How to Cook in a Dutch Oven on Off-Roading Trails

Staying on the cooking on off-roading trails theme (can you tell I like to eat yet?) I thought I would share with you what a typical cooler of mine is filled with before hitting the trails as far as food wise: bread, bunch of different deli meats for sandwiches, Miracle Whip, hamburger, hot dogs, buns accordingly (if I remember them) a steak for my final meal, cereal (Capt. Crunch with Crunch Berries) and a small container of milk. If I am thinking, I will throw in a few potatoes, a tomato or two, and onions. Of course on the non-cooler side I always have ample chips and sweets (cookies and what not) packed. Nothing near as appetizing as what Chef Mark DeNittis in the last blog whipped up but I have always tried to take the easy road when it comes to cooking on the trails. However, this year I am going to try to spice it up some, maybe even impress a fellow off-roader or two. So, I did more investigating to find easy ways to cook real meals other than my standard diet. I came across and article about cooking with Dutch Ovens out on the trails. My mom always used one to make our Christmas hams and stews. I loved the way it made food taste. So without further ado, let me share this article with you from about how to cook on the trails with a Dutch oven.

Tickle The Taste Buds With A Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens are a great way to bring the taste of home cooking to the outdoors. To better understand Dutch ovens, I turned to fellow Outdoor Adventure USA member Bruce Crabtree. Bruce has been cooking with Dutch ovens for over 15 years. He recently joined us during a ham radio program to share his thoughts.

A Dutch oven is actually a cooking pot that’s designed to be heated by charcoal or a campfire. They are made of cast iron because iron offers a uniform distribution of heat. Dutch ovens are most often used for baking goods, but are also used to cook with. People make soups, casseroles, and other dishes with a Dutch oven.

Dutch ovens can be purchased at most outdoor stores such as Cabela’s, Sports Chalet and Bass Pro. Wall Mart has a limited selection. Stick with high quality Lodge or Camp Chef brands.

The ovens come in a variety of sizes, with the most common being 10” and 12” wide. A 12” pot holds six quarts of food and will serve four to six people. For two to four people, a 10” pot should be sufficient. Be sure you purchase a “camp” oven with 3 little legs and a lip on the lid to hold hot coals.

New ovens have a waxy coating to prevent rusting. Wash in soap and water to remove the coating. The next step is to “season” your pot. Use a paper towel to apply a light coat of vegetable oil (many people use Crisco brand) to all surfaces of the pot and lid inside and out. Do not use lard or other animal fat. It will turn rancid over time.

Place the covered pot in your gas grille, close the lid, and heat to 425 degrees, baking for one and one-half to two hours. This process causes a lot of smoke, so don’t be alarmed. Season several times to give your oven a nice, non-stick surface.

Now you’re ready to cook. Since most folks use charcoal we’ll focus on that. To determine how much charcoal to use, remember the “plus 3/minus 3” rule. Add three coals to the size of your pot for the lid. Subtract three to get the number of coals needed underneath. So, for a 12” pot, you’d use 15 briquettes on the lid and nine underneath.

Form a ring of charcoal under the pot; do not have any coals directly underneath or you’ll develop a hot spot. That’s not important for the lid. Coals can be placed evenly across the top. This arrangement will create an internal temperature of about 350 degrees. Add charcoal if you need a higher temperature. Each additional briquette increases the internal temperature by about 25 degrees.

Most dishes and baked goods cook in 45 minutes to an hour. Rotate the oven every 15 minutes to ensure even heating, and be careful when serving your meal. The oven is heavy and very hot.

Some Do’s and Don’ts to consider:
Do clean out the pot after every meal. Condensation will form on any leftover food, which will cause the pot to rust. A paper towel is usually all you’ll need to remove food scraps.
Don’t store without drying. Wipe it thoroughly with a towel or heat the oven over a stove.
Don’t clean with soap. The porous surface of the oven will capture some of the soap, resulting in an after taste. If the oven has been cleaned with soap, rinse it thoroughly with hot water.
Don’t use steel wool or abrasive cleaners. These will scratch off the seasoning and make the oven susceptible to rusting. However, you can use steel wool to remove rust spots.

Dutch ovens are a great way to bring authentic cooking to the outdoors. With a little practice you can become a hit with your friends during your next off-road adventure.

About the Author: Tom Severin, 4×4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit to develop or improve your driving skill.

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Written by Andrew

"You're telling me it's got four wheels, two seats and goes faster than the speed limit? Good, I'm driving."


  1. And to think I just eat cold sandwiches with chips! I can’t wait to try a stew, it sounds great. So does a hot meal after a long day on the trails. Thanks so much.


  2. Whatever is cooking in that pot in the picture looks really good. It sounds easy enough to cook outside. I’ve never tried it, but if it means an end to cold cut sandwiches I’m willing to give it a try. I’m going out shopping for the pot this weekend. Spring is on the way and I want to be ready.


  3. My family has gone camping every summer for as long as I can remember. The pot we used is well worn but turns out some of the most amazing food you’ll find anywhere. My Mom was always good about showing me how to cook outside. Now that I’m out on my own it’s a tradition that will help me when I go off road. My friends are always amazed that I can cook a real meal at a camp site.


  4. I’m getting me a dutch oven before summer gets here for sure. My girl loves to cook, and she’s good at it. I don’t know if she has ever cooked over an open fire but I know she’d be up for trying. My mouth is watering already.


  5. I’ve never cooked over an open fire but I love to cook and I’m willing to try anything once. Whatever’s cooking in that pot looks mighty delicious. I’m a whiz on the grill but you’re limited to what types of food you can cook that way. I’m going to start hunting for my pot asap.


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