There seems to be a modern resurgence in baking in Dutch ovens, but this technique has been used for hundreds of years. Dutch ovens were commonly used in 18th century kitchens. They were known by various names and they took on various forms, but they were known throughout Great Britain, France and the American colonies. Dutch ovens played an important role in the American colonies as well as the later on Western expansion. Louis and Clark took numerous Dutch ovens along on their western expedition. These vessels were favored by 18th, 19th, and even 20th century cooks and sojourners for their versatility. They could be used for soups and stews, for frying as well as for roasting and baking, even bread.
We found one early 19th century source that used the term Dutch oven and bread oven interchangeably. When it came to baking for a single meal, these were much more efficient than a wood fired oven. Because of their versatility and efficiency, they were also highly valued. You could frequently find them in old 18th century last will and testaments and in household inventories. Jas. Townsend and Son offers two different sizes, a 9 1/2 quart and a 12 quart model.
The Dutch ovens sold at Jas. Townsend and Son are a specifically 18th century and North American improvement on a 17th century design. The lip at the top is specifically designed to keep the coals from falling off and the legs at the bottom are to keep it so the air can flow underneath and keep the coals underneath alive.
When using a Dutch oven, you need to make sure that it is preheated. Just leave it in the fire pit until it’s good and warm. You have to get your pit ready for this. You need coals underneath your Dutch oven. Deciding exactly how many coals you want to use is a bit of a matter of judgement. Each person is going to have to get used to that. You need to practice. I put a ring of coals around the top of the lid here leaving the center a little bit open. Same thing at the bottom, there’s a little bit of opening at the very center to not get it too hot. Each one of those is going to be just a little bit different though. For even cooking you will want to rotate your Dutch oven every 5-10 minutes or so and you will want to check on your food about every 15 minutes to ensure that the oven is not too hot or cold and adjust accordingly.
I am really enjoying your posts and telling others about them!
In classes I teach on Dutch oven cooking, participants get this information on estimating the temperature when cooking with wood:
If you are cooking with a wood instead of charcoal briquettes—here’s
how to tell the temperature of your Dutch oven:
use the back of your hand near the oven counting “one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.—
a count of 6-8 seconds = 200-250 degrees (a “slow” oven)
4-5 seconds = 350 degrees (a “moderate” oven)
2-3 seconds = 400-450 degrees (a “quick or sharp” oven)
1 second = 500+ degrees
Or, you can put a teaspoon of flour in a small pan & place into a pre-heated Dutch oven. After 5 minutes:
—if the flour has no color, the oven is less than 300 degrees;
—if it is light-golden brown, the oven is 350 degrees;
—if caramel/darker brown, the oven is 450 degrees;
—if dark brown after 3 minutes, or burned after 5 minutes,
the oven is too hot to cook in.
Hope this is of use to others…..
You are 100% right, there certainly is a resurgence in baking in Dutch ovens. But one thing that I can’t seem to find is the proper dutch ovens that you can cook on coals. I was wondering if any of these dutch ovens would be suitable for cooking on an open flame or very hot coals.
I do love the idea of using this method of cooking meat and stews, but I’m weary of buying from just your average high st shops.