A ‘good ol’ cast iron Dutch oven is a must-have piece of cookware for experienced camp cooks, but mastering the art of using one for your camping recipes requires that you understand how to get the cooking and baking temperatures you need.
A camping Dutch oven, (there are home-use Dutch ovens too), is really just a big heavy pot with peg legs and a rimmed lid – but there is nothing simple about using one.
These Dutch oven cooking tips, and included heating chart, will give you the information you need to make great, (and easy), camping meals.
3 Types of Dutch Oven Cooking
There are 3 basic ways to use a Dutch oven. Each style works for different kinds of camping recipes.
- Tripod – Use a tripod to hang a Dutch oven directly over the campfire for fast direct heat from the flames, or slow cooking from the ambient heat of campfire coals. – Not for baking
- Fire Grate – Using the Dutch oven sitting on a fire grate over the campfire flames, or even directly on the campfire without a grate, will give you the fastest most intense heating. – Not for baking
- Hot Coals – Using hot coals for both cooking and baking with a Dutch oven is the most controllable type of cooking. You can cook slow or fast, and bake – just by adjusting the amount of coals or briquettes under and on your Dutch oven.
Dutch Ovens and Hot Coals
Using just the right amount of hot campfire coals or charcoal briquettes to get the cooking temperatures you want, is almost an art. An experienced campfire cook will ‘just know’ how many coals or briquettes to use, but for new Dutch oven users – the coals and briquettes heating chart below will help.
Note: In the chart, the numbers represent charcoal briquettes, so use your own judgment comparing the numbers to hot campfire coals. Also, the amounts are conservative, especially for the temps above 375 degrees. You will probably have to add more coals/briquettes after the initial warm-up. Also, the air temperature and wind conditions will also affect your coals/briquettes numbers.
- One charcoal briquette, or equally sized hot coal, will equate to approx. 15 – 25 degrees of heat on a fair camping day, (not real cold, rainy, or windy)
- Generally, to get a 350 degree inside-oven temperature the number of coals would be 2 times the Dutch oven diameter. e.g. 12″ oven = 24 briquettes. (use a little judgment here, sometimes more – sometimes less)
- For baking, put twice as many coals on top as under the bottom. For example if your heat range calls for 15 briquettes, then put 10 on top and 5 underneath. For simmering, reverse this with 2/3 of the briquettes underneath.
- For even heat, rotate oven and lid 90 degrees in opposite directions approx. half-way through recipe cooking time.
- Hot coal amounts are not a set-n-go thing, to maintain desired temperature you will need to replenish coals/briquettes as they burn down.
*Note – the shopping links below are my own Amazon affiliate links – which I only use to recommend good-quality camping gear – Gus
A good pair of campfire gloves is almost a must-have for campfire and Dutch oven cooking.
Here is a guide to some good choices for campfire cooking gloves.
Where to Buy The Camping Gear You Need:
The logical thought is your local camping and outdoor supply store. And that may be a good choice if you can catch a hot sale. But quality camping cookware and equipment can be pricey, – so go prepared, check online prices first so you have something to compare to.
Amazon.com is a good place to check. They are the most trusted marketplace online, their prices are usually better than anywhere else. Almost every item qualifies for Free shipping, (for purchases over $25), and their free 3 – 5 day standard shipping is almost always faster than that. Plus, their return policy is better and easier than Walmart’s.
Also, if they are available to you; yardsales, fleamarkets, and thrift stores can be good sources for camping cooking gear.
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Here are some examples of the camping equipment discussed above.
Even if you are not interested in buying now, these examples will give you an idea of the choices you have and the prices you can expect.
Tip: Another reason to check-out Amazon, – FREE standard shipping. Camping equipment can be heavy, and almost everything discussed here will ship for free if your purchase is over $25!
Notes and discussions:
Here are a few more pieces of camping gear you might be interested in:
You can make your own wax-based fire starters for outdoor camping, (and for fireplaces and deck fire pits), but fire starters like these on the right, by Coleman, are so inexpensive and easy to use that you’ll never use paper or tinder again for your campfires. Coleman Strike-a-Fire Fire Starters
Once you use a folding camp shovel, and discover all its uses around camp, you will wonder why you didn’t include one in your camp gear sooner. This sturdy but light-weight Coleman model is so compact it even fits in a 10″ carry-bag. Here are some of the models available: Folding Camp Shovel
More samples of other campfire cooking gear you can find on Amazon. Just like the fire starters, once you have one of these camp tools you will wonder how you ever did without it. Especially when you see how inexpensive they are when you buy them online.
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- Camping Gear – How to Pick a Campfire Cooking Grill
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- Campfire Cooking Checklist
- Camp Tools and Accessories Checklist
- Complete Tent Camping Checklist