Learning how to cook with the dutch oven over the campfire will change the way you cook while camping.
Before we started cooking with our dutch oven, cooking was one of the most stressful things, especially when you’re cooking for a crowd. We brought small burners for cooking, but really, trying to cook a full meal on small burners was quite the right solution for us as a family.
Then one year I was gifted a cast iron dutch oven, with legs to stand in the fire. That dutch oven has the ability to hold charcoals on top of the lid, and it changes our camping cooking for good.
What is a dutch oven?
A dutch oven is much like a pot, but it’s very heavy, usually made of cast iron. It has a tight-fitting lid (or it should) that helps keep the heat and steam inside the oven while cooking. Dutch ovens can be used in a conventional oven or as in our case, over a campfire.
This is a guide for cooking in your dutch oven over the campfire, and therefore I will only talk about cast iron dutch ovens. There are different versions of dutch ovens that you can use in a conventional oven, those include clay dutch ovens and some are made from aluminum.
Dutch oven’s are very for versatile cooking on the campfire. You can use the Dutch oven as you would use a crock-pot at home. You can use the Dutch oven to bake bread – like we do in this crispy bread recipe. Your dutch oven can be used to make anything really. Using the bottom of the pan or turning the lid upside you can fry something in your dutch oven. The list goes on and on.
How to get started with dutch oven cooking
Once you get your hands on a dutch oven, you need to do a few things before you can cook with it for the first time. If it is brand new and from the store, there should be instructions with the dutch oven on how to get it ready for cooking with it. Always follow the instructions from the company that made the dutch oven. If you can’t find any instructions here are some things to remember:
- A dutch oven should always be cleaned in water and nothing else. When you use it and clean it a hard sponge will scrub off anything that would be left in the pan.
- After EVERY use, you should add a layer of oil to the pan. This protects the steel and makes it easy to cook with.
- You should always dry off excess oil – oil can spoil and ruin the experience of using the dutch oven.
- If your dutch oven is brand new – give it a generous layer of oil and heat the dutch oven in a conventional oven, at full power for about 30 minutes. This will allow the dutch oven to soak up all of the oil and leaves the surface easy to use. Repeat when needed.
Best dutch oven cooking tips
While I am crazy about dutch oven cooking, there are a few things that I have picked up to be helpful along the way:
Choose the right recipe to start
Am I all for the great videos about fancy cooking, and the great producers at Tasty make it look easy. And while dutch oven cooking doesn’t have to be hard, I would choose a simple recipe to start with and build from there. Choose recipes your family would enjoy. Our dutch oven pulled pork recipe or our crusty bread recipe would be good places to practice.
Mind the temperature
You can cook with regular firewood or charcoals when you cook in your dutch oven. When you start out, I would recommend cooking with charcoals.
It’s easier to control the temperature with charcoals. Add a piece of charcoal or remove a piece, is easier than it is to control the removal of firewood if you are just starting out.
Depending on the wood, the wood will burn at different temperatures and for different lengths of time.
Choose the right spot for cooking with your dutch oven
Make sure you have a place where it’s safe to cook with your dutch oven. You need to make sure that you place the dutch oven in a place where it will not catch fire. We always cook in our campfire pit, but there are people that cook on camp tables, such as this one from amazon. That will give you a more comfortable cooking height, and is definitely something I would invest in if I was going on trips where weight wasn’t an issue.
Have the right equipment
When we first got our dutch oven we made do with the equipment we have. But there are a few things that make it easier to cook.
A good dutch oven
For cooking with a dutch oven over a campfire, you do best with a good, sturdy cast iron dutch oven. I like to have one with legs underneath so that it’s steady while cooking. This one from Lodge can be found on Amazon. Remember to adjust the size to the needs of your family.
A good hook
A good hook that can lift the lid for you while you cook with your dutch oven. Look where you buy your dutch oven, because often when you buy your dutch oven you will get a hook as well. If it is not included, you need to look for something like this lid-lifter from Lodge.
Charcoal starter, or a bbq starter. If you are cooking with charcoals and don’t want to start a campfire, this is essential for you to do
Heat resilient gloves
Having gloves that will make it easier to take the dutch oven off the fire, without burning your hands. No matter what you cook you will need to look at it and make sure it’s not too warm/cold. Sometimes it’s easier to do this if you have your dutch oven away from the fire.
A good long spoon
To stir a pot is one thing but stirring a dutch oven, over a fire that is sometimes hard to get to – is different. I love having a good long spoon that can reach all the way around the dutch oven, without me burning my hands.
TIP: Make sure that all of the utensils you use in your dutch oven are made from wood or if you don’t have that, non-flamable materials. Plastic and silicone utensils will melt if you use them over the fire.
How to maintain your dutch oven.
Once you have used your dutch oven for cooking your meal, you need to rinse it out and prepare it for next time.
When it is cooled down so that you can handle it, clean it properly. For cast iron dutch ovens, I like to scrub them with a steel brush and hot water. Once it’s clean, I dry it off completely. When it is dry, I rub it with a natural tasting oil, both on the outside and on the inside. This maintains the great surface of the dutch oven. Make sure to dry off the excess oil with a paper towel.
Common questions about dutch oven cooking
Can I use a dutch oven on a campfire?
Yes, you can. If you choose a dutch oven with legs, you can place it straight into the fire, in your campfire. As explained above, it can be hard to control the temperature when you cook with just firewood. If you are a beginner at cooking over a fire, consider using some charcoals along with the firewood from your campfire.
Can I place a dutch oven directly into or next to a campfire?
If you buy a cast iron dutch oven made to use while camping, you can place it right in the flames of your campfire, yes. You can also place it right next to your campfire to have lower heat.
You do have to be aware of what you are cooking and how warm you want the dutch oven to be. I like to turn it around when I cook to make sure that I distribute the heat evenly.
How do I make bread in a dutch oven when camping?
Making bread while camping is one of our favorite things to do. It’s a brilliant way to raise the quality of the meal and to be honest we just love the slow cooking adventure of bread over a campfire. We usually use our bread roll recipe and then bake it slowly over the campfire. You can read our full guide to baking in a dutch oven here.