When I attended the National Dutch Oven Gathering (NDOG) in June 2018, the only Dutch oven I knew was the deep, enameled pot I associated with my mother’s stovetop. When I arrived at the event, however, I learned about an entirely new piece of equipment with the exact same name. Perhaps more correctly called a “camp Dutch oven,” this pot is the cooking tool of choice for participants at NDOGs, as well as local and regional Dutch Oven Gatherings.
Cast-iron (sometimes aluminum), flat-bottomed, three-legged, and topped with a flattened lid that has a rim around the edge, camp Dutch ovens are made to be settled over coals when the convenience of a stove isn’t available — or isn’t wanted. The flat, raised bottom allows for coals to be set underneath it, while the rim on the lid keeps coals set on top from rolling off. This method of heating is precise; the number of coals and the way they’re arranged around the Dutch oven results in different cooking temperatures, and even different cooking methods, from baking and roasting to frying and simmering.
Because cooking in camp Dutch ovens involves a hot cast-iron pot and even hotter coals, there’s safety equipment you should have on hand while you work: welding gloves for handling the Dutch oven, long tongs to move the charcoal, a charcoal chimney starter to heat your coals, a lid lifter, and a lid stand to avoid setting a hot cast-iron lid on a surface that can’t handle it. Each of these inexpensive pieces will last for years, and they’re worth the investment.
While the specifics and dedication required to learn to cook proficiently in a camp Dutch oven seemed daunting at first, the skill with which the NDOG chefs cooked and the food they produced quickly won me over. Time and time again they proved the truth of their favorite phrase: “Anything you can cook on a stove, we can cook in a Dutch oven.” And, while the following recipes could be adapted for the stovetop and a “kitchen” Dutch oven, there’s something special about the meticulousness of camp Dutch ovens, the flavor produced by seasoned cast iron, and food cooked in the fresh air.
Using a Charcoal Chimney
A charcoal chimney starter is a simple tool for heating coals without dousing them in lighter fluid. It consists of a hollow metal cylinder, a grate that allows airflow, and a handle for carrying convenience.
To use one, fill the chimney with charcoal, and place it over a few sheets of crumpled newspaper on a heat-safe surface. Light the pages through the holes at the bottom of the starter, and in 10 to 20 minutes, your coals should be ready — you want them about 50 percent charred, or for the charcoal on top to be turning gray with ash.
Before beginning any recipe in a camp Dutch oven, get your coals heating up. They’ll be ready by the time you’ve done your prep work!
NOTE: To avoid a hot spot while cooking with coals, rotate the Dutch oven every 10 minutes or so. For the most even result, put on the lid of the Dutch oven with the label facing you. When rotating, turn the pot 120 degrees clockwise, and then turn the lid counterclockwise so it’s positioned facing you once again.
Before beginning any recipe in a camp Dutch oven, get your coals heating up in a charcoal chimney.
Photo by Getty Images/kjohansen
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