When you are making Dutch oven camping recipes, you can cook directly over a camp stove or a campfire flame, cook with coals from a campfire or for more precise temperature control, use charcoal briquettes. Today our camping Dutch oven tips will focus on coal placement as the heat source.
In This Post:
Pro Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips!
Sure, RVs have amazing state-of-the-art kitchens with awesome stoves and ovens but sometimes you just gotta be OUTSIDE while you’re in the great outdoors on your camping trips!
Cooking in a cast iron Dutch oven at your campsite allows you to get a dose of vitamin D, cook a camping food feast fit for your favorite foodies … all at the same time that you are smelling the fresh pines and hanging out with your friends in the wilderness.
Keep The Dutch Oven Off The Ground
- The colder and wetter the ground is, the more it will steal heat away from your Dutch oven.
- To avoid heating the ground instead of your food, place a fireproof barrier between the ground and your bottom coals.
- I like to use a cast iron griddle for this; old cookie sheets work too.
- Rotate the oven throughout the cooking time so everything cooks evenly.
- 1/4 turn for the bottom (say clockwise) then a quarter turn in the opposite direction for the lid (this would be counterclockwise.)
- I like using a lid-lifter for this process but you can also use heat-resistant gloves or another favorite flameproof tool.
Keeping it rotating is simple to do but one of the easy-to-forget Dutch Oven cooking tips.
- No matter how much you try to evenly disperse the coals, it is still possible to get “hot” and “cold” spots when cooking with a Dutch oven.
- The easiest way to accomplish the rotation for even cooking is to use a lid lifter.
- This is a deluxe model Dutch oven lid lifter made from heavy duty steel and has really nice comfort grip handles.
Keep It Cooking
- If you are cooking something that takes a longer period of time, you will have to add coals throughout the cooking process.
- Don’t wait for your coals to go out before starting the next batch!
- Anticipate that you will need to add coals about every hour or so depending on a few factors.
- If you have a fast-burning charcoal (usually the cheaper stuff) and if you have windy conditions, you will need to add coals sooner than if you have the opposite conditions.
Deep vs. Shallow Dutch Ovens
- Why are there two types of depth in Dutch ovens?
- Because sometimes you cook and other times you bake!
Our list of Dutch oven tips would not be complete without mentioning that different types of cooking require different types of equipment.
Are you cooking or baking?
You have different types of cooking needs depending on your answer to that question.
A deep-sided Dutch oven is designed to cook things that need more room like meats, soups, stews and veggies.
For the bakers in the crowd, our list of tips highlights the difference between cooking and baking.
A regular-sided Dutch oven (in contrast to a deep-sided Dutch oven) is designed more for baking; they are sometimes called “bread” ovens.
- With the lid closer to the food, the baked goods will brown evenly on the top and bottom.
- If you try to bake in a deep-sided Dutch oven it will be more difficult to get the top of your food browned before you burn the bottom.
We have easy bread recipes you should try on your next trip!
This Dutch oven cinnamon bread camping recipe is a sweet option that is great for breakfast or dessert.
And, our Dutch oven bread camping recipe is a savory variety that requires minimal kneading and no yeast!
Dutch Oven Size Matters
The size of your Dutch oven determines how much fuel you need to maintain a particular temperature.
It also determines how much food you can cook and is really important when baking things like cakes and breads.
Dutch Oven Typical Sizes And Capacities
The size of the Dutch oven determines the cooking capacity. Notice that the diameter of the Dutch oven combined with the height of its wall make up the total size of the oven’s cooking capacity. The following chart displays capacities for the most common sizes of camping cast iron and aluminum Dutch ovens.
Cast Iron Dutch Oven Size Capacities
|8 Inch Classic||2 Quarts||8 Cups|
|10 Inch Classic||4 Quarts||16 Cups|
|10 Inch Deep||5 Quarts||20 Cups|
|12 Inch Classic||6 Quarts||24 Cups|
|12 Inch Deep||8 Quarts||32 Cups|
|14 Inch Classic||8 Quarts||32 Cups|
|14 Inch Deep||10 Quarts||40 Cups|
|16 Inch Classic||12 Quarts||48 Cups|
If you are not sure how to answer the question, What size Dutch oven should I buy for camping, we can help you!
Dutch Oven Coal Placement Is Key
Camp Cooking Dutch Oven 350 Degree Easy Rule Of Thumb
Lots of recipes are cooked at a standard temperature of 350 degrees.
So, if you don’t have a temperature chart with you at your campsite, here is an easy rule of thumb that will help you achieve that temperature.
- Take the size of your Dutch oven in inches and multiply by 2 to get the total number of coals for cooking …
- then for the coal placement …
- set 1/3 of the coals under the oven and 2/3 of the coals on the top of the oven lid.
Here’s the math for a 12” Dutch oven
12-inch oven x 2 = 24 coals total. Place 8 coals under the oven and 16 coals on the top of the lid.
