Dutch Ovens 101: The Necessary Accessories

As with any kitchen or wardrobe, accessories make all the difference. It is the same for Dutch oven cooking, especially if you want to cook outside and in some degree of comfort. Following is a gallery of items that I think are necessary for the Dutch oven chef. Be forewarned, Dutch oven cooking can be an expensive hobby, but many of these items are one-time purchases and should last a lifetime. This gallery is in no particular order or priority.

This cooking table, manufactured by Camp Chef, makes Dutch oven cooking easy on the back. No bending over campfires, fire pits or aluminum garbage can lids (yes, many people cook this way with their ovens). It is easy to assemble – the legs and wind guard come off – and can be toted in a durable vinyl grill bag.

The charcoal starter should be familiar to anyone who camps. It is an essential tool in Dutch oven cooking. Coals go in the top cylinder, newspaper is rolled into the bottom and lit. Coals take about 20 minutes to heat through this method.

Charcoal. I think this is an obvious one, but it is important to use a high quality type. Kingsford is the best – it holds the heat the longest and provides an even temperature.

Leather welding gloves – yes, that’s right – welding gloves. Cast iron gets HOT and you will feel the heat through your regular oven mitt. Cooking safely is fundamental and these heavy leather gloves will protect your hands. Welding gloves can be found at hardware stores or through Lodge and are relatively inexpensive.

A lighter, preferably one that is long. I keep four to five of these on hand because I never want be unable to light my fire. You know what I mean.

A metal trivet can be very versatile. I’ve used it as legs for my poultry roaster or a skillet so coals can be slid underneath. I’ve used it as a lid stand. It fits inside my oven in case I need to raise something, like a pizza, from the bottom to avoid burning. It’s my multi-tasker.

A metal lid stand can rest on the ground or on a table and gives you a clean place to rest your lid while cooking.

Lid lifters come in a number of varieties and sizes. They provide stability and safety when lifting a coal-covered lid from a hot Dutch oven.

Here I am, safely using my lid lifter.

An ample supply of newspaper is good to have on hand for lighting your fire. You know what I mean.

An external digital thermometer is a nice perk to have, especially if you are roasting meats that require a few hours or a specific temperature. This thermometer allows you to set your temperature and sounds an alarm when you reach it. You can find it at discount, grocery and department stores for under $20.

A kitchen timer is very helpful to keep you and your dish on track.

An ash bucket is essential when discarding your hot ashes. I purchased this metal bucket from a local Army Navy supply store for $10. I drilled holes into the top to alleviate any suction of the lid when the hot ashes are sealed in the bucket (otherwise you cannot get the lid off until the bucket completely cools). You can also use a heavy plastic paint bucket purchased at a home improvement store and fill it halfway with water, then dump in the ashes. One must be safe when playing with fire.

Wooden utensils are best when cooking with cast iron. They don’t scratch the surface like metal ones, won’t melt like plastic ones, and don’t get too hot to handle.

A variety of plastic scrapers of all shapes and sizes plus a soft-bristled scrub brush make cleaning your cast iron a lot easier and won’t damage the seasoned surface.

Lodge manufactures these nifty silicone hot handle holders which are ideal for cast iron skillets and griddles.

These silicone trivets provide a safe and ample surface to place your hot Dutch oven or skillet.

Plus I really like the pattern.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Dutch Ovens 101: Restoring Rusty Cast Iron.

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Dutch Ovens 101: Fuel and Temperature Control

Cast iron is designed to hold heat throughout the Dutch oven, and cooks evenly throughout the vessel. Regulating cooking temperatures is by far the hardest thing to master when learning to cook with a Dutch oven.

Kingsford charcoalFirst, choose your fuel well. High quality briquettes like Kingsford are the best, in my opinion. Kingsford’s briquettes are packed tighter, don’t pop and split, and burn longer than other brands. Kingsford charcoal generates heat for about an hour. Match Light charcoal burns hot very quickly and therefore, turns to ash faster. It is good to use to start a group of briquettes, but I would not use it exclusively as your cooking charcoal as you will go through a lot of it in a very short time.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that one briquette equals about 20 to 25 degrees F.

