Every scouting mom – or dad – knows that the right equipment can make or break a camping trip. When it comes to cooking meals for a large crowd, part of being prepared means taking along the best Dutch oven, grill racks, and plenty of aluminum foil for cooking over the fire.
While the kids might not care, those quick and easy (and nearly non-perishable) PBJ sandwiches get pretty tiresome by day three. No, there’s no worry about keeping the ingredients cold and minimal cleanup. But, learning how to camp means learning how to create the comforts of home right there in the wilderness.
Cooking in the Wild
The good news is that there so many tasty foods you can make if you have the right cooking equipment. Even if all you have to work with is a fire ring, you can still make home-cooked meals with the best Dutch oven.
Not sure what a Dutch oven is or how to use one? Your mom may have had one, or even your grandma. They probably looked like they were forged in the dawn of time, compared to the sleek cooking gadgets that we have today.
The thing is, if you’re living in a primitive environment and only have the most basic elements of survival to work with, then you need these old-fashioned tools to make the most of the situation. That's why they're designed that way.
What’s a Dutch Oven, Anyway?
The name “Dutch Oven” derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch who moved to America and brought their sturdy, versatile cookware with them.
Dutch ovens consist of a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Most of them are made from cast iron, although you will see many with enamel coatings. Technically, these are called “French ovens,” but their similar functionality means that we often use the terms interchangeably.
Why a Dutch Oven?
While they can be a bit heavy, the ability to use a Dutch oven for several different tasks makes it one of the most versatile pieces of cooking equipment you can buy. And that’s whether you do a lot of camping or never leave your home.
Stewing and braising
The shape and material allow you to cook large amounts of soup or stew. The best Dutch oven features a lid that fits so well that steam and heat can’t escape. This means that it retains moisture when you use it for juicy results when braising. You can cook stews and soups for hours for the best flavor without it reducing too much. Just take the lid off when it’s time to cook it down.
You can also use a Dutch oven for frying. So, instead of taking along both a big pot and a frying pan, you only need a Dutch oven. In fact, most of the current models feature a lid that pulls double-duty as a frying pan. Cast iron is perfect for cooking over an open flame or a camp stove. You’ll get slower heat conduction on an open fire. That means you’re less likely to scorch your food over this uneven heat source.
If you love camping, but not the limitations you’ll find when you cook outdoors, you’ll love the fact that this tight-sealed lid means you can also bake in the best Dutch oven. If you’ve ever considered baking bread in the woods, you know how impossible that sounds. But you can bake bread and deserts in a Dutch oven.
You can roast it the best Dutch oven as well. With the proper seal on the lid, the shape and its heat retention capability will give you a steady temperature inside, which is perfect for a small cut of beef, a large chicken, or a pile of roasted vegetables.
After all, that’s why they call it an “oven.” Taking along the best Dutch oven when you go camping is like taking a mini-oven with you into the woods.
Why Cast Iron?
Cast iron takes special care, but it doesn’t take as much fussing as some cookware. That’s a definite benefit when you’re out in the woods. Properly seasoned cast iron should only need a light cleaning after every use. This is pretty convenient when it comes time to washing up at the stream.
But cast iron has other benefits when it comes to camp cooking. Its heat retention and distribution properties make it perfect for cooking over an uneven flame. You won’t get scorched spots in your meals, because cast iron conducts heat slowly throughout the pot.
Why Not Cast Iron?
Cast iron is by no means perfect. It does have some downfalls, but if you’re willing to work with it, you'll find the best Dutch oven is the smartest investment in camping or cooking equipment you’ve ever made.
Takes longer to heat
Cast iron pans do take a bit longer than other materials to heat up. While that means they may take a while to reach the right temperature for cooking, it also means they’re more forgiving. After all, when you’re camping and don't have everything laid out and ready to go on your clean granite countertop, it means you have more time for prep before your entree goes critical.
This property also makes it perfect for teaching new camp cooks, too. So, if you’re teaching your kids how to cook over a fire, it’s nice to know that they have some extra leeway before things start burning.
In exchange for how slow they are to heat – they retain heat a lot longer than other materials.
