Dutch Oven Cooking – by Cooky Jason
So you picked up your very first Dutch Oven and cooked your first dish. To your dismay you find that the bottom was overdone and the middle was a bit mushy. What’s the secret to cooking award winning dishes with the Dutch Oven? Well in my opinion it all comes down to controlling the heat. Most folks will agree that regulating cooking temperature is the hardest thing to master when learning to cook in a Dutch oven.
Charcoal – For starters always use high quality briquettes. Everyone has their favorite and my briquette of choice is Kingsford. Most Kingsford users will agree that the briquettes are packed tighter than most other brands which minimizes popping and spitting. Kingsford charcoal also burns longer than other brands. Kingsford charcoal will generate good heat for roughly an hour, so for recipes that take more than an hour to cook, remove the remaining briquettes and ash from the oven and replenish them with new briquettes. Since the Dutch oven is already hot, you will not need as many briquettes as when you started cooking. Removing 2-3 briquettes from the top and bottom of the Dutch oven usually does the trick.
Cooking Methods When Using a Dutch Oven
There are four different methods of cooking with a Dutch Oven over a campfire – each achieved by altering the source of heat. Remember not to rush the cooking process. If you allow adequate time for the oven to heat up before adding the food, and keep the coals manipulated to maintain the temperature, you will have great results.
Roasting – In roasting, the heat from your coals should come from the top and bottom evenly. You will place coals on top, as well as pulling the coals up under the pan to create an even heat. Place the same amount of coals on the lid as under the pan. Roasting is best achieved at high temperatures and short cooking times. This will seal in the juices.
Frying and Boiling – When frying and boiling, all the heat should come from underneath the pan. The temperature should be high and kept even during the cooking process.
Baking – Baking requires cooking mostly from the top. You should place the coals on the lid and underneath the pan at a three to one ratio, with most of the coals on the lid. You will want to watch baking foods very carefully.
Simmering and Stewing – Most of the heat should be from the bottom of the pan. The coals should be placed on the lid and underneath the pan in a four to one ratio, with the bulk of the coals underneath the oven. Regulate the heat in stewing and simmering by moving hot coals underneath the pan
Number of Coals to Use to Achieve the Desired Temperature
Here’s a secret that even most seasoned outdoor cooks don’t know: You can prevent burned bottoms, raw tops, and dried-out foods by using properly sized and spaced coals to control the interior oven temperature. Virtually all baked goods can be baked successfully at 350°, which is the ideal temperature for a Dutch oven.
The number and placement of the coals on and under your oven is critical.The optimal number of coals used for any oven is based on its diameter. For example, if you are using a 12-inch oven, you will need two coals per inch, a total of 24. More coals will likely burn your food and less may necessitate too long a cooking period. To determine how many coals go under and how many go on top, remember the magic number 2:
· 2 coals per inch of oven diameter
· place 2 more coals than the oven size on the lid, and
· place 2 less than the oven size under it.
Example: For a 12-inch oven, 12-2=10 coals under the oven, and 12+2=14 coals go on the lid, for a total of 24. The same formula applies to all ovens. A 10-inch oven should have 8 coals underneath and 12 coals on the lid. A 14-inch oven should have 12 coals underneath and 16 coals on the lid.
The placement of the coals is also an important part of proper heat regulation. The proper layout for coals or briquettes under the oven is circular. Coals should be approximately one inch apart in a circle under the oven. Never place coals directly under the center of the oven. If you do, you will create a hot spot and burn whatever you are cooking. By placing the coals in a circle, the natural conductivity of the oven will distribute the heat evenly and effectively.
The coals on the lid of the oven should also be placed evenly in a circle along the flange of the outer lid. However, four of the coals should be placed toward the center of the lid, two on either side of the handle. This coal placement will produce an even, consistent temperature within the oven of approximately 350° and maintain that heat for up to two hours.
In the event that you need to generate a higher temperature inside your oven, “cheat up” the coals. Additional coals placed two at a time, one on the lid and one under the oven, will add another 50°. Two additional coals top and bottom would bring your oven’s temperature up to 450°. It is extremely rare to need a temperature of 450°, and you should never need one higher than that.
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