Dutch Oven Cooking

by Joe Panfalone

HISTORY 

Cast iron cookware played an important role in the early history of our country. The journals of early American settlers, military, cowboys, and explorers, all make frequent reference to the Dutch oven. Although England was the primary exporter of black ironware, the name Dutch Oven most likely came from the Dutch traders who traveled door-to-door peddling their wares.

In the early days of our country's history, wood was the principle source of heating and cooking. The heat retentive qualities of cast iron enabled early chefs the ability to control temperature and an even heat. Also, when well seasoned, black iron cookware provides a non-stick cooking surface rivaling any modern day coated pan. As a testament to the superior cooking qualities of cast iron, it is interesting to note that explorers and surveyors would pack such and item despite its cumbersome weight. 

Today's modern cooks have shunned black iron cookware because of its weigh, its lack luster looks, and its inability to be put in a dishwasher (dishwashers removes the seasoning). Also modern stoves and ovens provide excellent temperature control thus overcoming the inefficiencies of lightweight sheet metal pots and pans. 

Outdoors folks such as campers, river rafters, hunters, Boy and Girl Scouts have preserved the tradition of cast iron cooking over time. There has been a resurgence of interest. Dutch oven cooking clubs are organizing throughout the world and the Internet is loaded with information and recipes. You may want to start with The International Dutch Oven Society www.idos.com .  Or you can do a search on the word Dutch oven.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD DUTCH OVEN

I was in an upscale kitchenware boutique and noticed that they had a line of brightly enameled cast iron pots and pans. They looked good but the downside is they reduced the gauge of the material to reduce the weight. Good cast iron is thick and heavy. You need the mass to store the heat.

Also pay attention to design. The kitchen Dutch oven is normally flat across its bottom, and has a highly domed basting lid. The camp or outdoor Dutch oven is flat across its bottom but with three stubby legs. 

 Its lid is not so domed and has a flange around its edge to hold coals or charcoal briquettes from falling off. The slight dome also enables you to turn it upside down to use it as a griddle. The slight dome keeps foods such as eggs in the center even if the lid is not on the level. The legs are necessary to support the pot above the coals giving them space to breath.

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The lid should fit smoothly into the pan. Rotate it to see that it fits securely in all positions and there is no warp. The handle on the lid is important also. It should be the loop style not the tab with a hole drilled through it. You will be using a special hook lift your lid. The loop allows it to wedge under it giving you total control. 

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The handle on the pot is a wire loop. A good handle will fold freely to one side but stays put in the other direction. This enables the handle to be positioned upright and away from the heat thus staying a bit cooler for handling.

DUTCH OVEN SEASONING AND CARE

excerpted from instructions provided by Lodge Cast Iron Mfg. www.lodgemfg.com

Seasoning -A new Dutch oven is coated at the factory with a preservative that needs only a good washing in hot water to remove. Dry it completely, and it's ready to be seasoned. DO NOT OMIT this first seasoning before using your oven! Use a good grade of vegetable shortening (for example, Crisco) to season your oven. Using a paper towel or new sponge, spread the melted shortening all over the inside and outside of the entire Dutch oven, including the lid and legs. Place the Dutch oven and lid upside down on the top rack of your kitchen oven. Put aluminum foil on the lower rack so that any excess oil can drain onto it. Close the range door then turn on and set the oven's temperature for 350F and let it bake the Dutch oven and lid for at least one hour. Turn the oven off and let everything cool back down to room temperature with oven door still closed. Your oven is now seasoned and ready for use.

Cleaning - After scraping out all uneaten food from your oven, use HOT water, no soap, and a plastic or natural fiber pad or brush to wash out the oven. NEVER, REPEAT, NEVER! pour cold water into a hot oven or you may crack it! Dry the entire oven and lid using paper or cloth towels and then re coat the entire surface of oven and lid lightly with vegetable oil.

DO NOT USE a strong detergent or a hard wire brush in cleaning our oven unless you plan to completely re-season the oven. Your Dutch oven will darken with each use and the patina will improve with each usage to turn your oven into the ultimate non-stick cookware! Therefore, avoid using anything inside your oven that might damage its seasoned patina!

Storage - When storing, leave the Dutch oven lid open enough to allow air movement inside the oven. Most longtime Dutch oven cooks place several sheets of paper towels inside the pot and roll up another sheet to place it between the lid and oven to keep the lid ajar. Some use clean burlap cloth pieces or small bags for this same purpose as the open weave allows a good exchange of air,

Transportation - Some cooks place their ovens into cloth sacks or bags while others continue using the cardboard box the oven came in. Others use lidded wooden boxes that just fit their ovens and stack them in order to save floor space. Whatever you use, treat your ovens with care and don't drop or let them bounce around and become damaged! Cast iron Dutch ovens are great investments as they'll last for centuries of good use if given the right care!

SELECTION -

Oven Size Persons Served

8"

1-2
10" 4-7
12" 12-14
12" deep 16-20
14" 16-20
14" deep 22-28

BAKING TEMPERATURE CHART -

The figures below are the number of briquettes top/bottom

Oven 325o 350o 375o 400o 425o 450o
8" 10/5 11/5 16/6 12/6 13/6 14/6
10" 13/6 14/7 16/7 17/8 18/9 19/10
12" 16/7 17/8 18/9 19/10 21/10 22/11
14" 20/10 21/11 22/12 24/12 25/13 26/14

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