Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips

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. 

Camping Dutch Oven Tips From The Pros by CampingForFoodies

Psst we’re compensated…see our disclosures.

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.

Campfire Cook Like A Pro With Our Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips, master more precise temperature control, use proper coal placement and the right number of charcoal briquettes with our easy-to-follow Dutch oven temperature chart by CampingForFoodies

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.

Quick List Of Campfire Cook Like A Pro With Our Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips, master more precise temperature control, use proper coal placement and the right number of charcoal briquettes with our easy-to-follow Dutch oven temperature chart by CampingForFoodies

Turn It

Rotate the oven throughout the cooking time so everything cooks evenly.

1/4 turn for the bottom (say clockwise) then 1/4 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.

Lodge 16-Inch Lid LifterLodge 16-Inch Lid LifterLodge 16-Inch Lid Lifter

 

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!

Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven, 8 QuartLodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven, 8 QuartLodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven, 8 Quart

 

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.

Lodge Cast Iron Camp Dutch Oven, 6-QuartLodge Cast Iron Camp Dutch Oven, 6-QuartLodge Cast Iron Camp Dutch Oven, 6-Quart

 

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

Cast Iron Dutch Oven Size Capacities

8 Inch Classic2 Quarts8 Cups
10 Inch Classic4 Quarts16 Cups
10 Inch Deep5 Quarts20 Cups
12 Inch Classic6 Quarts24 Cups
12 Inch Deep8 Quarts32 Cups
14 Inch Classic8 Quarts32 Cups
14 Inch Deep10 Quarts40 Cups
16 Inch Classic12 Quarts48 Cups

If you are not sure how to answer the question, What size Dutch oven should I buy for camping, we can help you!

What Size Dutch Oven Should I Buy For Camping by CampingForFoodies features two sizes of cast iron camp Dutch ovens sitting on the ground in a forest covered with pine needles, rocks and ferns to show a comparison of the difference between a 10-inch and 12-inch Dutch oven with text over the image that reads what size to buy?

Dutch Oven Coal Placement Is Key

Camp Cooking Dutch Oven Easy 350 Degree Rule of Thumb for these Campfire Cook Like A Pro With Our Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips, master more precise temperature control, use proper coal placement and the right number of charcoal briquettes with our easy-to-follow Dutch oven temperature chart by CampingForFoodies

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.

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.

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.

Weber Rapidfire Chimney StarterWeber Rapidfire Chimney StarterWeber Rapidfire Chimney Starter

 

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

How many coals? Plus 4 and Minus 4 Rule of Thumb Dutch Oven Camp Cooking for these Campfire Cook Like A Pro With Our Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Tips, master more precise temperature control, use proper coal placement and the right number of charcoal briquettes with our easy-to-follow Dutch oven temperature chart by CampingForFoodies

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.

OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Stainless Steel Locking TongsOXO Good Grips 16-Inch Stainless Steel Locking TongsOXO Good Grips 16-Inch Stainless Steel Locking Tongs

 

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

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.

Rubbermaid Commercial 12 Inch Corn Whisk BroomRubbermaid Commercial 12 Inch Corn Whisk BroomRubbermaid Commercial 12 Inch Corn Whisk Broom

 

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.

Dutch Oven Temperature Chart For Baking Roasting Simmering And Frying by CampingForFoodies

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.

Camping For Foodies Flexible Cutting Mats with Retro RV Camper Trailer Theme Design, Set of 3. Fun Message. Camp, Hike, Cook, Drink, Eat, Repeat.Camping For Foodies Flexible Cutting Mats with Retro RV Camper Trailer Theme Design, Set of 3. Fun Message. Camp, Hike, Cook, Drink, Eat, Repeat.Camping For Foodies Flexible Cutting Mats with Retro RV Camper Trailer Theme Design, Set of 3. Fun Message. Camp, Hike, Cook, Drink, Eat, Repeat.

 

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!  

How To Maintain Dutch Oven Temperature Control When Camp Cooking by CampingForFoodies features a black cast iron camp Dutch oven sitting on the ground with charcoal briquettes on the lid and three firewood logs on the ground protecting the sides as a block from the wind with text over the image that reads temperature control.

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!

How To Use Dutch Oven Liners by CampingForFoodies features a cast iron camp Dutch oven lined with parchment paper and bread dough ready to be baked at the campsite with text over the image that reads how to use Dutch oven liners.

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.

Dutch Oven Temperature Chart - How Much Charcoal - Camping For Foodies com

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.

Camp Chef Dutch Oven DomeCamp Chef Dutch Oven DomeCamp Chef Dutch Oven Dome

 


I think it is time to make some easy campfire recipes to round out the afternoon … don’t you?

Over 20 Original CampingForFoodies Easy Campfire Recipes For Your Next Unique Camp Meal Plan

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!

Easy, Unique And Totally Delicious Camp Stove Recipes by CampingForFoodies. This is an image of a cast iron Dutch oven sitting on a propane gas stove on a table outside cooking at a campsite.

Cleaning Your Dutch Oven After Your Meal

Cleaning And Seasoning Cast Iron Dutch Oven Cookware - Camping For Foodies .com

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!

Coolest Camp Dutch Oven Accessories - Camping For Foodies .com

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.


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.


If you’re looking for awesome ideas for yummy camping food, you’re in the right place!

Camping Food With Easy Meal Ideas And Original Recipes by CampingForFoodies

Here’s our entire camping recipes list.

Get FREE camping tips and recipes emailed to you!

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6 Comments

  1. A Shoemaker says:

    This was such a helpful article. I have been avoiding buying a Dutch oven because I was not sure how exactly to heat it other than putting it over the fire and burning the bottom of whatever was cooking. This breaks it down and helps me understand the science of it. I am no longer intimidated by that cast-iron pot! I will purchase and plan a yummy menu for my next camp trip. 🙂

    1. I’m so excited you will be approaching Dutch oven cooking with confidence! Have fun on your next camp trip, I’d love to hear more when you get back!

  2. I enjoy using my camp stove or cooking directly over the fire, but I have recently discovered just how much I like using my dutch oven when cooking. Jalapeno Cheese bread, we promise you it is amazing.

    1. Hi Dyson, Jalapeno Cheese bread sounds amazing! Thanks for stopping by and we’d love to hear more about your camp cooking adventures!

  3. an excellent guide, one i use with my scouts. i add tips on cleaning {NO SOUP, coarse salt after boiling H2O only} 2 tier cooking in single oven {useing cast iron trivet to raise a baking pan to allow cooking two separate arts simultaneously}; lining or using raised baking pans for baking, for even-ness of bake and ease of removing.

    1. Hi TJ! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your added tips! I have never done 2 tier cooking in a single oven … but, now I have to try it. I always learn something from scouts who are the best camp chefs. Keep up the great work with your scouts and please tell them I said hello!

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