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Q and A: Dutch Oven Cooking with Christy Christiansen

I love to eat, but do not cook much. I am the chef’s sampler indeed, but not a chef.

There is one thing connected to the great outdoors regarding cooking though that I want to learn how to do – Dutch oven cooking.

The lid is lifted off a Dutch oven containing an Apple Butter Pecan Cobbler dish ready to eat! MMMmmm … Photo by Tara Marrero of Ashland, NE.

I have been around Dutch oven cooking for some time, but have been the beneficiary of the culinary talents of many.

The Dutch oven Apple Butter Pecan Cobbler recipe is complete. Looks delicious, doesn’t it? Photo by Tara Marrero of Ashland, NE.

Over the years, we have had fabulous Dutch oven chefs associated with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission – Carl Wolfe, Steve O’Hare, Lynn Hartog, Alette Hain, Jo Momsen, Julia Plugge, Julie Geiser, Donna Robinson, Peggy Kapeller, Tammy Crosby, Tiffani Gerber, Sarah Heiden Johnson, Christy Christiansen and more.

Christy Christiansen, a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Outdoor Education Specialist, puts hot coals from a chimney into a hog/feed pan in preparation for Dutch oven cooking. Photo by Tara Marrero of Ashland, NE.

It seems there is so much to know about cooking with a Dutch oven. That heavy, cast-iron, deep-dished cooking pot with its three legs and rimmed lid is intimidating to me. Not to mention what I have to do with all those charcoal briquettes!

A Dutch oven is in service. Photo by of Tara Marrero of Ashland, NE.

For help, I turned to longtime friend, avid outdoor enthusiast and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission colleague – Christy Christiansen. You see, Christy, a fellow Bellevue University alumni, is an outdoor education specialist with our agency and a pro at Dutch oven cooking.

Christy Christiansen, Outdoor Education Specialist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, is one of the top Dutch oven chefs at the agency. Photo by Tara Marrero of Ashland, NE.

She offered to demystify and simplify the rewarding and delicious art of Dutch oven cooking. Here is my question and answer session with her about the basics of Dutch cooking that I wanted to share with you.

GW: What do I need to know about buying a Dutch oven? 

CC: A Dutch oven is intended to cook with coals on top and underneath to create an oven effect of the heat surrounding it. Make sure the oven lid has a lip around the edge to keep the coals from falling off and 3 legs. If you have one without legs you can use a trivet made for a Dutch oven. A good size for a cast iron Dutch oven is 12-inches and can feed 6-8 people. A 10-inch Dutch oven is great for cobblers. Well-known brand-names are Lodge, Wagner, Cabela’s, Camp Chef, Coleman and Texsport. Don’t pass up an old rusty oven you find at a yard sale. Just a bit of elbow grease will bring it back to brand new.

GW: Do I need to season the Dutch oven?

CC: Most new Dutch ovens are preseasoned or cured but like everything else you buy, it will need a good scrubbing. The first time you use one, you can use soap (BUT JUST THIS ONE TIME!). Wash and scrub thoroughly with a scrub pad. Heat, dry and coat inside and out with Crisco or another cooking oil and and you are ready! Best to cook bacon or hamburger for the first entree, too. The excessive bacon and burger fat will further help to season the oven as it gets hot.

GW: Is a Dutch oven complicated to use?

CC: Not at all! If you like making one-pot meals it is an excellent, easy way to cook.

GW: What are the key things to know about cooking with Dutch Ovens?

CC: Learning how to determine and maintain temperatures. Use the Dutch oven rule of thumb for cooking with charcoal. Use a better brand of charcoal briquets like Kingsford. Have 2 or more briquets or coals than the size of the oven on top and 2 or less underneath. The 12-inch oven has 14 coals in a circle on top and 10 on the bottom. The rule: 1 charcoal briquet = 25 degrees.  Most Dutch oven recipes call for cooking at 350 degrees.

Also, keep the lid on tight and try not to peek during the cooking process, remember this is an oven. It takes a while to heat up, but it maintains the heat well. Use a lid lifter made for ovens or a hammer, wear welding gloves or thick leather oven mitts and no open- toed shoes. Think safety, be cautious and don’t burn yourself or start a wild fire!

If you have no way to properly contain your Dutch oven and charcoals for the cooking process, know that a round, large, galvanized hog/feed pan works well for that. When finished, cool all the coals with water.

A few more things to note. Keep in mind that your seasoned dutch oven lid can make a wonderful pan for cooking by setting it upside down on a bed of coals (great for cooking pancakes). Don’t submerse a hot oven in cold water because it can crack. Never leave food sit in the oven after cooking as the food will pull off the seasoning and can rust.

GW: What are among the better recipes for Dutch oven cooking?  

CC: My favorite is a mountain man breakfast with everything in it like potatoes, bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, eggs and of course lots of cheese! Many folks enjoy making cobblers.

GW: How do I clean the Dutch oven? 

