Two months ago, I was heading east to Indiana to attend a nephew’s graduation ceremony. In tow were my two young children. Looking to save a couple of dollars ($11.00 per night at the campsite or $149.00 in a hotel, hmmm….) and enjoy our great outdoors at the same time, I decided on a state park for a couple of nights along the way.
Now if you know me, you know how I love food. Not just eating food, but preparing meals. Especially preparing meals. I’ve done my fair share of cooking over a campfire and have tried everything from tin foil meals, to reheating frozen leftover homemade green chili (boy, was that good after a day of hiking in the cold mountains), to meals in a Can Cooker. I’ll try just about anything, so long as I end up with a hot meal that is relatively wholesome.
Not long before this trip, a friend of mine lent me the book Dutch Oven Cookout: Step by Step by Michele Pika Nielson. It’s a smallish book, paperback and easily packable and discusses Dutch oven cooking. I flipped it open and read the first line of the introduction: “The first time I had really great food out of a Dutch oven, I thought: I want to learn to do this!” I’m kind of that way. I can latch onto an idea fairly quickly. It gets stuck in my head until I actually do something about it.
So after a couple of failed attempts at finding the right sized Dutch oven (Nielson recommends the 8-inch because it is easier to carry, season, clean and store, cooking times are shorter, and smaller amounts means no leftovers) close to home, I just hit the road sans oven, certain I would find one along the way.
I did. I found an 8-inch Dutch oven by Lodge at a Bass Pro Shops in Missouri. That shopping trip in itself was an event. Having driven through driving thunderstorms for hours with no let-up in sight, the kids and I took off our shoes and ran across the parking lot in the rain to enter the store. Once inside, we were not eager to head back into the rain so we spent over an hour looking at the fish, checking out big pontoon boats, sitting inside blinds, oh – and buying our Dutch oven.
Look to pay between $20 and $55 for a 2 Quart, 8-inch Camp Dutch oven. Also Check out IronCooker.com if you do not live near a Bass Pro Shops
We checked in at the park, selected our campsite (that wasn’t hard, we were the ONLY people camping in the area reserved for tents! Doesn’t anybody tent-camp anymore?), pitched our tent, and I got to cooking.
Let me be straight – Dutch oven cooking is not difficult, but it is time consuming. There are many steps:
- Step 1: Setup (10 minutes)
- Step 2: Light (20-40 minutes)
- Step 3: Preheat and Season (20 minutes)
- Step 4: Fry/Simmer (15-60 minutes, depending)
- Step 5: Bake (15-30 minutes)
- Step 6: Extinguish and Eat (25-40 minutes)
- Step 7: Clean (5-10 minutes)
Please do not let that scare you!! You can use the time in between steps to roll out sleeping bags, cast a line, pour a glass of wine, and read up on the next step in the Dutch oven cooking process.
And by all means, embrace the time as a way of honoring the creation of a good meal for you and your family.
Dutch Oven Cookout: Step by Step not only provides detailed but easy-to-follow directions for each step, it offers recipes such as Shepherd’s Pie, Fajitas, and Hot Fudge Cake. I prepared Chicken Enchiladas the first night, Peach Cobbler for breakfast the following morning, and Chicken and Broccoli the second night.
Oh my goodness, easy? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Savory? Yes.
I took a moment to reflect as I often do after cooking a wonderful meal: “I have just created an amazing dinner for myself and my children. I used real ingredients and I cooked in a real way. My little family is gathered together at a picnic table beneath big old Sycamore trees and an Indiana evening sky and it just can’t get any better.”
It’s just like at home: preparing, cooking, eating, and cleaning up afterwards. But outside. Perfect.
- A Dutch oven is a cast iron cooking pot. There are subtle differences between various Dutch ovens. You will want one with legs and a tight-fitting rimmed lid. A pre-seasoned one is even better.
- Follow Nielson’s recommendations, she knows what she is talking about. Keep in mind that a 2 Quart, 8-inch Dutch oven is not large. It will feed 2-3 people as a main dish. For larger groups, use a larger oven or better yet use two 8-inch ovens for variety.
If you are interested in learning more about Dutch oven cooking, I highly recommend a look at Dutch Oven Cookout: Step by Step, by Michele Pika Nielson. It is easy to read, easy to follow, and easy to pack and it provides such a wealth of information about Dutch oven cooking.
You can order a copy of the book on Michele’s website: http://www.michelepikanielson.com