It is easy to make great Dutch oven camping recipes when you have a few tricks up your sleeve! Using a Dutch oven temperature chart as a guide to achieve desired cooking temperatures is half the battle when cooking in the great outdoors!
How To Use A Dutch Oven Temperature Chart
Outdoor Dutch oven cooking is part art and part science … so, let’s discuss a few factors that affect Dutch oven temperature control.
Coals From Wood vs Charcoal
When I am using coals from firewood, I still use this chart to help me determine how many coals to use.
When I am doing that, I am using hardwood (in our area we have lots of oak and mesquite, in other parts, maple, alder, almond and pecan are popular choices) and I let the wood burn down to provide a coal that is about the same size as a charcoal briquette.
When I am really trying to maintain a very specific temperature (like when I am making temperamental baked goods) I prefer to use charcoal briquettes because of the consistency.
Charcoal Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal
Wood and wood byproducts are combined with additives then compacted to form briquettes resulting in chunks that have a uniform size and shape.
Natural wood pieces are charred to create lump charcoal resulting in chunks that have irregular sizes and shapes.
Generally speaking, charcoal briquettes burn cooler and slower than lump charcoal. Because of their uniform size and shape, they are easier to cook with because they produce a more even amount of heat and burn at a more even rate. Overall, briquettes perform more consistently than lump charcoal.
Cooking Method And Dutch Oven Coal Placement
Our Dutch Oven Temperature Chart is a general guideline indicating the number of charcoal briquettes required to produce a certain temperature for different sizes of Dutch ovens … and, if you don’t have one yet, we have help for you to answer the question, What size Dutch oven should I buy for camping?
Oven Size Persons Served
A general rule of thumb to determine the size of oven you need to feed the number of people you are serving:
|Oven Size||Persons Served|
|8-inch Dutch oven||1-2 people|
|10-inch Dutch oven||4-7 people|
|Standard 12-inch Dutch oven||12-14 people|
|Deep 12-inch Dutch oven||16-20 people|
|Standard 14-inch Dutch oven||16-20 people|
|Deep 14-inch Dutch oven||22-28 people|
The cooking method of your particular recipe will more specifically determine the placement of the briquettes.
Unless a recipe calls for something different, the typical coal placement under the oven is a circular pattern positioned so the ring of coals is completely tucked under the outside ring of the bottom of the oven. The coals placed on top of the lid are usually placed in a checkerboard pattern.
Divide the heat. 1:1 ratio with even coals on top and bottom
Divide the heat. 3:1 ratio with most coals on top
Simmering & Stewing
Divide the heat. 4:1 ratio with most coals on bottom
Frying & Boiling
Concentrate the heat. All coals on bottom
Coal Chart For Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
NOTE: This Dutch oven temp chart is based on using a cast iron Dutch oven. You will need to reduce the number of charcoal briquettes for aluminum Dutch ovens which we discuss below.
Some recipes don’t identify a specific temperature, they may require different levels of heat. In that case, use the following temperatures as a guideline:
|Temperature Level||Temperature Range|
|Slow||250-350 degrees F|
|Moderate||350-400 degrees F|
|Hot||400-450 degrees F|
|Very Hot||450-500 degrees F|
Factors Influencing Coal Count
Use this Dutch oven temperature chart as a guide only because weather, elevation and cooking methods all play big roles in outdoor Dutch oven cooking.
This is where the “art” part comes into play … you will need to adjust the number of charcoal briquettes for your particular situation. Consider these factors…
Wind And Dutch Oven Cooking Temperatures
Because it adds oxygen to the cooking environment, wind causes coals to burn faster and hotter.
It can also blow heat away from the oven so you need to use some sort of wind block around your Dutch oven when cooking in windy conditions.
You can create a shield with rocks, logs or even aluminum foil; it is even easier to use a Folding Camp Stove Windscreen or Camp Dutch Oven Cooking Table.
Lightweight Compact Folding Camp Stove Windscreen
Using a tool like this Lightweight Compact Folding Camp Stove Windscreen helps reduce the negative impact of the wind while cooking in your Dutch oven.
It has 9 panels that fold neatly in its storage case. It is made from aluminum keeping it lightweight for transporting.
The more you can reduce the impact of the wind, the more accurate the Dutch oven heat chart will be in producing the expected cooking temperature.
Also, Dutch oven accessories are great camping gift ideas for people who love cooking on their camping trips!
Lodge Camp Dutch Oven Cooking Table
The Lodge Camp Dutch Oven Cooking Table is nice because it allows you to stand while cooking and can accommodate two ovens at the same time.
The 3-sided attachable 12-inch-high windscreen protects your Dutch ovens while cooking in windy conditions. The legs fold for easy transportation and it has adjustable leveling feet.
Ground Temperature, Moisture And Dutch Oven Cooking Temperatures
As I said, a Dutch oven cooking chart is just a guide.
If you are cooking with your Dutch oven sitting directly on the ground, remember that moist cold ground steals heat and can extinguish your charcoal.
This is especially important when you are trying to maintain a precise temperature for baking things like these easy Dutch Oven Biscuits.
Maintain Even Heat For Baked Goods
Also, don’t forget to use a lid lifter to turn your lid and oven about one-quarter turn in opposite directions every 10-15 minutes to produce evenly baked goods.
Try this technique with pies, like my Upper Crust Apple Pie.
And cobblers, like my Dutch Oven Berry Cobbler.
And cakes, like my Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
And breads, like my Dutch Oven Cornbread.
And quiches, like my Bacon & Cheese Dutch Oven Quiche.
