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It’s no secret that we love to go camping. While typically overlooked, Nebraska really does have some great camping opportunities and now that we have Gretel, our “new to us” Pop Up Camper, you better believe we try to camp as much as possible! Yes….we even camp with a Toddler in tow (and soon to be baby!)
If you’ve been around here before, you also know that I love food. Plain and simple. So, it’s probably no surprise that while you can’t go wrong with the classic weenie and ‘mallows combo while camping, that we LOVE to do some other kinds of campfire cooking also.
Enter: Our dutch oven for camping! This campfire cooking pot has made us some seriously stellar meals over the years and my favorite part is that using a dutch oven for camping isn’t really that hard (but more on that later). Our “camping oven” now comes with us on any camping trip that we know we’ll be building a fire at (and c’mon….what kind of camping trip doesn’t involve a great fire!?) Cast iron dutch oven camping has totally changed our meal plans while camping….all for the better!
What You'll Find In This Artcile
- 1 What is a Dutch Oven and
- 2 Why Do I Need One For Camping
- 3 Best Dutch Oven For Camping Reviews
- 4 Things To Consider When Buying Cast Iron Camping Cookware
- 5 10 Camping Dutch Oven Accessories and Gear
- 6 How To Season a Dutch Oven
- 7 Cooking Chart For How To Cook With a Dutch Oven
- 8 Camping Dutch Oven Recipes
What is a Dutch Oven and
Why Do I Need One For Camping
I know I’m usually pretty wordy, but I’m going to keep this damn simple here.
It’s a cooking pot (typically in cast iron). Whew! That was easy!
Ok, you didn’t think I’d let you off that easy right?? So why do you need a cast iron dutch oven for camping and not just a normal pot?
Well, unlike a regular kitchen Dutch oven (or any typical kitchen pot), a camping dutch oven is EXTREMELY durable and made specifically for extremely hot temperatures (we are talking upwards into the THOUSANDS of degrees!) to literally be set on top of a fire (or more typically today, on top of a pile of smoldering charcoal- which is why most camping dutch ovens will have legs).
Another distinguishing factor of a dutch oven is the lipped lid, which allows setting charcoal on the top as well for even (and fast!) cooking.
By using a dutch oven, you can create gourmet meals (ok, ok….there are also tons of “dump pot” recipes out there for those of us who are NOT cooks!) really easily over your campfire when cooking so you aren’t stuck with the same boring camp foods.
Also, due to the quality and way they are made, if you take good care of your dutch oven, they can last FOREVER! No, really….with proper care, you’ll probably only have to buy one in your lifetime.
And even better? Because of the way that they are made, the more you use them, the better they cook and even flavor food over time!
Best Dutch Oven For Camping Reviews
When looking at all the different dutch ovens, we’ve (quite easily) narrowed it down to just X top dutch ovens for camping. We immediately eliminated ANY pots that
- Didn’t have legs (these are fine IF you also have a tripod, but not everyone does)
- Were aluminum (see above reasons)
- Were too big or too small for the average camper
Best Dutch Ovens Comparisons
Mobile Users, scroll to the right to view whole table
|Camping Dutch Oven||Image||Pros||Cons||Sizes Available||Cost|
|Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Ovens||- Extremely well regarded, quality, brand. |
- Lid can be used to fry
- Fantastic Reviews (quite honestly, you probably can't go wrong with a "Lodge" Brand
- Made in the USA
|Comes "pre-seasoned" but you may want to season yourself as well||5 Qt, 8 Qt, 10 Qt. Click Here to See Sizes|
|Camp Chef Dutch Oven||- Lid doubles as a skillet|
- Has a built in thermometer (channel) to check cooking temps
|- Not as easy to "wipe clean" as competitors|
- May need to re-season yourself before using
- Double check for imperfections when you receive (chipping, bubbling etc)
|6 Quart (click here to see other "Camp Chef" sizes available)|
|Bruntmore 3-Legged Camping Dutch Oven||- Can use lid as skillet|
- Large for bigger crowds
|- Only one size (for camping dutch oven)|
- Very Heavy
There are a few camping dutch ovens that people seem to always look for that I thought I would include just to give some baseline info on.
Any Lodge Camp Dutch Oven
After using dutch ovens myself while camping and spending a hefty amount of time researching them, it really does seem like the Lodge brand of dutch ovens wins time and time again. And then again and again!
When looking at the Lodge dutch ovens, just make sure you are looking at ones that have legs (unless you own a tripod) so that it is a camping version and not a kitchen one.
GSI Outdoors Hard Anodized Dutch Oven (3 sizes)
This is often on the top lists, but this IS an aluminum dutch oven, so I personally don’t recommend them (see above). The brand claims that it is a non-reactive material and is MUCH lighter than a traditional cast iron. As always, mine is but one opinion, so it could still be worth looking into if the aluminum doesn’t bother you.
Things To Consider When Buying Cast Iron Camping Cookware
What It’s Made Of
When looking for the best dutch oven for camping, make sure that it is a CAMPING dutch oven (not an indoor kitchen dutch oven pot- read the above section to review why a camping pot is different).
