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Yes, we are that nerdy about our love for dutch oven cooking! We don’t just dabble in dutch oven cooking, it has become a hobby for us. That being said, I will confess we have a collection of dutch ovens and get really excited when finding them second hand at yard sales. Currently our collection includes seven dutch ovens: one 14″ cast iron dutch oven, three 12″ cast iron dutch ovens, one 12″ aluminum dutch oven and one 10″ aluminum dutch oven, and one tiny six inch cast iron dutch oven.
Phew! That’s a lot of dutch ovens. But we use them all. That big old 14″ cast iron dutch oven I mentioned earlier is the star of the show when it comes to baking big stuff like a whole roasted chicken or honey brined turkey breasts. Without our collection of dutch ovens, we wouldn’t be able to bake everything we do in our family’s annual tradition of our off-grid Thanksgiving meal.
Types of Dutch Ovens to bake in
Traditional dutch ovens like these ones are made of heavy cast iron. I mentioned we have two aluminum dutch ovens which are much lighter. These are actually the newest in our collection (these are the ones we have). We purchased the aluminum dutch ovens specifically because they are much lighter and easier to pack in our raft when going on multi-day river float trips. When you’re rowing yourself, family and all your gear down the river in a raft, carrying a lighter aluminum dutch oven can make a pretty big difference!
Dutch ovens have a heavy, tight fitting lid and some come with legs on the bottom. We prefer the style with legs since it allows us to evenly stand the dutch oven over the coals or stack them on top of each other with coals on the lids while they are baking.
If your dutch oven does not have legs, you can buy a snazzy little gadget like this that you can sit your dutch oven on top of among the coals for an even seating.
Types of coals to use for baking in a dutch oven
To bake with a dutch oven, you will need hot coals. In the past we tried using coals from our wood fire to bake the dutch ovens but have found that the coals do not stay heated as long as charcoal briquettes. Most of the firewood that grows in our area is not hardwood and does not burn long and hot like hardwoods do. Using the coals from our wood fire led to longer baking times and uneven baking.
Now we primarily just stick with using charcoal briquettes like you would use for a barbecue grill. We build a campfire outside and put the charcoal briquettes in to heat up and use to bake our dutch ovens. We’ve learned that it is helpful to have a pair of sturdy tongs to pick up and place the coals exactly where you need them.
How to bake outdoors in a dutch oven
The key to baking off grid in a dutch oven is creating and maintaining the desired temperature you need.
Here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years:
- Estimate 10 degrees for every charcoal briquette, so if you need to achieve 350 degrees you should use 35 briquettes.
- If using only one dutch oven and not stacking them, place 1/3 of the briquettes on the ground and 2/3 on the top of the lid to help prevent burning the food on the bottom of the pan
- If you are stacking dutch ovens, what we like to call a “double stack” or “triple stack” just spread an even amount of briquettes underneath and on top of each pan.
- Rotate the dutch oven every 10-15 minutes to ensure even baking (we use one of these to easily lift the handle and the lid of the dutch oven)
- If at all possible do not open the dutch oven during baking since it will let out hot air and impact the desired baking temperature.
- If you’re looking for an easy clean-up when using a dutch oven, you can place a layer of parchment paper on the inside of the pan before placing the food inside. We typically only do this if we’re out in the woods camping or using all our dutch ovens to bake like we did this year for Thanksgiving.
If you use the proper amount of coals, baking outdoors and off grid in a dutch oven should take the same amount of time as baking inside in a conventional oven. If the temperature outside is bitterly cold, it will take slightly longer. This year on Thanksgiving it was 22 degrees outside when we baked our pies in the morning. It took about an hour for them to bake which was about 10-15 minutes longer than the recipe stated.
When baking in a dutch oven, we’ve figured out that you can pretty much bake anything in them that you would bake in a conventional oven as long as it fits in the pan with the lid on tight. We’ve had some delicious gourmet meals at camp out in the woods far from any conventional power source all thanks to our trusty dutch ovens!
Check out some of our other dutch oven baking and off grid cooking posts:
- Dutch Oven Monkey Bread Recipe
- How to bake a pie in a dutch oven
- Outdoor Cooking for Thanksgiving Dinner
- Cooking on a wood stove
- How to cook on an open fire
Now that we shared some tips on baking in a dutch oven, are you ready to try it? If you already enjoy baking off-grid in a dutch oven, do you have any tips to share?