One of the most important pieces of rafting equipment (besides the actual rafts of course), is the old chuckwagon standard – the Dutch oven. While it’s not as great to bring along on a backpacking trip (unless you like to pack in cast iron), on the river, it’s great to treat yourself to cakes, brownies, cinnamon rolls, or our personal favorite – enchilada pie!
So what exactly is a Dutch oven? It’s a large metal pot (usually cast iron), with 3 metal legs, a rimmed lid, and a thin metal handle. It’s measured by diameter, and can range from 8” all the way up to 16”! It can be utilized over the fire, or using charcoal (our personal favorite) to bake, stew, fry – almost anything! We’re going to cover baking in this article because there’s a bit of science to it…
When using charcoal, it’s important to have the appropriate number of coals, to avoid over- or under-baking. The number of coals depends on the size of the Dutch oven, so here’s the math: Take the diameter of the Dutch oven (in inches), and double it. This is the total number of coals you need. 2/3 of these coals should go on top, and 1/3 of the coals on the bottom.
For example, with a 14” diameter Dutch oven, you’ll need 28 coals: 19 on the top, and 9 on the bottom.
As you place your coals around your Dutch oven, here are a few things to remember:
- Space your coals as evenly as possible
- If your Dutch oven does not have legs, use rocks or a stand to prop it up above the bed of coals.
- While it’s tempting to check your progress, refrain from taking off the lid – it lets the heat escape and can allow for ash to fall into your food
- Wait until you can start smelling your food – then you may take off the lid and test your food by inserting a knife in the center.
- Once ready, carefully remove the charcoal with tongs and brush away any ash on the lid (make sure the ash doesn’t end up in your food!)