Camp chefs turn out tasty Dutch oven treats
The ovens that turned out delicious cobbler, rib-sticking breakfast casserole and venison chili didn’t have an electric cord or knobs, only feet.
Three peg-like cast iron legs keep a campfire-style Dutch oven above the coals while desserts, main dishes and sides cook under the oven’s sturdy lid. Aspiring camp chefs whipped up tasty fare, then sampled their feast, during an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Dutch oven cooking class in April.
A half-dozen cooks and two instructors lighted fires and eyeballed recipes at the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center in Springdale. Game and Fish operates the center.
Seasoned campfire cook Hollie Sanders got the class going indoors before the chefs headed outdoors for their first try at cooking with cast iron.
“Anything you do in the kitchen, you can do with a Dutch oven,” she said. “Sear, boil, bake, whatever.”
Sanders pointed out the small feet that set campfire Dutch ovens apart from their stove-top cousins. Camp-style Dutch ovens also have a lip around the lid so hot coals that bring the heat don’t fall off during cooking.
Charcoal briquettes work much better than campfire coals, Sanders explained, to maintain an accurate cooking temperature. Most Dutch ovens come with a chart that tells how many hot briquettes to use on the bottom and lid. Two briquettes on the bottom and maybe 15 on the lid creates an internal cooking temperature of 350 degrees. To get to 375, add another briquette.
While Sanders and co-instructor Marisol Alcaraz fired up charcoal on a spacious back porch at the nature center, students worked in teams stirring ingredients together in their Dutch ovens. One team was excited to see how their peach cobbler would turn out.
“Peach cobbler is a good entry level dish” for novice Dutch oven cooks, Sanders said.
Cooks used size 12 Dutch ovens, which are 12 inches in diameter. A Dutch oven’s size number is located on the lid. Size 12 is an ideal size for most recipes, Sanders noted. Larger or smaller sizes are available. Outdoor equipment stores are good places to shop for Dutch ovens.
“It’s a bit of an investment, but a Dutch oven will last a long, long time,” Sanders said. A size 12 oven runs $50 to $80.
Two factors that may affect cooking time are outdoor air temperature, hot or cold, and wind. A dish may take less time to cook on a hot day, or more on a cold day. It’s just something cooks have to play by ear, Sanders said.
Finally, it was lid lifting time for the cooks to see how their recipes turned out. Smiles lit up the nature center porch as they gazed upon mountain-man breakfast casserole, venison chili and cobbler all cooked to perfection. Cooks and their teachers wasted no time in dishing up a sumptuous Dutch oven lunch.
“Dutch oven cooking is a life skill,” Sanders said. “It’s an activity you can do with friends.” Dutch oven competitions are held around the nation, from local events that are mostly for fun to more serious Dutch oven cook-offs.
A mission of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is getting people outside.
“Cooking is one other way to get yourself outdoors,” Sanders said.
Bubble peach cobbler
½ stick of butter
4 cups peaches, peeled and sliced, or canned
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
Preheat a 10-inch Dutch oven, melt the butter. Add peaches and sugar. Stir in flour and milk. Cook with 5-8 charcoal briquettes underneath and 16 briquettes on the lid for 25-30 minutes.
— Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission