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What is a Dutch Oven?

What is a Dutch Oven?    

Recommended Dutch Ovens

This is a great tool to add to your cooking tool shed.  The best thing to have for campfire cooking is an old-fashioned Dutch Oven.  This heavy cast iron, lipped lid, three-legged pan has some interesting history.


In 1704, an Englishman by the name of Andrew Darby, taking what he learned by observing the Dutch system of making these cooking vessels, patented a process similar to them and produced cast-metal cooking vessels for Britain and the new American colonies. The term “Dutch Oven” has been used since about 1710.  American’s changed the design over time, including making a shallower pot, putting legs on it, flanging the lid, something that has been credited to famous colonist Paul Revere.

General Information

You can use a Dutch oven on a wood stove or open fire cooking. Dutch Ovens come in all shapes and sizes but the most usable size is a 12-inch diameter with legs, a bale handle on the body of the pan, a small loop handle on the lid, and a lipped lid — the heavier the better.  Twelve inches may seem like a large pan, but not so large that a meal for four would be lost and versatile enough for a crowd of 8-10.

A heavy pan will retain heat for longer periods and cook your food more evenly than a thinner pan. Any pan you use on the open fire needs to have a bale handle, as you will need to be able to slide a stick or pot lifter under the handle to move it.

Flat bottom pans are not so popular, they will not allow heat from a fire to evenly absorb into the iron to provide even cooking and prevents from getting hot coals under it.  A pan with 3 legs allows for hot coals to be pushed up under the pan and is actually more stable than one with 4 legs.

A lipped lid that runs around the outer edge will make your job of regulating the temperature easier, as well as keeping the hot coals in place.  Most lids are somewhat dome-shaped and can be turned upside down to use as a griddle or frying pan when needed.


A new cast Dutch over requires season.  It is necessary to season it well in order to make it as non-stick as possible and prolong its life.  Some ovens that are well taken care of will last for generations. Wash the new pan with soap and warm water very well as there is usually a lacquer on them that will burn onto the food the first time it’s used. Old, rusty ovens can be scrubbed with steel wool and washed with soap and water, too, but be sure to clean any residue of steel shavings from the steel wool out of the oven.


Dry the pan well and use a clean towel or paper towel to rub a thin layer of shortening or other vegetable oil all over the unit.  You may want to oil the outside of the pan also, purely for appearances. Do not use animal fat or lard as it can become rancid very quickly.

After rubbing the oil into the pan, place the pan in a warm oven at 250 F, or over warm coals for 2 hours, replacing the coals often to maintain the temperature.  Cool the oven and repeat the oiling, heating and cooling process 2 more times.

To clean your oven after the oiling and baking process, wash with a mild soap, rinsing and drying thoroughly after each use.  Each time you wash your oven dry it completely in a low oven or on warm coals. Then oil it lightly and bake in the oven or over coals again. This process, known as “curing” will ensure that your pan maintains its non-stick surface and keeps your oven lasting for a lifetime.  To assist with the cleaning process, we recommend a metal chain net cleaning device.



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.

Roasting – In roasting, the heat from the coals should come from the top and bottom evenly. 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 top 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 processes.

Baking – Baking requires cooking mostly from the top. Place 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.

Remember not to rush the cooking process.  Allow adequate time for the oven to heat up before adding the food, and keep the coals manipulated to maintain the temperature.

Number of Coals to Use to Achieve the Desired Temperature

Coals must be used on both the top and the bottom of the Dutch Oven. Use only quality charcoal briquettes for consistent temperature control. The chart below shows you how many coals to use for a desired temperature.

Note: Adding one coal to the top and bottom will raise the temperature of the Dutch oven approximately 25 degrees. Or conversely removing one set of briquettes will lower the temperature by 25 degrees.


Temperature 10″ Oven 12″ Oven 14″ Oven
Degrees F Top Bottom Top Bottom Top Bottom
300 12 5 14 7 15 9
325 13 6 15 7 17 9
350 14 6 16 8 18 10
375 15 6 17 9 19 11


Best place to purchase the 8 Qt Dutch Oven

2 thoughts on “What is a Dutch Oven?

  1. Cool.
    I had never heard of this before. I suppose it’s similar to a cast iron skillet. I’m very impressed with the versatility of a Dutch Oven. I’m excited to try it!

    Have you ever heard that cooking in an iron skillet is good for people with low iron? I heard that the iron leaks into the food, and is as good as taking iron supplements for people who need them. What do you make of that?

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by my site, Celeste.  I hope you enjoyed your visit and learned something.

      Your curiosity about cast iron skillets and cookware has led me to put up another post about using cast iron and the amount of iron absorbed into the body.  You have a great question, the answer follows.

      Yes, cooking in a cast iron skillet can add significant amounts of iron to your food and into your body. In addition to eating more iron-rich foods like meats, beans, and spinach, cooking in a cast iron pot is an easy way to boost your iron intake.

      Researchers have found that cooking in an iron skillet greatly increases the iron content of many foods. Acidic foods that have a higher moisture content, such as applesauce and spaghetti sauce, absorb the most iron.

      Foods cooked at home may vary in iron absorption based on the age of the skillet used and the amount of time the foods are heated. So, if you’re looking to increase your dietary iron, use a new cast iron skillet. After all, the iron in cookware is no different from the iron in our bodies — except we have much smaller amounts!

      Thanks for the idea of another post.  Maybe there are others out there that have the same question.

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