In the world of
big wagon cattle outfits, a cook was hired more for his ability to drive
a chuck wagon pulled by a team of draft horses more than for his cooking
skills. Chances are that when he cooked, he used “Dutch ovens.”
These were cast-iron pots with lids that came in various sizes and could
be used over an open fire. They were non-breakable and easy to
Crandall is a rancher, mule man, and Dutch oven cook from Fairfield,
Idaho who has perfected the art of Dutch oven cooking. Floyd believes,
“You do not need to be a teamster and wagon cook to become a successful
Dutch oven cook. With today’s new mixes, packaged food that are
easy to fix, a very basic set of ovens, and a few accessories, anyone
can cook with Dutch ovens.” He has shared with us some of his
simple methods that can be used in your backcountry camp or on your
patio at home.
Techniques, Tips, and
Recipes by Floyd Crandall
How to control the heat.
I think the first thing a person
should learn about Dutch oven cooking is how to control the heat.
Most of the cooking is done on the top of oven. As a general rule,
you should have twice as much heat on the top of the oven as you do
on the bottom. That is easy if you are using charcoal. You can simply
count them. If you are using coals from a fire, it depends on
what kind of wood you are using and hard woods seem to work the best.
You just have try some and see what works the best. Any wood will work
,but you will find that some is surely better. I use only Kingsford
charcoal because it is always the same. When I cook in the mountains
of Idaho I use either aspen or fir. In the southwest cedar or
mesquite seem to work well.
Shall We Cook?
we know how to control the heat, let's cook a real meal that will satisfy
almost everyone .
I like to use the
best cuts of meat, such as a
sirloin roast, because there is no waste and, in case there is any left
over, it can be used later in many ways. One half package of dry onion
soup mix rubbed on the meat before it is cooked will be all the seasoning
that is needed. For a big roast -10 lbs or so- use a whole package.
Add a cup of water to your Dutch oven and begin to cook your roast with
8 charcoals on the bottom and 12 on the top. Be sure and not let the
oven cook dry. Add a little water as needed .This is hotter than
you would cook biscuits but it works. After about an hour, you will
need to add a few new charcoals and now would be a good time to add
a couple stalks of celery, two big onions and fill the rest of the oven
with carrots and potatoes in what ever proportions you like. If you
get the oven too full put a piece of foil over the top .Remember, if
you cook the potatoes too long they will be mushy. Continue to
cook about one more hour or until the potatoes are done. You will have
gained lots of juice by now and that can be thickened with a little
flour or corn starch to make gravy.
If you are in a place where you can do it, the very best way to cook
meat is to bury it in the ground . To do this, you
prepare your meat and vegetables the same way and dig a hole 2 feet
deep and 2 feet across. Fill
the hole with wood cut into small pieces and add the same amount of
wood above ground and then burn the wood until it is reduced to red
hot coals. Separate the coals and after putting a piece of foil
over the oven to help keep the dirt off, place the oven down in the
coals making sure to get some on all sides, underneath, and lots on
top. Cover the oven with the handle straight up and add enough moist
dirt to completely cover the fire. If you can see any smoke, add more
dirt. It will take about 6 hours for this to cook. The good thing
about cooking this way is you can dig this up in 6 or 8 hours and it
will be done to satisfy your hungry party, without being over cooked.
also works well to either cook with charcoal or bury in the ground
.I just season the turkey with a little season-all type salt and
cook with 12 coals on top and 8 underneath. A 12 pound bird
cooks in about 2 hours. Buried in the ground, it really doesn't
matter what it weighs, a turkey will be done in 4 or 5 hours.
Easy Bean Dish:
To complement almost any meat dish,
I like to use a very easy bean dish .Take 2 cans of pork and beans,
1 can of kidney beans, 1 can of garbanzo beans, 1 can of lima beans
or what ever other beans you like, and mix them together after draining
the juice off all but the pork and beans. To this, add a mixture
of 3/4 cup of ketchup, 1 Tbsp. of mustard,
1/2 cup brown sugar ,1 Tbsp. molasses and 1 Tbsp. vinegar. Brown
1/2 chopped onion and little bacon and add to the mixture.
Heat this up slowly as you cook your
Now let's make some biscuits.
