Overlanders depend on their gear. After all, most of us are homeless in the traditional sense. The road is our home, and the gear we travel with can make or break the trip. As very active campers even in our old life, we were quite certain what cooking gear was going to make the list for the PanAm. Although we quibbled over and considered a few items, one item never in doubt was our Lodge Dutch Oven.
I love to cook. We both love to eat. Although I can create a lot of pretty damn good stuff on our stovetop and small BBQ, before the dutch oven we had missed fresh baked bread, chicken enchiladas, stews, casseroles, and Life Remotely’s epic breakfast bomb. Enter one of the most magnificent cooking tools I have ever owned.
Dutch Ovens can confuse. After all, many have a ceramic dutch oven that they use in their home oven, often appearing in lovely shades of turquoise or orange. When we rave about a homemade bread at camp in the dutch oven there is, understandably, a touch of uncertainty that enters the conversation. While the manner of cooking is the same, a cast iron camping Dutch oven is on an entirely different animal.
I admit to originally being skeptical. It seemed like a painfully long process to heat the briquettes, prep the food, and wait for the longer cooking time. I fretted over clean up and the weight and space it would take up in the truck. A gift from Jim’s mom, the oven sat patiently in the camper for several months before we finally broke it out. It has never again been far from reach.
It happened on our anniversary trip in 2013. We were, as usual, at Timothy Lake enjoying one of our favorite campgrounds anywhere. I was prepared. I had all the ingredients necessary to make the breakfast bomb to go with our celebratory mimosa brunch. Then, the magic began.
After experiencing the ovens remarkable ability to truly act as, well, an oven, I lost all doubts. The pastry was cooked and flaky, the ingredients perfectly done. It was hot and comforting and absolutely a grandiose success.
Since that time, we have upped our game. Chicken enchiladas, baked sweet & sour chicken, pizza, spaghetti lasagna, jambalaya with cornbread topping, roast chicken~ nothing was off limits. The breakfast bomb has remained a favorite, and we have recently been experimenting with a no-knead bread recipe with a long rise that makes the most magnificent dutch oven bread.
My initial concerns over clean up were unfounded. We had, originally, placed the ingredients directly into the oven. A quick wipe out with paper towels was the norm, baked on food only occasionally calling for a salt-olive oil scrub. Even this minor issue was eliminated after Ron thoughtfully outfitted us to an even higher degree for Jim’s birthday one year. In addition to a lid lifter and lid stand, the oven liners made clean up a breeze. In reality, we ran out of the liners, and now simply use parchment paper for the same effect.
The oven is heavy. It does take up a lot of space in the truck storage. Finding quality briquettes on the road has presented occasional challenges. And yet we would not trade in our oven for any other piece of kitchen equipment. Well, maybe we would trade it before the hand-crank coffee grinder and French press, but that is it!
As we continue to experiment, more deliciousness is to come. I want to try more baking. In addition, although we are generally we are too impatient to think of using the oven for breakfast I am absolutely intrigued with the idea of making a hashbrown casserole in the oven, while cooking bacon and eggs on the overturned lid. I mean, that is like MAGIC!
Some of our overlander friends disagree. In fact, at Overlander Oasis there were not one, but TWO discarded ovens! (Shame on you Ben & Emma!). To them we say, fair enough. There is a certain amount of effort and time involved in the process. But to them we also say we will be more than happy to continue to whet your appetite and whip up your envy with pictures of the deliciousness that comes from within. But never fear, you know we’ll share in the bounty when we meet up along the way.
We have experimented a bit, and learned a thing or two. A coal chimney is not essential, but certainly makes things easier. Coal placement is essential for correct cooking temperature, generally requiring 2/3rd on top, and 1/3 underneath. A dutch oven on legs is preferred, allowing for ease of shifting coals and rotating. One of our most important buys was from the Goodwill, a round metal pizza pan perfectly sized to set the oven and coals on, keeping it steady and level.
There is still more to learn. We have seen stacked dutch ovens, a variety of desserts, and other tempting morsels yet to make the list.
Not every meal has been the resounding success of that very first breakfast bomb, but every single meal has been cooked together, with love, and often shared with friends. What more could one ask for?