Camp Baking Tip: Use liners to easily lift baked goods out of your oven to cool, slice and serve. Heavy-duty foil works but I like making my own parchment paper liners for pennies. See how to use Dutch oven liners.
Air Temperature, Sunlight And Dutch Oven Cooking Temperatures
Heat is robbed from your Dutch oven by colder air temperatures, higher humidity levels and higher elevations.
On the flip side, direct sunlight can make a black cast iron Dutch oven heat up quickly.
Warm temperatures and direct sunlight may create conditions requiring less charcoal briquettes for your cooking … remember, the Dutch oven heat chart is just a guide so monitor your cooking conditions and adjust your coals accordingly.
Because we live and camp in Arizona with over 300 days of sunshine each year, we like cooking under the shade of our Camping Coleman Instant Canopy so we don’t have to worry about direct sun overheating our Dutch oven while we are cooking with it.
Camping Coleman Instant Canopy
We use our canopy for protection from rain and sun when cooking with our Dutch ovens.
You can set it up quickly and it comes with a wheeled carry bag for transportation. The framed canopy has a vented top which allows air to easily escape during windy conditions.
Altitude, Humidity And Dutch Oven Cooking Temperatures
In the winter, we camp at elevations around 2,000 feet above sea level and we don’t need to adjust much from our Dutch oven briquette chart.
In the summer, on the other hand, we camp in the mountains at elevations around 7,000 feet above sea level and have to add more charcoal to maintain the temperature in our Dutch oven heat chart. Why?
At higher elevations the air is thinner causing the need for more coals while cooking with the best Dutch oven for camping.
High humidity can cause issues when you are getting your charcoal briquettes lit too.
Both scenarios may require you use more charcoal to reach and maintain a desired temperature.
Tips For Lighting Charcoal
We use our Chimney Starter for lighting our charcoal briquettes quickly without lighter fluid. We just place the number of briquettes we need in the starter, place some wadded up newspaper under it and light the paper. The airflow created in the starter’s design gets your coals red hot in minutes. It’s almost magic!
Aluminum, Cast Iron And Dutch Oven Cooking Temperatures
The material your Dutch oven is made from makes a difference in heat requirements for cooking.
Our Dutch oven charcoal chart is designed for use with a heavy cast iron Dutch oven vs an aluminum Dutch oven. What’s the difference?
Aluminum Camp Dutch Ovens
Aluminum Camp Dutch Ovens are popular with people concerned about the weight of their equipment.
They weigh about 66% less than cast iron.
Aluminum ovens are rust-free, easy to clean and heat quickly.
They require approximately 25% less coals than cooking with Cast Iron Camp Dutch Ovens.
Cast Iron Camp Dutch Ovens
Cast Iron Camp Dutch Ovens heat more slowly but retain heat longer than aluminum.
They are the more traditional choice for camp cookware and they evenly distribute heat to cook food evenly.
Personally, we use cast iron Dutch ovens on our camping trips and have designed our Dutch oven charcoal temperature chart based on this more popular style.
We have more camping Dutch oven tips related to coal placement the you’ll want to see.
Food Doneness And Dutch Oven Cooking
Don’t rely solely on a Dutch oven cooking chart and food recipe instructions to determine when your food is cooked properly. Why?
Because Dutch oven cooking is a little more art than science, it is important to verify your food is up to temperature before you sit down to dig in … especially the internal temperature of meat!
If you are cooking after dark, make sure you have good campsite lights set up so you can visually inspect the food for doneness first.
When the food looks done, verify it is up to the proper temperature internally.
A food thermometer is an easy-to-use tool to check the temperature of your food; there are:
- More advanced
- Most sophisticated
Great Reader Comment From Loren:
Really quite a good article! As you note, many factors can influence cooking temperature and since that temperature is in a near constant state of flux, one shouldn’t get too crazy about trying to obtain/maintain some precise heat level. A few factors not mentioned that can be important are the temperature of the food items going into the Dutch, the starting temperature of the oven, and the amount of iron in the oven (eg. thin/thick-walled or cooking a 10″ cake in a 12″ oven). Any and all of these will dictate how much of your briquette heat potential is used up just bringing the oven/food up to cooking temperature. I generally don’t make any significant change in heat application when using an aluminum Dutch. They do shed heat much faster than cast iron so are more sensitive to wind and won’t hold food temperature as long when off heat.
Determining when something is done is a frequent question, especially when first learning to use a Dutch. In the absence of a thermometer, the following works pretty well:
1. if it doesn’t smell, it ain’t done
2. if it smell burnt, it is
3. if it smell done, it probably is or is nearly so
I want to give a big shout out to Loren … Thanks for sharing your tips with us Loren!
Accessories For Camp Oven Cooking
One of the most popular brands in outdoor cooking gear doesn’t stop at ovens! The Lodge Dutch oven accessories can be used with any brand of Dutch oven.
You can also find other brands of camp Dutch oven accessories that make camp cooking even more fun than it already is!
Maintaining Cast Iron Cookware
Proper cleaning and seasoning of cast iron cookware is important for this rugged yet delicate gear.
Dutch oven chili recipes are in almost all campfire cookbooks on the market. You can cook this classic campsite meal using a grate or tripod directly over your campfire ring. But, make sure you clean it properly after dinner because the acidic ingredients will wear-off the layer of seasoning in your oven. Vegetables like tomatoes (fresh or canned) deteriorate the smooth surface you build-up with proper cleaning, drying and oiling of cast iron.
Now that you have all of this knowledge about how much charcoal to use with your Dutch oven, it is time to do some cooking!