I refer in my “easiest bread ever for camping and home” to a camping, or outdoor, Dutch oven. I’ll talk today about how indoor and outdoor Dutch ovens differ from each other in appearance and use. First, I’d like to sing the praises of cooking equipment that looks like it belongs in a shop in J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley rather than in a modern kitchen.
I am a big fan of cast iron because of its durability and health benefits. My oldest piece of cast iron is probably my 1883 frying pan from Cleveland Stove Company, although I have a few unlabeled pieces that I suspect may be older. Well kept for a century and a quarter, the cast iron delivers the same great service for me as it did for my great-great grandparents. Cast iron has never been implicated in any adverse health conditions (unlike aluminum, plastics, etc.). It even delivers an iron boost to you as you cook in it and foods absorb small amounts. For these reasons, I believe cast iron is a frugal, healthy choice.
Cast iron comes in many sizes and shapes, including today’s subject, Dutch ovens. Dutch ovens are pots with nipped handles and specialized lids. I’m picturing two Dutch ovens here. The one on the left is a typical Dutch oven for use inside. The one on the right is for use with charcoal, although you could use it inside in a standard oven or on a gas stovetop.
Let’s look at how the indoor and outdoor versions differ. First look at the bottoms. The indoor Dutch oven has no legs. You can easily use it on a stove top or in a standard household oven. Now look at the outdoor Dutch oven. It has legs that are designed to keep it just above coals, preventing direct contact with the heat and permitting oxygen to get to the coals.
Let’s move on to the lids. The indoor Dutch oven lid is domed on top. It also has spikes that are supposed to transfer juices back into roasts, basting the meat.
The outdoor Dutch oven lid has a raised rim on a relatively flat top. This construction allows you to pile coals on the top as well as the bottom, letting you create a standard oven effect wherever you can collect coals from a fire or burn charcoal. The underside of the lid is flat too, so you can flip it over and use it as a griddle.
Both of the Dutch ovens pictured here are from my favorite cast iron manufacturer, Lodge in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and both are the same size: 8 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep. Lodge calls them 2-quart Dutch ovens, but you should only plan on filling half way for breads and cakes that rise. These 8-inch Dutch ovens are ideal for today’s family, holding easily two chicken quarters with fixings, a good number of servings of soup or stew, a small loaf of my variation of easy-fix yeast bread, etc. (I’ll talk in future blogs about recipes for home and camp.)
Thanks to combining two households of Dutch oven lovers, two competitors in Dutch oven contests (and a few wins), and a general appreciation of Dutch ovens, my family has a variety of Dutch ovens in size, shape, and construction material. Today I’ll stick to talking about cast iron. Lodge’s largest Dutch oven holds 12 quarts and is 16 inches in diameter. Lodge’s smallest, pictured here next to one of the 8-inch ovens, is 5 inches. It’s cute, but beyond that I’d say you can live without it.
Next we have a Dutch oven from (shhhhhhh) China, shown on the right. Something tells me J.K. had this kind of Dutch oven in mind when she wrote about Percy Weasley’s obsession with inferior, imported, thin-bottomed cauldrons. This Chinese-manufactured Dutch oven has skimpy legs and thin walls. I’ve used it successfully, but you really have to watch it to make sure it does not burn. Can you figure out if it’s for indoor or camping use? Yep, camping.
Do you have questions about cast iron or Dutch ovens? Post here and I’ll answer what I can.
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