This is another of a series of articles about how to cook in a dutch oven, dutch oven recipes, and how to season cast iron and dutch ovens by Gary House, of Cooking-Outdoors.com. A big thank-you to Gary for contributing this.
The key to successful outdoor Dutch oven cooking, is knowing how many charcoal briquettes are required to produce a certain temperature inside of your Dutch oven while it is cooking.
The secret to this knowledge is understanding charcoal briquettes.
Types of charcoal
Charcoal briquettes produce more uniform heat than campfire coals or Lump charcoal, making your Dutch oven temperature easier to control. Brand-name briquettes have more consistent quality than bargain brands. They are consistent in size— about 2 inches square — which is important for predictable heat. Start with charcoal briquettes if you just beginning and experiment with live campfire coals as you progress.
How many briquettes do you need?
This is the basic foundation of Dutch oven cooking, once you know this, everything else falls into place. Take your Dutch oven’s diameter in inches and double it.
• 8 inch Dutch oven = 16 briquettes
• 10 inch = 20 briquettes
• 12 inch = 24 briquettes
• And so on.
The total calculation is the number of standard-size charcoal briquettes you will need to heat your Dutch oven to approximately 325 degrees F for one hour.
It is that simple.
Most Dutch oven beginners are familiar with cooking on a stove at home, cooking with bottom heat only and that can cause confusion when cooking outdoors with a Dutch oven.
Because heat rises, briquettes heat the bottom of a Dutch oven more quickly and directly than the top. The top rim of the lid draws the heat downwards, you will need to divide your briquettes between the top and bottom for even heating. Commonly referred to as the three up method and is effective on 8, 10 and 12-inch diameter Dutch ovens; larger size Dutch ovens may require more briquettes.
As an example:
• To heat an 8-inch Dutch oven to 325 degrees, you need 5 coals on the bottom and 11 coals on top. Sixteen coals total.
• To heat a 10-inch oven, you need 7 briquettes on the bottom and 13 on top. Twenty coals total.
• To heat a 12-incher, you need 9 briquettes on the bottom and 15 on top. Twenty-four coals total.
These guidelines will get you close enough that, with practice, you can understand exactly what works for your Dutch oven.
Using the circle method of coal placement, place your bottom coals in a single circle aligned with the legs of your Dutch oven closer to the outside of the Dutch oven bottom, referencing the lip of the Dutch oven lid place your coals evenly around the perimeter.
If your recipe calls for temperatures higher or lower than 325 degrees, make adjustments by adding or subtracting 2 briquettes. Two briquettes equal approximately 25 degrees. Add these to the top of the Dutch oven, unless you need more heat on the bottom.
How long do briquettes last?
Today’s charcoal briquettes last about 45 – 50 minutes. When recipes call for longer cooking times, start fresh replacement briquettes at 40 minutes. They will be ready to add to your Dutch oven when the original coals start losing their heat. Replace approximately 60% of the coals each 45 – 50 minutes of cook time.
Compensation for weather conditions will be required. On cold days, add a couple of more coals on the top and on a hot day remove a coal or two. Wind will play a significant roll in temperature control, it is best to shelter your Dutch oven from the wind with a windscreen if possible.
Following these basic concepts will insure your first adventures in Dutch oven cooking are a success. After practicing a few recipes, temperature control will become second nature and you will no longer need to count as you become more proficient.
Here is one of my favorite beginner recipes, the same one I use in my Dutch oven classes.
For the cake mix:
1 stick butter
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
For the berries:
4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries or 2 bags frozen (thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp fresh grated lemon zest
¼ cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
10 or 12” Dutch oven (20 or 24 briquettes)
Start your briquettes using the formula above to determine the quantity.
Rinse your fresh blackberries and drain, place them in a bowl with your sugar, lemon zest, water and cinnamon; mix well and set aside.
When your briquettes are ready, place the bottom circle of briquettes down and set your Dutch oven with the lid on top of the briquettes, then add the remaining briquettes to the lid to pre-heat your Dutch oven.
Now you can mix your cobbler batter. In separate bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; stir to mix. Add milk and beat until batter is smooth.
Remove the Dutch oven lid, take one stick of butter and place in hot Dutch oven, stir until melted. Add your Blackberry mixture to the melted butter and pour your cobbler batter over the top
(A different variation of this would be to take your batter and pour that in first place your blackberries on top.)
Replace the lid and bake for 45 minutes.
Serve with vanilla Ice cream and enjoy!