Dutch ovens – These were widely used by the pioneers due to their versatility. You can make anything from cooking stew to baking bread. Dutch oven cooking is an art all by itself. Before purchasing a Dutch oven, consider the following:
• Dutch ovens range in size from eight to about sixteen inches in diameter. The most common size is twelve inches which holds about eight quarts. This size will serve six to eight people.
• Buy only Dutch ovens with legs. There should be three legs, firmly attached.
• The lid should fit tight with no gaps around the rim and have a vertical lip around the top to hold hot coals.
• The casting and thickness of the metal should be even, especially around the rim. Large variations will create hot and cold spots during cooking.
• Make sure the lid has a loop handle tightly attached to its center.
• The bail or wire handle should be attached firmly to the pot. The bail should be easily movable and strong enough to carry or support a heavy pot full of stew.
• They come in both aluminum and cast iron. The aluminum twelve inch weighs about seven pounds. The cast iron twelve inch weighs approximately 18 pounds.
• Aluminum reflects heat well and as a result requires more coals than the cast iron to produce the same amount of heat, The aluminum Dutch ovens allow more variation in temperature during windy or cold weather. For backbacking or canoe trips, the aluminum may be your best choice.
• The cast iron Dutch oven will rust and has to be kept oiled. This type of oven maintains a constant even heat and retains heat well. Unless weight is a critical factor, I prefer cast iron.
Dutch ovens can be used over an open fire. They also work well in a solar oven during intermittent cloudy weather or with practically any other type of stove. They can be hung over an open fire or placed in the hot coals. You can then scoop up hot coals and place them on the lid. This gives you even heat on the top and bottom, which permits you to bake bread, rolls and even cake.
Many new cast iron frying pans and Dutch ovens come from the manufacturer with a waxy coating. This needs to be burned off prior to use. The best way is to turn the oven upside down over an open fire or charcoal. When they heat up, you will see the waxy coating bubble up. Let this burn out and wipe with a clean rag. You are now ready to season your pot.
To season a cast iron pot, coat the pot with lard, bacon grease or Crisco and bake at 250 degrees for 4 hours. Do not use a liquid vegetable oil or the pan will be sticky and not properly seasoned.
After cooking, wash the pan while still warm in hot water and scrape the pan if needed. Do not use scouring pads or soap; they will break down the pan’s seasoning. If your pan rusts, it needs to be re-seasoned.
More information on Dutch ovens and recipes will be posted in the near future.