Eating food cooked in a Dutch oven over a campfire and sitting on a log in a campground is heavenly. These cast iron pots with tight lids are indestructible, a bit heavy, but easy to carry. Dutch ovens were used in and over campfires by round-up trail cooks to feed an entire group of cowboys. Dutch oven cooking over a campfire is still the best way to feed a group of hungry campers.
To cook over an open campfire, you will need the right size Dutch oven, a tripod, food to cook, a good hot campfire, and an appetite. Build your campfire and control the heat around the Dutch oven. Gather the right cooking utensils, and when you are finished, properly clean your Dutch oven. It can be a bit of work but eating from a Dutch oven is worth the effort.
In this guide we will give you tips and tricks Dutch oven sizes, controlling the campfire to cook your food and not burn it, and a couple of tantalizing recipes to cook in your Dutch oven.
Your Dutch oven will be invaluable to you when you cook over a campfire, and eating Dutch oven cooking will be amazing.
- Sizes of Dutch ovens
- Control the campfire heat
- What shall we cook over a campfire
About Dutch Ovens
Where does the term “Dutch” oven come from? Some say the name comes from cooking pots used by the Pennsylvania Dutch 1600s. Still, some think the term “Dutch oven” came from Dutch ironworkers casting cooking pots and using sand molds.
No matter where the name originated, you can find Dutch ovens in camping stores, on Amazon, in sports shops and even second hand-shops. Dutch ovens used for cooking over a campfire are cast with three legs used to hold the pot away from fire coals and a flat, flanged lid where hot coals can be added for cooking. Look for a Dutch oven that also has a handle that comes up over the pot so you can suspend it over a campfire.
Don’t worry about fire around a Dutch oven. A unique ultrahigh temperature curing process at the foundry provides Dutch ovens with a black patina finish that can take the heat of a campfire. An added plus? You can use the lid to hold more hot coals or invert the lid to use as a makeshift griddle.
Most popular sizes:
- 4-quart (10″ dia., 3-1/2″ depth, 15 lbs.)
- 6-quart (12″ dia., 3-3/4″ depth, 20 lbs.)
- 8-quart (12″ dia., 5″ depth, 23 lbs.)
Control the Heat
The first thing you should learn about Dutch oven cooking over a campfire is how to control the heat. This is vital to making sure that you neither burn your food or undercook your food. This will be most important if you are planning to make cornbread or cakes on your campfire.
Use a tripod and hang your Dutch oven over an open campfire to cook your meals. There is a good amount of heat on the bottom, but because the pot is cast iron and has a tight lid, indirect heat is generated inside the oven.
All you need for this campfire cooking method is a tripod strong enough to hold the cast iron pot and a good fire. Keep campfire safety in mind when working over flames and don’t step in the fire. Do however stir the food in your Dutch oven to keep it from burning.
Stews are excellent when cooked in a Dutch oven directly over a campfire, and you can do great oatmeal for breakfast using the same method. Experiment with dishes that don’t need to be baked.
Using your Dutch oven over open flames is just like cooking on the burners of your stove. You use the campfire to heat your food until it is cooked or hot. The method is simple and just like the chuckwagon cooking scenes in old Western movies. Maybe that is why there is an old-fashioned appeal to Dutch oven cooking over open flames.
To bake your food in a Dutch oven, set your Dutch oven directly in the coals of a fire, place more coals on the lid of the Dutch oven, and let it simmer away. Use a “crows foot” or a Dutch oven lid lifter to take the lid off the pot periodically to add more liquid or stir the food.
You need to control your fire and coals when directly cooking in a campfire. Some easy ways to control the heat are:
- Don’t get your fire too hot. Let the fire burn down until you only have coals left.
- Keep a separate coal bed in a firebox. A separate fire will help you have coals that stay hot so you can add them to your Dutch oven when more heat is needed.
Use a Dutch oven with a flanged lid or the flat lid that has a lip around it. A flanged lid gives you the perfect space to place your coals on the top. Coals on the top and bottom give you even cooking so you can slow cook your food.
If cooking directly in the campfire, make sure your Dutch oven sits level. Rocks or a grate purchased from a sports store is excellent. (Note: Don’t use rocks from the river to support your Dutch oven. The water in the rocks will cause the rocks to steam or even burst open.)
When cooking with a Dutch oven, remember you need to have more coals on top of the lid than under the Dutch oven. More coals on top provide even heating, and you won’t burn the food on the bottom while the top stays undone.
When using a six or eight-quart Dutch oven, you need about eight charcoal-sized coals under the Dutch oven and approximately a dozen coals on the lid.
Be aware of where the embers are glowing and about every 15 minutes turn the Dutch oven about a quarter turn. Turning your Dutch oven keeps the heat even, and you won’t have any spots that are getting done long before the other areas in the pot.
As the coals on your Dutch oven burn out, add more coals from the firebox to keep the food cooking. Baking your food or cooking directly in the campfire could take up to an hour or more. Watch your food, so it doesn’t burn.
What and How Shall we Cook?
Use the best cuts of meat, like sirloin roast, boneless ribs or meaty chicken breasts. These meats will be the highlight of your Dutch oven meal. Add a cup of water to your Dutch oven, put in the meat, and cook your meat using the coals from the campfire.
Again, use eight hot coals on the bottom and 12 on the top. Don’t let the Dutch oven cook dry and add water as needed. In about an hour, add more coals to the top and bottom. Now would be a good time to add celery, onions, carrots, potatoes or any other vegetable your family likes to eat.
Nothing is better in a Dutch oven and cooked over a campfire than biscuits. Use a biscuit mix like Bisquick and mix it with enough water to make a dough.
Place about 16 or so hand-rolled biscuits in a 12-inch oven (this is a right size for biscuits). Add enough oil to your Dutch oven to lightly coat each biscuit as you drop it in the oven.
Crowd your biscuits and use all the dough. Now, add heat. Put about eight very hot coals from the campfire on the bottom and about 12 on the top. When the biscuits have risen, reduce the heat on the bottom by two coals. Continue cooking until the sides begin to pull away from the oven. Watch the cooking time, or the biscuits will burn.
As the biscuits move away from the sides of the oven, remove the coals away from the bottom, but keep the coals on the lid. It usually takes about 30 minutes to cook biscuits in a Dutch oven, but that 30 minutes will provide you with warm crispy biscuits dripping with butter and honey.
Want something a bit classier? Try Dutch Oven Sprite Chicken. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and an hour to cook, but it is incredible. All it takes is some bacon, boneless chicken breasts cut in 1-inch cubes, seasoning salt, potatoes, carrots, and a can of Sprite.
Cook your bacon and set it aside. Season your chicken and brown it in the Dutch oven. Add onions, potatoes, carrots, chicken, and bacon (in that order) to the Dutch oven. Pour Sprite over everything, cover with the lid and hang over the fire with the tripod. You can also cook this dish the traditional way of using coals on the top and bottom.
Next, serve the Dutch oven food and eat. It’s a guarantee you’ll eat until you can’t eat anymore. A tip: use a tin plate and utensils to promote the campout experience.
The tastes and smells of Dutch oven cooking over a campfire are amazing and add to the campout experience.