How to Use a Camping Dutch Oven

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

This in-depth guide to using a camping Dutch oven is for anyone who wants to take open-fire cooking to the next level.

While there will always be a special place in our hearts for a blistered hot dog cooked over a campfire, there’s something to be said for the magic that happens when a meal is prepared with a camping Dutch oven.

From shepherd’s pie to Texas-style chili, soulful gumbo and even peach cobbler, a Dutch oven is an ultra-versatile piece of cooking equipment that needs to become a part of your essential camping packing list.

What Is a Camping Dutch Oven?

Hold it! Don’t even think about sticking an enameled Dutch oven in a campfire. The Dutch ovens used at home are not the same as the ones made for the great outdoors.

The Difference Between Classic and Camping Dutch Ovens

Material and Finish

Home Dutch ovens (such as those made by Staub and Le Creuset) are made of cast iron and sealed in enamel. This enamel, which is beautiful and makes for easier cleaning, can become damaged when exposed to the high direct heat of an open campfire.

Camping Dutch ovens are also made of cast iron. However, they’re typically uncoated and rely on regular seasoning (more on that below) to create a nonstick cooking surface.

Support Legs

Unlike home Dutch ovens, which have a flat bottom, camping Dutch ovens are made with short support legs that provide stability in a campfire and allow hot coals to be tucked underneath.

Lid Design

It’s not uncommon for home Dutch ovens to have a slightly domed lid. This shape helps circulate the heat and trap steam inside for even cooking.

A camping Dutch oven, on the other hand, needs to have a completely flat lid with a shallow, raised rim around the edge. This shape allows for hot coals to be placed on top without rolling off while cooking.

Handle

Home Dutch ovens typically have a short knob for a handle that looks nice but is not ideal for campfire cooking.

Camping Dutch ovens most often have a large, bail-style handle that can easily pivot so the pot can be picked up and moved around the fire. Its design also allows for the Dutch oven to be hung from a campfire tripod.

How to Use a Campfire Dutch Oven

chicken cooking in dutch oven pot at campsiteRyo/Getty Images

Now that you know what makes a camping Dutch oven unique, let’s talk about how to use one over the open flames of a campfire.

The beauty of a Dutch oven is that it opens a door to all kinds of cooking methods when camping.

  • Simmer and boil: Use your Dutch oven as a heavy-bottomed pot to cook a batch of your favorite soup, stew or chili recipe. You can even boil pasta and enjoy a hearty Italian dinner al fresco in your hammock.
  • Sear: Made of cast iron, which is great for high-heat cooking because it transfers heat evenly, a Dutch oven can be used like a skillet for searing steaks, chops and chicken.
  • Steam: With a tight-fitting lid, a Dutch oven is ideal for steaming rice, vegetables or even lobster tails. All you need is a bit of water and a basic steaming basket that fits inside.
  • Saute and pan fry: Make a stir-fry, saute onions or, for fisherman, fry up your fresh catch of the day in a bit of cooking oil.
  • Braise: For slow days around the campsite, use a Dutch oven for some low and slow braising. Braising in a Dutch oven requires dual-direction heating, meaning coals will need to be placed on the top and below the Dutch oven to create a moist, even cooking environment for braised short ribs, chicken thighs or pot roast.
  • Bake: You can bake in a Dutch oven by placing coals on top and below the vessel to create an oven-like environment. From artisanal no-knead bread to coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, apple pie, biscuits and more—if you can dream it you can (probably) bake it in a Dutch oven.

Heating Methods

dutch oven over a campfire in the woodsSvetlanka777/Getty Images

The way you heat your Dutch oven will depend on your desired cooking method.

As mentioned above, baking and braising will require dual-direction heating, meaning you will need to place hot coals below and on top of the Dutch oven to create the proper cooking environment.

All other methods require a singular heat source from below. You can place your Dutch oven directly over hot coals or wood embers in your campfire, set your Dutch oven on a campfire cooking grate (found on some campfire rings) or opt to hang your Dutch oven from a campfire tripod.

Editor’s Tip: Depending on your camp stove, you may also be able to place your camping Dutch oven on one of the burners, if the Dutch oven’s support legs can fit between the burner grates.

Dutch Oven Temperature Guide

Getting the temperature just right in your Dutch oven is perhaps the biggest learning curve of campfire cooking (especially after you’ve masted these other camping cooking tips).