CC: The best way to clean a Dutch oven after scraping out excess food and while the oven is still warm, is to pour water in the pot and scrape with a wooden spoon or spatula. You can always heat up the water if food is really stuck to it. Dump the water out and scrub it out with a green scruff pad and add water, if needed. Heat the oven up to dry and then coat with Crisco or similar cooking oil.

GW: Can I cook outside with Dutch ovens in late fall and winter? 

CC: Absolutely! Cast iron is really durable as long as it stays dry and is clean when stored. You can cook with Dutch ovens year-round.

GW: Are there limits to what I can cook in a Dutch oven? 

CC: Anything you can make in your oven at home, you can make in a Dutch oven. There are no limits! Be inventive! I have made pot pies, pizza, bread, brownies and even enchiladas!

GW: What are the advantages of cooking with a Dutch oven at a campsite fire ring or in your backyard fire pit?

CC: I like the fact that you can leave it cook while you are doing other things. Backyard fire pits ring are great during late summer and early fall, so you won’t heat up the house when you really want to bake a cake or something else. Dutch ovens also mean less equipment to pack when camping. I bring one Dutch oven and a cast iron skillet and make just about every meal in them while we are camping.

GW:  Can you cook on the stove with a Dutch oven?

CC: Yes, but if you are baking something you will want to put it in the oven. I use cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens daily at home. I prefer to utilize my gas range, but I do know several people who use electric stoves and even cook with them carefully on a glass top.

GW: Can you share a favorite recipe or two?

CC: Just two?!?! Okay, these are a few of my originals, the two-ingredient cobbler recipe belongs to one of our other DO (Dutch oven) cooking experts.

Mountain Man Breakfast

1 pound bacon or 1 pound of sausage or use both!

1 Large bag frozen cubed/diced hash browns

1 bag frozen onions & green peppers

1 dozen eggs

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 1 8oz tub of sour cream (I prefer the flavored ones-Cheddar Bacon is my fave!)

Seasoning to taste

Cut up bacon and/or sausage and cook in a 12” DO until brown. Do not drain grease. Add hash browns and stir. In mixing bowl add eggs, cheese and sour cream & dump in DO (Dutch oven) and mix. (or not, just dump it all in!!)

Place 10 charcoal briquettes in a hog/feed pan in a

circle, place DO over coals, cover with lid.

Add 12-14 coals on top of DO. Stir after 15 minutes. Cook an additional 15-20 minutes and add more coals to top if necessary.

Christy’s Ritzy Chicky Casserole

1 Rotisserie cooked Chicken

8 oz tub sour cream

2 cans cream of chicken soup

2 cans cream of potato soup

1 small bag frozen vegetables (opt)

Ritz crackers (2 sleeves)

1 stick butter

Seasoning to taste (mural of flavor)

Cut chicken in bite size pieces and place in DO. Add sour cream and soups and stir until smooth, add frozen vegetable (opt). Crush sleeves of Ritz crackers and spread on top of casserole. Melt butter and pour over top of crackers. Bake in Dutch oven for 30-40 minutes.

Dutch Oven Apple/Pear Cobbler

1 cans Apple Pie filling

1 can sliced pears (do not drain)

1 butter pecan cake mix or yellow

1 stick of butter

Brown sugar

Small bag of pecans

Coat bottom of Dutch Oven with Crisco. Dump both cans of pie filling into DO. Cut into bite sized pieces. Pour cake mix over top of pie filling. Top with pats of butter, walnuts and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Cover with DO lid and set on a small ring of coals. Cover the lid with coals. Turn DO after 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Cook at about 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake looks done when cut or poked.

Dutch Oven Two-Ingredient Cobbler

2 cans diced Pineapple (do not drain)

1 angel food cake mix

or

1 can of pumpkin

1 spice cake mix *

*With this recipe you can add some extras-cinnamon chips, chocolate chips, top with pats of butter and sprinkle top with brown sugar.

Coat bottom of Dutch Oven with Crisco or Pam. Stir all ingredients together until well mixed.

Cover with DO lid and set on a small ring of coals. Cover the lid with coals. Turn DO after 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Cook at about 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake looks done when cut or poked.

Did you know

  • American Patriot and Silversmith, Paul Revere, is credited with the unique design of the Dutch oven’s flat lid with a ridge for holding coals as well as the addition of legs to the pots of the Dutch ovens.
  • Lewis and Clark carried Dutch ovens on their journey across the American West in the early 1800s, and you can still buy reproductions of the three-legged ovens they used.
  • Mountain men exploring the American frontier used Dutch ovens into the late 19th century.
  • African American Settlers on the Great Plains widely used Dutch ovens for cooking.
  • Chuckwagons accompanying western cattle drives also carried Dutch ovens from the mid-19th century into the early 20th century.
A tasty Cheeseburger Pie recipe in the Dutch oven awaits hungry folks. Photo by Tara Marrero of Ashland, NE.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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