Monday, November 2, 2009

History of the Dutch Oven

I've always enjoyed eating superior food cooked in a Dutch Oven.  My father used it as his only cooking pot whenever he was outdoors and frequently at home.  I used to almost pray that mom would be gone for an evening so he could cook ‘trail fare’ for dinner.  

Dutch Oven Don’t get me wrong.  Mom was an excellent cook and loved preparing meals for the family, but Dad – well, Dad cooked ‘Man’ food in the Dutch oven or cast iron pans.  Even today, the whiff of cooking onions or garlic immediately restores a scene in my mind of a six-year-old young man, salivating at the smells and staring into the steaming contents of a Dutch oven. 

Just writing about it caused the flashback memory and like any good Pavlonian dog, my mouth is watering yet again.

Today, when my family and I cook using our Dutch ovens, we frequently hear the same refrain:

“Delicious!”  “Devine!”  “Oh My Gosh!”

How did my ancestors stay so thin with food this good?  Tracing the cooking preferences of my male ancestors for four generations, I’ve found that they were all Dutch oven masters.  My early pioneer ancestors designated the Dutch oven as their only cooking pot when crossing the American plains.  They never lost their love of them. 

When I visited Grandpa as a youngster, he would roast potatoes in a fire when time was of the essence, but when we wanted to enjoy a good meal, his Dutch ovens were the tool used to create the feast.

Of course our family has continued the tradition.  It wasn’t hard to convince our wives that cooking with the ovens was ‘Man Territory’.  

The Dutch Oven: Utah's Official State Cooking Pot

The IDOS (International Dutch Oven Society) wrote about the history of the Dutch oven in Utah years ago: 

In 1997, the Utah State Legislature approved House Bill HB203, designating the Dutch Oven as the State Cooking Pot. The following information was generously sent to the Utah State Library by the International Dutch Oven Society located in Logan, Utah. Utah is not only the headquarters of the Society but the site of World Championship Dutch Oven Cookoff which is a major event of the Festival of the American West. (Held on 2 August in Logan, Utah this year.)

When the early pioneers came to Utah they used a number of things such as lumbering prairie schooners, teams of massive oxen, mossy wooden water barrels, and heavy dresses which almost dragged on the ground. For most of us, such common pioneer artifacts are difficult to relate to or use in our lives today. However, there is one very popular pioneer indispensable which thousands of Utah families are using in their everyday activities. It not only looks the same but is still made basically the same way--the tried and true Dutch oven.

Explorers like Jim Bridger and Peter Skene Ogden used the kettle versions on the trail but appreciated the standard three-legged, flat top with a rim version together with its "lite" breads, tasty fruit cobblers and delicious stews when they wintered in. MountDutch Ovensain men who rendezvoused in Cache Valley in the 1820's used them and Osborne Russell in his Journal of a Trapper writes about how much they appreciated having some greasy, grizzly bear meat to cook because the cast-iron pots needed re-seasoning after boiling roots for meals the previous eleven days.

Pioneer trains gearing up near Independence, Missouri were given a list of essentials with the Dutch oven at the top of the list, the people-powered handcart companies chose to include the heavy pots for their long pull to Utah and the miners digging in the canyons around Bingham, Price and Cedar City counted the black pots almost as essential as their picks.

It's been asked why Dutch ovens are used by more Utah families than other states and perhaps it's because for Utahans, families have a special significance and particularly their pioneer forbearers. It's a unique and generational bonding experience for families to gather around a campfire after a meal from the same kind of Dutch ovens and tell the stories about and history of their pioneer ancestors.”

If you, no, when you decide to acquire your own ovens, buy the best.  Stick with Lodge ovens and ONLY use Kingsford charcoal.  Be sure to avoid any charcoal that his any fuel infused in the briquettes.

The formula to create a 350 F oven temperature is simple.  If you have a 12” oven, put the number of briquettes equal to the size of the oven minus two under it and plus two on the top.   So, for a 12” oven, 10 briquettes would be under and 14 on top for most meals.  If you are cooking bread and cookies, you’ll want to move one or two of the briquettes to the top from the bottom.

Never clean your Dutch oven with soap.  Heat them in hot water and wipe them clean.  Eventually, a highly prized black patina will develop that is better than Teflon and won’t cause any chemical health problems.   Remember that the pores of the metal open up a little when the oven is hot and washing it with soap will not only ruin the black patina but the soap will be trapped in the pores as the metal cools and contracts.  Your next meal will taste a lot better without the flavor of Dawn detergent. 

Be sure to wipe your oven very dry after every use.  You may want to coat the surfaces with a light spray of Pam after it is cleaned.  Our family lives in a low humidity environment and we don’t have to worry about rust on our ovens when we store them properly.  Consider the humidity factor in your own storage plan.

We’ve found that with a little thought, anything we can cook in our home ovens can be cooked in our Dutch Ovens.  And the taste?  Well, there aren’t many leftovers to put in the refrigerator. 

Here are a few basic ‘good eatin’ recipes that we enjoy.  Sorry, the top award winners aren’t in this group.  They are guarded by lock and key and my poor memory of where the key is kept. 



6 large potatoes

5 carrots

2 medium-sized onions

1 lb. mild cheddar cheese

1 can cream of mushroom soup

salt and pepper

Peel and slice potatoes and carrots, 1/4 in. thick. Slice onion rings 1/4 inch thick, cut into fourths. Place potatoes, carrots and onions into 12-inch Dutch oven with 1/8 inch oil on bottom. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook 40 minutes, stirring frequently. Add soup and stir thoroughly. Cook for 10 minutes. Add grated cheese over top of potatoes. Cover to melt cheese. Serve.



4-6 slabs spare ribs

Brown ribs in Dutch oven. Mix sauce ingredients together. Warm to dissolve brown sugar and spices. Cover ribs with sauce. Cook for 90 minutes.


1 medium onion

3/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup water

1 tsp. salt

1/4 cup vinegar

2 tsp. mustard (wet)

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. chili powder

1/4 - 1/2 tsp. red cayenne pepper


4 chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces

broccoli, carrots, celery, mushrooms, green onions, pea pods

1 can water chestnuts (drained)

Cook vegetables in a little oil until tender. Add water chestnuts.

Add 2 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil and cook 3-5 minutes.

Thicken with 1/4 cup soy sauce mixed with 3 tbls. corn starch.


1 lb. chicken breasts or lean pork

1 egg yolk

1 tbls. corn starch

1 tbls. water


Cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Mix together egg, salt, cornstarch and water. Add meat and let stand 10 minutes. Remove meat pieces, dip into flour, deep fry several minutes in hot oil until lightly browned. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Continue cooking meat pieces until all are browned. Wipe out Dutch oven.


1 large carrot, sliced

1 green pepper, cut into chunks

1/2 onion, cut into large pieces

1-8 oz. can pineapple chunks (drain, save juice)


pineapple juice plus water to equal 1 cup

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

3 tbls. corn starch

Mix together and set aside.

Into clean Dutch oven, heat 1 tbls. oil. Add onion, carrots and peppers. Stir fry until vegetables are tender. Push vegetables firm center, add sauce. When mixture boils, add meat. Mix all together. Cook 3-5 minutes. If too thick, add a little water. If not thick enough, mix a little cornstarch with water making a thickening. Add until desired thickness is achieved.