The best Dutch oven for camping is only as good as the person operating it. One of the most important tips we have deals with timing.
This thing starts your charcoal briquettes quickly without the need for lighter fluid.
We “load” the starter in advance by counting the number of briquettes required for the particular camp recipe, put them in the hopper and put a bit of wadded up newspaper at the bottom of the starter.
Just before we are ready to cook, a simple strike of a match will light the newspaper and get the charcoal going quickly and evenly.
Dutch Oven Charcoal Placement Tips For Less Precise Temperatures
If you don’t need to maintain a specific temperature, you can just “heat the oven” and cook.
When you do this you can use the “Plus 4 and Minus 4 Rule of Thumb” which means you take the size of your Dutch oven in inches and add 4 to get the number of coals for the top of your oven (Example: A 12-inch Dutch oven + 4 = 16 coals on top of the oven) and subtract 4 to get the number of coals for the bottom of your oven (Example: A 12” Dutch oven – 4 = 8 coals on bottom of the oven. A total of 24 coals are needed for a 12” Dutch oven).
Here’s the math and coal placement for a 10” Dutch oven
10” Dutch oven
10 + 4 = 14 coals on top
10 – 4 = 6 coals on bottom
20 coals total needed for 10” Dutch oven
You can see that charcoal distribution is an important part of our Dutch oven camp cooking; you need to evenly distribute the coals in order to uniformly disperse the heat around the oven to cook your food properly.
Using long BBQ tongs like these OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs allows you to easily maneuver the hot coals.
We love the soft, non-slip handles and the locking mechanism for easy storage.
Best Charcoal For Dutch Oven Cooking
You have a choice when it comes to the type of hot charcoal you want to use when cooking your Dutch oven recipes. Let’s talk about the differences between using:
- Charcoal briquettes
- Lump charcoal
- Hardwood campfire embers
As a general rule of thumb, charcoal briquettes produce the most uniform heat which is important when baking. Their standardized shape and size makes them light and burn evenly.
Because they produce a more even amount of heat, briquettes provide the best results when baking things like biscuits, cakes, pies and main dishes like lasagna, chicken pot pie, hobo casserole and baked eggs.
A great way to make cleanup easy when baking in a camp-style Dutch oven is to use a parchment paper liner. If you’ve never experienced these disposable cooking utensils, watch our VIDEO to learn how to use Dutch oven liners and make your own for pennies!
Briquettes tend to burn cooler and slower than lump charcoal, but, if you have a long, slow cooker recipe, one of the easiest ways to keep a supply of fresh coals is to use a charcoal chimney starter so you can quickly and efficiently light the next batch.
Get our detailed instructions and watch our VIDEO to learn how to use a charcoal chimney.
Natural wood pieces are charred to create lump hardwood charcoal, that’s why the pieces have different sizes and shapes.
Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster than briquettes making it great for frying and boiling. Consider using this when frying bacon and sausage in recipes like tacos and spaghetti sauce and when you need to boil pasta for things like mac & cheese.
Hardwood Campfire Embers
When you are having a wood fire in your camp fire pit burning hardwood like oak, mesquite, maple, alder, almond or pecan, you have a great source of heat for your body and for campfire cooking.
Campfire embers are great for recipes that are slow cooked over long periods of time. It’s easy to feed the fire and continuously make more coals for cooking things like slow-cooked ribs and long-simmering chili, soup, stew and gumbo.
I like using cast iron pots, pans and Dutch ovens when cooking over an open fire because they are designed to handle the heat and grit produced by a campfire. And, they’re black so they won’t discolor like aluminum or steel gear.
When I’m baking with wood embers, I wait for the wood pieces to break and burn down to be about the same size as a charcoal briquette. I will usually pull the coals out of the fire ring so I can place the proper amount of coals below the bottom of the Dutch oven and on top of the lid.
Controlling the cooking temperature is much easier outside of the campfire ring than it is inside it because you don’t have the campfire heating the closest side of the Dutch oven while the opposite side of the oven does not have that additional heat. You should never intentionally create cold and hot spots by uneven heat distribution.
For recipes that are fried, boiled and simmered, I place my Dutch oven on a campfire grate or hang it from its bail wire handle using a tripod above hot coals. This is nice when cooking things like soup, stew and chili. For ovens with flat bottoms, placing tripods in fire pits is the best option.
More Tips For Dutch Oven Camp Cooking
These extra tips will make your camp Dutch oven cooking soooooooooooo much easier!
How Much Heat Comes from a Coal?
Each charcoal briquette produces about 10 degrees of heat.
Do Ashes Add Heat?
Ashes actually reduce the efficiency of the coals so be sure to remove the ashes throughout your cooking time.
This is really important when you are slow cooking a camp meal and adding new coals throughout the day (like when you are doing slow-cooked Camping Dutch Oven BBQ Ribs, for example.)
We’ve been told that one of the most surprising tips is that ashes actually rob heat from your oven.
