We went camping this weekend with my hubby's family. Perfect time to bust out the dutch ovens. We have one much loved and well used Lodge 12" oven, and I finally opened the box of a Cabela's brand 12" oven that his parents gave us for Christmas a couple of years ago. While Lodge has always been the go-to brand of choice for me, I was very impressed by the quality of the Cabela's oven. It has the awesome bonus feature of the lid being shaped nicely on the inside so that it can be used as a griddle. My point with this rambling is that it is worth it to spend good money on a solid oven. If you see a no-name brand one for sale for 20 bucks, run the other way. It will drive you crazy and not yield the results you hope for.
I am not a scientific dutch ovener. I have a few cookbooks that I've been given over the years in which the authors expound on the number of coals on top and bottom to achieve the right cooking temperature, rotating the lid every twenty minutes, knocking the ash off, using only a particular brand of coals...blah blah blah. That takes the fun out if it, in my opinion! Just like the way I cook at home, I especially do dutch oven by the seat of my pants and 90% of the time it works just fine. The other 10% of the time it still tastes good because something about being outside = extra hungry.
I would like to bring up a couple of basic points for success, though. Work in a well ventilated area. We had a deep concrete fire pit at this camp site that we didn't use because the air flow would have been poor and taken the coals longer to heat up. We simply laid down a square of heavy duty foil and heaped half a big bag of match light coals up. Purists wouldn't use match light, but I'm not a purist :). They work just fine and are far easier to get going than plain briquets. I had the men fire up the coals while I prepped the food, and by the time the food was ready to go, the coals were too. Perfect.
You need to make sure you have a pair of heavy duty leather gloves and some tongs to move coals around. I have a lid lifter tool as well, which I think is on the "really nice to have but you can get by without it" list. The tongs I use are my favorite el-cheapo stainless steel all purpose kitchen tongs.
In general, you will need more coals on top than on bottom since there is dead air space to heat between the top and the food. For the things I cook, I just put as many coals as I can fit on top and bottom, evenly spaced. Especially at higher altitudes, you need as many as you can get. I don't have experience cooking dutch oven below 4,500 feet, so I can't give advice on the number of coals needed for you lowlanders.
If you're doing a few pots at once, stack them. I check the food every 20-30 minutes and change the stack position if necessary.
Boneless Pork Ribs
5 pounds boneless pork ribs
1 large sweet vidalia onion
2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce (we love Jack Daniel's Honey Smokehouse and Sweet Baby Ray's)
Cut the onion into thick slices, then quarter the circles so that you are left with good size chunks. Place the ribs and onion slices into a 12" dutch oven and douse them in sauce. Stir it around until everything is thoroughly coated. Put the lid on, place it over a bed of coals, cover the lid with coals and let it cook merrily away. Stir it after 45 or so minutes, then check it every 20 minutes or so thereafter and stir if needed. Cook time will be 1 - 1.5 hours, depending on how hot your coals are. You want them to be fork tender, so the longer they simmer, the more tender they'll be.
2 bags frozen O'brien style potatoes
2 cups carrot "pennies"
1 sweet vidalia onion, diced
1 pound bacon
2-3 T. butter or oil
salt and pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese
Heat a 12" dutch oven over a bed of coals and toss the bacon in. Cook until browned, then remove to dice. Dump in the potatoes, carrots and onion and stir around until evenly coated with bacon grease. If there wasn't enough grease left over, add another 2-3 T. butter or oil as needed and stir well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir in the diced bacon and put the lid on. Cover the lid with coals and let cook for 30 minutes. Stir, and cook for another 20 minutes. The vegetables should be tender at this point and lightly golden. Sprinkle the cheese over the top in an even layer and put the lid back on for another 10-15 minutes.
Feed the thundering herd of hungry people, and chances are good that this is all you'll have left over. The quantities in these recipes fed a crowd of 13, with 4 of those people being little kids that didn't eat much.
6 large apples of assorted varieties (jonagold, golden delicious, gala, granny smith, etc.)
3 T. flour
1 T. cinnamon
4 T. butter, cubed
Cloves, nutmeg, ginger as desired
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup whole wheat or all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon
Stir together the topping ingredients except for the butter until well combined, then cut in the butter. I often do this part with my hands to make sure that the butter gets evenly distributed. I also usually make the topping in advance to make prep easier at the campsite.
Thinly slice the apples. In a small bowl, stir together the flour and spices. Sprinkle over the apple slices and toss gently to coat. Dot butter over the apples, then layer the topping evenly over all of it.
Lay on a bed of coals and place a layer on top as well. Cook for 30 minutes, then check apple tenderness. Cook for up to an additional 20 minutes until the topping is nicely crisp and brown and the apples are fork tender. Serve warm with ice cream.