Friday, May 28, 2010

Dutch Oven Tamales, Redux

This last weekend I made tamales in my dutch oven again.  The last time I did this, they turned out great.  This time, in the end, they also turned out well, but it was a kind of rocky road to get there.

This time I did it in two days.  The night before, I made the pork, then on Sunday morning I made the filling and rolled the tamales.  Sunday night I set them in my dutch oven and steamed them up!  These were different from the last time I did them, both in process and in the recipe.  The last one was a bit more "green" and these were more "red".  I don't know if that makes any sense at all, but there it is, anyway...

Dutch Oven Tamales
Makes about 20-25 tamales, approx 200 Cal each.

12" deep Dutch Oven, with a veggie steamer

Lots of coals underneath

The Pork

  • 2-2.5 lbs pork roast
  • 1 head garlic, cut into just a few bigger chunks
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 8 cups water
  • 4-6 large bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt

The Filling
  • 6 oz dried red chilis (pick your picante)
  • 2 tbsp cilantro
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups pork stock, also from the previous step.
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2-4 tbsp flour
  • 2 lbs pork, from the previous step
  • 1 tsp salt

The Masa

  • 4 cups Masa powder
  • 4 cups pork stock, from the first step
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups shortening

So, starting off with the pork.  It's really pretty simple, I just added all of the ingredients in the middle of my dutch oven and roasted it.  In this case, I put on about 26 coals, 13 on the bottom and 13 on the top, and roasted it to the right temperature, 160 F.  Cooking it longer makes it come off the bone and come apart easier.

Once it's all done, I pulled the meat out of the dutch oven.  Then, using forks, I pulled it off the bone and pulled it apart into shreds.

What's left in the dutch oven is very important stuff.  Don't throw it away.  Instead, I strained out all of the meat and spice particles and set aside the pork stock for the next day.  I found there wasn't much fat to skim off, but if there had been I would have skimmed it.

All of that stuff went into the fridge.

The next day, I got started pretty early.  I crushed up the chilis (anchos, I think) and soaked them for about 20 minutes to a half hour in some hot water.  Once they were soft, I strained them off, and added them, with the cilantro and the garlic, to the stock.  I put all of that into a blender and whirred it all up.

Once that was all pureed, I strained it through a paper towel filter, so I just had the mash, and most of the runny liquid was drained.

At this point, I cheated for those that may be purist dutch oven chefs.  I did a little work on my stovetop inside.  In my defense, however, I did use a cast iron skillet!  I made a roux out of the oil and flour, and when that started to get a little bit past just tan, I added in the strained mush chile mix.  I cooked that for just a little bit, until it really started smelling rich, and then mixed it up with the pulled pork from the previous day.  I also poured some of the chile water that I had drained off back over the pork, and stirred it all up. That made the filling, and it went back into the fridge.

Then, I turned my attention to the masa, the corn meal.  This was pretty easy to make.  I simply added all of the ingredients to a bowl and stirred it up using a pastry cutter.  Done.  You can adjust how moist it is by adding more corn meal or stock.

Now came the rolling phase.  I did this pretty much the same way as I did last time I made tamales. Here, you'll find the details of tamale rolling.  A disclaimer, by the way:  I'm not a mexican grandmother, and I've never seen one roll tamales, so I don't know if my method is "traditional" or "authentic".  It worked, though. 

I put the veggie steamer into the 12" deep dutch oven, and unfolded it.  I added water up to the level of the steamer, and stacked the rolled tamales on the steamer.  Then, it was out on the coals.  I kept it to bottom heat, maybe 20 or so coals on the bottom.  You're boiling it, so you'll want it to come to boil fairly quickly, then you can reduce the coals just to keep it simmering. 

You may need to add water from time to time, since the total cook time for me was almost two hours.  I didn't really pay attention to that, and they ended up drying out.  Not good.  They still tasted good, though.


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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to Buy a Dutch Oven

I got a post on my facebook fan page from someone asking about how to choose and buy a dutch oven.  Rather than reply there with what will be way too long of an answer for facebook, I posted this article:

The simple answer is...  Send me some money and I'll buy you one!  :-)

I guess the real title for this article should be:  "How to shop for a dutch oven, and buy one that's the best for you." There's a lot of "That depends on what you're looking for" in the answer, so let's break it down. I'm presuming, by the way, that those reading this are primarily interested in buying their first dutch oven.  If you've already got one or two, and you're looking to buy another, you'll still be looking for the same basic things, but your reasons for buying will be different, and you'll have a different result, possibly.

There are four basic variables that you'll want to consider when you're deciding which kind to buy: The type, the size, the material, and the quality.

The Type

You have two basic options here:  "Camp" dutch ovens, or "Stove" dutch ovens.  Which you choose will depend on what you're going to do with it.

