You are at the campsite and planning dinner. Maybe you are in charge of the whole meal or maybe you only are responsible for dessert (Dutch Oven folks always get dessert). You pull out your recipe book, review the ingredients and prepare to cook. The directions say the oven should be 350° F. How do you know what temperature your oven is? At home you just dial in a number and select BAKE. Those setting are missing on the Dutch oven.
The most often used temperature guide is used to establish an “ideal” oven temperature of 350° F. This guide determines the number of charcoal briquettes used by the size of the oven. Double the diameter of the oven to get the total briquettes. A 12” oven would use 24 briquettes. Instead of placing half the briquettes on the bottom and half on the top, subtract 2 from the bottom and add 2 to the top. Our 12" oven would have 10 briquettes on the bottom and 14 on the top. A variation on this is to place 1/3 of the briquettes on the bottom and 2/3’s on the top. Adding a briquette to the top and bottom increases the temperature 15°-20°.
Another method of testing temperature is using flour. Place a teaspoonful of flour in a small pie pan and put the pan inside a hot Dutch oven.
- Place the lid on the oven and leave it for 5 minutes.
- If the flour has not turned brown, the oven is less than 300°.
- If the flour is light brown, the oven is about 350°.
- If the flour is dark brown, the oven is about 450°.
A third method used by Duane Dinwiddie is the “ring” method.
- 1-ring: If you make a circle of hot charcoal with all of the briquettes lying flat and touching each other, with spaces left out for the legs on the bottom rings, that is "one ring". The outside edge of the ring is lined up with the outside edge of the pot, top or bottom.
- 1/2-ring: A "half ring" is the same size circle, but with every other briquette missing.
- 2-rings: is simply a second ring just inside the first, with the rings touching.
- Full spread: means to put all the briquettes you can (one layer deep, lying flat) either under (very rare, except in frying) or on top of the pot.
All his cooking has 4 temperatures: slow, medium, hot, and very hot. For a 12-inch oven:
- Slow will have 1-ring on top, and 1 ring under the pot and be 300° +/- 25°
- Medium is 1-ring under and 1-1/2 rings on top and is 350° +/- 25°.
- Hot is 1-ring under and 2-rings on top and is 400° +/- 25°
- Very hot is 1 ring under and 2-1/2 rings on top and is 450° to 500°
The final method is pretty unscientific but it has worked for me. Place you hand about 3” above the Dutch oven and count backwards from 450° by 25's- 450, 425, 400, 375, etc. When you have to move your hand, that’s about the temperature.
All these recommendations are guidelines. You will develop a knack of knowing the temperature of your oven and will make adjustments. Good eating!!