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Dutch ovens are a versatile way to cook outdoors

Canceling an annual camping trip deprived Ron and Kat Clanton of Navajo-style, fry-bread tacos and other campfire favorites.

Yet amid extreme fire danger and skies turned smoky from recent wildfires, the Clantons can’t be deterred from their passionate pursuit of Dutch-oven cooking. Any outdoor venue — from local, day-use parks to his own backyard — suffices for Ron Clanton, founder of Rogue Dutch Oven Cookers, a chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society.

“Right now, you can’t have any kind of open fire,” says the 72-year-old Medford resident. “But we still like to Dutch-oven cook.

“If we can’t get up into the mountains to go camping, at least we can spend a couple of days at the park.”

To satisfy his craving for cast-iron cookery, Clanton planned a recent picnic of Coca-Cola chicken, biscuits and peach-apricot cobbler for family and friends. Using a portable, metal table designed for use with Dutch ovens, Clanton prepared and served each dish on the grounds of Eagle Point’s Butte Creek Mill, which hosts the Rogue Dutch Oven Cookers several times annually. The group’s biggest public event is a Thanksgiving feast served the second Saturday in November for about 300 diners.

“There’s nothing you can’t cook in ’em,” says Clanton, citing show-stoppers like turducken, a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck that's stuffed inside a deboned turkey. Comfort-food classics such as chili can easily be assembled at a picnic table and simmered over coals arranged in a barbecue pit, says Clanton. Even a metal trash-can lid lined with briquettes works in a pinch, he adds.

“You can go to some of the parks here in town,” says Clanton. “Your Dutch-oven cooking on your patio is great.”

Cooks too often dash between their outdoor grill and indoor kitchen to oversee both main dishes and accompaniments, says Clanton. Pressing a Dutch oven into side-dish service can simplify summer meals, adds Clanton, who is the chef for a local retirement community.

Dutch-oven cookbook authors agree.

“You can have someone making a jambalaya in a Dutch oven on one side of the grill and grilling a whole fish on the other side,” says author Jamie Purviance, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., for a recent story in the Chicago Tribune.

Even enameled Dutch ovens intended for indoor use can make the transition to outdoor grills or — with a trivet or some form of support — to campfires, according to the Chicago Tribune. Traditional cast-iron pots, so indispensable in pioneer days, are rugged cooking vessels mounted on legs that can straddle burning charcoal or wood. Lids are flat and rimmed so hot coals can be placed on top to cook the pots’ contents from two directions — just like foods in a modern oven. These tried-and-true Dutch ovens have earned the loyalty of Clanton and fellow aficionados.

A cast-iron griddle is redundant, says Clanton, when a Dutch-oven lid is at hand. He uses the flat surface to cook bacon, eggs and pancakes while camping out. The famously heavy lid also keeps foods’ essential oils and aromas in the Dutch oven, concentrating flavors, according to Bruce Tracy, author of “Dutch Oven Baking.”

Baked goods, including breads, rolls, muffins and desserts, abound among the 580 recipes that Clanton has posted to his blog at http://roguedutchovencookers.blogspot.com.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Ron and Kat Clanton bake Dutch-oven dinner rolls near Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point. - MT file photo