Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dutch Oven Heat!

I was going to cook split pea soup today. Even found a new recipe for biscuits I was going to try. But, I didn't. After going to church, I came home feeling very bleah. So, I took it easy tonight. I did end up cooking omlettes for every one for dinner. Thanks to John, over at Mormon Foodie. He taught me the tricks of omlettes years ago. Served me well ever since.

But I also spent a little while compiling a cookbook of sorts. A "Best of" for the end of my first calendar year here at the black pot. One of the bits I wrote about was an article on managing the heat for Dutch Oven cooking. Here it is. It's kinda more for those new to the dutch oven.

Heat!

It was a kind of interesting revelation to me to suddenly realize that cooking is simple. I mean, we’ve been doing it for thousands and thousands of years. There are lots of ways to do it. Lots of different kinds of ovens, stoves, hearths, grills, and griddles. But the bottom line is: You’re applying heat to food. How you do that and how much of it you do has varied over the centuries. But still, that’s all you’re doing.

In the Dutch Oven world, you do it by burning something. That can be wood burned down to coals or it can be commercially made charcoal briquettes. For my backyard kitchen, I use briquettes, because they’re easy to control, and easy to light. If you use the good brands, they’ll burn long and steady. The cheap ones give off inconsistent heat and burn out too fast. You don't need fancy mesquite or smoke flavoring because none of that will get through the iron to the food anyway.

In most dutch oven recipes, you need heat coming up from the bottom and heat coming down from the top. The “camp” dutch ovens” have a lip around the lid that keeps the coals on top and the ash out of your food.

As a general rule, each briquette will produce about 10-15 degrees of heat. Now, if it’s a windy day, a hot day, or a cold day (I like to dutch oven even in the winter) that will change. Cold weather requires more briquettes. Windy days get more air to the coals, and so there’s more heat, but the coals burn faster. If you have a bigger dutch oven, obviously you’ll require more heat.

Lodge, the company that makes the best dutch ovens, put out a heating chart:

Oven Size

325

350

375

400

425

450

8”

15

16

17

18

19

20

10/5

11/5

11/6

12/6

13/6

14/6

10”

19

21

23

25

27

29

13/6

14/7

16/7

17/8

18/9

19/10

12”

23

25

27

29

31

33

16/7

17/8

18/9

19/10

21/10

22/11

14”

30

32

34

36

38

40

20/10

21/11

22/12

24/12

25/13

26/14

In this chart, the total number of coals you need are in bold. The pairs of numbers are there as a convenience to use when you’re baking. The first number is the number of coals on the lid, and the second is the number of coals below the oven.

If you’re boiling or simmering, either put all the coals on the bottom, or a third above and two thirds below.

If you’re baking, put two thirds above and a third below.

If you’re roasting, then split it evenly top and bottom.

The recipes in this book list how many coals to put where. Truly, the best way to learn heat management is by experience. Just try it! I hold my hand over the ovens about a foot or so in the air. I’ve learned how hot that feels. I can tell how the weather conditions of the day are changing the temperature of the oven. That comes with practice.

It’s also important to keep a side fire going. Charcoals burn down, and if you’re doing a recipe that takes longer than an hour to cook, you’ll need more coals to add back to your ovens. When I start the coals to begin cooking, I light too many. More than I will need. The extras become my side fire. About a half hour into the cooking, I’ll add another ten or so coals to that pile. The older coals will catch the new coals, and by the time I need more coals, I’ll have them ready. I’ve ruined too many dishes (and at least one pie), by having my coals go out halfway through. By rotating my coals through a side fire, I can cook almost indefinitely.

It’s also good to be careful how you place the coals. In most cases, You want to focus the heat on the rim of the oven. Set the bottom coals in a ring around the bottom edge of the oven. You want the coals fully under the oven, but not so much in the middle. The same on top, as much as possible. This makes the heat travel down and up the sides of the oven, and radiate toward the center. Coals in the middle will tend to create hotspots which will burn the food. That’s sometimes less critical on the lid, where it’s not directly touching the food, usually. The picture above shows good coal placement for baking.

It’s good to have some long-handled tongs to grab and place the coals. Don’t use your hands. It will hurt. Duh. It’s also good to get some long handled pliers for lifting the lid to check on the food, or an actual “lid lifter”.

For simmering, you’ve got liquid on the bottom that’s going to disperse the heat anyway, and so I just pack the coals in any way I can get them under the oven. When I roast, I still try to keep a bit clear of the center, but there’s more coals to put down there, so you need to pack them in more. A second ring works, and some people go with a sort of checkerboard pattern.

Remember, all you’re doing is applying heat to food. Do it a few times and you’ll get better and better at it.

4 comments:

  1. I had not given that much thought to heating...thanks for the insight.

    P.S. I will be trying Cornish Rock Hens this Sunday. Wish me luck!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've wanted to try cornish hens. Tell me the recipe when you're done, and how it came out!

    MRKH

    ReplyDelete
  3. mark n sparky,
    I have several game hen recipes and will post them oven in castironitis or cast iron cooks of the west blogs
    Dave

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your blog is absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to do it!!

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails