Gear Review: Camping Dutch Oven

We love our Camping Dutch Oven, affectionately nicknamed our “Campsite Culinary Companion.”

Dutch oven with charcoal on top and bottom outdoors

The Dutch oven, an 18th-century invention from the Netherlands, is much more than a cooking pot—it’s a symbol of culinary history that has stood the test of time. Rugged and dependable, a Dutch oven’s ability to evenly distribute and maintain heat makes it ideal for the unpredictable conditions of campfire cuisine. It has gracefully transitioned from the hearths of old to become a trusted companion at modern campsites. Whether it’s for simmering stews, baking freshly kneaded bread, or concocting hearty chilis, the Dutch oven’s versatility is unmatched. Take it outdoors, and the culinary possibilities expand exponentially, transforming meals under the stars into feasts that linger in memory long after the campfire’s last embers have cooled.

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There are few things we look forward to more while camping than a nice hot delicious one pot meal cooked over our campfire. While there are several methods to achieve this goal, a Cast Iron Dutch Oven is one of our favorites. An incredibly versatile tool, Camping Dutch Ovens are thick-walled pots that are well equipped to handle the intense heat that comes when we cook over a campfire. Their ability to distribute heat evenly and the fact that they can bake, fry, simmer, or even roast means they top the list of tools that are worth considering packing in your kitchen kit. We can’t imagine going on a long camping trip without them!

Types of Dutch Ovens:

There are two types of Dutch ovens available in the marketplace, cast iron and hard anodized aluminum. While we have nothing against hard anodized aluminum Dutch ovens, and in fact have two we use regularly at home, we can’t in good conscience recommend anything but cast iron for a camping trip. Why is this? It would be because cast iron can handle the heat of coals or the flames of the fire while the aluminum ones need a bit more care. If you haven’t used cast iron before, don’t be nervous. We have tips on how to treat it so that it stays useable.

Brands of Dutch Ovens:

While there are many brands of Dutch ovens available for camping, the ones that are most often mentioned tend to be Lodge, Camp Chef, and Ozark Trail. GSI and Bruntmor also get some attention among the campers we know.

The first Dutch oven we purchased for camping was from the Lodge store in South Pittsburg, TN on our way home from a camping trip in the Smokey Mountains. We actually don’t use it that often because it is too large for our family of three. This is a pity as when we do use it everything cooks up beautifully. We need to go camping with friends and family more frequently.

The next one we purchased was from Walmart and is their Ozark Trail brand. We bought this one on a whim because we decided that we were going to cook a recipe that night and needed a smaller size. This one has also given us zero problems. In fact, for the price, we feel the Ozark Trail brand of items provide great value so if you are an infrequent camper and want to purchase your equipment without spending much money, it is definitely worth looking at their items.

We do not own any of the other brands, but they are all reputable companies, and we would purchase from any of them should we need to add to our collection.

Things to Consider when shopping for your Camping Dutch Oven:

Selecting the right Dutch oven for your camping adventures involves several considerations. Keep in mind the following key points:

dutch oven chili with cornbread dollups

Size Matters:

The first thing to consider is what size do you need. We realized this after we impulsively bought a large one that basically gets no use because it is too big for the amount of people we are trying to feed. Consider the number of people you usually camp with. A larger Dutch oven suits group meals, while a smaller one is perfect for solo trips or couples.

Camping with 1-2 people? You will best be served with a 2-quart oven. If you are camping with a small group or family, say 3-6 people, we recommend a 5 or 6-quart oven to ensure enough food without too many leftovers. I do not like to have leftovers while camping as I’m concerned about food safety! If you are camping with a large group though, think 7+ people, go for the 8 to 10-quart Dutch oven. Those have all the capacity you will need to feed a large crowd.

Lid Design:

The second thing to consider is the lid. Seek out a lid that doubles as a griddle or skillet. A snug fit is crucial to maintain consistent temperatures inside. You are looking for a flat lid that is flanged, or recessed, because it can hold coals allowing you to change the temperature by changing the number of coals on the lid. If things are cooking too quickly, we remove a coal or two. If things aren’t cooking quickly enough, we add some coals. You do not want a domed lid as typically comes on an indoor Dutch oven.


The last thing that we want to talk about are the legs on the Dutch oven. Traditional Dutch ovens come with three legs on the bottom. These are called “footed” as opposed to “flat bottom” and the feet help it to balance over uneven surfaces. Raising it also creates air circulation which allows heat to distribute evenly around the oven cooking your food properly.

By giving priority to these aspects, you’ll secure a Dutch oven that not only manages the heat from flickering flames but also becomes a trusted companion on countless outdoor ventures.

