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Briquettes and Heat Control for Dutch Ovens

November 9th, 2006 by Halli

If you’re not using your Dutch oven in an indoor electric oven, on a gas grill, or over wood coals from your campfire, you are probably using briquettes. There are many brands available, but most Dutch oven cooks agree that Kingsford makes the most consistent product that yields the best results.

Many if not most Dutch oven dishes are cooked at 350F. To achieve that temperature, use the “Rule of Two”, by taking the size in inches of your Dutch oven and subtracting 2 for the number of coals placed under the oven. Take the size of the oven and add 2 for the number of coals placed on the lid. In other words, for a 12” Dutch oven, you put 10 coals under the oven, and 14 on the top to achieve a temperature of 350F. For higher or lower temperatures, add or subtract coals. When in doubt, it is generally better to use too few briquettes than too many!

For baking breads, cakes, etc., you can use the “Rule of Four”. From the size of the Dutch oven subtract 4 to get the number of coals to place under the oven. Add 4 to the size of the oven to get the number of coals to place on the lid.

Briquettes can be started in a variety of ways. My favorite method is with a charcoal chimney. Just be sure you don’t buy one with a “drop-out” bottom. You generally are going to want to pour out the burning coals rather than leave them heaped in one location under the chimney. Just stuff 1-2 pages of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney, place the desired number of briquettes (plus a few) in the top, and light the paper. It usually takes 15-20 minutes for the charcoal to start. You can tell it’s started if your hand placed a few inches over the top of the chimney can feel the heat. The briquettes will be gray or have gray patches on them when they are ready to use.

There are some variables that effect the heat provided by briquettes or coals. Even a moderate breeze
can reduce the heat somewhat and if one is blowing you may wish to use a windscreen of some kind. Humidity, shade, cold weather, high altitude and cooking on soft ground can also reduce the heat. Of course, hot weather and direct sun can also increase the heat of the briquettes.

It is possible to conserve heat and briquettes by stacking Dutch ovens, when you’re cooking multiple dishes. Just be sure to put the oven containing the dish that requires the longest cooking time and the least amount of attention on the bottom.

Many Dutch oven recipes require only an hour of cooking. If a longer time is required, such as for some roasts, you will need to start a new set of briquettes, clean off the ash from the first briquettes, and put on the new ones.

Remember that stews, soups, chili and other liquids require more heat, and thus more briquettes, on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Meat, vegetables and cobblers require an even distribution of heat. And cakes, breads, biscuits, cookies, etc., require most of the heat on the top of the Dutch oven, and just a little on the bottom.

A variety of surfaces can be used for cooking in a Dutch oven. The ovens can be placed on the ground, a flat metal surface of some kind, such as a garbage can lid, concrete (which may crack with the high temperatures) or almost anything non-flammable. For a few years I placed my Dutch ovens in a clean oil drain pan.

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