The Dutch oven is a very versatile alternate cooking method. Once you master the temperature control of your Dutch oven you can cook almost anything!
Ten years ago, when I was learning how to use my Dutch oven, I ran across a website called Dutch Oven Madness. I loved this site because the author walked us through a year of learning how to use her Dutch oven. I learned a lot, both from her successes and her failures. The most important thing I learned from her site was the “Dinwiddie Ring Method of Temperature Control” for the Dutch oven. It is easy to use, easy to remember, and you don’t have to compensate for different sized coals.
Duane and Sandy Dinwiddie created this method. They discovered that you could cook almost anything using slow, medium, hot, and very hot temperatures. Using this method it is easy to keep a constant cooking temperature while cooking a meal.
The bottom ring in this method requires laying the coals flat on the ground or Dutch oven table all around the perimeter of the oven, touching each other and leaving space for the legs. You can also use the coal counting method for the bottom ring of coals. You take the diameter of the oven and subtract two. That is the number of coals you use on the bottom ring.
The following chart is for the top coals on the lid of the Dutch oven:
Oven Size Slow Oven Medium Oven Hot Oven Very Hot Oven
300°F 350°F 400°F 450°
8" 1/2 ring 3/4 ring 1-1/4 rings 1-1/2 rings
12" 3/4 ring 1 ring 1-1/2 rings 2 rings
14" 1 ring 1-1/2 rings 2 rings 2-1/2 rings
16" 1-1/2 rings 2 rings 2-1/2 rings 3 rings
18" 2 rings 2-1/2 rings 3 rings 3-1/2 rings
For all oven sizes, place one ring under the oven. This chart lists the number of top rings only. As the charcoal burns, add more to maintain a constant ring size.
For years, I used my portable fire ring as a base for my Dutch oven cooking in the backyard. We purchased a Dutch oven table a few years ago, and it has made Dutch oven cooking much easier. There is no bending down! I also love my charcoal chimney. You can heat up charcoal without any charcoal starter fluid. No fuss, no mess! Just put three sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney, and your charcoal in the top.
Next, light the newspaper and the chimney does the rest.
Once the charcoal has turned partially gray, you are ready to place the coals around the Dutch oven according to the chart above. Have fun experimenting with your Dutch oven. It is important to practice outdoor cooking skills before they are needed, so you don't add more stress to an already stressful situation.
Another tool you will need for successful Dutch oven cooking is a lid lifter. The Dutch oven gets really hot, so never, never try to lift the lid with your hands.
Have fun experimenting with your Dutch oven. It is important to practice outdoor cooking skills before they are needed, so you don't add more stress to an already stressful situation.