How to cook in a dutch oven

Use this handy cooking tool to simmer stews and bake warm treats like cinnamon rolls right in camp

Gather your gear

Thomas J. Story

Gather your gear

You need a camp dutch oven—one with feet and a flanged lid. Both the 4-qt. (10 in.) and 6-qt. (12 in.) sizes are useful. You also need long tongs; thick gloves; charcoal briquets (regular, not competition-style) and newspaper, a fire starter, and a charcoal chimney starter for lighting them; or a campfire with hot embers. (It's easier to control the heat with charcoal than with embers.) Then you need a cleared, fireproof area—a fire ring, if your campsite has one—or bricks, concrete, or sand with a double layer of heavy-duty foil set on top.

Prep the fire

Thomas J. Story

Prep the fire

If using charcoal, light 50 regular briquets in a chimney starter and burn until spotted gray, 15 minutes. If using a campfire, mound hot embers (2 to 3 qts.’ worth) to the side, clearing a level space the size of the dutch oven.

Arrange the coals: Method A

Thomas J. Story

Arrange the coals: Method A

Bottom heat cooking

For recipes where you want concentrated heat from underneath, for sautéing or making a quick meat dish, just use tongs to spread the coals into an even layer the size of the dutch oven and set the pot on top.

Arrange the coals: Method B

Thomas J. Story

Arrange the coals: Method B

Top and bottom heat cooking

For recipes like long-cooking stews, you need heat coming from top and bottom. Use tongs to arrange some of the coals in a circle a little smaller than the circumference of the dutch oven. Set the oven on top, then arrange the rest of the coals evenly over the lid.

Arrange the coals: Method C

Thomas J. Story

Arrange the coals: Method C

Baking

Here you need heat coming from top and bottom, arranged carefully for even browning. Use tongs to arrange some of the coals in a circle a little smaller than the circumference of the dutch oven. Set the oven on top, then arrange a single ring of coals on top of the lid, around the lip. Space a few more across the lid.

Check the food

Thomas J. Story

Check the food

To check food and temp, lift the lid occasionally by sliding tongs through the pot lid's ring and bracing them against the edge of the lid closest to you.

Tweak the temperature

Thomas J. Story

Tweak the temperature

To decrease heat, scrape away some fuel. To increase heat, or to cook longer than 45 minutes, add 5 to 6 new briquets to both the top and the bottom of the dutch oven (touching lit ones, so they’ll ignite) about every 30 minutes, or add wood embers. If briquets don't light, be ready to ignite them in the chimney.

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