A cast-aluminum Dutch oven like GSI's 10-inch hard-anodized model ($69.95) or the Woody Dutch Oven ($99.99) is the most versatile piece of cookware a backcountry chef can pack. The multi-use aspect of these pots more than makes up for their moderate weight. A Dutch oven provides a trifecta of opportunity--boiling, frying or baking. It's sturdy enough to handle campfire cooking and the most aggressive dishwaters. Simply put, I won't travel without my trusty Dutch oven when I'm feeding a group on a sea kayak or canoe trip.
As its cowboy and chuckwagon history suggests, the Dutch oven works best with an open fire. Traditionally, a pot of beans would be buried in the sand beneath a roaring bonfire; after a couple of hours it was dinnertime. Low-impact camping demands more responsible use. First, adhere to local regulations and seasonal fire bans. Some people use charcoal briquettes, but an even simpler method to make your Dutch oven live up to its name is to set it on a fire grill and use finger-sized twigs or split wood to kindle a second, smaller fire on its lid. Keep low heat on the bottom--this typically means a low fire or coals six- to eight-inches below a grill--and tend your twiggy fire constantly. This is imprecise art and requires a bit of experimentation, which is all part of the fun.
Here are three Dutch oven recipes, one for each meal of the day.
Breakfast--Steel cut oatmeal
Start with ½ cup steel cut oatmeal per person. Liven it up with dried fruit, seeds or nuts. Add to boiling water (roughly 2 parts water for every 1 part oats) and simmer for 20 minutes. The thermal capacity of a Dutch oven protects the oats from burning and allows you to cook to a creamy consistency. Serve with milk and brown sugar or maple syrup.
Bannock is the staple trail bread of the North Woods, and it comes out perfectly in a Dutch oven. The basic bannock recipe for two is 1 cup of flour, 1 of teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Add fat (oil or shortening) if you're looking for extra calories, and dried fruit or cheese are nice complements. Mix it with enough water to make a stiff dough.
Heat your Dutch oven and oil it well. Add the dough and cook over low heat (or coals). If you're cooking on fire, now's the time to light a twiggy fire on top of the Dutch oven lid. Keep it burning hot for 10 minutes, then allow the fire to die slowly. After 20 minutes your bannock should be ready. On a gas stove, you'll likely need to flip your bannock midway through.
This is an easy dinner that goes well with baked potatoes, rice or bannock. The base is eggs--two per person, fresh or non-perishable egg crystals rehydrated according to package instructions (try Ova Easy--our favorite powdered egg). Beat the eggs and add veggies--mushrooms, sweet peppers and onion are nice. (If using dried vegetables rehydrate for 15 minutes in boiling water first. You could prepare some instant homefries in this manner as well and add them to the mix.) Chop in a couple of ounces of cheese per person.
Heat your Dutch oven and oil it well. Dump in the egg mixture and cook over coals. (This meal only works with fire.) Then light a twiggy fire on the lid and tend it for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your egg mixture.