Cooking delicious camp food can be a challenge, but it's a requisite if you're going to be surrounded by happy campers at the end of the day. If you're up for the challenge, and determined to master a traditional art of cooking over an open fire, invest in a Dutch oven and a matching cookbook.
Dutch oven cooking seems like one of those mysterious arts, a talent developed only after many, many attempts to produce an edible meal from ingredients tossed into a black pot that then is set upon hot coals, with more placed atop its lid, and then left to simmer for an hour or more.
Carsten Bothe can help speed your developing talent through his latest book, Dutch Oven: Cast-Iron Cooking Over An Open Fire. Within the 174 pages of this softcover book you'll find receipes for the somewhat obvious -- lamb stew and poultry with vegetables -- and some that are not-so-obvious, such as Red Perch with Crackly Crust, Feta Potato Casserole, and, believe it or not, Elderberry Blossoms in Wine Dough, a dessert.
Understandably, this is a book suited mostly for front-country cooks, as you're not likely going to haul a cast iron pot capable of holding a 5-pound roast or half-dozen lamb shanks on your back into the woods. Although, if you're horse-packing, or heading downstream in a raft, this could be a perfect addition to your library.
Whatever your use, this book offers both a good primer on Dutch ovens and their history, and a wealth of receipes to hone your skills on. There are meat dishes, poultry dishes, fish dishes, and even side dishes (grilled tomatoes, anyone?), as well as breads and rolls that can be cooked in a Dutch oven.
You'll also find details on how to "burn in," or season your Dutch oven before its first use, how best to clean and care for it ("The heavy weight of a Dutch oven tends to disguise the fact that the black pot needs care and is not 'unbreakable,'" writes Mr. Bothe. "Cast iron is extremely brittle. Even a Dutch oven won't survive a fall onto solid ground."), and, of course, how best to provide a good, steady cooking heat for its contents.
"The massive cast iron heats the foods inside slowly and protectively. Once heated, a Dutch oven needs remarkably little fire for the cooking process. The heavy material evens out the irregular heat of a fire and passes it on gently to the food. The ridged lid keeps the pot closed tightly through its weight and exact fit. Thus, the foods cook in their own heat, much as they do in a pressure cooker. As a result, meat becomes incomparably tender and juicy."
Such are the conductive properties of cast iron that as few as ten charcoal briquettes placed beneath a No. 10 Dutch oven will cook its contents, writes Mr. Bothe.
To help you gauge the heat within your oven, the author provides a chart that lists, on the vertical axis, the size of Dutch oven, and on the horizontal axis the number of coals to be placed beneath the oven and on top of its lid to achieve a specific internal temperature. For example, a total of 23 coals -- seven placed beneath a No. 10 oven and 16 placed on the lid -- will generate an internal temperature of 370 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, he notes, cooking times can vary from those listed in his receipes depending on weather conditions.
If you cook outdoors, and like to further develop your talents and repertoire, this is a great book to guide your way.
Traveler footnote: Mr. Bothe's interest in Dutch oven cooking stemmed from a trip to Wyoming, where he came across his first oven, bought it, and carried it back home to Germany.
Traveler trivia: The International Dutch Oven Society is based in Salt Lake City.