Dutch Oven Roasting Basics

Many recipes in the Traditional Animal Proccesing Workshop are cooked in a Dutch Oven.  These instructions work for a wide variety of roasting in a Dutch oven. There are those who have elevated Dutch oven cooking to a very precise science. Dutch oven cooking, however, does not have to be too technical.

Coals Management

When roasting, the oven cooks mostly from above and the heat seeps through the metal along the sides.  Thus, you want to have a small amount of heat underneath the oven and most of the heat on top of the oven.  Place a few glowing coals under the Dutch oven and a full shovel of glowing coals on the lid of the Dutch oven. To test the heat of the coals, you should only be able to hold your hand a few inches above the coals for a few seconds, which is about the perfect temperature, too hot or too cold will have less than desirable results.  Replace the coals as they become too cold.

Dutch Oven Management

The heat surrounding the Dutch oven is often irregular.  To account for this, it is helpful to rotate the oven and lid on a regular basis.  Every 15 to 20 minutes, rotate the oven a quarter of a turn in one direction and then rotate the lid a quarter of a turn in the opposite direction.  When done properly, the lid will always have the same orientation, since on the rotation of the oven the lid will move and then on the rotation of the lid, it will move back to its original orientation.

The Wood

Hard woods work well for Dutch oven cooking, since they will hold the heat longer.  However, when using Dutch ovens in camping settings or where the wood selection is not as ideal, most woods will do the job.  It will take a bit of trial and error to figure out how to work with a specific wood.  In our area, often times aspen is the only wood we have available, which means we must change out the coals more frequently and we must have a much bigger fire in order to generate the coals wee need when we need them.

Rule of Thumb

The best rule I have ever heard about Dutch oven cooking was given to me by Larry Davis, a Dutch oven Master from Boulder, Utah:

“If it does not smell like it is cooking, it isn’t.  If it smells like it is cooking, it is. And if it smells like it is burning, IT IS BURNING!”

And that truly is how Dutch oven roasting works.  Take a peek occasionally to see if all is looking yummy on the inside.