We were excited and privileged to attend a hands-on workshop on Dutch Oven Cooking in the Texas Copper Breaks State Park in Hardeman County. Horse trainer and cowboy musician Larry Hannon lead the workshop. He and his wife Sharon create and conduct workshops for schools, civic organizations, the Doss Ranching Center and Copper Breaks State Park. It is such a fun learning experience.
Participants learned how to cook with Dutch Ovens on campfire coals. Have your firewood gathered then start by making a bed of tender (small sticks, dry leaves or grass). Ignite the tender by rubbing two sticks together vigorously until they get hot and combust. Not likely? Okay use some liquid firestarter. The tender should quickly start burning so you can begin adding larger pieces of dry wood. As it catches on fire you can start stacking bigger pieces leaving spaces so air can get around through the logs. Let it burn until you have a lot of ash colored coals. That takes some time so start at least an hour or two before you intend to cook. BTW, you can use just about any kind of wood but Oak seems to be the preferred type and makes great coals. Mesquite is readily available around here but it burns hotter and smokier which is more suitable to cooking a steak. Dry wood is wood that has been cut awhile and is no longer green or moist inside.
Once the fire has burned down quite a bit there will be chunks of wood that will be black and gray. Those are coals ready for Dutch oven cooking. Now you take a small amount of coals from the fire pit and make a little bed on a clear spot on the ground. It should be just about the size of the Dutch oven you will sit on it. Put the pot with your prepared recipe on top of those coals then arrange more coals on top of the lid around the perimeter. Only a couple are needed in the center where the handle is.
My hubs participated, he’s a pretty seasoned cook himself. That cool gadget he used to peel and core apples made his apple crisp cobbler go together very quickly! The weather turned cool just in time for the demo making his hot, off the coals, cobbler a great choice. He used regular commercial charcoal. That cylinder gadget next to the apples is a neat contraption for starting coals easily and quickly. He purchased it at a store that carries camping supplies. He places the coals the same way you would if you are using wood. He also has a metal cooking stand sitting on cinder blocks that makes it a little easier to clean up and less likely to catch surrounding dry grass from catching on fire.
After he peeled the apples and dropped them in the cold Dutch oven he made a batter with butter, milk, instant oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon and spooned it over the top. It was warm and tasty. We ate it like dessert but I think it would make a nice breakfast dish too.
Larry introduced the art of making cobblers, biscuits, and yeast rolls to newbies and seasoned campers. Any biscuit or roll recipe will work. They were great served with some campfire cream gravy (find my easy gravy recipe here).
One of my favorites was a peach cobbler made by another Dutch oven cooking newbie. She used a recipe she usually cooks in her kitchen oven and, wow, it was great not to mention how beautiful it looked. I heard my hubs tell his brother that if it’d been a cook off she’d have come in first.
And then there was a Boy Scout Troop that made some mouth watering cinnamon rolls and a peach spice cake. They lined their pot with foil to make it easier to clean and to lift the rolls out of the pot. For the cake they poured a can of peaches in the bottom of the pot then poured a box cake mix on top of the peaches. How easy is that? The cinnamon rolls were canned and they heated the icing before drenching it over the rolls. I liked that this demo was more about how to use the Dutch oven at all skill levels than scratch recipes.All of these recipes are traditionally cooked in an oven at home. The lessons learned at this demo was how to make a Dutch Oven work for you when you’re out camping. But I’ll let you in on a little secret… my hubs has his Dutch Oven set up in the backyard and cooks in it fairly often. I love the way a well seasoned cast iron skillet makes food taste. Clean up is pretty simple too. You can see in some of the photos that some cooks lined their ovens with foil so all they had to do is remove the foil and wipe out the oven. If your oven is seasoned well, you won’t even have much clean up without foil. For a really dirty cast iron pot, you can use a self cleaning oven like I do (check it out here).