Most campfire Dutch oven recipes (especially those for baking) require a temp of 350°F. Without an oven thermometer, it can be difficult to gauge when your Dutch oven reaches this temperature.

Luckily, there’s a simple formula you can use to determine how many charcoal briquettes or wood embers you’ll need to get close to this temperature sweet spot. Simply double the diameter of your Dutch oven and add 1. So, an 8″ Dutch oven will need 17 briquettes for 350°.

When baking or braising you’ll want to put 1/3 of the briquettes below the Dutch oven and 2/3 of the briquettes on the lid of the Dutch oven.

This handy chart will help you get it right! (Having trouble? Here’s a guide to common Dutch oven mistakes.)

Dutch Oven Temperature Chart

8″ oven

10″ oven

12″ oven

14″ oven

325°F

15 (10 Top / 5 Under)

19 (13 Top / 6 Under)

23 (16 Top / 7 Under)

30 (20 Top / 10 Under)

350°F

16 (11 Top / 5 Under)

21 (14 Top / 7 Under)

25 (17 Top / 8 Under)

32 (21 Top / 11 Under)

375°F

17 (11 Top / 6 Under)

23 (16 Top / 7 Under)

27 (18 Top / 9 Under)

34 (22 Top / 12 Under)

400°F

18 (12 Top / 6 Under)

25 (17 Top / 8 Under)

29 (19 Top / 10 Under)

36 (24 Top / 12 Under)

425°F

19 (13 Top / 6 Under)

27 (18 Top / 9 Under)

31 (21 Top / 10 Under)

38 (25 Top / 13 Under)

450°F

20 (14 Top / 6 Under)

29 (19 Top / 10 Under)

33 (22 Top / 11 Under)

40 (26 Top / 14 Under)

This method is not always exact but a good starting point for most recipes. The amount of food you’re cooking, outside air temperature and heat source (briquettes vs wood embers) will all ultimately affect cooking temperature.

Editor’s Tip: For best results, we recommend packing an instant-read thermometer so you can gauge the internal temperature of any meat or poultry you’re preparing. Safety first!

Steps for Using a Dutch Oven in a Campfire

  • Step 1: Light the fire. The first step you’ll want to take is to build your campfire, whether that’s using charcoal briquettes or wood.
  • Step 2: Prep the recipe. While your fire gets going, do any necessary prep work (e.g. chopping, mixing, etc.) for your selected recipe.
  • Step 3: Cook. Place your Dutch oven over or into your campfire and bring it up to the desired temperature. Remember, if you are baking or braising, you’ll want to put embers or briquettes under and below your Dutch oven according to the chart above. For all other methods, use the specified number of embers or briquettes under your Dutch oven only.
  • Step 4: Enjoy! When your meal is fully cooked, remove and serve. Remember to check the temperature of meat, fish or poultry for doneness prior to serving.

What to Cook in a Dutch Oven

Are you hungry yet? Our favorite thing about camping Dutch ovens is that it allows you to use a single piece of cooking equipment for breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus dessert). Here are some of our camping Dutch oven recipes for every meal of the day.

Dutch Oven Breakfast Recipes

Dutch Oven Lunch & Dinner Recipes

Dutch Oven Dessert Recipes

The Best Outdoor Dutch Ovens

Don’t own a camping Dutch oven? If you’re looking to invest in one of these amazing and versatile pieces of outdoor cookware, here are a few of our favorite Dutch ovens.

  • Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven: Lodge is perhaps the best known, and best-selling brand of outdoor Dutch ovens. Their quality and range of sizes are second to none.
  • Overmont Camp Dutch Oven with Skillet Lid: We love how the lid for this Dutch oven doubles as a skillet or griddle. Plus it comes with a handy lid-lifter.
  • GSI Outdoors Aluminum Dutch Oven: Perfect for backpackers, this Dutch oven is 66% lighter than cast iron and is rust-free.

After adding one of these top camping Dutch ovens to your shopping cart, take a look at our favorite Dutch oven accessories.

Outdoor Dutch Oven Cleaning and Seasoning

Be good to your Dutch oven and it will be good to you. Here’s a handy guide for how to clean a Dutch oven.

Ideally, your Dutch oven will build up a nice seasoning naturally over time as you use it. However, if yours needs a bit of TLC, here’s an in-depth guide detailing how to season a cast-iron Dutch oven.

Campfire Casseroles to Make in the Great Outdoors
1 / 18

Popular Videos

Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.