When you are making your Dutch oven camping recipes, do you know how to manage the cooking temperatures? Because cast iron Dutch ovens don’t have knobs, you need to use other methods during the camp cooking process for accurate Dutch oven temperature control … especially when you are baking recipes that require specific temperatures.
How Do You Regulate The Temperature On A Dutch Oven?
You basically have to add more heat or take heat away from your oven to “turn the invisible knob on your Dutch oven” to raise and lower the oven temperature.
There are different methods for adjusting temps depending on the heat source you are using. When you are camping you can provide heat to your Dutch oven through several different fuel types…
- campfire flames,
- campfire coals,
- charcoal briquettes,
- hardwood lump charcoal and
- propane stoves.
The Material In Your Dutch Oven Matters
We have an entire post dedicated to Stainless Steel Dutch Oven vs Cast Iron vs Aluminum so check it out for details regarding properties and outcomes of the three types. Generally speaking:
- Cast iron takes the longest to heat up and cool down.
- Stainless steel heats quicker and cools faster than cast iron but not as fast as aluminum.
- Aluminum is the fastest to heat and quickest to cool.
Heat From Propane Stoves
Placing your Dutch oven over a propane stove is the only heat source that has a knob to modify the fuel flow and regulate the temperature of the oven.
Many of our camp stove recipes are made in a Dutch oven … we use this method of cooking often when campfires and charcoal are prohibited during hot and dry wildfire seasons while we are camping without fire when restrictions are in place.
We actually cook and BAKE using our propane stove. Read my full blog post and watch the VIDEO to learn how use a Dutch oven dome and heat diffuser plate on a propane stove instead of baking with campfire coals or charcoal briquettes.
All of the other fuel sources require you to adjust the cooking temperature by moving the oven, moving the fuel or both.
Heat From Charcoal
How do you cook on a Dutch oven with charcoal?
Cooking with charcoal is awesome for any type of recipes that require stewing, roasting and especially for making Dutch oven baked goods because you can be much more precise with temperatures.
The best charcoal for Dutch oven cooking really is a personal preference.
When it comes to charcoal briquettes – vs – hardwood lump charcoal – vs – campfire coals, many camp cooks prefer charcoal briquettes because they are more uniform in size and density resulting in a more predictable temperature outcome.
Each charcoal briquette produces about 10 degrees of heat which is just one thing you will learn as we discuss more camping Dutch oven tips.
Smaller coals produce less heat than larger coals so when you are using hardwood lump charcoal or campfire coals you will get a more uneven heat which makes baking more difficult.
Need to increase the temperature of your oven? Increase the number of coals.
Need to decrease the temperature of your oven? Decrease the amount of coals.
Using Dutch oven temperature charts will help you determine…
- the number of briquettes for different oven sizes to maintain what temperature a Dutch oven cooks at,
- the ratio of coals that should be on top and bottom,
- an easy rule to calculate how to get 350 degrees in a Dutch oven depending on its size,
Ash Robs Heat
As the coals on top of the oven burn down, you should remove the ash from the lid because it robs heat from the oven.
If you need to reduce the heat, just pull coals away from the oven … if you need to increase heat, move the coals closer to the oven.
Placing the coals on top of the oven in a checkerboard pattern is a great way to create even heat. You can place coals directly under the oven or in a circular pattern around the outside of the oven.
Focus the heat when baked goods are not cooking evenly.
- For example … Let’s say you are making a cake or brownies and the outside edges are cooking faster than the center … just move the coals to the center of the oven … on top and bottom.
- You’ll speed up the cooking of the raw center and slow down the outside edges so the entire thing is done at the end of the cooking time.
How To Light Charcoal
The easiest way to light charcoal is to use a chimney starter. If you have never used one, check out our VIDEO to see how to use a charcoal chimney!
Heat From Campfires
Temperature management is most difficult when cooking directly over the flames of a campfire. I don’t recommend this option unless you are cooking something that does not need a precise temperature for cooking.
It is fine if you are boiling or simmering your food.
You can get physically burned if you are not careful when cooking over flames.
You want to avoid cooking with grease that has the ability to ignite too.
The easiest way to control cooking temperatures over campfire flames is by using a tripod.
How Do You Hang A Dutch Oven Over A Fire?
