There is nothing quite like cooking a meal outside, under the open sky. Even if you aren’t into camping, building a fire and cooking up some beans and cornbread in a Dutch oven or camp oven can connect you back to the earth, back to your roots.
Photo provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Dutch ovens have been a part of Arkansas history since before statehood was established and are growing in popularity once more as Arkansans all over the state are taking part in Dutch oven cooking events.
It is believed that Dutch ovens were first cast in the 1700s in the Pennsylvania area and were in wide use in Arkansas by the 1800s. A Dutch oven has a flat bottom and a Camp oven typically has three small legs on the bottom. Both have been used throughout Arkansas history and the name Dutch oven is often used interchangeably. The versatility of the vessels made them popular amongst pioneers who settled in Arkansas as they moved west. You would be hard pressed to find a home or a traveler that didn’t own a Dutch oven.
Even today, Dutch ovens are popular amongst home cooks and outdoor cooks and can be found at deer camps, state parks and big events like the annual Chuck Wagon Races. Act 476 of 2001 was signed by Governor Mike Huckabee February 28, 2001 and officially designated the Dutch oven as the official state historic cooking vessel.
Cast iron Dutch ovens are designed to be excellent cooking vessels. Cast iron itself heats slowly and holds heat better than copper and aluminum. You will have an even cooking surface and can avoid burning due to hot spots. The lid of a Dutch oven is flat with a lip and pretty heavy. The weight helps maintain heated pressure inside the vessel which encourages even cooking. The lip on the lid allows hot coals to be added so the vessel can be heated from the top as well as the bottom.
I first fell in love with Dutch oven cooking when I attended a workshop at Jacksonport State Park in Newport, Arkansas about 10 years ago. They taught us how to care for a Dutch oven, how to clean it, and most importantly how to cook with it.
In the years since then, I have enjoyed using my Dutch oven to cook many things but beans and cornbread are still amongst my favorites. They are also pretty traditional.
Dutch Oven Beans
- 1 pound dry navy beans
- 2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon salt
- pepper, to taste
- 3 medium onions, chopped
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup sorghum molasses
- ¼ pound salt pork (or you can use bacon)
- Wash and clean the beans, cover them with water and soak overnight.
- Drain the beans and pour them into your 2-quart Dutch oven along with 2 cups water, and the mustard, pepper, salt, onions, brown sugar and sorghum molasses. Place the Dutch oven over hot coals or hang over a low fire and boil the beans, covered, for about 1-1/2 hours until the beans begin to wrinkle and become soft.
- Cube the salt pork and add it to the beans. Adjust the heat of your Dutch oven to 350 by placing 5 coals under the oven and 11 coals on the lid of the oven. As the coals cool and turn to ash you will need to replenish them to maintain the temperature.
- Bake the beans in the Dutch oven for 4 hours. Remove the lid and enough water to cover the beans, usually about ¾ cup. Continue baking for 2 more hours, removing the lid during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Total cooking times may vary, test your beans for doneness.
Dutch Oven Cornbread
- 1-1/4 cups cornmeal
- 2/4 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 3 tablespoons melted lard (can substitute shortening or butter)
In a medium bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg and melted lard. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk well to combine.
Pour the batter into a prepared 10” Dutch oven and bake for 20-25 minutes at 375. You can reach this temperature by placing 7 coals under your Dutch oven and 16 coals on top of your Dutch oven.
Interested in learning more about Dutch ovens?
There are several Dutch oven groups around the state that meet regularly and are looking for new members.
Central Arkansas Dutch Oven Group
Connect with the Central Arkansas Dutch Oven Group on Facebook. They try to meet regularly and will post about upcoming meetings in the group. You can also find plenty of Dutch oven recipes in their files section.
Arkansas Dutch Oven Chefs
The purpose of Arkansas Dutch oven Chefs is to further the knowledge and heritage of Dutch oven cooking. This is done through Dutch oven Gatherings (DOGS). You can follow their Facebook group for more information.
Many state parks around Arkansas offer Dutch oven cooking classes. Upcoming classes can be found by checking with your local state park or by searching “Dutch oven” on the arkansas.com/events website.
Upcoming Dutch Oven Events
6th Anniversary DOG
The Arkansas Dutch oven Chefs will celebrate their 6th Anniversary with a DOG on April 15, 2017. It will be held in City Park in Morrilton, Arkansas. Cooking will begin at 1 p.m. and food will be served to participants at 4 p.m. All participants are expected to bring a dish to share.
6th Annual Arkansas Dutch oven State Championship
The State Championship will be held at the Conway County Fairgrounds in Morrilton, June 2-4. Contact Ray at 501-242-2763 for more information.