Dutch oven cooking
Dutch Ovens can be used for a number of different cooking methods (boiling, stewing, frying, roasting and baking).
What to look for when buying a Dutch oven
The bail handle: It should be of heavy gauge wire and securely attached to the moulded tangs on the side of the oven. Ovens that have riveted tags should be avoided. Most oven handles will lie down against the side of the oven in both directions, but there are ovens available that allow the handle to stand up at 45 degrees on one side, which allows you easier access to it when positioning or removing the oven form the fire
The handle on the lid: It should be a loop attached to the lid on both ends and hollow in the centre allowing it to be easily hooked. Stay away from ones that have a moulded solid tab on the lid for the handle, as they are very difficult to grasp and manage with a load of coals. The loop style offers much more control.
Lip on the lid: Check that the lid has a lip or ridge around the outer edge. The lip keeps the coals from sliding off of the lid and into the food.
Legs: For outdoor cooking, it is nice to have a Dutch oven that has legs as they help to maintain the height of the oven above the ground, allowing air for the coals underneath. However, flat bottom Dutch ovens, which are commonly used on camps, can be set up on rocks.
Aluminium vs cast iron
Preparation / Seasoning of your Dutch oven
It is most important to "season" your Dutch Oven before you use it. This simple process also helps prevent the cast iron from rusting, as does the proper cleaning method.
Wash well with soap and water. Some ovens are shipped with a protective coating and simple washing will remove it.
- All quality ovens are shipped with a protective coating that MUST be removed. This will require a good scrubbing with steel wool and some elbow grease. Once removed, the oven needs to be rinsed well, towel dried and left to air dry.
- Preheat your kitchen oven to 180 C.
- Place the dry Dutch oven on the centre rack, of the conventional oven, with it's lid ajar. Allow the Dutch oven to warm slowly so that it is barely too hot to handle with bare hands. This pre-heating does two things: It drives any remaining moisture out of the metal and it opens the pores of the metal.
- Using a clean rag or paper towel, apply a thin layer of salt-free cooking oil. Make sure the oil covers every inch of the oven, inside and out.
- Replace the Dutch oven onto the centre shelf of the conventional oven, with the lid ajar. Bake for about an hour. This baking hardens the oil into a protective coating over the metal.
- Allow the oven to cool slowly. When it is cool enough to be handled, apply another thin coating of oil.
- Repeat the baking and cooling process.
- Apply a 3rd coating of oil and repeat the baking and cooling process, but allow the Dutch oven to cool completely now.
- It should have had three layers of oil, two baked on and one applied when it was warm. It is now ready to use or store.
The pre-treatment procedure only needs to be done once, unless rust forms or the coating is damaged in storage. This process is known as seasoning or sweetening your Dutch oven.
Why do we do the pre-treatment coating on Dutch ovens?
- It forms a barrier between moisture in the air and the surface of the metal. This effectively prevents the metal from rusting.
- It provides a non-stock coating on the inside of the oven. When properly maintained, this coating is as non-stick as most of the commercially applied coatings.
Cleaning a Dutch oven
The cleaning is the same as for ordinary pots and pans. Use soap and water and scrub as usual for your other pans.
There are two steps to cleaning cast iron. First, food is removed and second, maintenance of the coating.
- To remove the stuck-on food, place some warm clean water in the oven and heat until almost boiling.
- Using a plastic mesh scrubber or coarse sponge and 'NO SOAP, gently break loose the food and wipe away. Rinse with clean warm water. Allow to air dry.
- Heat over the fire just until it is hot to touch. Apply a thin coating of oil to the inside of the oven and the underside of the lid. Allow the oven to cool completely. The outside will need little attention other than a good wipe down unless you see signs of rust forming.
DO NOT USE SOAP as its flavour will get into the pores of the metal and will taint the flavour of your next meal.
- Never allow cast iron to sit in water or allow water to stand in or on it. It will rust despite a good coating.
- Never use soap on cast iron. The soap will get in to the pores of the metal and won't come out very easily, but will return to taint your next meal. If soap is used the oven should be put through the pre-treatment procedure, including the removal of the present coating.
- Do not place an empty cast iron pan on or over a hot fire. Aluminium and many other metals can tolerate it better but cast iron can crack or warp.
- Do not get in a hurry to heat cast iron; you will end up with burnt food or a damaged oven.
- Never put cold liquids into a very hot cast iron oven. It will crack on the spot.
The heat source should come from the top and bottom, equally. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1:1 ratio.
Usually done with more heat from the top than from the bottom. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1:3 ratio, having more on the lid.
All the heat should come from the bottom. Coals will be placed under the oven only.
Almost all the heat should come from the bottom. Place the coals under and on top of the oven at a 4:1 ration, with more underneath than on the lid.
The lid can be placed on the fire upside down and used as a skillet or a griddle. Using the lid in this fashion, you can make virtually error free pancakes and eggs that don't run over at all. This is because most lids are shaped like a very shallow bowl so things naturally stay in the centre, even if the lid is not centre.
Some common errors
- Lifting the lids of the oven during critical rising periods of pastries, cheese puffs etc. Rather leave the item for at least 75% of the recommended cooking time before taking a quick peep.
- More than one person adding spices, water etc. A good rule for cooking is that only one person supervises the cooking of any dish.
- Leaving the Dutch oven on the fire after removing the food - you should rather pour warm water, with some salt, in to cover the dirty area.
Dutch Oven Recipes
The best way to get to know your Dutch oven better is to use it more often. Try out some of these recipes at home or even on camp.