics is a beef stew. Don’t be afraid to add, subtract, or experiment with the ingredients. Here is a recipe from Food & Wine that is a little dressed up if you’re trying to impress a crowd.

Sweet: Another recipe we always did in Boy Scouts was Peach Cobbler. Simple prep, easy cooking, and a lot of mouths made this a surefire hit around the campfire when we were young and learning to provide for ourselves. Here is a simple recipe from The Stay at Home Chef.

How to Clean Your Dutch Oven

Cleaning your Dutch oven is very similar to cleaning cast iron:

  1. NEVER USE SOAP. Soap strips and deteriorates flavors building up in cast iron, so there is no soap in the process of cleaning a Dutch oven.
  2. Clean Out Scraps of Food. Remove any food in your Dutch oven by using a wooden or plastic spatula to scrap it out.
  3. Keep Rinsing with Water. Use water intermittently to clean out the pan when you scrub.
  4. Check the Surface with Your Hand. Run your hands throughout the oven to find any tiny scraps.
  5. Heat on Open Flame. Return your Dutch oven to the flame. This will dilate the pores and flush any moisture out. Pull out when it is hot to the touch (but not scorching).
  6. Seal Again with Oil. Use a little bit of oil to reseal your Dutch oven’s cast iron to prevent rust.

Below is a video on cast iron care from Cooking with Cast Iron. He uses Lodge Pan Scrapers to clean out his pan.

Learning how to use a Dutch oven is one of the better skills I’ve learned for the outdoors. Though it takes a little money and time to use and preserve, Dutch ovens are a great way start summer and cook like a pro at the campsite.