Art of Wood Fire Baking: A Dutch Oven Affair

Classy cooking in the old D.O. (Dutch Oven).
Classy cooking in the old D.O. (Dutch Oven).

The Dutch oven (also known as The D.O.) defines living simply and living in comfort. It can be used as a cook pot or as an oven to make pretty much everything: think flat breads, fried fish, casseroles, stews, baked goodies. I found a 10” Hard Anodized Aluminum Dutch oven (made by GSI Outdoors) at Mountain Equipment Co-op—perfect for a sea kayaking expedition for two people, or maybe even four. Weighing in at 1.94 kg, but one third the weight of cast iron, it’s worth every gram (and every penny). It is an essential item that is not to be left at home. Yes, it’s true, I am in love with my D.O.!

 

A friend of mine once said, “All must-take-gear items should be multipurpose.” By that measure, the Dutch oven qualifies. We also use ours to safely stow tortillas and other flat breads for travelling.

 

The first time I used my aluminum Dutch oven, I promptly welded macaroni to the bottom, leaving a decorative print of curls that lasted a season. In my defense, I was used to cooking with a cast iron Dutch oven with little legs to stand above hot coals; our new one was legless. The Dutch oven is easy to clean with a plastic scraper and scrub pad—with the exception of the rare event like the first one. Unlike cast iron, salt water and soap (optional) can be used for clean-up; aluminum doesn’t rust.

 

Wood or Charcoal Briquettes

When sea kayaking, I bake with coals from the wood fire. When whitewater rafting, I often take a larger cast iron Dutch oven and use charcoal briquettes. Rafters can be more liberal when it comes to space and weight, at least this rafter and the friends I travel with. The same general concepts for cooking and baking apply for cast aluminum and iron. The amount of coals needed vary depending on the Dutch oven size and type of metal. With a bit of practice, it’s easy to get the feel.

 

The Art of Dutch Oven Baking on a Wood Fire

Entirely self taught, I use the following steps for baking in the Dutch oven over a wood fire. They work well for me.

You can make anything from a sauerkraut, sausage, potato casserole to all kinds of dessert in a Dutch Oven.
You can make anything from a sauerkraut, sausage, potato casserole to all kinds of dessert in a Dutch Oven.
  1. I get a wood fire burning good and hot.
  2. I let the fire burn down to the point to where I can easily extract chunks of coals that still have lots of life in them, entirely burnt on the outside but still hard enough to pick up without falling apart. Coals may be as small as a briquette or as big as my fist.
  3. I place coals on the lid, enough to cover about ½ to ¾ of the area.
  4. For a D.O. without legs: I clear a space for the D.O., within the edge of the fire, so that it is sitting in a fairly hot but not too hot spot. I do this by pushing burning wood and coals, with a stick, back into the part of the fire that will remain. If I’ve been burning a hot fire for a while, sometimes I also need to move an upper layer of rocks to reduce the temperature. I place the D.O. in the cleared space. Alternatively for a D.O. with legs: I just cook on the ground beside the fire by placing a few well-spaced coals underneath.
  5. I turn the D.O. ¼ turn, every 10 minutes or so, or as needed to cook evenly.

 

Beginners Tips:

  • You can take a peek every 15 minutes or so to see what’s going on, at least until you get the hang of it. It might be best to learn with meals that can handle having the lid taken off periodically, such as a casserole. Some types of baking might be less forgiving of such an approach.
  • Adjust coals to increase or decrease temperature. Start easy on the coals; you can always add more, as needed.

 

Just getting into a strawberry, rhubarb crisp, before it's even out of the oven!  I love my Dutch oven...
Just getting into a strawberry, rhubarb crisp, before it’s even out of the oven! I love my Dutch oven…

Gear Extras Available

I see on the GSI Outdoors website that they sell a carrying case and light weight stand (to raise legless D.O. above coals) and lid lifter—all great ideas. For years, we’ve fiddled with moving coals with pieces of driftwood, chopstick style. One of these days, I might just pack a pair of tongs…

 

Watch for lots of delicious Dutch Oven recipes to come.

 

Resources:

Mountain Equipment Co-op: http://www.mec.ca/product/4014-274/gsi-hard-anodized-dutch-oven/?q=Dutch%2BOven

GSI Outdoors: http://www.gsioutdoors.com/products/pdp/10_aluminum_dutch_ovens

 

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