Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dutch Oven Questions From a Newbie

I got an email yesterday from Jill, and it had a whole bunch of really good beginner questions in it.  I thought that there are probably a lot of people out there with the same questions, so I thought I'd answer them all here.  That way, not only do a lot more people get to read my answers, but we can invite everyone else to join in and chip in their ideas as well, and we all learn.

Here's her letter:

"So, I am planning on learning to dutch oven. I just bought one for my husband a couple months ago, but need to still get a couple accessories like tongs, lid lifter, gloves, briquettes, etc. I found your blog today and am excited to try some of your recipes & get started, but I do have a few questions:

"Thanks, Jill"

I'm sorry, Jill, but I hope you don't mind a little good-natured ribbing here...  This is the second time I've gotten an email from a lady who bought the dutch oven "for her husband", and ended up doing the cooking anyway.  What's the problem here, guys?  Give the ladies a break.  This is the perfect way for us men to cook!  It involves meat, fire, metal, and knives.  What else do you want!?

Sorry, that's just me being silly.

On with her questions!

  • Which briquettes do you like best?

In general, you can cook with anything hot.  You can chop up a tree, burn the logs, and cook with the coals.  But I've had problems in the past with some "bargain brand" coals that don't burn evenly, or burn to fast, or light too slow.  I like the basic Kingsfords (not matchlight) the best.  That's sort of the general recommendation among most experienced dutch oveners that I know, and my own experience has proven that as well.

Some meals, like potatoes, chilis, or stews can handle variations in cooking temperature midway through, but other things, like breads and desserts are trickier. 

  • I assume you buy them (briquettes) in bulk, so where do you get them and how do you store them?

I get mine in bags that are about 20 lbs, in two-bag bundles at Home Depot.  I do that mainly because there's an HD on the way home from work, I have a HD card, and I can charge them if I don't have the cash.  Don't get the fancy mesquite or hickory smoking briquettes, because the smoke won't get through the cast iron to the food anyway.

Cooking once a week, sometimes a couple of pots at a time, I'll go through the two bags in about a month. I store mine in a plastic box outside my home, right by where I cook.  That way they're handy and dry, even when it's rainy.  The problem with that is that when it's rainy, the air is wet, and they do get a bit harder to light.

  • Do you use a lighter basket or chimney when lighting the briquettes?

Yes, I do.  I also use lighter fluid.  I've tried and tried to make them light with just wadded up newspaper and I've given up.  I need the sauce to make the fire.  I like the chimney because the coals tend to light more evenly, and I can shake the chimney and mix the lit ones with the unlit ones well. 

When I dump them to start cooking, too, I always leave a few lit coals in the chimney to start up fresh coals so I can keep cooking the dishes that need longer cook times.

  • You said you learned that you needed to get them off the bricks... so what kind of surface do you put the dutch ovens on now?

I have these short little foot-high metal tables.  They work great.  Another thing I've often seen are the Camp Tables like you can see in this (affiliate) link.  Those are cool because they have wind screens and you don't have to bend over so much to cook on them.

  • I assume that you bring the dutch ovens inside to serve from, do you just put them on a trivet?

Yes again.  And it needs to be a pretty big trivet, if you've got a 12" or a 14" dutch oven.  Sometimes I'll just set a towel underneath.  The leg tips don't burn, but they can scratch a table surface.  They've often still got charcoal ash dust on them, too, which makes a bit of a mess.

I must say that I love serving directly from the dutch oven.  To me, it just looks better.  That's just me...

  • What is a tripod for?

A tripod, like this one (affiliate link), is designed to hold the dutch oven above an open fire.  I've never used one, but I've seen it used, mainly for things that need bottom heat, like chilis, soups, stews.  Someone that's actually used one for other dishes can chime in and explain how it really works.

So, thanks for the questions!  I hope these are the answers you're looking for, and if not, I hope that some other good readers will chime in with their own experiences to help add to the collective knowledge.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: How not to do Social Networking, I get to sing in Relief Society


  1. Mark, I usually buy a small bag of Match-Lite briquettes that are pre-soaked with lighter fluid. Then I drop two or three in with my regular briquettes towards the bottom and my chimney starter works perfectly. By using the Match-Lite, my regular briquettes provide heat longer than when I've used lighter fluid.

  2. That's clever! I'd never thought of that! Thanks!

  3. I am so confused! I asked for a dutch oven as a gift, and I think I bit off more than I can chew (hehe). I want to use my oven indoors and not for camping so I am not sure how to convert recipes and temperatures to use with my stove and oven. Please help!



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