Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that will get you started if you are new to Dutch Oven cooking. Most recipes that you come across that “sound good” for cooking outdoors, but were prepared for an indoor oven specify what temperature to set your oven at – yet its pretty easy to convert just by playing with the cooking time.. These tips will get your oven to about 325°-350° Fahrenheit – so you can either cook for a longer/shorter period of time, add more or fewer coals, or both. Regardless it will give you a starting point.
BAKING: How many coals do I need? Just double the diameter of the oven. (i.e. 12″ = 24 coals). The most common method for temperature control is to take the size of the dutch oven plus 3 briquettes on the top, and subtract 3 briquettes on the bottom for a 325°-350° oven. (i.e. A 12″ dutch oven would use 15 coals [12 +3] on top and 9 coals [12 -3] on the bottom). You will normally arrange the coals in an evenly-spaced circular pattern about 1/2″ smaller than the bottom of your oven – then lay them out in a checkerboard pattern on the lid.
An easier “rule-of-thumb” to remember is to use 1/3rd of your coals under the dutch oven, leaving 2/3rds for the lid. (I prefer just to do the math as above).
One final hint for baking is to rotate your lid about every 10-15 minutes. If you have a “hot spot” on your lid, this will promote more even baking and is especially important for breads, biscuits, cornbreads, etc. This is where that dutch oven “lid lifter” comes in SO handy. (Some folks rotate their pot 1/3rd turn in one direction and their lid 1/3rd turn in the opposite direction to promote even cooking). ANY time there are coals and ash on the lid you have to be careful how you move it around, (or remove it), otherwise you will wind up with ash blown inside the oven, and nothing will spoil your image as an “outdoor chef” any faster than having the food covered with ashes. 😉
FRYING, BOILING, OR BROWNING: Arrange your coals in a checkerboard pattern (giving about 2″ between the coals). For a 12″ oven you would use 15-18 coals.
ROASTING: Heat should come from the top and bottom equally. Use a 1-to-1 ratio of coals above and below the oven.
STEWING, SIMMERING: Almost all heat should be on the bottom. Use a 4-to-1 ratio with more underneath. (This is perfect for soups!)
GENERAL TIPS: Good coals, (like Kingsford), will provide cooking heat for about 50 minutes to an hour, however, if what you are cooking is going to take more than an hour its best to swap over to fresh coals about every 45 minutes to keep an even (hot) temperature going inside your oven. You can plan ahead – pre-heat the new coals – then use your little shovel and long handled tongs to arrange things. This is a lot easier to accomplish than it sounds, and the end result is GREAT tasting food.
I know I am repeating myself here, but never, never, NEVER add cold liquid to a hot Dutch oven or you could crack the cast iron. Pre-warm any liquids for recipes that require addition during cooking. Leather gloves, a lid-lifter, long tongs, and an ash shovel are just plain NECESSARY tools to have when moving your oven/lid or adding hot charcoal briquettes. 8)