A "camp" dutch oven is primarily designed for outdoor cooking using wood coals or charcoal briquettes.  It's got a lip around the perimeter of the lid that keeps the coals on the lid, and prevents ash from falling down into the food when you lift it.  It's also got legs on the bottom that lift the dutch oven up above any coals you want to put underneath.

A "stove" dutch oven is designed primarily for use indoors, in a conventional oven or on your stovetop.  It won't have the legs, because you're setting it in your oven or resting directly on your stove's burner.  It doesn't have the lip around the lid because there's no coals to be put on top.  Some of these will even be coated in colored enamels. 

It IS possible to use a camp dutch oven indoors, but it's not as convenient.  It's possible to use a stove dutch oven outdoors, but it's tricky.

The Size

Dutch ovens are primarily measured by diameter, and sometimes by quart capacity.  Common sizes are 10" and 12".  You can buy them as small as 5" or as large as 22" (which take considerable effort to lift, even without food in them). Which one you end up buying will depend largely on who you'll be cooking for.  If you're cooking for yourself, or you have a small family, you won't want one as big.  If you have a larger family, or if you're thinking you'll end up cooking for groups of friends, you'll want one bigger.

If this is your first oven, and you're just interested in experimenting a little, I'd recommend a 12" shallow oven.  This will have the capacity to feed a family of four with some leftovers, and can easily cook for a gathering of as many as 8, depending on what you're cooking.  Breads, stews, chilis, desserts, and even small roasts can easily be done in a 12" dutch oven.

Larger and smaller ovens will come in handy in more specialized situations.  For example, I use my 14" ovens to cook turkeys and larger specialty meats.  My 8" dutch oven I'll use for sides of rice or sauces.

The Material

There are two basic materials used to make dutch ovens:  Cast iron, and aluminum.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both.  Even though all of my dutch ovens are cast iron, I've seen chefs that swear by each one.

Cast iron is probably the most popular.  It's the historic choice.  It heats very evenly (if slowly), and it holds the heat very well, so your food stays warm in it, even after it's "done" cooking.  It can take a lot of heat without damage, too.  Unfortunately, it's also very heavy, and the bigger the oven, the heavier. Cast iron has to be seasoned to be used effectively, but with regular use that seasoning patina gets better and better, and it becomes non-stick.  Cast iron also lasts forever.

Aluminum dutch ovens are much lighter than cast iron, so it's often the pot of choice for campers, river runners, and backpackers that carry their gear in to their campsites.  It won't rust, so you don't need to season it.  It heats up quickly, but that also means that it cools quickly, and it's prone to developing hot spots.

Some say that cast iron-cooked food tastes better, but I've tasted delicious food from both kinds.

The Quality

The best dutch ovens I've ever seen come from three companies: Lodge, Camp Chef, and Maca. There are lots of littler brands, like Texsport and a few that are even no-name.  You can often come across dutch ovens at yard sales and antique stores.  Some dutch oven chefs I know will swear by one brand or another.  While it's true that there are some that are better made, keep in mind that our pioneer ancestors cooked successfully in dutch ovens made hundreds of years before modern companies were formed and contemporary casting procedures were invented.  I've cooked delicious meals in off-brand dutch ovens.  I prefer my lodge, but you can be successful with anything.

Here are some hints to check with the quality:

First, check to see that the lid fits well.  Press down on the lip of the lid all the way around.  If you find a spot where the lid rocks back and forth, that's a sign of a poorly fitting lid.  That will let more moisture escape when you're cooking.  Again, you can still cook well in that pot, but it won't be quite as effective.

Some off-brands will use different alloys or different sources for their cast iron stock.  That can make for variations in the thickness of the pot, as well as the density of the metal.  In either case, that can make for more uneven heating and hotspots.  Unfortunately, you can't really check for that in the store.  It's one reason why you might want to go with a more respected brand.

Still, my forefathers that crossed the plains didn't have a Lodge or a Camp Chef.

Summing it All Up

Ok, so this is really a $75 answer to a $10 question.  What dutch oven should I buy?  My recommendation is that if you're wanting to get started in outdoor dutch oven cooking, get a 12" shallow Lodge or Camp Chef (these, and all other links in this article are affiliate links, by the way, and I'll get paid if you buy from them).  You'll possibly notice that almost all of the recipes in my blog use that basic size.  My two 12"ers are the workhorses of my cast iron collection.

Whatever you end up buying, now you have some knowledge to help you make a wise choice, either to get started, or to expand once you've gotten a few recipes down!


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

Dutch Oven in the Wild

I'm not a really big camper.  But I do get out in the wild beyond once in a while. 

Once a year, for those unfamiliar with the Mormon culture, there is an experience in male bonding known as the "Father and Sons Campout".  It's usually held in May, to commemorate the restoration of the priesthood, and there are often some spiritual activities, like a fireside program in the evening, but mostly it's a chance for all of the guys to get out in the woods with their sons.