A lot of cooks refuse to deal with cast iron because it needs to be seasoned. Perhaps they don’t realize how easy it really is. Seasoning only requires a coating of vegetable oil and some heat. You can rub in the oil with a cloth or paper towel and then heat it on the fire to reseason it as necessary.
One real downside to this is that many people find that a cast-iron pan just doesn't “feel clean” to them. In the modern world, we’re used to scrubbing and sanitizing everything to a “squeaky clean” finish. You may have some concerns about this aspect.
First of all, choose a vegetable oil rather than animal fat, especially if you’re taking it into the wild. Season your cast iron with a stable oil and it won't go rancid. Secondly, you can keep it wrapped in a lint-free bar towel if you’re worried about the oiled finish collecting dirt or dust. Store it in its own bag when not in use.
Special cleaning required
If you're cleaning up at home, even the best Dutch oven might seem like a bother. After all, you can’t dump it in the sink with the other pots and pans. And you’d really better not put it in the dishwasher.
However, when you're out in the woods, this is actually a bonus. Unless you’ve gotten it really greasy or made chili in it, you can clean it with water alone and wipe it dry.
I’ve used a salt scrub on my cast iron as a way to clean it without using soap and ruining the seasoning. It works pretty well, too. Make a paste of salt and water and scrub with a paper towel. Then rinse and wipe dry immediately.
And if worse comes to worst, and you have to clean it with soap – it’s really not the big deal everyone thinks it is. Just don’t soak it for hours. If your cast-iron Dutch oven is well seasoned, it can stand up to a quick wash with detergent. Dry immediately after cleaning. You can also rub in a little vegetable oil into the pot’s interior to protect the surface after washing.
Avoiding some ingredients
One downfall of even the best Dutch oven is that cast iron doesn’t always play well with acidic foods. Although you may be tempted to cook your camp chili in it, be prepared for more clean up time than usual. The first problem is the many people find it imparts a metallic taste after 30 minutes of cooking or more. Secondly, cooking acidic foods also means you’ll need to re-season your pot.
Is Cast Iron Safe?
Since you’re probably cooking for your kids – and maybe someone else’s – it’s fair that you’re wondering if cooking in cast iron is safe. After all, we used leaded pewter for hundreds of years without becoming aware of the danger.
Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to anemia – as much as 18 percent in developed countries have low iron. At its mildest, it can make them feel more tired than they should. At it’s worse, it can result in low birth weight and premature birth. It can even increase the chance of death for the mother.
But that doesn’t mean you should always cook everything on cast iron. And while using cast iron might increase your iron intake over time, the dosage is small enough that health professionals and cooking experts both deem it perfectly safe for everyone.
If you're curious about the numbers, you can take a look at the iron content in a wide selection of different goods when cooked in a cast-iron skillet and when compared to the raw iron content.
The Things You Can Cook with the Best Dutch Oven
Statistics and studies are always a lot of fun – but that doesn’t put food on the table! So, you’re probably wondering just how to use a Dutch oven when camping. I told you that you could roast, fry, stew, and even bake in it. But where are the recipes?
I've got you covered.
How I chose the best Dutch oven recipes for camping
For the most part, I've chosen recipes that are campfire friendly. What this means is that the ingredients are easy to pack and store in a camping situation. I've also tried to focus on ingredients that don’t require refrigeration whenever possible.
Some of these recipes also contain only a few ingredients, making them more suitable for young cooks. This also makes it easier for experienced cooks with limited ingredients at hand.
Last of all, I've picked recipes that years of parenting and scouting have told me that kids really love.
Easy Dutch Oven Sloppy Joes
Kids love Sloppy Joes, and they’re easy to make on the campfire if you have the best Dutch oven in your arsenal. Unlike a frying pan, any grease from cooking the meat is unlikely to end up in the fire, causing flare-ups.
And while you could drag along everything you need for homemade Sloppy Joe sauce, our advice is to bring along a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce. You can use add-ins and extra seasonings if you have them, too.
- 2 pounds of ground meat
- 1 16-24 oz bottle of barbecue sauce
- 1/4 cup minced dried onion
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
- 8 Hamburger buns
Soak your minced onion in a small bowl with just enough water to cover it. Then, heat up your Dutch oven on the fire, camp stove, or grill. Once hot, add the ground beef and cook till just brown. Drain the onions and add to the ground meat and cook till translucent.