Make sure you are wearing heat-resistant gloves anytime you are working around a campfire. The Dutch oven is hung from the tripod with a chain and s-hooks.
Place your tripod over your fire pit so the legs are resting outside of the fire ring and the chain is hanging in the center, inside the fire ring.
There are two s-hooks. One hook attaches the chain to the top of the tripod where the three legs come together.
The other s-hook attaches to the end of the chain that is used to hang the Dutch oven over the fire by hooking it to the bail wire handle on the pot.
Ideally, you want the fire pit large enough so you are cooking on one side of the pit over hot embers and you are burning more wood on the other side of the pit that is creating more hot coals you can feed into the cooking area when you need more heat.
If your food is cooking too fast, you just raise the Dutch oven so it is further away from the flame to reduce the heat.
If your pot of food is heavy, it can be difficult to manage the chain with the Dutch oven hanging on it.
In that case, you need to remove the Dutch oven from the s-hook, lengthen or shorten the chain to move it closer or further away from the flames and then re-hang the Dutch oven on the s-hook.
Using Dutch Ovens Over Campfires With Grill Grates
If you are using a grill grate to hold the Dutch oven over the flames, you can turn up the heat by increasing the flames by adding more burning logs … or reduce the heat by removing burning logs from under the Dutch oven.
Our totally yummy campfire stew is one of our easy campfire recipes that we made using a tripod over our campfire.
Get more tips on campfire cooking before you even gather your tinder!
Types Of Cooking
Your recipe will dictate how and where you want to concentrate heat while cooking with your Dutch oven. Here are a few examples:
Sear, Bring To Boil & Simmer
When you make our super-popular Campfire Stew, you will be using several cooking techniques to make this fork-tender beef stew. All of the heat is generated below the bottom of the pot. You’ll start by searing the beef then adding other ingredients and increasing the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then, you’ll reduce the heat to simmer the pot for low, slow cooking making really tender meat.
Many dessert recipes require you to keep a consistent temperature surrounding the entire oven for baking. Our Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe starts with bottom heat to melt the butter in the pot, then you layer brown sugar, pineapple slices and the cake mix, place the lid on the top and continue the cooking process with coals above and below the oven to ensure even baking.
Pan frying & Baking
You’ll find some recipes that use the Dutch oven like stovetop cookware and transition to using it like a baking dish later in the process. Our Pesto Ricotta Pasta Bake (also called Lazy Man’s Lasagna) is a good example.
You start by frying the sausage, then you remove it from the pan and let it drain on paper towels. At that point, you are transitioning for the baking process. You’ll add pesto to the bottom of the oven, then layer on noodles, sausage, veggies, and 3 types of cheese, adding the lid and placing coals on top while maintaining some below the oven for even baking.
Universal Dutch Oven Temperature Manipulation
No matter which fuel source you choose, these tips will help you to control the temperature of your oven…
If you have “runaway heat” and the food is cooking way too fast, don’t be afraid to just take the Dutch oven off the heat entirely … let it cool a bit … then put it back over the heat.
When cooking liquids like soups, stews and chilis, it is easy to regulate the heat by simply stirring the food.
Avoid cold spots and hot spots by rotating the lid and pot in opposite directions about a 1/4 turn every 15 minutes or so to ensure even heating. The easiest way to rotate during cooking is by using a lid lifter. You hook it on the bail wire to turn the bottom pot and hook it through the handle on top of the lid to turn it.
The upwind side of the oven will be cooler … the downwind side will be hotter … so use a wind block for more even heating and be sure to rotate the lid and pot as we discussed above.
You can purchase Lodge Dutch oven accessories like cooking tables with wind screens to help block the wind when you are cooking but you can also just use some wadded-up aluminum foil or stacked firewood to create a barrier on the cheap.
More Dutch Oven Help
The diameter of the oven is just one thing to consider when deciding what Dutch oven size is the best for you.
Did you know you can build up a non-stick surface on your cast iron cooking gear? You can! And, if you are diligent about maintaining your cast iron cookware, your investment will last for generations.
Although a 12-inch cast iron Dutch oven is one of the most popular styles, it is not perfect for every camper. Get tips on how to decide which is the best oven material, size and style to fit your individual needs.
If you want to know every single aspect of camp cooking with Dutch ovens, you’ve gotta check out this information.
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