Cookware Safety Tips

Outdoor enthusiasts should remember that not all Dutch ovens are suitable for the high temperatures of an open flame. Cast iron versions, for instance, can handle the intense heat of campfire cooking. But if you have an enamel-coated Dutch oven, beware. Direct exposure to extreme heat can cause the enamel to crack or chip away, turning your outdoor culinary adventure into a safety concern. There’s more at stake than just the longevity of your cookware – damaged enamel could lead to food contamination.

We recommend sturdy, uncoated cast iron for those wanting to cook over a campfire. These models are designed to endure the rigors of open flame cooking. However, you must season them properly before and after each use. This process not only prevents rust but also builds up a natural nonstick surface over time. Keep in mind that proper care extends the life of your cookware, making it a reliable companion for countless adventures.


There are some useful tools to consider when adding Dutch oven cooking to your camping experience. A campfire tripod is beneficial for simmering and reheating already cooked food over the campfire. Silicone mats help protect your picnic table surface as you are dishing out your food. Lid lifters are beneficial for maneuvering the heavy lid, even while balancing coals on top. And, again, a pan scraper comes in very handy for cleaning.

Our Must Have Tools:

  • 4 in 1 Camp Dutch Oven Tool: I’m not sure we can say this any better than Lodge’s marketing piece: “The 4-in-1 is the ultimate multitasker for campsite cooking. It protects your hands from heat, keeps your cookware off the ground, and maximizes your cooking area. Use as cook stand, a lid lifter, lid stand, and bail lifter.”
  • Scrub brush: Sometimes the scraper doesn’t have quite enough friction and then a scrub brush geared towards cast iron is the perfect tool. Our favorite are the Tawashi Brushes.
  • Heat resistant gloves: If you are going to be working around a fire, at some point you will probably get burned. These gloves can help prevent that.
  • Chimney Starter: Ditch the lighter fluid! A charcoal chimney is a quick, natural way to get your coal lit. This collapsible version is great for camping because they lay flat and come in a carrying case.
  • Long Metal Tongs: If you’re using charcoal briquettes, a pair of long metal tongs will allow you to move and reposition them with ease.
tongs being used to place charcoal on and around dutch oven outdoors

Our Nice to Have Tools:

  • Long spoon: If you are trying to stir whatever you are cooking in your Dutch oven you will find it more enjoyable to use a spoon with a long handle instead of standing right on top of the fire. Just make sure your spoon is heat resistant.
  • Silicone handle holders: While we do love our heat resistant gloves these silicone handle holders come in handy for moving items around to a different spot on the fire or to bring them over to the table.
  • Silicone brushes: When it comes time to brush your pieces with oil, these handy brushes make it simple to get every area covered.
  • Foil or Parchment Paper Dutch Oven Liners: Sometimes you just don’t want to have to clean your Dutch oven at the campsite. These liners help keep the food contained so you can reuse the same piece or just pack it up to take home for cleaning. However, do not think you won’t need to clean them properly before storing. Otherwise you will find yourself cleaning and reseasoning prior to your next trip.
  • Scraper: We keep a scraper or two around to remove stuck on food at all times. They are just useful to have on hand.
  • Seasoning Care Kit: We also love this kit from Lodge for an all in one solution to keeping cast iron in great shape.
  • Tripod: If you frequently camp in areas that don’t provide grates over the campfire, you may want to pick up a tripod to hang your Dutch oven over the fire. This will allow you to adjust the height dial in the heat for a perfect low simmer.
  • Oven bag: This heat resistant bag can aid you in packing quickly when it is time to leave the campsite without waiting for your cooking equipment to cool off from breakfast.
  • A Charcoal Guide: We keep a charcoal guide magnet around as our cheat sheet manual for cooking at the campsite.

Questions Answered:

Q. What can be cooked in a Dutch oven?

A. The Dutch oven is a versatile kitchen tool that can be used for various cooking methods. Here are some popular dishes you can cook in a Dutch oven:

Batter in a Dutch oven ready to bake
  • Stews and Soups – Dutch ovens are excellent for slow-cooking hearty stews and soups. The even heat distribution allows for tender meats and flavorful broths.
  • Chili – Whether it’s meat-based or vegetarian, Dutch ovens are great for making chili. The deep pot can simmer ingredients together for a rich and robust flavor.
  • Roasts – You can roast meats like chicken, beef, or pork in a Dutch oven. The lid helps to keep the meat moist, and the pot retains heat well.
  • Breads – Dutch ovens are commonly used for baking artisan bread. The pot creates a steamy environment that results in a crispy crust and soft interior.
  • Braised meats – Dutch ovens are ideal for braising meats. The combination of searing and slow cooking in the same pot can result in incredibly tender and flavorful dishes.
  • Casseroles – One-pot casseroles are easy to prepare in a Dutch oven. You can layer ingredients and bake them to perfection.
  • Pasta Dishes – Dutch ovens can be used to cook pasta dishes like baked ziti or lasagna. The large capacity is suitable for family-sized portions.
  • Risotto – You can make creamy and flavorful risotto in a Dutch oven by slowly adding broth and stirring until the rice is cooked to perfection.

