Last week we went camping with some friends. It was a early season getaway. The weather was changeable with clouds, partly cloudy, sunshine, wind (lots of wind), and some rain at the end. But we had a really good time together.
One evening we decided to do a (mostly) dutch oven dinner. One couple furnished chicken and then we did a potato side dish, vegetables (roasted carrots) and a wonderful apple cobbler using dutch ovens. It was a great opportunity to get some dutch oven experience.
We chose charcoal as the fuel source for cooking. The temperature was in the mid-60’s but it was quite windy so maintaining heat was an issue. It seems like many of the times I have used charcoal the weather has been windy and that always creates challenges to get the coals burning well before putting them on the oven and also maintaining heat in the oven because of the cooling effect of the wind.
I learned a couple of tricks this weekend that help with both problems. If you are going to use charcoal as the fuel source, get a charcoal starting chimney. It is the only way to get charcoal to burn well.
In the past, I have used newspaper to start the charcoal but this was not working well in this cooking attempt. So I switched to wood. From now on I am using wood as the fire source in the chimney and using a propane torch to start the wood burning. Just chop up some wood into kindling size pieces and put them in the bottom of the chimney. Stack the charcoal in the top of the chimney and light the wood using the propane torch. You get a good, sustainable fire in the bottom of the chimney and the coals ignite quickly. Then, never empty all of the charcoal from the chimney until you finish your cooking. By leaving a few coals in the chimney you have an excellent heat source to start additional charcoal if you need it.
I have also acquired a cooking table. This is a great addition to my toolset. In the past, I have cooked dutch on the ground or a concrete block; never again. Using a cooking table is way better. I was able to manage the charcoal and cook on the same table and keep everything within reach.
Other tools you will want include: tongs for handling charcoal, a lid lifter and a lid stand. A really good lid lifter is really important. I chose the Camp Chef Doll14 available at D&B Supply. It is the best I have found.
Our dinner required three 12-inch dutch ovens. To cook all three dishes required just over 15 pounds of charcoal; an average of about 5 pounds per dish. So if you are planning to use dutch ovens as part of your self-reliance cooking toolset, consider how much charcoal you want to store.
Speaking of charcoal as a fuel source, I came across of much simpler method of figuring out how much charcoal to use. It is called the Dinwiddie Ring Method of Temperature Control. You can find the instructions at Dutchovenmadness.blogspot.com. Click on the Dutch Oven Basics tab and look for temperature control. This is also a great web site for some wonderful dutch oven recipes.
A few weeks ago I tried cooking a dutch oven meal with my propane stove rather than charcoal. I definitely like charcoal better for heat control but the propane stove is sure convenient. But I can tell you that I am going to have to do a lot of experimenting with the propane stove to understand the temperature control using propane. Charcoal is a lot easier to establish and maintain temperature.
The dinner turned out wonderfully and we will definitely be doing more dutch oven cooking. But one thing I know, if you are planning to use dutch ovens as a cooking method in your self-reliant future, start now. Like all self-reliant skills, this one takes time and practice. Practice now while the mistakes are not so critical to your well-being.