When shopping around for the best dutch oven, you are going to come across a few types, such as “Cast Iron, Enameled Cast Iron, Pre-Seasoned and Alumunimum, let’s cover them here.
Cast Iron vs Enameled Cast Iron
Cast Iron Pros
- Slow heating resulting in the food cooking evenly and thoroughly
- Extremely durable
- Creates flavorful dishes
- Can withstand outrageously high temperatures
- You can actually get great trace minerals (iron) from using cast iron cookware! When I was getting anemic during pregnancy, my Dr told me to up my cast iron cooking to increase my iron levels!
Cast Iron Cons
- VERY heavy (therefore not great for those with packing weight limits)
- You must be VERY diligent on proper seasoning (more on this later) of the oven as well as cleaning or else it will be prone to rust. If not properly seasoned, things like acidic foods can be extremely difficult to clean
- More prone to food sticking (ESPECIALLY if not seasoned)
Note: Cast irons skillets should never be cleaned with soaps. Only hot water (again, why proper seasoning and prepping of the pot is essential)
Enameled Cast Iron Pros
- Doesn’t need to be seasoned (this is actually a HUGE time saver and convenience people are often happy to pay for)
- Long lasting
- You can cook just about any kinds of foods (including acidic) without fear of (much) sticking
Enameled Cast Iron Cons
- Cost: you are paying for the convenience of not having to go through the major hassle of seasoning your dutch oven and being super diligent on the cleaning process to avoid rust. Therefore, you can expect a much higher price tag than just a cast iron pot.
- While you can still put the oven right in the coals, enameled cast iron dutch ovens require a bit more attention to temperature. Basically, don’t let it get to 2000 degrees (unlike the typical cast iron!)
- Not AS durable as just a normal cast iron (but still tough!) and can chip or even break easier than a traditional one
Staying Away from Aluminum
I personally would not recommend buying aluminum dutch ovens for a multitude of reasons.
First, just like with the cast iron giving you healthy iron minerals, some people argue that aluminum is a pretty dangerous property to ingest. Simply because I tend to lean a bit more towards the hippy way of living 😉 I personally steer clear of this cooking material.
Second, while some may tout that it is great because it is much lighter than it’s cast iron counterparts, just remember that aluminum also isn’t the best heat conductor, resulting in uneven cooking and easier burning.
Third, SOME aluminum pots are cheaper, but so is the quality. You may have to buy several over your camping lifetime, where even a basic cast iron dutch oven will last you well into your camping years.
Size and Shape
You’ll find all sizes of dutch ovens and you might be confused which one to buy. However, almost ALL dutch ovenists (yup, I just made that up) will agree that there is the perfect sweet spot size to get that will cover just about EVERY cooking need.
You may be tempted to go off of charts that say to get a particular size based off of the amount of people you are cooking for. HOWEVER…
About a 6 quart (give or take a tiny bit) seems to be the ideal dutch oven size, despite the number of people eating. Even if you aren’t cooking for a crowd, it is big enough to fit almost all recipes (stews, casseroles, whole chickens, breakfasts, desserts and more) into it (and if cooking for 1 or 2, then enough for leftovers). Yet, it is not SO large and cumbersome that it takes forever to heat due to the size.
Since cast iron campfire cooking is the perfect vessel for things like stews, roasting meats and getting creative with recipes, you won’t want to limit your cooking options to much smaller that 5.5 quart dish, even if cooking for just a few.
Anything smaller and you’ll find yourself wishing you had something that could hold a bit more. Trust us on this.
The reality is that dutch ovens are NOT light….like…..at all. If you are concerned about carrying weight for whatever reason (camping in a mobile home that has a weight limit, are backpacking, etc) then a dutch oven probably isn’t going to be your cookware of choice.
Even if you DO find a dutch oven that claims to be lightweight (or even just simply lighter than competitors) there is a good chance that it is just not the quality and makeup of ones that are heavier.
When it comes to dutch ovens, the heavier, typically the better the quality.
Part of the way that dutch ovens cook food so beautifully is because it traps the heat inside and is evenly distributed along it’s walls. So you’ll want to consider a few things when looking at reviews in regards to the lids.
- Sturdy (you don’t want any air to escape, so it needs to be sturdy and well fit)
- Knobs and Handles: having an easy to grab top handle comes in handy when checking on your food
- Lip: make sure there is a decent lip when the lid is placed on top of the pot. This allows for you to put the charcoal on top for even more evenly distributed cooking over the fire
I particularly like the dutch ovens that have a top loop metal handle. You still might want to get a special lid-lifter, but I find that handles like these are MUCH easier to maneuver than pots that just have side handles.
Side handles are often smaller and harder to hold onto. Plus, they are PIPING hot and often will require REALLY really good pot holders, if not even a special dutch oven handle holder (but I find these harder to hold/work with).
The main difference between indoor and camping dutch ovens is the presence of legs.
If the primary purpose of your dutch oven is to be used while camping, get one that has legs!! As noted earlier, this allows you to place the pot over the coals for a really even cooking and proper airflow.
