There are two categories of Dutch oven cooking: indoor and outdoor. In days gone by, pioneers cooked outside over an open flame--that was basic Dutch oven cooking. The covered wagons are gone, but the theory and principal of this cooking style is the same.
Outdoor Dutch Ovens
Dutch ovens used for outdoor cooking are either made of cast iron or aluminum. The biggest advantage to the aluminum ones is that they're lightweight. This can also be a drawback when it comes to maintaining the temperature. Outside conditions like wind can cause a drop in temperature which alters the cooking time. Aluminum Dutch ovens are also easier to clean and require no prior curing or seasoning. Cast iron pots are most favored by outdoor cooking enthusiasts. Before you use these cookers, they must be seasoned or cured.
Curing and Caring For Cast Iron Cookers
- Rub inside of pot and lid with oil or fat.
- Turn pot upside down on foil inside an oven with the lid off to the side.
- Bake at 300-350° for an hour.
- This step can be repeated if necessary.
- Never wash with soap and water. Soap destroys the protective barrier created by curing.
Outdoor Cooking Tips
Outdoor Dutch oven cookers need a sturdy lid with raised edges to hold charcoal briquettes. The bottom of the pot should have three legs to offer the most stability. To figure the number of briquettes you need for cooking, multiply the diameter of the pot by two. For example, if you are using a 12 inch dutch oven, you would need 24 briquettes. This should give you a temperature of 325°. Avoid instant lighting charcoal because it burns too fast.
Briquettes placed under the oven should be arranged in a circular pattern, 1/2 inch from the edge. Briquettes placed on top of the lid should be arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Steam escaping around the lid indicates that the oven is too hot. Avoid bunching the coals as this can cause hot spots and burning. To prevent this, rotate your Dutch oven every fifteen minutes. Turn the pot 90°, then turn the lid 90° in the opposite direction.
Other than holding charcoal briquettes, Dutch oven lids can also be used as a griddle. Simply turn the lid upside down and place it over the hot coals.
Dutch Oven Cooking Techniques
Simmering - Place 1/3 of the charcoal on the lid and 2/3 under the pot.
Baking - 2/3 of the charcoal goes on top and 1/3 underneath.
Roasting - Spread even amount of coals on led and under the pot.
Frying and boiling - All coals are underneath.
Have hot pads or leather gloves, long handled tongs, and a lid lifter on hand.
Indoor Dutch Ovens
If you've ever purchased a set of pots, chances are a Dutch oven was included. They are available in stainless steel, ceramic, pottery, and enamel. Air circulates freely in these pots so they are a natural for even heat distribution, rendering less expensive cuts of meat tender and juicy. Soups and stews cook up perfectly in them as well. Many a cook has also come to appreciate their size (the average is 6 quarts). Before the advent of the Fry Daddy and other electric fryers, Dutch ovens were often used for deep frying because of their large size.
The following sites are good resources for shopping and additional information on Dutch oven cooking. .