JOPLIN, Mo. —
Love camping but hate typical campfire food fare? You’re in luck. Cyndi Cogbill, of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Joplin office, said there is a way to prepare the same sort of dishes you would cook at home over an open fire. The secret, she said, is a Dutch oven.
“Anything you can cook in your oven at home can be cooked in a Dutch oven,” Cogbill told a group of novice outdoor cooks during a recent Dutch oven cooking clinic sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The Dutch ovens used for outdoor cooking, Cogbill said, are heavy, cast-iron pots with three legs on the bottom and a flanged lid. The legs allow room for coals to be placed under the Dutch oven and the flanged lid allows them to be placed on top of the pot. Those two heat sources are what put the “oven” into a Dutch oven.
Use charcoal to ‘set’ oven temperature
Although many traditionalists swear by coals directly from a campfire, the method taught by the Missouri Department of Conservation calls for charcoal briquettes. Using charcoal allows for a more controlled and consistent heat source -- so much that you can actually “set” the temperature on your Dutch oven by counting the briquettes, Cogbill said.
For example, using 23 charcoal briquettes -- 16 on top and 7 on the bottom -- will produce a temperature of 350 degrees. The cooking temperature can be adjusted up or down by adding or removing briquettes to the oven.
Diana Steele, also with the Missouri Department of Conservation, told the participants in the cooking seminar that generally there should be fewer briquettes underneath the Dutch oven than on top.
“If you have more heat on the bottom (of the Dutch oven) than on the top, you are going to burn (whatever you’re cooking),” she said.
The briquettes used in the cooking class were lit using a charcoal chimney. Once they turned white, they were dumped out onto round metal tins. The hot briquettes were transferred to the Dutch oven using long-handled tongs.
Dutch ovens are heavy, and they conduct and hold heat well, so it’s important to always wear heavy gloves. Cogbill recommends welder’s gloves for cooking.
Vegetables and other ingredients may be sauteed in the bottom of the Dutch oven. It’s also possible using a lid stand to flip the lid over, set it on the stand and, with charcoal placed underneath, use it as a frying pan.
When cooking in the bottom of the Dutch oven, it helps to line it with aluminum foil. Place a trivet under the foil to keep the ingredients from sitting directly on the bottom.
The cooking class offered by Cogbill and Steele dealt with Dutch oven desserts. Participants mixed the ingredients in a large bowl and then transferred them to the Dutch ovens.
Cogbill said there are a variety of Dutch ovens on the market, along with a host of cooking accessories. Among the Dutch oven brands out there, Cogbill said Lodge is probably the most popular. And, while Dutch ovens come in several sizes, the 12-inch model is the most common. A 12-inch Dutch oven typically will serve 12 to 14 people.
The following recipes were prepared during the Missouri Department of Conservation’s cooking class at the Walter Woods Conservation Center.