Have you ever wondered how you would cook when there is no gas or electricity for any length of time? There is a real possibility that this could happen. For instance, ice storms can take out power lines for weeks. Tornadoes do the same, and earthquakes break natural gas and electrical lines.
As you plan for emergencies of different types, your plans must include multiple ways to cook food and heat water. I enjoy using solar cookers of various styles, but in my part of the country, which is heavily wooded, full sunlight isn’t always available. I recommend solar ovens, rocket stoves, and the like, but one essential tool you must have, no matter the cooking method, is a Dutch oven.
A Dutch oven is a basic necessity
Get back to the basics. Use what the cooks on those cattle drives, the pioneers crossing the plains, and Lewis and Clark used — the good old Dutch oven! And what about fuel? Wood and buffalo chips are okay, but modern day charcoal briquettes are the best. And, charcoal is easy to store, not dangerous in any way, and if they get wet, you just dry them out before using.
TIP: We’re big on learning how to cook like the pioneers did, and you’ll find a couple dozen articles on that topic here.
A good quality Dutch oven like this one is key because of it’s versatility, cooking efficiency, and the fact that it can be used in every type of oven or cooker — solar, open campfire, stovetop, gas/electric oven, rocket stove, etc. In my opinion, it makes food taste so much better, and I have to include that as a factor! We use it to bake bread, make cobblers, chili, soups, roast meat, and so much more.
All of our cast iron, including the Dutch ovens, are made by Lodge. Made in America, it happens to be the brand I personally trust the most. A few other helpful tools you’ll need are:
- A lid lifter — This is important because your Dutch oven will be surrounded by hot coals, both beneath the oven and on top. You’ll want to have some comfortable distance between your hands and the heat.
- A trivet — This raises the Dutch oven off the ground, slightly above the heat source. If you want your oven to be raised even higher, then you’ll need a tripod.
- Tripod — Depending on what and how you’re cooking, you may want to hang the Dutch oven from a tripod.
- Lid holder — You don’t think you’ll need this until you’re cooking over a fire, need to lift the lid to stir the hot food inside, and then wonder where you’re going to set the lid!
- Nylon or wooden spoons and spatulas
- A charcoal chimney for quickly heating up charcoal briquets.
I recommend not waiting until you are out in the wilderness or have no power in the house to learn how to Dutch oven cook! Use the Dutch oven right now in your kitchen to become used to it as a baking and cooking vessel. Outside, use the charcoal chimney to heat up some briquets, clear an area of all grass and weeds, pour out the hot briquets on the ground and then follow these instructions for cooking in a Dutch oven, with briquets both below and on top of the oven lid.
Pretty soon, you’ll be hooked!
Buying and caring for a Dutch oven
You need to have a “camp-style” Dutch oven. This is not the oven you find in your cooking magazines, but the kind you take camping and use for outdoor cooking. It is made of cast iron (there are also aluminum ones but the only ones I use are cast iron), it has a flat bottom, and three short legs. These legs allow you to move briquettes in and out from under the oven, regulating the oven temperature. The lid has a raised rim around the edge so coals will stay on top while cooking.
Placing red-hot briquettes on top of the covered Dutch oven is key to quick and even cooking, so be sure your oven has a lid like this one:
Now the big question: what size do I need, and how many ovens should I have? This is something you need to think about. If you start out with a 12” oven, you will be at a good starting point. I also like to have a 14” and a 10”.
With three ovens, you can cook your meals very easily and would have the ability to use more or fewer ovens, depending on how many people you are cooking for. Also, you can take advantage of stack cooking (see photo above). This maximizes your charcoal. Your top charcoal becomes the bottom for the one stacked on top. You may want to look at how deep ovens are as well. You may want to have deep ovens for things like soup.
I have found many cast iron pieces at garage and estate sales and recommend shopping at these unless you have to have your Dutch oven today.
Wash your new Dutch oven (or the one you might have picked up at a yard sale) in hot soapy water and scrub off the protective wax or oil put on by the manufacturer unless instructed otherwise per oven instructions. To do this, use a stiff brush or green scrubbing pad. Dutch ovens are iron and will rust if not kept dry, even for a short time. This will be the only time you should need to use soap on your oven. Be sure to dry your oven quickly.
TIP: If any of your cast iron pieces become rusty, follow these instructions to refurbish them.
Now you need to “season” the oven. While still warm from washing, wipe the dry oven and lid with a lightly oiled paper towel or cotton cloth. Use regular vegetable oil. Don’t pour any oil into the oven itself. Pour the oil onto a cloth, then wipe.
After oiling the Dutch oven, place it in your kitchen oven on the bottom rack at 350 degrees with the lid ajar, and bake one hour. If you get strange smelling fumes, open a few windows. Turn the oven off and allow the Dutch oven to cool down. Remove it from the oven, oil it a second time, and bake it again at 350. This second time, leave it in the kitchen oven until warm, remove it, then oil it lightly one more time. Your Dutch oven is now ready to use. You will notice it has turned a golden color, but after continued use, it will have a black shine. This is what we want. It’s a good thing!
Care after cooking
After cooking in it, scrape out any remaining food with a spatula. Allow it to cool slightly, put an inch or so of warm water in it and return to the coals to boil and steam out the stuck on food.
NOTE: NEVER put cold water in a hot Dutch oven! It could crack from thermal shock and be ruined.
After several minutes, remove it from the coals, and when it’s not too hot to handle, lightly scrub it with a brush or cleaning pad. Dry and very lightly coat with oil.
Be sure your oven is clean and dry. Lightly coat it with regular oil and wipe off the excess. I always store my ovens with a small wad of aluminum foil under the rim of the lid. It is also recommended to place a piece of paper towel or cotton cloth in the Dutch oven to absorb any moisture. If you don’t crack the lid with foil or something similar, I have found it’s very hard to get the lid off after it has been stored for a long period of time. Make sure you store it in a dry place.
Although a Dutch oven is quite heavy, it’s a part of our family’s ‘survival kitchen’ and we plan on putting it to use during power outages as well as enjoying it when we go camping.
This article written with help from the authors of Just Dutch It.