Then, stir in the barbecue sauce and any extra seasonings you’d like to add. Then add in enough water to thin the sauce and stir.
Simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes until meat is tender and the sauce has reduced to your preferred consistency.
Top your buns with Sloppy Joe meat, and then add a slice of cheese if desired.
Overnight Dutch Oven French Toast
While cornflakes make a fast breakfast for busy families, there’s nothing like a hot breakfast when you’re camping during the colder months. And who doesn’t like French toast?
Best of all, you won’t have to bend over a hot fire babysitting the frying pan with one of the best Dutch oven recipes for camping I've seen in a long time.
While this one does have some perishable ingredients, you can save yourself some trouble by using powdered substitutions or making it for the first breakfast of your trip. Best of all, you can prepare it the night before so you won’t have to mess with food prep at first daylight.
- 1/2 loaf sourdough or French bread
- 4 eggs
- 1-1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup white sugar (to preference)
- 1 Tblsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup flour or biscuit mix
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 stick butter plus extra for greasing the Dutch oven
Grease the Dutch oven generously. Or, to cut down on cleanup, line with foil first, then coat with cooking spray or butter
Tear the break into bite-size pieces and arrange evenly over the bottom of the Dutch oven. In another bowl, mix the eggs, milk, white sugar, and vanilla. Then pour the mixture over the bread chunks. Cover the pot with the lid and place in the cooler overnight.
In a sandwich bag, mix the flour or biscuit mix with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the butter one spoon at a time and cut it into the dry mixture with a fork. It should resemble a crumb topping — place in the cooler with the pot.
In the morning, cover the top of your French toast with the crumb mixture. Cover tightly with the lid and place on the hot coals. Cook for about 46 to 60 minutes, rotating the oven frequently until the French toast is baked through.
Dutch Oven Chili
Chili is perfect for cold evenings, and most importantly, the longer you let it simmer over a low fire, the better it is. Now, remember that you might have to season the Dutch oven again. But I think chili is always worth it.
Just a tip for campers, it’s a good idea to mix up your herbs and spices before you leave on your camping trip. No one wants to pack up the whole spice cabinet to bring along. So, save yourself some trouble and mix up this herb and spice blend beforehand and then pack it with your dry goods in a small sealable plastic container.
- 3 Tbsp chili powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1-1/2 tsp garlic powder
For the chili
- 2-1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 large can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
- 1 can tomato sauce (14 ounces)
- 1 can black turtle beans (15 ounces
- 1 can kidney beans (15 ounces)
Heat your Dutch oven over the fire, grill, or camp stove. Then, break up the ground beef and saute through until brown. Drain the grease if necessary, but make sure you discard it where it won’t attract animals.
Mix your spice mix into the meat and work it together well by stirring. Then add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and both cans of beans. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat for about an hour.
Remove the cover allow it to simmer for another half hour.
Southwest Chicken Casserole
This recipe is easy to modify for smaller or larger groups. And best of all, you can get creative by adding your favorite fresh toppings. It all depends on how much you decide to bring to the campsite.
For youngsters, go with a Colby jack or cheddar jack cheese. For more sophisticated adult palates, try pepper jack. For four to five servings, you'll need:
- 2 cans of corn
- 2 cans of black turtle beans
- 1 packet prepared taco seasoning
- 2 cans of chicken breast meat (12.5 ounces)
- 1/2 to 1 cup salsa (to preference)
- 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby jack, etc.)
- Sour cream
- Avocado slices
- Split cherry tomatoes
- Shredded lettuce
Drain the corn and beans thoroughly and mix in the taco seasoning. Grease your Dutch oven and layer the mixture on the bottom.
Then, drain and flake the canned chicken into the salsa and shredded cheese. Layer the chicken mixture on top of the corn and beans in the Dutch oven.
Cover and cook over hot coals, frequently rotating to cook evenly. Cook until the cheese is melted throughout and food is piping hot. Note that since you started with pre-cooked ingredients, you’re basically just heating them all through and letting the flavors marry.