In order to maintain the most efficient cooking environment, use a whisk broom to remove the ashes during the cooking process.
It is easiest to use BBQ tongs to remove the hot coals and place them off to the side, brush the ashes away from the oven and then bring the hot coals back placing them evenly around the oven to continue the cooking of your camp meal.
Do More Coals Go On Top Or Bottom?
It’s a physics thing!
- Just remember that heat rises so it makes sense that you need less coals on the bottom and more coals on the top.
- The heat rises from the coals on the top of the oven into the atmosphere rather than downward into the oven.
- Using 1/3 of the coals on the bottom and 2/3 of the coals on top works great.
- But, if you are trying to accomplish a particular type of cooking method, you might need a different coal pattern like we talk about in our with our Dutch oven temperature chart.
Circle The Coals
On the top and bottom of the oven, spread the coals out evenly in a circular pattern around the outer edges of the oven.
This is a bit more of an art than science so watch your food as it cooks and move the coals around if an area seems like it needs more or less heat.
Your goal is for even distribution of the heat so you get even cooking of your meal.
To keep our camp dinner plans running smoothly we share duties with our whole camp clan.
That means our tips include responsibilities for prepping the food as well as the charcoal.
If one person is chopping veggies at the same time that another person is getting the charcoal ready, the camp cooking experience is fun and stress-free.
And, food prep is way more fun when you are using cute camp-themed utensils like these flexible cutting mats with a Dutch oven cooking over a campfire.
Camp Cooking vs. Baking In A Dutch Oven
Cooking and baking are not created equally. I say cooking is more of an art while baking is more of a science.
Because baking requires precise temperatures, maintaining Dutch oven temperature control becomes much more important … you don’t want your campsite cake to flop!
The best way to place the coals for baking is to use a checkerboard pattern so you don’t have a “center coal”. If you do have one coal in the center, even if you properly rotate the lid and oven during the baking process, the center of the oven will have constant heat causing it to cook faster than the other parts of the oven that are getting rotated. This will cause the center to burn before the rest of the pot is finished baking.
Baking With Dutch Oven Liners
It is really nice to use liners when you are baking because you can lift your baked good right out of the oven to cool.
If you don’t know how to use Dutch oven liners, you will be really happy after you learn!
Our Dutch oven temperature chart will help you determine the number of coals you need to use for the specific size of oven you are using to generate a particular number of degrees inside your oven.
How To Use A Dutch Oven Dome
You certainly can use a Dutch oven over a campfire with a tripod, on a gas stove or inside a gas oven … you can even turn the thing into a convection oven by using a heat diffuser and dome.
This equipment is used with propane camp stoves. The first thing you do is place the heat diffuser plate over the camp stove burner. Then place the Dutch oven on the plate, cover with its lid and place the dome over that. Turn on the burner and you’re able to bake just like you do in a home oven.
The heat is evenly transferred under the bottom of the oven, up the side walls and routed over the top lid to create a hot oven. You can see the process in action in my Swedish Oven Pancake VIDEO.
I think it is time to make some easy campfire recipes to round out the afternoon … don’t you?
And, if you are camping during a time of campfire and charcoal restrictions (which happens to us more that we’d like because we live in Arizona), you can always use camping propane as your fuel source.
Make sure you try these yummy camp stove recipes … many of them can be made in a cast iron camp Dutch oven right on your stovetop!
Cleaning Your Dutch Oven After Your Meal
Your Dutch oven cookware will last for generations if you treat it properly. It is rugged enough to stand the heat of a campfire but it is “weak” when it comes to soap and rust.
I have to admit, I’m a bit germaphobic so not using soap in my camp cooking equipment was not easy for me when I first starting cooking with my camp Dutch oven.
Luckily … for the sake of my cast iron camp cookware … I got over it!
My Cleaning And Seasoning Cast Iron Dutch Oven Cookware post will teach you 4 Easy Steps For Cleaning And Seasoning Cast Iron Dutch Oven Cookware!
Check out our Dutch Oven Accessories post for some of the coolest camp kitchen accessories on the planet!
The History Of Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron has been a favored cooking tool for over two thousand years!
Cauldrons and cooking pots were loved because of durability and ability to retain heat.
Cooking over a campfire is nothing new… in the middle of the 19th century it was common to cook meals in a hearth or fireplace.
Find more interesting facts on the history of cast iron cookware here.
Different Materials Used To Make Dutch Ovens
Cast iron is the most widely used material for camp ovens, but, it’s not the only option available. See our post that discusses the differences between Stainless Steel Dutch Oven vs Cast Iron vs Aluminum to learn more.
Dutch Oven Organizations
Dutch oven cooking is not just for camping!
Many people enjoy cooking in competitions across the country.
The International Dutch Oven Society is an organization devoted to pursuing , promoting and protecting the art of Dutch oven cooking.
They have a Sanctioned Cook-Off Calendar and educational resources too.
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