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 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. You can cook directly over a campfire flame, cook with coals from a campfire or for more precise temperature control, use charcoal briquettes with proper dutch oven coal placement. Today that’s what we’ll focus on as the heat source. Psst we’re compensated…see our disclosures.
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. ¼ turn for the bottom (say clockwise) then ¼ 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 Camp 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 Camp Cooking 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 Dutch Oven Camp Cooking 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.
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
Typically you will find these oven sizes in these capacities: 8 Inch – Regular 2 Quarts, 10 Inch – Regular 4 Quarts, 10 Inch – Deep 5 Quarts, 12 Inch – Regular 6 Quarts, 12 Inch – Deep 8 Quarts, 14 Inch – Regular 8 Quarts, 14 Inch – Deep 10 Quarts, 16 Inch – Regular 12 Quarts.
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” Dutch oven x 2 = 24 coals total. Place 8 coals under the oven and 16 coals on the top of the lid.
One of the best Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips we have deals with timing. Your coals need to be ready at the time you want to begin cooking; this Rapidfire Chimney Starter is a great tool to keep you on track. 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” 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 Tips; 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.
More Tips For Dutch Oven Camp Cooking
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 Dutch Oven Camp Cooking 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.
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 Dutch Oven Camp Cooking 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 temperature control, maintaining a constant temperature in your Dutch oven becomes much more important … you don’t want your campsite cake to flop! Here is a handy chart to achieve a more precise temperature in your oven. Get more tips in our Dutch Oven Temperature Chart post!
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 but we’ll save those topics for another day.
No time to look for recipes, create a menu and write a grocery list? No Problem! Get our 3-Day Dutch Oven Camp Menu Plan here!
Get More Dutch Oven Recipes For Camping!
- Pizza Without a Phone?!?! camp recipes
- Dutch Oven Tomato and Avocado Frittata
- Lasagna in a Dutch oven camp recipe
- Drunken Meatballs Over Spaghetti from Camping For Foodies
- Chill-Fighter Chili camp recipes
- Forest Fire Shrimp Pasta, camping food recipes
- Bacon and Cheese Quiche camp recipes
- Thanksgiving Camp Meal Upper Crust Apple Pie with Camping For Foodies
- Caramel Nut Brownies camp recipes
- Cross-Country Move Berry Cobbler camp recipes
Check out our Camp Dutch Oven Accessories post for some of the coolest camp kitchen accessories on the planet!
We know every camp cooking experience does not turn out as planned and once in a while a camp cooking super hero swoops in to save the day … we like to celebrate such occasions with gag gifts like this When I Cook I Wear My Cape Backwards funny apron. After you get our Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips under your belt, we expect you will be the camp cook earning the super hero title!
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.
If you need camping recipes and menu ideas, you can find them here at the Camping For Foodies Camping Recipes list.
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