Dutch Oven Basics

You can cook anything in a Dutch Oven that you can cook in a regular oven – or on a stove top or a grill for that matter.  In fact, there are some things that you can only cook in a Dutch Oven and nowhere else, due to your ability to precisely control heat.  But this page of the website is all about the basics of Dutch Oven cooking, for those who are just getting started.  It’s important to understand the correct techniques for using Dutch Ovens so you do not destroy your food, or your ovens.  Let’s start at the beginning, with preparing or “seasoning“ your Dutch Oven.

Seasoning a Dutch Oven

Many new Dutch Ovens come pre-seasoned, but some do not.  Plus, if an oven becomes rusted and unusable, it will need to be scrubbed down and re-seasoned.  There are several ways to do this, but the way listed below is considered the best.  Prior to seasoning is the ONLY time you will ever allow soap of any kind to touch a Dutch Oven.  Scrub the oven completely with soap and water and dry it completely.  If the oven is rusty, carefully remove the rust with steel wool or a wire brush.  Once the oven is clean and dry, season the oven by doing the following:

  • Using a paper towel, rub pure vegetable oil all over the oven – inside, outside, legs, handle and lid
  • Place the oven and lid in your regular oven at 200° for 2 hours (the smell of burning oil on metal may not be pleasant – send the family to a movie!)
  • Pull the oven out, re-oil everything put it back into the oven for another 2 hours at 200°
  • Pull the oven out one more time, re-oil it and bake the oven for a final two hours

The oven will become black over time as you use it.  That’s what you want to happen! Occasionally rub some more oil (a small amount) on the inside of your oven and the underside of the lid to keep it black and in good shape. This blackening is called the patina and gets better with age.  I’ve cooked with an oven that is over 160 years old with the same patina and it was great!

Cooking with a Dutch Oven

Heat is most commonly provided to a Dutch Oven using lit charcoal briquettes, commonly referred to as coals, once they are lit.  Always use a quality brand of briquettes and never use a “match light” version.  Match lights burn out too quickly and do not provide heat as evenly throughout their lifecycle as regular briquettes.   One set of briquettes typically last about one hour of cooking time before needing to be replaced.

Heat placement formula

The amount of heat you place on or under an oven depends on the temperature desired, size of the oven, and type of food.  Let’s first discuss how to establish “even” heat throughout the oven.  First, determine the diameter of the oven you will be cooking in.  Typically, a 12” 14” or 16” oven is used.  To get the oven to 325°, take diameter of the oven and add two to that number.  That is the number of coals to be placed on the top of the lid while cooking.  So, if you have a 14” oven, you will place 16 coals on top of the lid.  Now, place two coals less than the diameter of the oven under the oven.  In the example of a 14” oven, that would be 12 coals.  Placing those coals on the lid and under the oven will achieve 325°.  To increase the temperature, simply add one coal to the top and one coal to the bottom of the oven and an additional 25° will be added.  Continue this process to add more heat to reach your desired temperature.  For example, if you want to reach 375°, add two coals to the top and two coals to the bottom.  The diagram below shows an example using a 12” Oven:

Placement of coals

The total number of coals number of coals stays constant using the formula detailed above, but the number of coals on the lid vs. underneath the oven can change based on the type of food you are cooking.  Basic rules are as follows:

  • Even heat: meats, vegetables
  • More top heat than bottom: breads and desserts (typically two to four coals are moved from the bottom to the top)
  • More bottom heat than top heat: soups and stews (typically two to four coals are moved from the top to the bottom)

Specific placement on the lid or under the oven can vary by recipe.  In general, breads and desserts do better with coals ringing the edge, while meats and vegetables do well with coals dispersed evenly.  Note: some recipes require the oven to be removed from bottom heat near the end of cooking time, to ensure no burning on the bottom of the oven.

Cleaning your Dutch Oven

Only use hot water and a mild plastic scrubber to clean your Dutch Oven.  Be careful not to pour cold water into a very hot oven, as you could crack the cast iron.  The scrubber I like to use looks like this one.

Just a simple plastic scrubber and hot water.  Scrub until the oven is clean.  Store the oven in a dry place until next use.

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