Serve over nacho chips or alone, topped with your preferred fresh ingredients.
Remember that I promised that you could bake in the best Dutch oven. Here’s proof! This delicious recipe is an easy way to use your home-canned or store-bought pie filling. It's also a perfect dish to introduce kids to cooking over a fire.
- 2 cans of pie filling (21 ounces each)
- 2-1/3 cups of biscuit mix
- ½ cup milk
- 3 Tblsps sugar
- 3 Tblsps butter (melted), plus a dab more for greasing the Dutch oven
Coat the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven interior with the butter and then add the pie filling. Then, in another bowl, stir together the biscuit mix, sugar, milk, and melted butter. Smooth the batter over the pie filling as evenly as possible.
Cover the Dutch oven with the lid and put the pot into smoldering campfire coals. Make sure you wait until the flames have died down so it doesn’t burn.
Cook for about 30 minutes, giving the Dutch oven a turn every few minutes to ensure even cooking.
Where to Find the Best Dutch Oven
Now that you know how the best Dutch oven should function, you’ve probably already thought of some of your own recipes you'd like to try over an open flame.
Luckily modern manufacturers have tried but failed to improve over the time-tested Dutch oven design. So, you shouldn’t have any problem finding a brand new model to grace your kitchen. Or your camp kitchen.
While you’ll find many styles and colors, I recommend you refrain from getting an enameled version, especially for camping. While enamel doesn’t impart any toxins or chemicals, it doesn’t add any benefit when it comes to camp cookware. It’s no easier to clean than naked cast iron, and you’ll just become depressed as the open flames scorch the pretty finish.
How I Reviewed
After some years in scouting and even more in family camping, I've come up with a list of necessary features to look for in a Dutch oven.
Along with personal experience as a scout mom, I've consulted the advice of professional cooks and camping enthusiasts. I took a look at their requirements as well as their favorite makes and models. And most of all, I considered their reasoning for preferring one Dutch oven over another.
Last, but certainly not least, I've considered customer feedback. No one knows more about product performance than those that rely on them. So, I scanned many gear and cookware sites to see which models were most favored by consumers.
Product Comparison Table
[amazon box=”B00008GKDW, B0018BNF5W, B0002YUNXS, B0052Y83NU, B07DR5GTQD, B0008G2W0M,” template=”table”]
The Best Dutch Oven Models for Camping
I've ruled out enameled versions as well as any models that found no love from picky consumers. But, listed in no particular order, here are my picks for the best Dutch oven options for your campfire cooking needs.
1. Lodge L12DCO3 8 Quart Deep Camp Dutch Oven
Lodge is one of the biggest and best-selling cast-iron cookware companies in the United States. And a quick look at the specs on this beauty will show why.
With its deep sides and generous 8-quart capacity, this Dutch oven is just the thing for large families and scouting groups.
The [amazon link=”B00008GKDW” title=”L12DC03″] is like a portable camping stove, with a tight-fitting lid and three 1.5-inch “feet” to keep the bottom of your pot off the ground and allow airflow for better flame management.
What’s really amazing about this product is that you can also use it as a griddle. That’s right – build your fire inside this Dutch oven and invert the lid over the coals. Its flat surface makes the perfect griddle for hotcakes. This double-duty design clearly makes it one of the best Dutch ovens for camping.
Best of all, it comes pre-seasoned using nothing more than soy vegetable oil. So, you’ll have even less prep work at home before your trip.
While not the cheapest on this list, it’s undoubtedly the one with the strongest reputation. With 120 years in business and U.S.-based manufacturing, the Lodge is a shoo-in.
The Lodge L12DCO3 garnered an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon buyers.
2. GSI Outdoors Anodized Dutch Oven
Although I’ve been going on about the benefits of cast iron, you may find that the best Dutch oven for your camp kitchen is made of something else entirely
[amazon link=”B0018BNF5W” title=”GSI Outdoors”] takes the classic cast-iron pot and recreates it in cast aluminum. What’s the benefit? It’s light. Much lighter. In fact, while approximately the same capacity as the Lodge L12DC03, the GSI Outdoors 14-inch Dutch oven weighs about a third. The 8-quart Lodge weighs about 20 pounds, while the GSI Outdoors 14-inch model weighs a little over 6 pounds. And they’re about equal in capacity.