And it gives the ladies a break.

Since I'm not a big camper, I took it as a chance to cook, as I said, in the wild.  Even though "the wild" in this case, was just a few acres of grove and meadow about fifteen minutes out of town.  We weren't exactly "taking our families and fleeing into the wilderness".  The ward even rented a few portapotties.

But I digress...

Earlier in the day, in preparation, I discussed with Brendon what we should make.  We decided on Brendon's Dutch oven baked ziti, and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try making bread while camping.

I decided to try the Dutch oven no-knead bread that I had done a few weeks before.  That morning, I mixed up the four basic ingredients and set them aside to ferment.  It poofed up pretty nicely, even though it didn't have a full overnight rise.

Brendon and I also gathered up all of the ingredients for the Ziti. 

When we got to the campsite, I started setting up the tent right away, and Brendon got some coals started.  He also began making the Ziti.  Once the tent was done, I got the bread ready.  I essentially followed the same procedure I did last time, but I noticed that I had forgotten to bring any parchment paper.  I wasn't sure how I was going to transfer the bread dough, all goopy and gloppy, into the dutch oven and not lose a lot of the gas that had built up in the proofing.

I also didn't let it rise as long in that proofing stage.  Still, it sat for a good 45 minutes or so while I pre-heated the dutch oven to about 400 degrees F.

In the end, I just plopped it from the big plastic bowl directly into the lightly oiled dutch oven.  It worked out just fine.

This could have easily been one of the best loaves I've baked.  It was light and the crust was soft and browned.  It really turned out well.

In the meantime, Brendon was doing the baked ziti, and it was working nicely as well.  I did little with it except to stir it once in a while and give him advice, whether he'd asked for it or not.  That's the "Father" part of the "Father and Son" experience.

When it was all done, we shared it with our camping neighbors from the ward, and all of them were quite impressed that it tasted so good.  I always like that part.


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

Mark's Other Blog Posts: RIP Dio

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dutch Oven Split-pea Soup With Ham

This weekend, I was doing a lot of yard work, even on sunday.  I know, I know, it's supposed to be a day of rest.  Oh, well.

So, even though I'm working in the garden, I still wanted to cook.  I wanted something simple and easy, a two-step, one-pot meal.  I'd found, buried in the freezer, an old ham bone from one of my past dutch oven roasting days.  Time for split-pea soup!

I had done split-peas many times before.  This recipe for Dutch Oven Split-Pea soup is the first time, and this one has been the basis for all of them.  It's good, but this time I kicked it up a notch.  It must've worked, because even though I cooked up a whole 12" dutch oven worth of the stuff, there were no leftovers.  That's good, too, because split-pea doesn't usually make great leftovers. It ends up as less of a soup and more of a paste.

I've found, by the way, that when you do these recipes, your final result will vary a little based on the way you cooked your ham.  Some of the residual flavors and spices from the ham will carry over into the soup.  I, personally, like that.  It gives a little variety.  The same is true if you make your own chicken stock.

Anyway, since I really dressed up this recipe, I'm going to rewrite it here, rather than just linking back.

Dutch Oven Split-pea Soup with Ham

12" Dutch Oven
15-20 coals below

  • 1 sliced onion
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 6 cups water, at least half of which could be chicken stock
  • 1 lb bag of dried split peas
  • 1 ham bone with lots of meat left on it.
  • 1 diced potato
  • Generous shakes of oregano, parsley, and chili powder
  • salt and coarse ground pepper to taste

I started by lighting up some coals and letting them start to get white.  I put about a tbsp of olive oil in the bottom of my dutch oven, and let that heat up.  I chopped up the veggies while it was all getting going.

Once the oil was hot, I dropped in the onion, the garlic, and the celery to sautee.  Remember, if it's hot enough, they'll sizzle as soon as you drop them in.  I stirred them up and salted them a little.  The dutch oven was plenty hot, and pretty soon they were browning.

Once the garlic was brown and the onions were translucent, I poured in the liquid.  I used a bullion powder to make it all chicken stock.  I didn't have any of my homemade stock left.  Bummer... 

Then I added all of the other set two ingredients, and let it come back up to a boil. 

Once it was simmering, I started adding in the herbs and the chili powder.  I added the chili powder a bit at a time.  I'd shake in some, let it simmer for 15 minutes or so, then taste. Add some more, wait, and taste.  I wanted it to have an edge, but I didn't want to have a recognizable chili taste.  In the end, I probably added a little under a teaspoonful. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but be a little cautious, because the ham will add lots of salty flavor already.

It turned out great!  We all gathered around our new patio table, and had a wonderful outdoor meal.  If you try this one, let me know how it goes!


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


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