10 Dutch Oven Cooking Gear and Tips

Posted by Kevin Estela on Sep 15th 2022

I’m a sucker for cast iron. Look in my kitchen cabinets and you’ll find a metric ton of cast iron pans, skillets, and pots. Cast iron is old school, like me, and it imparts the best flavor to food. I don’t think there is any fair comparison made between the food you can cook in a cast-iron pan vs that which comes off of anything stainless steel, stone, or coated. When space and carrying capacity allows, I love packing a Dutch Oven with me into the backcountry. Perhaps it is my strong bushcraft background but there is something satisfying about using a cast-iron Dutch Oven to surprise your camping companions when it comes time to eat. Backpacking stoves and titanium cookware is cool but it lacks the versatility of the Dutch oven which is the Swiss Army Knife of cooking kits. For this week’s blog, I wanted to share 10 quick tips and accessories that will make your Dutch oven experience more enjoyable. If you plan on adding one to your homestead kit, keep on reading.

1. Lid Lifter

A good lid lifter will help you move your Dutch oven lid without burning your hand. I know, you’re probably thinking you will just use an oven mitt but remember that your Dutch oven will have coals on the lid and close to your hand when you grab the lid handle. A lid lifter will give your hand some standoff from the coals and the hot lid. Additionally, you’ll find the lid lifter can be used to move coals around the lid and at the base for more even heat. It doesn’t seem necessary until you use one and then you’ll never want to be without one.

2. Charcoal Chimney

Remember the scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation when Clark Griswold kept adding lighter fluid to his grill? You won’t need to suffer the same explosive fate he did if you use a simple charcoal chimney. These simple devices get your charcoal going with just a bit of newspaper. The charcoal briquettes will burn inside the chimney with no need for lighter fluid or additional stoking. For convenience alone, I will always pack one with my Dutch oven when I head into the field.

3. Oven Mitts

Fire and coals are hot. Cast iron that has been heated with fire and coals is also hot. We know this now but somehow when we get around the campfire, we forget these undeniable facts. Good oven mitts will help you from self-inflicted burns. Oven mitts will also help you handle objects around your Dutch oven with confidence. Just realize that while oven mitts protect you from the heat, they can still burn and they aren’t fireproof. That is also an undeniable truth.

4. Pie Tins

Dutch oven cooking is delicious. Taste doesn’t make cleaning up any easier. To help you out, learn to use disposable pie tins if you don’t mind throwing them away. My most used 10” Dutch oven will accept most pie plates you find in your local grocery store. To avoid burning the tin, put a couple of dry rocks in the base of the Dutch oven to create airflow. Use a couple of slivers of wood to pry the tins from inside when you remove them.

5. Block the Wind

The coals or briquettes you use to heat your Dutch oven will be more effective for cooking if you don’t let the wind rob the heat from them. Coals on top of your lid will warm by conduction heating and those below warm the air below. If the wind is strong, the heat will be blown out from underneath. Set yourself up for success in windy conditions by staging a windbreak made with firewood, rocks, or earth.

6. Stacking

Probably the coolest “trick” you can do with Dutch ovens is stacking. Starting with the largest diameter at the bottom and stacking progressively smaller diameter Dutch ovens on top of one another, the stacking trick works because the lid of one warms the Dutch oven on top of it. Stacking lets you cook multiple meals or dishes at the same time. The only drawback is the added weight of carrying multiple cast-iron pots.

7. Clean by Boiling

Assuming you run out of disposable insert tins, you may have to clean up baked-on food. The cast-iron lords will advise you against using soap and will likely recommend using coarse salt as an abrasive. I don’t always have salt with me but I usually have extra water. By bringing water to a boil inside a Dutch oven, you break stubborn food free. You can use a flat split piece of wood or wooden spoon to coax any remaining food from your cast iron.

8. Use the Lid to Fry

Most think of the Dutch oven pot when they think of cooking. The lid just seems like an afterthought. However, when you turn the lid over, it becomes a very handy frying pan. Lid stands are available to hold the lid in place or you can just prop it up on a few rocks with coals underneath. The lid also has a slight dip or depression in the center. With a little imagination and creativity, it can be used like an Asian wok. That fact makes my fellow Fieldcraft Asians Mike Glover, Julian Lipio, and John Park very happy.

9. Deep Fry Safety

Among the versatility of the Dutch oven is the ability to use it for deep frying. Slice up potatoes for homemade chips or mix a dark beer with flour 50/50 to create a batter for an unforgettable fish fry. Fried food is incredible but making it can be dangerous. Splattered oil can burn you and spilled oil can flare up burning you worse. Carefully lower items into the oil without dropping them and if you want to make sure the oil doesn’t pour over, keep displacement in mind and only fill your pot about halfway.

10. It’s Still Hot

It doesn’t matter if you are in the campground or in your home kitchen. One of the benefits of using cast iron is the way it holds its heat long after it has been removed from a heat source. Cast iron will hold heat for a very long time and it is easy to forget how hot it is long after you’re done cooking. Don’t burn yourself when you handle it. Assume it is hot and you’ll be safer than if you didn’t.

Dutch ovens are timeless and the food they can produce in the backcountry warrants carrying one when you can. It is easy to pack freeze-dried foods with you and go ultralight but those meals lack the soul and character of something baked or fried in the woods. If you are going to have an epic backcountry adventure, you might as well have an epic meal too.