This cast-aluminum Dutch oven also heats quicker than cast iron and won’t rust, either. On the downside, though – it’s a lot more expensive and doesn’t have the benefit of adding iron to your diet.
This model also features sturdy little feet to hold your pot above the coals. The inverted lid makes an excellent frying pan, too. With the rim around the lid’s edge, you can also cover it with hot coals to cook safely from the top.
Customers seemed equally impressed and gave the GSI Outdoors Dutch oven an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
3. Camp Chef Deluxe 12-Quart Dutch Oven
If you’re cooking for a small army but low on cash, this [amazon link=”B0002YUNXS” title=”Camp Chef”] is probably the best Dutch oven for you. It holds a generous 12 quarts, but that’s just the start of it.
You can use the lid itself as a cooking vessel – and not just as a griddle top. It holds nearly three quarts all by itself, which means you get a cast-iron pot and a cast-iron skillet in one low-cost purchase.
It comes pre-seasoned, too, with a built-in notch for your thermometer. They’ve also included a lid lifter to help protect your hands.
Another high point is the price. The Camp Chef model is clearly less expensive than other models on our list. Note that it’s made in China, rather than the U.S., which probably accounts for the big difference in price.
However, it boasts an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon, so it clearly pleases buyers.
Some Critical Accessories
While each of these brands offers a unique benefit, you need to choose based on your own priorities. Each offers its own take on the classic Dutch oven design.
However, one way to make your camp kitchen more efficient is with the right accessories. While owning the best Dutch oven will elevate your campground cuisine, a few add-ons will make it a real joy to work with.
1. Dutch oven liners
If you’re worried you’re going to spend more time trying to season your cast iron over an open flame than actually cooking on it, try these [amazon link=”B0052Y83NU” title=”Dutch oven liners”] on for size.
Save time and effort cleaning up. No more scrubbing burnt crust out of your cookware. No more slaving over a stream or a nasty campground laundry sink trying to clean your pot. Made of heavy-duty aluminum, they fit all the major manufacturer’s 12-inch models. And of course, they make an excellent storage option for leftovers, too.
Amazon buyers rated these liners an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars.
2. Lodge 4-in-1 Dutch oven tool
This deceptively simple [amazon link=”B07DR5GTQD” title=”little gadget”] offers multi-functionality. Use it to lift your Dutch oven lid to protect your hands. It also converts into a trivet to keep your pot from scorching the picnic table. You can even balance the lid on it over an open flame to use it as a skillet. And if you have a [amazon link=”B001FSJHHI” title=”tripod”], this Dutch Oven tool also works as a bail lifter.
Other campers found it ingenious and rated it an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
3. Lodge Dutch Oven Tote
Once you’ve invested in the best Dutch oven for camping, you want to make sure that you take care of it well so it will last a lifetime. I suggested keeping your pot clean by wrapping it in a lint-free towel. But this [amazon link=”B0008G2W0M” title=”tote bag”] goes even further.
This padded bag keeps your Dutch oven in tip-top shape. And even more importantly, it keeps the rest of your cooking gear clean and soot free. No matter how well you take care of it, camp cookware can collect a patina of grease and residue. And what makes it even more frustrating is that this grime often transfers to the rest of your camping gear.
Amazon buyers praised this handy tote with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Choosing the Best Dutch Oven for Your Camping Crew
While the basic Dutch oven design has been pretty set for centuries, each of these three models represents the best quality of their class.
The Lodge model is truly the best Dutch oven made from cast iron. On the other hand, the GSI Outdoors product is quite a bit lighter if you’re worried about hauling a 20-pound pot to your campsite. And if you’re on a tight budget, the Camp Chef model might be your best choice.
All of these brands offer a range of sizes using the same or similar designs. So, you can choose any of these brands in a smaller version to fit the size or your family or your meals.
Have you ever used a Dutch oven over a campfire? What’s your camp cooking specialty? Share your best campfire recipe in the comments.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay.com