Cleaning and Seasoning Needed
Be realistic when considering what is the best camping dutch oven for YOU. (More on HOW to clean and season dutch ovens below)
If you know you aren’t real diligent on cleaning, then an enameled cast iron might be better suited for you.
Likewise, there are a lot of options that come “pre-seasoned” which is a good option for people who may not want to take the time and effort to do so themselves (just be careful of using acidic foods still, like tomatoes, as the pre-seasoned pots typically aren’t as well done as if you were to do it yourself)
If you love cooking and don’t mind a bit of work for the reward of amazing meals, then seasoning a cast iron dutch oven is honestly your best bet. Your food will turn out AMAZING and if well seasoned and prepped, cleaning isn’t hard.
10 Camping Dutch Oven Accessories and Gear
There are some essentials that you will want to get when you buy your dutch oven. Then there are some just really awesome gear that is so fun to have and will totally up your camping cooking game! Here are both.
Cast Iron Cleaner
Since you can’t use soaps and detergents on cast iron, you’ll need a heavy-duty material to help clean out your oven, like this chainmail piece.
Tongs or Shovel
If dealing with just charcoal, tongs (long handled BBQ style) are my go-to method for dealing with the briquettes. I also like that packing up a set of tongs is small, light and easy. However, if you are also working with wood, then a shovel is good to have on hand.
Pretty much an absolute must when cooking with a dutch oven! No need to even worry about handling that super hot cast iron. The special tool not only can lift the lid but also move the whole unit when needed.
The versatility of a dutch oven is nothing to scoff at. In fact, there are SO many different styles, types and varieties of foods to make in the dutch oven, we often UNDERestimate just how awesome these bad boys are! Don’t get stuck in a rut with cooking. Use a cookbook to get inspired for your next cooking trip as well as get tips on best cooking practices.
- If you are a dutch oven newbie, give the Cast Iron Cooking For Dummies a try!
- Click Here For Lodge’s Dutch Oven Field Guide containing 120 PAGES worth of recipes!
Some people like to double down and get a leg-less dutch oven that allows them to use the pot both inside on a stove as well as outside camping. However, if you go this route, then a tripod will become a necessity.
I’d say that while not a NECESSITY, a lid stand is easy enough to throw inside your dutch oven while transporting and is REALLY handy to have if you are cooking something that needs to be checked on frequently or if in a location that isn’t conducive to putting the lid on the ground. Basically, while not on the “must-have” list, it’s a “why the heck not” item that can really help with ease.
My Eagle Scout Hubby always packs a short handled whisk broom when camping with our dutch oven. He gently sweeps away the coals keeping everything tidy and clean. I say if an Eagle Scout brings it along, I’ll trust him! (Tip: Just make sure it is a straw broom. Plastic will create an obvious disastrous mess!)
Oven Mits and Handle Handlers
If you have a lid lifter, you probably don’t really need these, but again, it never hurts to have one hand (yes…pun intended!) For the cost of them, they are fantastic to have just as backups if nothing else.
Charcoal Starter/ Chimney Starter
Starting charcoal isn’t the hardest thing in the world. However, these bad boys make the task seriously foolproof, SO easy and incredibly fast! Our charcoal starter just stays in our “Dutch Oven Camping Kit” since we use it every single time!
How awesome is this!?!? I love the idea of using a fryer while camping. French fries. Fried Chicken. You name it. Camping food just got way more delicious!!!
How To Season a Dutch Oven
- Wash With Hot Water: This is going to get any factory product off
- Flax Oil is one of the best oils to use. It won’t gum up over years of use. You can buy some here or even just get a ready to go dutch oven conditioner. If you have to, crisco or even olive oil are also excepteable (some people even use vegetable oil- but just know that this can build up over time)
*You’ll want to avoid animal products like lard, as they can get rancid over time. I personally use olive oil every time.
- Pour several tablespoons of oil in the pan. However, you don’t want it to be sopping wet. Using a papertowel, thoroughly coat the entire pan. Get EVERY nook and crannie coated really well. Leave NO spot unoiled!
- Don’t forget to oil the ENTIRE lid as well
- Use a grill or oven and place the oven face down. Check your manufacturer for the exact time and seasoning for your brand, but generally about 350 for one hour should be a good place to start. Let completely cool.
- If seasoning for the first time, you’ll want to do this process at least THREE times!! Yes, three! It takes a long time, but taking the time to season your dutch oven properly will save you so much time and hassle and will also give you great cookware for camping!
Here is a pretty thorough video if you are more of a visual person
Cooking Chart For How To Cook With a Dutch Oven
|Baking||You want most of the heat to come from the top so the bottom doesn’t burn.
Place 3/4 coals on top and 1/4 underneath the oven
|Roasting||Heat should be distributed evenly for thorough cooking.
Place 1/2 of the coals on top and 1/2 underneath.
|Stewing, Simmering||A good simmer comes from slow, bottom heat.
Set 3/4 of the coals underneath and only 1/4 on top
|Frying, Boiling||ALL heat will come from underneath.
Place all coals underneath (none on top)
Camping Dutch Oven Recipes