DUTCH OVEN COOKING TECHNIQUES
The Dutch oven is so popular because it is so versatile. Anything you can cook at home in your oven or stove you can cook with a Dutch oven. Since the average Dutch oven does not come equipped with a constant thermostat like your kitchen stove or oven you must exercise great care in controlling the -amount of heat. This is done by regulating the amount of coals you cook with on the top and bottom of the oven. Various types of cooking call for different placement of the coals.
The first thing you need to start is a good bed of coals. The most convenient method is to use charcoal briquettes. The are plentiful, easy to use, and provide a long lasting source of good heat. Wood coals are fine to use also. The method I prefer is lighting my coals in a charcoal starter chimney and using what I need and keeping the remainder in the chimney to ignite more briquettes to use as I need them. A good rule of thumb is to arrange the charcoals in a checkerboard pattern, leaving a 2 – inch square between them or a circle around the outer rim. Heat radiates from the outside in towards the center. The heat is regulated by adding or removing coals as needed. Because charcoal briquettes burn so hot is will be necessary to check your food often. Preheat your ovens.
Use the following guidelines for these types of cooking:
FRYING, BOILING, – The heat should all come from the bottom. Place coals under the oven as needed.
BAKING – The heat will usually be more from the top than the bottom. Use a 3 : 1 lid to bottom ratio for placing your coals. Check often and remove or replace coals as needed.
ROASTING – The heat source should be equally balanced between the top and bottom. Use a 1 : 1 lid to bottom ratio.
STEWING, SIMMERING – The majority of the heat should come form the bottom. Use a 4 : 1 bottom to lid ratio.
USING THE LID – Because the lid is shaped like a very shallow bowl when inverted it is ideal as a frying pan or griddle. Turn it upside down and place it directly on the coals. This is a great way to fry scrambled eggs or pancakes.
A common problem of inexperienced Dutch oven cooks is to overheat the oven by using too many coals. Cast-iron retains and distributes heat very well. Using to many coals to cook with would be like trying to cook everything in your oven at home with it turned on full blast. Use the minimum amount of coals to start with and add only as needed. Don’t make the mistake of using a lot of heat at the beginning to “get it started.” Since cast-iron retains heat so well you may not be able to ‘slow it down” once you “get it started.” Check your cooking often and make the necessary adjustments to control the heat.When cooking outdoors with a Dutch oven you have many options because of its versatility. You can cook directly in your fire ring atop the coals of your campfire. Another way to cook is to place a double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a level piece of cleared ground, spread your. hot coals on it and put the oven on the coals.
To avoid serving “burnt offerings,” though, follow the simple
“Rule of Three.”
Take the diameter of the oven (12 inches, for example) and subtract three (12–3=9) for the number of coals to place below the oven and add three (12+3=15) for the number of coals to place on the lid. This creates a temperature of about 325F / 163C degrees. There are charts and tables that give suggested numbers of coals for a specific temperature but the rule of three is the simplest method.
To increase the temperature by 25 / 4C degrees, place one coal on top of the oven and one below it. But weather will have an effect. If it’s hot, the oven will cook faster; if it’s cold, it will cook slower. Wind also dramatically affects the results of Dutch oven cooking.
Also influencing the result: the way you position the charcoal briquettes.
Make a ring of coals about the diameter of the oven’s bottom, placing one coal in the center. Set the oven on top of the coals and evenly place coals around the outside edge of the lid, with two coals in the center and one on each side of the handle. Hint: If you can smell your food cooking, you’d better check it regardless of the time suggested by the recipe. It’s probably done.
Some folks line their ovens with aluminum foil or purchase ready-made aluminum inserts to make cleanup easier. Will the aluminum hurt your oven? No. However, it will affect cooking time and evenness of heat, as well as alter the taste. Remember, keep your cast-iron pot well seasoned and cleanup will be a snap.
Store your ovens with the lid off or with a folded paper towel half-in/half-out of the oven with the lid on.