Dutch oven aficionados unite over love of camp cooking
September 25, 2012
Cooking over a fire isn’t just for warming bland canned food.
Just ask Tom Nash. Sure, he’s done the traditional “beanie-weenies,” the hot dog-baked bean staple of kid-friendly cookouts, but he’s also whipped up far more sophisticated and complex fare — all using his Dutch oven, a heavy-duty, flat-bottomed pot, or its close cousin, the camp oven.
“I’ve baked cakes in them,” the Sterling Heights resident said, ticking off prior sweet successes: bread pudding, pineapple upside-down cake, even pies. “I have never found anything that you can’t make in a Dutch oven that you can make at home in a stove or barbecue.”
Nash isn’t alone in his affinity for the pot and the practice. He’s among the ranks of the Top Dutch Oven Gatherings, or Top DOGs, a local chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society that draws aficionados from throughout Macomb and Oakland counties.
The club convenes for camaraderie, recipe swapping, and of course, outdoor cooking utilizing Dutch or camp ovens. They’re looking for new members, welcoming outdoor cooks from novices to veterans to their ranks.
Chapter Director Bill Maywood of Macomb Township called cooking with the pots “a lost art” from pioneer days.
“It’s kind of like the original slow cooker. … You can really create some marvelous meals in that black pot,” he said. “It’s a chance to get away from cooking a meal on the stove, cooking a meal on the grill, and trying something brand-spanking new.”
Maywood founded Top DOGs about a year ago with Clinton Township resident John Mahoney, whom he knew for many years through the Boy Scouts.
While Maywood’s interest in Dutch ovens is relatively recent, Mahoney said he and his wife used them for 15 years as part of outdoor cooking demonstrations at a Scout camp.
True Dutch ovens have handles traditionally used to dangle the vessel from a wrought-iron rod over a fire, explained Mahoney, Top DOGs’ assistant director.
Camp ovens have short feet that facilitate positioning over charcoals, he said, and lipped lids that make it possible to stack them, with coals in between, to prepare a multicourse meal.
Like Nash, Maywood and Mahoney insist Dutch ovens’ capabilities are limited only by the cook’s imagination.
Maywood, whose first attempt was a vegetarian lasagna, said his favorite Dutch oven meals since have been a peachy French toast, rum pudding, and chicken and rice.
Mahoney enjoys preparing Cajun-inspired dishes, such as gumbo and jambalaya, but he’s done it all: cakes, cobblers, stews, fried chicken, even doughnuts. He raved about “a Dutch oven breakfast people will fight over”: sausage, hash browns and eggs, all whipped up in a single pot.
Nash said the devices are perfect for meats, as the cuts self-baste, the pot slow cooks them, and “everything gets nice and tender.”
He fondly recalled a dish called “40 cloves of garlic chicken,” which entailed sautéing chicken, then, in the remaining oil and fat in the bottom of the pot, garlic cloves. The centers can be squeezed from the cloves, “like … toothpaste,” and spread on toast, he said.
According to Maywood, the most commonly used pot size is a 12-incher, which “will very comfortably feed a family of four, and you’ll still have leftovers.” But he encourages anyone leery of making the investment — they average around $65, he said — to swing by a Top DOGs get-together and see the ovens in action.
While many of the 15-20 current members are former Scouts, anyone is welcome, and there’s no cost associated with joining.
“We get together and have a great time, and compare notes and talk about whatever’s going on in the world,” said Maywood.
And everyone, he added, goes home with samples.
Mahoney called camp cooking a “nice throwback to the good old days,” and Nash agreed that “nostalgia” is the main appeal.
“You want to be a cowboy and eat off the chuck wagon by the campfire,” he said. “Everything tastes better outside.”
For more information on the Top DOGs, contact Maywood at black firstname.lastname@example.org.
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