Q. What are the advantages to cooking in a Dutch oven?

A. Cooking in a Dutch oven offers several advantages, making it a versatile and popular kitchen tool. Here are some key advantages:

  • Even Heat Distribution – Dutch ovens are typically made of cast iron, which has excellent heat retention and distribution properties. This ensures that food cooks evenly, preventing hot spots and allowing for consistent results.
  • Versatility – Dutch ovens can be used for a wide range of cooking methods, including braising, stewing, roasting, frying, baking, and simmering. Their ability to transition from stovetop to oven makes them versatile for various recipes.
  • One-Pot Cooking – Many recipes can be prepared in a Dutch oven using just one pot. This not only simplifies the cooking process but also reduces the number of dishes to clean afterward.
  • Long Lasting and Durable – Cast iron Dutch ovens are known for their durability. When properly cared for, they can last for generations. The material is resistant to scratching and wear.
  • Retains Flavors – The tight-fitting lid of a Dutch oven helps trap moisture and flavors, making it ideal for slow-cooking and developing rich, savory dishes.
  • Can Go from Stovetop to Oven – Dutch ovens are designed to be used on both stovetops and ovens. This versatility allows for a seamless transition between cooking methods in the same pot.
  • Suitable for Low and Slow Cooking – Dutch ovens are perfect for slow-cooking dishes at low temperatures. This is particularly beneficial for breaking down tough cuts of meat and developing deep flavors in stews and braises.
  • Great for Deep Frying – Some Dutch ovens are suitable for deep frying due to their sturdy construction and ability to maintain a consistent temperature.
  • Easy to Clean and Maintain – While cast iron requires specific care to prevent rust, Dutch ovens are relatively easy to clean and maintain. Seasoning the pot regularly helps enhance its non-stick properties.
  • Enhances Bread Baking – Dutch ovens with lids are commonly used for baking artisan bread. The enclosed environment helps create steam, resulting in a crispy crust and soft interior.
  • Adds Iron to Food – Cooking in a cast iron Dutch oven can contribute to the iron content of food, which may be beneficial for individuals with iron deficiencies.

Overall, the Dutch oven’s combination of durability, versatility, and heat-retaining properties makes it a valuable and timeless kitchen essential.

Q. How do I know what temperature my oven is at?

A. We have two different suggestions for calculating your Dutch oven temperature:

The Heat Test

Feel the warmth using your hand. While everyone’s sensitivity to heat varies, this method suits us well. Simply uncover the Dutch oven and position your hand slightly above or just inside it. Gauge the number of seconds you can comfortably keep your hand there before it becomes too hot. It is about 50 degrees per second counting down from 550, so I just count – “550, and 500, and 450, and 400, and 350, and 300, …”. This is my preferred method. It is consistent and detects temperature instead of estimating the amount of fuel. You do release heat so you need to do the check as quickly as you can. Here is a quick chart:

Counting your Charcoal

Many outdoor Dutch oven cookbooks suggest how many charcoal briquettes to use on top and underneath your oven for the recipe. We keep a charcoal guide magnet in our camping kitchen kit as a reminder to help. Unfortunately, the one we have is no longer available and I can’t find a new one. I sure hope we don’t lose ours! However, what if you are using a different size oven or your coals aren’t the same size as theirs? It helps to understand the theory behind coal placement for each type of cooking.

  1. The standard baking guideline suggests employing twice the number of briquettes as the oven’s diameter, allocating 3/4 of them on the lid. For a 12-inch oven, this means using 24 briquettes, with 18 on top and 6 underneath.
  2. Roasting is a 1:1 ratio with an equal number of coals on top and bottom.
  3. If you are simmering or making a stew you will want four times as many coals underneath as on top of the oven.
  4. When frying, match the number of coals to the oven’s diameter, placing all of them underneath. In a 12-inch oven, you’d utilize 12 briquettes under it.
Dutch oven and ingredients for making chili placed on outdoor table

Some Favorite Camping Dutch Oven Recipes:

The Dutch Oven can transform your camping cuisine!

We love to gather around the warmth of our campfire, cast iron Dutch oven gently cooking our meal with tastes that are as good as anything we could make at home. These robust cast iron pots offer us the possibility to transcend typical camp food, allowing for a variety of dishes to sizzle and simmer in the midst of nature. No longer are we confined to the simplicity of hot dogs and marshmallows; instead, we embrace the richness of stews, the comfort of freshly baked bread, and the sweetness of cobblers crafted under the stars. The joy of sharing these diverse meals with our friends and neighbors extends beyond nourishment, fostering moments of connection and creating memories that linger long after the embers cool. Let the Dutch oven be your tool to unlock a world of culinary adventure, enhancing your camping experience with flavors as vibrant as the great outdoors.

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