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The “Love” of Outdoor Cooking

Whenever the occasion arises, whether camping or in the backyard, I always light the fire pit for an outdoor treat.   The outside weather has never been a factor, anytime of year will do.   My family agrees a meal cooked over the campfire, grill or in the Dutch Oven, is simply irresistible.IMG_0819

Skip the restaurant this year, and make your own Valentine’s Day dinner – in your backyard! This February 14, I will be preparing an Italian dinner, consisting of lasagna, green beans and garlic bread in the Dutch oven. Looking for a romantic menu or just want out of the winter rut, there are numerous Dutch Oven recipes to satisfy any cravings from pork chops, soup, enchiladas to salmon. Top off your special meal with a Dutch oven chocolate lava cake.

Don’t let the cold winter weather keep you away from your Dutch oven. Cold, snow or wind, with a few minor adjustments, your Dutch oven will conquer old man winter.

  1. Protect from the weather. Find a corner, covered porch, deep fire pit or build a shelter keeping the Dutch oven out of the direct wind and moisture. I found an old rusty large charcoal grill worked great, as it protected the Dutch oven both from the snow and wind.
  2. Start with a room temperature oven. Don’t take your Dutch oven outside until the coals are ready. Allowing the oven to chill to the outside weather will extend the cooking time and require more coals.
  3. Add more coals. A typical Dutch oven recipe will suggest cooking at 350°F . I’ve found that adding two extra coals on the bottom and four on top of the lid will accommodate a cold outside temperature of 20°F – 40 ° You can always add more coals on top. Cautious – adding too many coals below the Dutch oven may cause a burnt bottom layer.
  4. A tight closed lid is key. As we want our home windows and doors to be tightly shut to keep the cold out, having the Dutch oven lid closed tight will keep the heat in.
  5. Be patient. If you are like me, I’ve been salivating for hours in anticipation of a cast iron delicacy. The food is in the oven, coals are placed – and now it seems to be an eternity before the food is done. Because your Dutch oven may be heating to lower temp in the winter, be prepared to allow for extended cooking time. My cakes, as an example have taken up to an additional 15 minutes. It’s Valentine’s Day; spend time doing something you love while the Dutch oven works.

IMG_0825With no electricity or fancy restaurants, our ancestors shared meals with their sweethearts prepared by cast iron over an open fire.

Love to outdoor cook, but don’t have a Dutch Oven? Cooking food over a campfire or grill is just as delicious. No boxed chocolates for this gal, a campfire roasted marshmallow with melted chocolate between two graham crackers will hit my taste buds.IMG_0828

This valentine’s day, don’t let winter stop you from preparing a romantic recipe – outside.

Julia Plugge, NGPC
Outdoor Education Specialist

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