Dutch Oven Cooking
Cooking over a campfire is a great skill to practice now while it’s a leisurely way to spend the afternoon. Waiting until you are in a survival situation will probably take all the fun out of the experience. If you are lost in the woods, you probably won’t be lugging a Dutch oven around, but it’s one of those items that really should go on the list of equipment needed for your bug out location.
A Dutch oven allows you to fry, stew, sauté, or bake your food over a bed of hot coals. You can also use it on top of a wood stove, although it won’t heat the food on top as evenly. They are great for one dish meals, as well as breads and desert. You can cook most foods in a Dutch oven, but acidic foods will take on a metallic flavor, so I don’t recommend using it for foods like tomato sauce, fruits, or food containing a fair amount of vinegar, unless you put these foods into a non-reactive pan inside the Dutch oven.
Because Dutch ovens are made of cast iron, they need to be seasoned before using. Rub the whole pan with vegetable oil and wipe the outside off well. You can use your oven, a wood stove, or a campfire to heat the pan until the oil smokes. Leave it in the heat for a good 20 minutes longer and then remove carefully. When the pan is cool enough to handle, wipe the oil out well and store until you’re ready to start cooking. Every time you wash your cast iron pans, you should rub a bit of oil into the pan to keep it in good condition.
Choosing Your Dutch Oven
The best Dutch ovens will have 3 feet at their base, and the lid will be flat, have a rim around the outer edge and a handle for lifting the lid off the pot. My Dutch oven isn’t as fancy as all that. It doesn’t have any feet and the lid isn’t flat, nor does it have the rim. But it still does a great job, I just have to adjust my technique.
The reason for the feet is to hold the pot above the coals. I just set mine right on the bed of coals. The flat lid with the rim will allow you to shovel coals on top of the Dutch oven for more even cooking. I can put coals on top of my oven, but I find that it’s necessary to brush all of the coals off before lifting the lid to check on the food. If you can find a Dutch oven with all those features, I’d recommend getting it.
There are also different sizes of ovens available so think about how many people you will be cooking for and whether or not you want to bake bread or other goodies…this requires a larger size oven. You might want to have several different sizes on hand to allow you to cook more than one food at a time.
What You’ll Need
There are a few tools you’ll want, to make things go more smoothly. Before you build a fire, make sure you have these on hand:
- Dutch oven
- A tool for lifting the lid off the oven
- Potholders are a good idea
- Spoon with a long handle
- Shovel or tongs for moving coals
- Food for cooking
Build your fire ahead of time so that it has time to burn down to a nice bed of coals. You can use charcoal, but I like practicing with what I’ll have on hand if the fertilizer hits the fan…and charcoal is unlikely to be a plentiful resource. Since we heat with wood for the winter, there’s usually a good supply of firewood on hand. Besides, nothing smells better than a hot meal simmering over a wood fire!
Let’s Get Cooking!
So you’ve got your nice hot bed of coals and all of your tools ready to go. How does a big pot of beef and greens with dumplings sound? That’s what we had for dinner and I’ll show you how I made it.
Beef with Wild Greens and Dumplings
- 3 pounds stew meat, cut up
- Oil for browning
- 1 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- Green onions – 1 cup of chopped onions
- Wild greens – 6 cups of wild spinach (lamb’s quarters) you can substitute any greens you’ve got
- Fresh sage and cilantro, or whatever seasonings you like
- Biscuit dough for drop biscuits
Start by placing your Dutch oven on a bed of hot coals and give it a few minutes to heat up. When a drop of water sizzles in the oil, you’re ready to cook. Mix some salt and pepper in with the flour and dredge the meat in the flour mix. Spoon the meat into the hot oven and brown. Stir in the green onions, herbs, and wild spinach. Drop the biscuit dough by the spoonful on top of the greens. Put the lid back on and use the shovel to add hot coals on top of your Dutch oven. Leave the pot alone for about 30 to 40 minutes, then check to see if the biscuits are done baking. You might need to brush the coals off the top of the pot first.
People have been cooking delicious meals in Dutch ovens for ages. They were treasured by our forefathers and handed down from generation to generation. Talk about staying power! Buying a new Dutch oven these days will set you back a pretty penny, but it will last a lifetime, and then some. They are definitely worth the investment and you couldn’t ask for a more versatile cooking utensil for preparing your comfort foods today, or when the SHTF.