I simply take some Bisquick and mix it up with enough water to make
a dough that I can spoon out in biscuit size amounts. (This will
take a little practice.) I usually put 16 or so biscuits in
a 12 inch oven. This size oven is good for biscuits. Each
biscuit must be rolled in oil (that's what makes them brown), so
add enough oil to your oven to very lightly coat each one as you
add them to the oven. Don't worry about their being round. It won't
matter. Just crowd them to use up your dough. Now we are ready to
add heat. I'm usually in a hurry, so I start with 8 charcoals on
the bottom and 12 or so on top. When the biscuits have raised and
begin to look like biscuits, reduce the heat on the bottom by two
charcoals and cook until the sides begin to pull away from the side
of the oven. You will see, as they pull away, that they are also
beginning to brown around the edges. When this happens, remove
the bottom heat and continue to cook on top until they are as brown
and crusty on top as you like them to be . The biscuits will take
about 30 minutes. They are very easy to do; always a big hit at
Cake: Now to go along
with your biscuits, roast beef, vegetables and beans, I like
to make some kind of cake. There are many kinds you can use , Some
of my favorites are:
chocolate cake over cherry pie
spice cake over peaches
spice cake over apples
To make your cake, use packaged cake
mix and either canned or fresh sweetened fruit or canned pie filling.
Begin by putting the fruit in the bottom of the Dutch oven and sprinkle
the dry cake mix over the top of the fruit. Pour enough 7up (or
other lemon lime soda) over the top to moisten the mix a little
[about 1/2 can] and poke it around some to begin. Six coals
on the bottom and twelve on top should be about right to cook this
in 45 minutes or so. As it begins to cook, you will
see the moisture begin to come up through the cake mix. If
you end up with some dry spots add a little more 7up. You will end
up with more of a cobbler than a cake, but very few leftovers.
Any time you cook sugar it will probably stick to your Dutch oven.
Foil lining the oven will somewhat prevent this, but the foil is
more trouble than good, so to clean your oven after cooking anything
sticky, just boil it out.
Floyd packing with his mules in Idaho
Dawn & Floyd
How to season
a Dutch oven
Cast-iron cooking utensils, especially
new ones, can stick and give a metallic flavor to foods prepared in
them if they are not properly seasoned. Floyd calls this seasoning
process "sweetening." Here is an unusualbut very successful seasoningmethod
used by the late Harold Nelson, ranch cook
Estes Park, Colorado:
Fill the skillet or Dutch oven with
water and boil a generous handful of dry hay. The hay can
be alfalfa or grass mix. Boil the hay at a rolling boil for about
20-30 minutes. Then you can rinse the utensil, dry it by heating
it on the stove, and rub it with cooking oil or spray it with a
cooking oil spray (like Pam) and wipe off the excess.
You can also use the water from the boiled hay to sweeten wooden
or tin dishes. Soak the dishes for at least 20 minutes.
If you don't have hay available, tea leaves will
How to restore a badly dirtied or very rusty Dutch oven
If you find a Dutch oven or other cast-iron
cookware that has been left very dirty for a long time and will not
boil clean, or if you have a Dutch oven that is heavily rusted or blackened
you can place it in a wood stove, fireplace, or camp fire until the
outer layers of bad material are burned away. The fire is similar
to the heat used in cooking and will not melt the metal, but will burn
up charred deposits and oxidation. Then season as above.
We have used this method on cast iron vessels that we thought were
unsalvageable with outstanding results.
I just bought a little Japanese-style
cast iron teapot and the instructions said that in the unlikely event
of rust, the rust is non-toxic, but if it bothers a person, clean the
rusted area with a brush and fill the pot with used tea leaves and boiling
water - allow to sit 20 minutes, discard and rinse. It goes on
to say the tannic acid in the tea reacts with the rust and forms a natural
seal. The tea and hay must react in similar ways. So, if
you don't have hay available, tea leaves will substitute.
Most folks say to avoid soap in cleaning
seasoned cast-iron cookware, but a little light soap and water will
generally not hurt. After cleaning, heat the cast iron on the
stove till hot, spray with a bit of Pam cooking spray and wipe off the
excess and it will be fine.
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