If you are converting a dish you have baked in your oven at home, the following conversion chart offers some guidelines for the number of briquettes.

Oven Temperatures to # of Coals
300 degrees = 12 to 15 coals
325 degrees = 13 to 17 coals
350 degrees = 14 to 18 coals
375 degrees = 15 to 19 coals
400 degrees = 16 to 20 coals
425 degrees = 17 to 22 coals
450 degrees = 18 to 23 coals
475 degrees = 19 to 24 coals

These are general conversions, but keep in mind that other factors like wind, hot and cold temperatures, humidity, and altitude can cause your dish to cook slower or faster, and you will need to adjust your number of coals accordingly. That’s the art and sometimes, tribulation, of Dutch oven cooking.

For cooking styles, just think about how you cook something on your kitchen range or oven at home and apply the same technique to your Dutch oven.

When roasting, you want equal heat on top and bottom.

When baking, you want more heat on top than the bottom, so a 1-to-3 ratio or  1 coal on the bottom to 3 coals on top should be used.

When stewing or simmering, a 4-to-1 ratio or 4 coals on the bottom to 1 coal on top should be used.

When frying or boiling, all the heat goes underneath.

For example, if you are baking at 300 degrees, you need a total of 12 to 15 coals. Place 5 to 6 coals on the bottom and 8 to 10 on top. (15 divided by 3 = 5; 5 coals on bottom, 10 on top. If using a deep-sided oven, add 2 to 4 extra coals to the top.)

Other ways to control your temperature while cooking is the placement of your coals. Arrange your coals in a checkerboard pattern beneath your oven and atop the lid, based on the ratio for your recipe or cooking temperature. The idea is to space them out equally to ensure even heat on both surfaces.

The Dutch oven in the foreground is a great example of arranging charcoals in a checkerboard pattern.

Avoiding Hot Spots

A good way to avoid “hot spots” is to rotate your oven a quarter turn every 15 minutes to maintain an even oven temperature. Rotate your lid a quarter turn in the opposite direction. When your briquettes turn to ash, replace them to maintain even heat and to avoid some areas from cooking slower than others.

Stacking your Dutch ovens when cooking works best for dishes that all need to be cooked at the same temperature.

Mastering temperature control takes some practice…just like everything in life. So, turn up the heat and get cooking!

Stay tuned for the next Dutch Ovens 101: The Necessary Accessories

Dutch Ovens 101: Tips for Getting Started

Often, when my Dutch oven group gathers for competitions, trainings and community events, we are asked many of the same questions by the general public.

How hard is it to cook in a Dutch oven?

What size oven should I start with?

How do I take care of one?

What’s the best kind of fuel to use?

What’s the best size for cooking a kangaroo? (just checking to see if you’re paying attention…)

Basically, how do I get started?

For some reason, this little black pot with three legs seems to intimidate a lot of people – even the most experienced of cooks. But I will tell you the same advice I was given when I first started and spouted out the same questions. Anything you can cook in your kitchen, you can cook in a Dutch oven.

Size matters

There are sooooo many different sizes of Dutch ovens in this world. Sizes range from eight to 24 inches in diameter and four to six inches deep. The lid is tight-fitting, has a lip around the edge and a handle in the center. For the beginner, I recommend the 12-inch deep oven, which has a capacity of eight quarts. This oven is the most versatile. You can cook anything in it…cobblers, breads, stews, roasts, vegetables. It is large enough to feed a family or leave a couple with a few days of leftovers. But not so big that you feel like you’re feeding the entire rodeo.

Italian sausage and peppers cooked in a 12-inch deep Dutch oven.

Mixed berry pie baked in a 12-inch deep Dutch oven.

Other sizes and what can be prepared in them.

