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What is a Dutch oven? How to up level your camping meals

A dutch oven in a campfire
What is a Dutch oven? We explain how to use one for camping to add a touch of gourmet to your overnight adventures (Image credit: GMVozd)

If you’ve been researching new camping meal ideas, you’ve probably seen more than a few references to using a Dutch oven to make some pretty tasty-sounding camping cuisine. But what is a Dutch oven, and how do you use one at camp? In this article, we explain what a camping Dutch oven is and how to use it so you can add a touch of gourmet to your camping trips. 

What is a Dutch oven? 

A dutch oven sitting in the campfire covered in hot coals

The hot coals can be placed both underneath and on top of the Dutch oven to allow for even, dual-directional heat (Image credit: EntropyWorkshop)

In camping terms, a Dutch oven is a large, cast iron pot with short legs, a handle and a flat lid that is designed to be used with coals or wood embers from a campfire. The hot coals can be placed both underneath and on top of the Dutch oven to allow for even, dual-directional heat. You can also place your Dutch oven on a campfire grate for cooking, or suspend it over the coals using a tripod. It is different from a Dutch oven designed for home use, which is likely to be enamel, have no legs and is not designed to be used with a campfire. 

What is the purpose of a Dutch oven? 

Chilli cooking in a camping dutch oven

Slow cooked chilli is the purpose of a Dutch oven (Image credit: GMVozd)

When it comes to cooking at camp, you might think you’re limited to what you can cook on the grill or camping stove. If you’re car camping, however, a Dutch oven can open up a whole new world of camping meals. We’re talking about hearty stews, slow-bubbling soups, cheesy nachos and even yummy cobbler for dessert. You read that right – while a Dutch oven is just a pot and you can just use it to bring liquid to a boil, what it really offers you is the chance to do some slow cooking and even baking at camp.

There are two primary types of camping Dutch ovens: shallow Dutch ovens which are great for just about any kind of cooking including baking, and deep Dutch ovens which aren’t so great for baking but are good if you’re cooking large quantities of food for big groups.

How to use a Dutch oven at camp 

A whole chicken cooking in a camping dutch oven

For some recipes, you’ll only need heat from beneath, but if you want dual-directional cooking for baking or slow cooking, you’ll want to also place hot coals on the lid (Image credit: Ryo)

There are different ways to use your Dutch oven depending on your recipe. It’s designed to be placed over the coals of the campfire, which is why it has short legs, so the coals can fit underneath and it can be stable. For some recipes, you’ll only need heat from beneath, but if you want dual-directional cooking for baking or slow cooking, you’ll want to also place hot coals on the lid, and you’ll notice that the lid has a lip to stop the coals from rolling off. 

You will definitely want to bring a serious oven mitt to camp for handling it, and also as it is good practice to pick up the Dutch oven by the handle and rotate it roughly every 15 minutes. If you have hot coals on top of the lid, you will also want to rotate the lid frequently. This simply allows for more even cooking.

Is a Dutch oven worth it for camping? 

A couple eating a meal they cooked in a camping dutch oven

If you’re a foodie and derive half the pleasure of camping from what you eat while you’re doing it, you’re going to love having a Dutch oven as much as these two (Image credit: bernardbodo)

If you’re a foodie and derive half the pleasure of camping from what you eat while you’re doing it, you’re going to love having a Dutch oven. You can literally eat like a king, making cinnamon rolls for breakfast and fresh bread and chilli for dinner. Naturally, a Dutch oven takes up a bit of room and will likely weigh close to 20lbs, so these are for car camping only. 

Can you use Dutch oven on a camping stove? 

Camp Chef Everest 2X

If you have a big enough camping stove, like this double burner stove, you can probably cook with your Dutch oven on the stove instead of the campfire (Image credit: Camp Chef)

If you have a big enough camping stove, like a double burner stove, you can probably cook with your Dutch oven on the stove instead of the campfire. You can still use coals from the fire on the lid, or even charcoal briquettes. This strategy might allow for faster and more consistent cooking.

Feeling hungry? Head on over to our camping breakfast ideas and easy camping desserts for some more camping culinary inspiration. 

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.