Why would anyone want to cook with cast iron?
If you ask Dutch oven cooks why they use cast iron, you will get different answers. Some people like the historical aspect of cast iron cooking. The pioneers and early explorers in this country prepared their meals in cast iron over a campfire. Others like the outdoor-cooking aspect. Cooking with cast iron over a charcoal or a wood fire is definitely an outdoor activity and goes great with camping–campers who are tired of franks and beans or other simple fare can easily prepare lavish dishes in an outdoor setting. There are others that like being ready for emergencies and knowing they don’t need a kitchen to prepare their meals. Probably the most common reason people cook with cast iron is that it is fun.
What is a DOG?
DOG is an acronym for Dutch Oven Gathering which is basically a big potluck. We get together to cook in our cast iron Dutch Ovens (DO) and share the results.
What happens at a DOG?
It varies deepening upon the gathering you attend. Typically DOGs are single day or full weekend events. Most single day DOGs the meal is the main event. Everyone arrives in time to setup, cook, and eat. When the DOG is held over a weekend, there is time for more activities because we aren’t rushing home.
If the DOG is held on a single day, usually a Sunday, the meal is the main event. Everyone plans their arrival to accommodate time to setup, prepare, and cook their dish in time for the meal. While the food is cooking there is plenty of time to walk around and see what others are making. In our chapter everyone is happy to explain.
Planning a camping trip, see the Camping Gear to bring along.
Weekend affairs are often held at campgrounds. The DOG is actually a one-day event on Saturday but many of will arrive Friday and stay through Sunday. On Saturday morning there is a usually a class or two on a topic related to Dutch oven cooking and often there is a Dutch oven dessert competition before the big meal. The weekend gives us several opportunities to get together, tell tall tales, learn new techniques, and share some wonderful food. When we have finished eating and cleaning up after the meal, we adjourn back to the campground for the night and have a breakfast DOG in the morning for those that are still there.
Can anyone come to a DOG?
Sure. A DOG is a great way to meet new people with similar interests while tasting the wonderful variety of dishes that can easily be prepared outdoors in Dutch ovens. It doesn’t matter if you have never cooked in cast iron or are a Dutch-oven expert, there is plenty to learn and share.
Is a DOG suitable for children?
Yes. To help promote family involvement, often there will be a junior division in our dessert competitions so the youngsters can participate.
Does everyone have to cook a dish in cast iron at a DOG?
No, but most of us will cook in cast iron because we enjoy it. If for some reason you don’t feel like doing a DO item, if you have traveled too far from home to bring all your DO equipment, or if you are just starting out and don’t own a DO, then a salad or a side dish will suffice as your offering. Although many of us will cook a pot or two (or sometimes three), there are times when we may not.
I have never been to a DOG before. What do I need to bring?
Because a DOG is a potluck meal, you need to bring a dish to contribute to the meal. If you are cooking your dish onsite, you MUST bring something that allows you to cook above the ground and contain your charcoal. This is important. During a DOG there is typically not enough fire rings or barbecues onsite for everyone, check ahead if special permission has been given to cook using charcoal outside of the fire pits as long as it is contained off the ground.
Most people bring specially designed, heavy steel cooking tables to contain the charcoal, support the Dutch oven, and keep both off the ground. A metal pan, like the kind used to drain automobile oil, propped off the ground on bricks will also work. We want to maintain favorable relationships with our venues and be welcomed back, so every DOG participate MUST follow the cooking-above-the-ground rule.
You will also need to bring your own eating utensils. After that it’s up to you. Most people bring folding chairs, soft drinks, and snacks. We generally schedule the serving time for mid-afternoon and the snacks give you something to nibble on while your meal is cooking. Because a DOG is held outside in a picnic area or a group camping area, there is plenty of room for the kids to play while waiting to eat.
Do I have to own a Dutch oven to participate?
No, a salad, side dish, or dessert is always welcomed, whether cooked in cast iron or not. Come out, meet new people, share a meal, and see if Dutch oven cooking is for you. When you see how easy it is to cook in a DO and taste the variety of dishes you can create, don’t be surprised if you get the cast iron bug too.
What if I don’t know how to cook in cast iron?
That’s all right. You are invited to come out and learn. No one was born knowing how to cook outdoors in cast iron. We were all beginners once and we are happy to share our knowledge with you. An important part of a DOG is walking around to see what other people are cooking and how they are cooking it. Each cook brings a different perspective to the activity and there is always an opportunity to learn new techniques, even for experienced DO cooks.
I thought you could only cook chili or cobbler in Dutch ovens.
You can cook chili and cobbler in a Dutch oven. Those are great dishes, but there is much more to cast-iron cooking. It’s been said that you can cook nearly everything in a Dutch oven. In the past I have had dishes as varied as a crown rib roast, baked ham, tamales, cinnamon rolls, cakes, brownies, and even a twenty-four pound turkey.
I tried cooking a dish once in a Dutch oven but I burned it.
Don’t feel badly, we have all been there and we have all burned food in our Dutch ovens. This is the most common experience for the new Dutch-oven cook. Don’t give up. The secret to cast-iron cooking is temperature control and the good news is that it’s easy to learn. Most people overestimate the amount of charcoal they need and end up applying too much bottom heat. One approach to determine the number of charcoal briquettes needed for cooking is the plus-minus technique. You take the diameter of the Dutch oven and add two or three to get the number of briquettes to use on top. Subtract two or three from the diameter to get the number of briquettes to use on bottom. For example, with a twelve-inch Dutch oven, use fourteen or fifteen briquettes on top and nine or ten briquettes on bottom. This gives an approximate temperature of 325-350 degrees.
To better assist you with temperature control, you will find a Dutch Oven temperature chart in the Dutch Oven Tips section.