Welcome to the Farm!!

Welcome to the Farm!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cooking Outside with Cast Iron

A couple of years ago when Linens N Things were going out of business, I seriously coveted a beautiful set of heavy-duty stainless steel cookware. I think the set really appealed to me because all of the pieces matched and none of the handles or lids were broken. I worked nearby and would wander into the store regularly, sighing over the shiny perfection that I knew would someday be mine.

Have you noticed that “Going Out of Business” sales don’t offer real deals on the good stuff? The sale went on for weeks, with only a measly 10% off of the cookware. If I could afford that, I would have bought the set before the store went under and used one of their weekly 20% off coupons! Sadly, by the time the company offered a decent discount, the set was gone. Sigh.

Around this same time, we were blessed with an abundance of traveling and camping opportunities. A few years before, hubby and I had stumbled across a wonderful clearance sale on an entire set of cast iron cookware, which I stored with the camping gear.

During that camping season, I realized just how much I enjoy cooking with cast iron. Although the pots and pans take a few minutes to heat up, they retain heat very well, spreading it out evenly across the cooking surface. Also, food rarely sticks to a well-seasoned piece of cast iron and clean up is a breeze!

I never did get that shiny new set of stainless steel cookware. Instead, that set of cast iron cookware moved from the camping closet to the kitchen, permanently. My cookware still isn’t the prettiest, but boy, is it fun to cook with, especially in the summertime!

We live in one of the few Florida homes that do not have central air conditioning. The house is organized so strangely that just about every A/C person that looks at it says we need two units to cool the whole house. The house really isn’t big at all. It’s just a crazily laid out five-story-ish split level. But I digress. Suffice it to say that cooling this house in the summertime when the daily temperature and humidity are both in the high nineties is a bit of a challenge. Therefore, I try not to heat it up in the first place, which means I try to cook as much as possible outside. Cast iron is very handy for cooking outside!

A cast iron Dutch oven is one of the handiest pieces for cooking outside. Most soups, stews, casseroles, meats and even desserts can be baked in a Dutch oven, using the right amount of charcoal briquettes. The trick is knowing how many coals to place under the oven and how many to place on the lid. This handy chart should help.


Cast Iron Dutch or Camp Oven with Lid. Make sure the lid has a ridge around the edge. An oven that has legs is handy but not necessary. My three-legged oven and my flat-bottomed oven heat food equally well.

Charcoal Starter Chimney. Using charcoal lighter fluid causes the coals to burn faster. Switch to a chimney to start your charcoal. It’s quick, easy, and reliable. Place a wadded piece of newspaper under the chimney and your coal on top. Light the paper. You’ll have hot coals in no time.

Lid Lifter. That lid and oven get pretty hot. The lid lifter makes rotating the lid and oven and checking on the food a lot easier and a lot safer for your hands.

Lid Stand. The lid stand keeps the inside of the lid clean when you’re checking on and stirring the food. The lid stand also comes in handy when stacking your ovens and the top one doesn’t have legs.

Welding Gloves. Although I’ve been doing just fine with the lid lifter, these gloves are on my wish list! It gets a little challenging to carry a Dutch oven full of food with just the lifter. Welding or grilling gloves protect your hands so you can grasp the handle better.

Charcoal. Just about any type of charcoal will work. I happen to use Kingsford because my husband is very good at finding the Buy One Get One Free deals and keeps me well-stocked. 

Long-Handled Tongs. You will use a pair of long-handled tongs to move the charcoal briquettes.

Miscellaneous Kitchen or Grilling Utensils. For the most part, you’ll need your usual cooking utensils. However, long-handled utensils will work best for stirring food cooking over the hot coals.

Fire Proof Cooking Area. A grill, a fire pit, or a camp oven cooking table will work just fine. I’ve done this in a fire pit directly on the ground while camping and in a metal fire pit in the backyard. Any place that you can safely spread hot coals is a safe place to cook with this method.


Heat the appropriate amount of coals. 

Place one-third of the coals in a random ring pattern on your cooking surface.

Set the oven (filled with food, of course) over the bottom coals.

Place two-thirds of the coals in a random pattern on the lid. 

Using a lid lifter, rotate the lid clockwise and the oven counter-clockwise one-quarter turn every 15 minutes, eliminating hot spots.

The coals should last about an hour. Use your chimney on a fire-proof surface to ready more coals, if necessary.

Ovens can also be stacked. Place the proper amount of coals directly under the top oven, spreading the extras out to the edge of the lid of the bottom oven. The bottom oven in the picture is baking Cowboy Beef and Beans, which takes longer than the cornbread that’s in the top oven. Obviously, you stack the smaller oven on top of the larger oven for stability.

Cowboy Beef and Beans, Cornbread, and a salad. Yum!


