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Some Like It Hot!  at Cabela's

Some Like It Hot!

Author: Melissa Baltzell

Cooking in cast iron can be fun, challenging and very satisfying. Fire up the charcoal, grab your apron and let's turn up the heat!

Dutch Oven Cookware

As with any cooking method, cooking with Dutch ovens is not an exact science. There are a number of variables that can affect the outcome of your meal. Temperature is one of the most important. Monitoring and controlling cooking temperatures does takes some practice but doesn't have to be cause for anxiety. Here are a few hints and guidelines to make it easier.


Ahead of the Game

Before you can bake, boil, simmer or sauté you need to fire up your charcoal. A Charcoal Starter works great for this. Light your briquets 15 to 20 minutes before you are ready for them. If the dish you are preparing requires a longer cooking time, you may want to light a number of briquets in 20-30 minute intervals to ensure you have some that are at the correct temperature when you need them.

Preheating your Dutch oven is recommended. If you are cooking out on a hot summer day you can simply set the oven in the sun. If not just set it over the coals for just a few minutes as soon as they are ready. While the briquets and oven are heating up, you can prepare the ingredients. Take care not to put ice cold ingredients into a really hot Dutch oven.

A Dandy Arrangement

Charcoal placement on lid (left) and beneath oven (right).

Temperature control is largely dependent on charcoal arrangement. Distributing the briquets evenly will in turn distribute the heat evenly. This is very important, as clumping or piling briquets will cause "hot spots" resulting in burnt food. Arrange the bottom coals in a circular pattern keeping the outside edge of the coals 1/2" from the outer edge of the oven. The top coals should be arranged evenly over the entire surface of the lid in a checkerboard-type pattern.

The number of briquets used depends upon the temperature desired. Each charcoal briquet provides about 10 to 20 degrees of heat. Dutch oven size also enters in. Smaller ovens require fewer coals as heat is concentrated in a smaller area. Here is a baking temperature chart you can follow (these numbers are approximate).

Baking Temperature Chart
Dutch Oven Sizes

Temp.

8 inch

10 inch

12 inch

14 inch

16 inch

°F

Top

Btm.

Top

Btm.

Top

Btm.

Top

Btm.

Top

Btm.

300°

9

4

12

5

15

7

19

9

21

11

325°

10

5

13

6

16

7

20

10

22

12

350°

11

5

14

7

17

8

21

11

24

12

375°

11

6

16

7

18

9

22

12

24

13

400°

12

6

17

8

19

10

24

12

27

13

425°

13

6

18

9

21

10

25

13

28

14

450°

14

6

19

10

22

11

26

14

30

14

500°

15

7

20

11

23

12

28

14

32

15

There are a number of variables that can affect cooking temperature and charcoal performance. Remember "...not an exact science." Climate carries the most weight here. A windy day, warm or cool, will cause temperature fluctuations. The Dutch Oven Cooking Table can provide substantial wind protection. Otherwise try to cook in a protected area or provide some kind of wind-break. High humidity can lower charcoal temperatures. Here enters "trial and error." Don't get discouraged, with a little practice you can conquer the elements.

Another factor in charcoal temperature control is the size of the charcoal. As briquets burn, they become smaller. Replace spent coals regularly with fresh, hot briquets. You can group smaller coals together to equal the temperature of a fresh one but be careful, this can cause hot spots.

To avoid burning from possible hot spots and ensure even temperature distribution it is a good idea to rotate the oven 90 degrees one direction and the lid 90 degrees the opposite direction every 10 to 15 minutes. The oven handle and the lid will be very hot so use a heavy potholder or gloves and a lid lifter. Take care when lifting the lid not to allow any ashes to fall into the dish. They are not very tasty.

The quality of charcoal briquets you use is important. Brand names are generally more consistent from bag to bag. Kingsford is preferred by many of the pros.

Just like at home on the stove; boiling, steaming, frying and simmering require bottom heat only. Add 2-6 briquets under the Dutch oven to fry, steam or boil ingredients. Simmering requires less heat so you will need to remove briquets from underneath the oven. Simmering is done at a temperature just below or at the boiling point, normally between 180 and 200 degrees. Elevation can affect the temperature at which the boiling point is reached. When cooking at higher elevations more briquets may be needed to reach temperatures that will bring ingredients to a simmer or boil. It may also take a little longer, in general, for dishes to cook at higher elevations.

How Hot Is It?

Estimating the temperature of the coals can be a little dicey. A thermometer can be used but may not be available. An alternative method to determine temperature is to hold the palm of the hand close to the coals and begin counting "one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand..." until the heat becomes unbearable. Here is how the counting method breaks down.

  • 6 - 7 counts - 250° to 300°
  • 4 - 5 counts - 350° to 400°
  • 2 - 3 counts - as high as 450°
  • 1 or less - 500° and higher
First of all, OUCH! Second of all, if you choose to try this method, be careful!

A little safer route is to use the "pinch-of-flour" method. Sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of the pot and allow it to "cook" for 5 minutes or so. If no change in the color of the flour occurs, the temperature is below 250 degrees. Here is how the rest of the "pinch-of-flour" method "pans" out.

  • Light tan - about 300°
  • Golden brown - about 350°
  • Dark brown - about 400°
  • Black - above 500° and will burn anything put in the pot.
Whichever method you prefer or if you have a trick of your own, as always, practice is all it takes to turn you into a pro.

There are few limitations to cooking in a Dutch oven. Anything you cook at home in a conventional oven can be cooked in a Dutch oven. Just keep it simple at first. If you try too much too soon you'll be raking yourself over the coals. Work your way up to the more complicated dishes. Before long you will be cooking multiple course meals for every occasion.

Click here purchase Lodge Dutch ovens and cooking accessories.





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