Since power outages are the most common of all disaster and the one most of us will face one at one time or another, let’s take a look at a great food preparation option, Dutch oven cooking.
Dutch oven cooking is a fun family activity during the best of times and a life saving activity during the worst of times. Dutch oven cooking is one of those skills that everyone can easily learn.
To begin, select a Dutch oven that is well made. The walls of the oven should be the same thickness all the way around. A good oven will have a handle wrapped with wire called a bail. Inspect the oven’s bail, it should be made of sturdy heavy gage wire and be securely attached. All parts of your oven should be molded and not riveted as rivets can come loose and be a real burn hazard when you are serving or preparing your food. Check the Dutch oven lid to make sure it fits tightly. A tight lid prevents steam from escaping, helping to keep your food moist.
There are two types of Dutch ovens. Lodge ovens are constructed of heavy cast iron, have three legs on the bottom, and a tight fitting lid with a raised ridge around the outer edge. This ridge helps to hold the coals in place while cooking and checking your food. Legs should long enough to fit coals under your pot and still allow for some air circulation. Lodge ovens can also be stacked while cooking meals thus saving in the number of coals needed. Stacking 3 ovens allows for baking bread, cooking a stew and baking dessert all at the same time.
The second type of oven is also made of heavy cast iron, has a flat bottom with no legs, and have a domed lid. These ovens can still be used in a fire with briquettes or coals. These are best suited for preparing foods that need only heat from the bottom such as stews, I have one that I love to use for baking bread in the oven. It makes the best artisan breads with nice crispy crusts.
A good Dutch oven will have an uneven texture which make them easier to season than one with a smooth finish.
Dutch ovens can be purchased at sporting goods store, farm and ranch supply stores surplus stores and of course online. They are a little pricey, but a once in a lifetime investment so in the long run, not bad at all. I would never order one over the Internet unless you can find free shipping as the shipping will kill you! They are very heavy. Use the phone to scope out prices at sources closer to home.
There are many sizes and shapes of Dutch ovens to choose from. Shorter ovens (shorter in height not the length of the legs) heat faster than deeper ovens and are good for cooking foods that need higher temperatures. Deep Dutch ovens are desirable for cooking foods at lower temperatures or when you want more control of the heat on top of the oven for browning rolls and bread and desserts.
If you don’t own a Dutch oven yet, a 12″ Lodge Dutch oven is a great first addition. It’s versatile while not being too big. Eventually you will want more than one so dessert can be cooking while you enjoy your meal.
Seasoning a Dutch oven accomplishes two things:
- Prevents rust and corrosion
- Creates a non-stick cooking surface for easier clean up
It is essential that you season a new Dutch oven or one you have not previously seasoned. The initial seasoning will remove any contaminants including small particles of metal and the protective waxy coating applied at the factory to prevent rust in shipment.
Aluminum Dutch Ovens do not need seasoning but I would not recommend purchasing one. Your cooking results will not be as good.
Seasoning is a simple process.
If you have an outdoor barbecue grill, and your Dutch oven will fit inside with the cover closed plan to season your oven outdoors. If you are seasoning in the oven you should plan to do it on a day when you can open the windows to vent the smoke produced.
- Preheat your grill or oven to 350 degrees.
- Whether you are using an oven or grill, wrap a large cookie sheet with a raised edge, in aluminum foil and place it under your Dutch oven. This cookie sheet catches oil coming from the Dutch oven as it heats.
- Wash your oven and lid in hot soapy water. Use a scouring pad or steel wool to scrub away all coatings and loss particles. This is the only time your will ever use soap on your Dutch oven.
- Dry the oven and lid with a cotton towel or paper towels. This may stain a towel so use an old one.
- Place Dutch oven and lid in the grill or oven for a few minutes to finish drying and to heat it slightly.
- Rub vegetable shortening all over the inside and outside of your Dutch oven and its lid. Use plain shortening, do not use butter or butter flavored shortening. Using a paper towel or cotton rag, rub the shortening into all the imperfections in the metal surface. Be very generous.
- Place the Dutch oven and lid upside down on the prepared cookie sheet, inside the grill or kitchen oven and close. Turning the Dutch oven and lid upside down allows the melted shortening to drain out leaving an even coating.
- Bake the Dutch oven for 45 to 60 minutes. Remember to open windows. This is guaranteed to set off the smoke alarm so prepare accordingly.
- Turn off the heat and allow the Dutch oven and lid to cool inside for about 30 minutes.
- Using an oven mitts remove cookware.
- Using paper towels wipe off excess oil from the inside and outside of the Dutch oven and lid.
- Repeat steps 6 through 9. This may seem unnecessary but it is important if you don’t want to have to re-season later.
- Allow the cookware to cool until you can pick it up.
- Wipe off all excess oil with paper towels and you’re ready to cook!
As you use your Dutch oven, the fats from the foods you cook will continue to season the cookware. Some acidic foods may remove some of the coating.
Once seasoned, your Dutch oven should not need to be seasoned again as long as you use it often and clean it correctly. It cannot hurt to re-season if you doubt the oven will not cook without sticking. Many people season at the beginning of each Dutch oven cooking season. If you are in doubt, just re-season.
Periodic seasoning is just like the initial seasoning except that you don’t wash with soapy water. If there is rust present you should begin from the beginning and scour before beginning the process.
There are many ways to cook without power but Dutch oven cooking can provide food for a large group easily and without lots of cleanup.
How is your General Store coming along? Join Carolyn on facebook for tips and to ask questions. This year she is concentrating on non-food items to store. You may be surprised but some of her suggestions.