How to Prevent Dutch Oven Cooking Disasters

This summer I've been on a quest to learn how to cook in a Dutch oven.

The process has been more challenging than I expected. I've ruined meals. I've burned dinner onto the bottom of the cast iron pot. I've wasted food, and I've learned that using a Dutch oven - that large cast iron cooking pot you've seen perhaps in your grandparents' kitchen - is more art than science.

But, I think I'm finally getting it figured out.dutchoven815RebeccaWalsh_jacko

Here are a few things that I've learned along the way.

• Cook your first meal in the backyard. I dug a pit for my Dutch oven in the far corner of my yard and practiced there until I felt like I could do a good enough job to actually cook at camp. I figured I could always order take out if I messed dinner up at home. That's not so easy to do from a campsite.

• An improperly seasoned Dutch oven will set you up for failure from the start. Most people season their Dutch oven by washing off the factory wax and coating the it with a light layer of vegetable oil, shortening or even lard and baking it in the oven for an hour or two at a very low temperature. I made the mistake of thinking one round of this would properly season my pan. Wrong. Food stuck to the bottom of a Dutch oven is really no fun to clean.

• The appropriate amount of charcoal briquettes is an essential part of cooking at the appropriate heat for the correct amount of time. The general rule of thumb is that each briquette will give off 10-15 degrees of heat. To figure out how many briquettes to use, it's recommended that you take the size of your Dutch oven in inches, double that number and then use that number of briquettes. Depending on what you are cooking you might place more briquettes on the lid of your dutch oven or underneath it. For me, figuring out this equation continues to be the trickiest part of this style of cooking.

• It's important to rotate the Dutch oven and the lid frequently. This will ensure food cooks evenly. This is easy to monitor at a campsite since people tend to convene around the campfire. But when my Dutch oven is cooking in the backyard, I tend to forget this part. I set the alarm on my phone.

• The proper tools can make Dutch oven cooking easy. I like to use a large pair of tongs to move coals around, a wooden spoon and spatula to stir food without damaging the pan I've worked hard to season, a lid lifter and a thick pair of leather gloves to prevent burns. (Make sure to add these items to your camping checklist when you move from backyard cooking to camp cooking.)

Have you cooked with a Dutch oven? What tools and tips do you recommend to prevent Dutch oven cooking disasters?
Rebecca Walsh
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Rebecca Walsh
Blogger at Just Trails
Rebecca Walsh is a crazy hiking Mom who hauls her two young children up and down mountains almost daily. She runs the website, Just Trails, with her husband and writes trail guides for Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado. (Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.)
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