My two favorite books for learning the in’s and out’s of cooking outside with my cast iron ovens are:

Camp Dutch Oven Cooking 101 is a simple, straight-forward guide to cooking with cast iron. Personally, I love the dessert recipes in the back. Then again, I’m one of those people who believes that it’s not dinner if there’s no dessert. Just sayin’.

Recipes for Roughing It Easy might be a little more difficult to find, but definitely worth the trouble. Author Dian Thomas is a mom to quite a few boys who loved scouting. She shares all of the wisdom she gained over her family’s many years in Boy Scouts. Her recipes are kid-tested and approved and many are just plain fun!

Thanks for stopping by! Whether you’re trying to cook more meals outside this summer or heading out for some serious camping, I hope this guide is helpful. Don’t forget about the print-friendly button at the bottom of the post. I love that button. You can delete any parts of the post that you don’t need!

Grace and peace be yours in abundance,

PS. Oh, and for those of you who don't like how heavy cast iron is, think of it this way: You don't have to do your upper body strength training workouts when you cook with your cast iron!


  1. Betty as you may know this is how I grew up, on Cast Iron. (Bad wording, but you know what I mean, lol) The best over easy eggs are made on cast iron!! Below is how to take care of Cast Iron, my mother would spin in her grave if I didn't share this, she was a stickler on how to take care of Cast Iron, and yes I still cook on Cast Iron.
    I think your next Blog should be on Box Ovens, my mom was Queen of Box Ovens, so if ya need tips let me know she taught me everything : )

    What You Need

    Cast iron skillet
    Sponge or stiff brush
    Clean, dry cloth or paper towels
    Vegetable oil or shortening
    Kosher salt (optional)

    Stove (optional)

    1. Clean the skillet immediately after use, while it is still hot or warm. (Avoid soaking the pan or leaving it in the sink, or it may rust.)

    2. Wash the skillet by hand using hot water and a sponge or stiff brush. (Avoid using the dishwasher, soap, or steel wool, as these may strip the pan's seasoning.)

    3. To remove stuck-on food, scrub the pan with a paste of Kosher salt and water. Stubborn food residue may also be loosened by boiling water in the pan.

    4. Thoroughly towel dry the skillet or dry it on the stove over low heat.

    5. Using a cloth or paper towel, apply a light coat of vegetable oil or melted shortening to the inside of the skillet. Some people also like to coat the outside.

    6. Store the skillet in a dry place.

    Additional Notes:
    • Using soap, steel wool, or other abrasives is not the end of the world, but you may need to re-season the skillet. If the skillet is well-seasoned from years of use, a small amount of mild soap may be used without doing much damage – just be sure to rinse it well and oil it after drying.
    • Remove rust using steel wool or by rubbing it with half a raw potato and a sprinkle of baking soda (seriously, it works!). Again, it may be necessary to re-season the pan.

    1. Wow, Rusty, thank you!! This is awesome! I hope you don't mind if I re-post it as a regular post.

      By the way, I thought of your mom when I was working on this post. She was such a deep well of wisdom! And always so kind to me. I wish I had gotten to know her better.

  2. I love my cast iron - thanks for sharing the tips. I really liked the charcoal chart - never knew so now we can do more outdoor experiments with the dutch ovens.

    1. Sara, be sure to stop by and let me know how your experiments go!

  3. I love to cook with our Dutch oven this way! Great post! (I'm slightly jealous as I've been contemplating just such a post, and honestly, yours is much better!) I also want to check out the books you recommend.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I can't wait to stop by and read your post. Everyone has their own personal approach to a topic, and I am positive that yours will be wonderful and informative!

  4. Awesome Idea. I love cast iron too but why did I never think to use it outside in our fire pit.

  5. I'm from Florida and I cannot imagine not having central AC! Oh boy! That is wonderful to take advantage of outside cooking to avoid extra heat in the house. I've never cooked with cast iron. My husband is building a fire pit in our backyard in the future and wants to cook outdoors more, so I may be trying this in the future!! :)

  6. Fun! I don't do the hardcore Dutch oven cooking with charcoals, but I do love using my cast iron in the kitchen. My dad cooks a turkey with charcoals outside in a Dutch oven every year for Thanksgiving. It's the best turkey ever, and it frees up the oven for my mom.

  7. Really helpful post for cooking outside... I think we have the same fire pit! I'm going to try using ours in it. We have the same lodge cook book that came with our dutch oven! Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. This is inspiring! I am not sure I could do this at this time in my life, I would love to practice in the fall when it is cooler and learn that way.

  9. I'm so going to try outdoor dutch oven cooking this summer; we're camping in two weeks, so the timing here is perfect! Thanks so much for sharing! ~Lisa @ HappyinDoleValley :)

  10. Hello Betty,
    Excellent blogs!!!Thanks for sharing this tips.

    Cast Iron Cowboy Hat



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