These good old-fashioned Dutch oven recipes are excellent served at a mountain man rendezvous or at the homestead.
An indispensable part of a well-equipped mountain man’s kit was the Dutch oven, a perfect cooking vessel for use in a primitive fireplace or on a campfire. Made out of cast iron, the pot has a tight-fitting lid and short legs to keep it above the coals. On the American frontier, the lid was flanged to let the cook pile additional coals on top to aid in cooking. Well-suited for boiling, baking, or frying, the Dutch oven was used to prepare everything from stews to desserts.
A Dutch oven was such a valued part of one’s property, it was frequently identified in a person’s last will and testament — George Washington’s mother did exactly that. (George is said to have been particularly fond of a certain Dutch oven chicken.) To this day, a good Dutch oven is a prized possession of an experienced camper, and it’s an important accouterment at the Fort Bridger Rendezvous, where the Dutch oven cooking contests draw a competitive crowd.
Mike Larsen has been going to the Fort Bridger Rendezvous for 23 years and has served on the board for 12. A Dutch oven cooking aficionado, he’s competed in and judged many a cook-off. We asked Larsen for some of his tips on technique.
“I like to use charcoal briquettes; it’s easier to control heat,” he says. “The rule of thumb is to take the diameter of the oven and add three for the top and subtract three from the bottom. So for a 12-inch Dutch oven, that would be 15 briquettes on top and nine on the bottom.”
When the briquettes turn gray, lay out the requisite number on the bottom, set the Dutch oven on top, and place the remaining briquettes on top of the lid. Due to the variability in heat, you’ll want to check your oven often. “If it’s a main course,” Larson says, “you probably want to let it go an hour and then start checking. If it’s a cobbler, it will probably be done in about 30 to 45 minutes.”
How do you inspect your grub with a bunch of burning-hot coals sitting on top of the lid? “There’s a tool called a lid-lifter,” Larsen explains. “It’s basically a hook on the end of a handle that allows you to pick the whole lid right up with the briquettes in place. You just set the lid off to the side and move it back onto the oven when you’re ready.”
Ready to give it a go? Here are two great recipes that would satisfy anyone after a hard day in the mountains.
Cheesy Dutch Oven Potatoes
Mike Larsen’s rendezvous-worthy recipe is a classic hot dish casserole, the ultimate in comfort food. “I call them Dutch Oven Potatoes. Some people call them ‘funeral potatoes’ — that’s basically all they are.” As with many a crowd-pleaser, it’s all about the cheese.
5 pounds frozen hash browns
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 onion, diced
1 16-ounce container of sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Mix all ingredients together in a 14-inch Dutch oven, reserving some grated cheese for the topping. (Some folks like to include cooked and crumbled bacon in the mixture and crumble crackers on top as a garnish.) Cook on coals for about an hour. Just before you’re ready to serve, sprinkle remaining cheese on top and let it melt.
George Washington’s Rosemary Chicken
“This recipe was a favorite of George Washington’s and has since become a favorite of my wife’s and sons’,” says author Frederick J. Chiaventone. “It’s surprisingly fast to prepare — about 15 – 20 minutes to get everything prepped and into the Dutch oven.”
1 whole chicken, rinsed and cavity cleaned out
Salt to taste
1 lemon, quartered
Sprigs of fresh rosemary (including twigs), chopped
6 – 12 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed (or several small potatoes, scrubbed and quartered)
1 onion, diced
6 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
Rub chicken with olive oil and place in Dutch oven. Salt to taste. Squeeze 2 lemon quarters over chicken; stuff the remaining 2 lemon quarters inside the bird. Sprinkle rosemary liberally onto bird, into cavity, and in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add potatoes, onion, and carrots around the chicken. Nestle oven in hot coals for 2½ hours. For gravy, thicken the resulting chicken drippings with a little flour mixed into some milk.
From the May/June 2015 issue.