This upside down pineapple cake was baked in a 10-inch shallow Dutch oven. Shallow-sided ovens are best for breads and cakes.

This margharita pizza was baked in a 16-inch Dutch oven. This size is great for pizzas, large meat dishes like tri tip, and feeding large groups.

Four tri tips can fit into a 16-inch Dutch oven.

Following is a chart that outlines oven sizes and their capacities.

Oven Sizes = Oven Capacity
8-inch = 2 quarts
10-inch = 4 quarts
12-inch shallow = 6 quarts
12-inch deep = 8 quarts
14-inch shallow = 8 quarts
14-inch deep = 10 quarts
16-inch = 12 quarts

Stay tuned for the next edition of Dutch Ovens 101:  Fuel and Temperature Control….

Tis the Season: Tips on How to Care for Your Dutch Oven (or any piece of cast iron)

Dutch Oven Turkey Roaster

Dutch Oven Turkey Roaster

Check out my new baby! Thanks to a lead from my friend Barb, I recently purchased this amazing 9.5-quart turkey/poultry roaster through eBay. From what I understand, these Dutch ovens are discontinued and hard to find, so I am very grateful that my friend was looking out for me. Thank you Barb!!!

Today, most cast iron cookware is sold pre-seasoned, which makes cooking life a lot easier (and a little less labor intensive). When I purchase a new piece of cookware, I still go through a seasoning process before I use it. This is also the same process I use every time I clean my cast iron after cooking.

Follow my tips to keep your cookware in top, seasoned condition so it will stand the test of time. If properly cared for, cast iron is built to last! It just requires a little TLC.

First, some don’ts:

Don’t ever put your cast iron in a dishwasher.

Don’t ever leave it to soak overnight in a sink of water. It will rust, leading to bigger problems.

Don’t clean it with dish soap (I know, the horrors!). Dish soap will remove the seasoning.

Cleaning Tips:

Clean your cast iron with hot water, even letting it sit over a stove top or grill on low heat, to cook off any food residue. Plastic scrapers, a soft bristle scrub brush and sponge with brillo pad help – just requires a little elbow grease. Finally, I use vinegar as a disinfectant and odor remover. Towel dry immediately after washing or let dry on the stove top, grill or in the oven on low heat.

vegetable shortening, paper towels

Seasoning Tips:

Many people have their preferred oil/shortening to apply to their cast iron. Vegetable shortening (Crisco) or any type of cooking oil (except peanut) is fine to use. I prefer vegetable shortening. I would not use a cooking spray, like Pam, as it tends to get tacky or sticky when cookware is stored.

paper towel with vegetable shortening

Take a paper towel and generously coat it with shortening.

Seasoning a Dutch Oven

Apply it to the surface of your cast iron and work it into the metal until the shortening is not visible and a nice gloss appears.

Seasoning a Dutch Oven

I apply it to all surfaces of my cookware – interior, exterior, lids.

That’s pretty much the process for seasoning. Repeat this process every time you clean your cast iron and it well maintain a beautiful glossy, non-stick surface for years.

Storage Tips:

Storing your cast iron correctly is crucial so it won’t go rancid. Cast iron requires a little air circulation.

Paper towels, Dutch Oven storage

Simply place some paper towels on the bottom of your cookware.

Dutch Oven with paper towels

Fold two paper towels in half and fold them over the sides of your cast iron pot.

Dutch Oven with paper towels

Place your lid on top. The folded towels create a tiny gap to allow air flow into and through your pot.

Cast iron skillets

Skillets can be stored with paper towels on the bottom and stacked.

DO NOT store your cast iron in a garage or outdoor shed where they may be susceptible to extreme temperature changes. Cast iron will crack in such situations.

I store my cast iron in my house – in cupboards and closets – in a fairly consistent temperature-controlled environment.

So that’s the scoop on how to care for your cast iron. Pretty simple, right?

Now I just have to figure out where to put this monster pot I just bought…