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Faces & Places: Cookin' in the Park

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Arkansas State Parks representative from Poinsett State Park, tends to cornbread on the coals under the Dutch Oven.
For many, the warmer weather means one thing, time to get outdoors and enjoy all it has to offer from fishing and boating to camping and cooking out. To some, that means breaking out the Dutch ovens and heating them up for the upcoming camping season and trying their hand at scrumptious favorites in a crowd pleasing annual competition at the Mammoth Spring State Park.

The Dutch Oven Cookoff began in 2009 and judging by the 2010 crowd, it must have been very popular as the increased attendance and entries indicated.

Those who cooked for the competition arrived early, lit their fires and began to cook a bread, main dish and desert for later judging. Judges then tabulated scores on each respective dish, based on their samples.

Presentation counts, for this lobster stuffed pork loin. Photos/ Steven Looney
The remainder of the food was then put out for the crowd who had purchased samples.

Dutch ovens pre-date back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but the original name came from the patent which came from the creation of the cast iron pot which was based on the Dutch foundry system.

For many, half the fun is in the process, of which the most important part is creating the perfect temperature. Some methods involve using charcoal briquets, on both top and bottom of the cooking vessel. As a rule of thumb, to achieve 325 degrees use the following method: Take the size of the oven and take that number of briquettes less three for the bottom and that number plus three for the top. For example with 12-inch oven you would place nine briquettes on the bottom (12-3) and 15 briquettes on the top (12+3).

Mmm -- Mmm, looks so good, apple and pecan topped cheesecake.
For those interested in learning the art of cooking in a Dutch oven, there are also workshops offered at the State Park as well as other locations throughout the year.

Winners for the 2010 event include first place winner in the bread division- Spring River Cooking Team with Muenster Bread, 2nd Place- The Hardways from Koshkonong with Zucchini Nut Bread with rum sauce; 3rd Place Team Simmons from Mammoth Spring, with apricot Bread.

In the main dish category- 1st place-to Camp Waughoo from Flippin with apricot pork loin; 2nd place-stuffed pork loin; 3rd place- Hot Coals from Bossier City, Louisiana.

In the dessert category- 1st place Hot Coals, Bossier City, Louisiana with an upside down apple pie; 2nd place- The Hardways from Koshkonong with raspberry fudge cake with chocolate glaze; 3rd place- Team Simmons from Mammoth Spring with Grandma's Apple Cobbler. The showmanship award went to Hot Coals.

For beginners a Lodge Dutch oven available at Walmart or any sporting goods store will work just fine, but experts say to choose only ovens with legs an to check the fit of the lid to insure it is secure and stable. The ovens come in various diameters and depts from eight to 22 inches, but the most common are 10,12 and 14-inch ovens.

While still in the store, you might as well pick up a few accessories that you will find out later you will need. The absolute necessities include: a good pair of leather gloves to use as a potholder when lifting the lid or the oven, a hefty pair of tongs to add and remove coals, a small shovel to carry coals to the oven, a small broom to sweep away ashes, a thick heavy duty pan to sit the coals and oven on and another to place the lid on to avoid burning surfaces. A thick pizza pan is ideal. Another consideration is purchasing a chimney, these are life savers and can be purchased very cost effectively in the lawn and garden section near the grills. A chimney is used to heat the coals for cooking. They can be lit with paper and even prevents having to use the smelly charcoal lighter fluid and contains the coals for easy transport to the Dutch oven and are very convent to use avoiding having to light a huge fire to heat 25 or 30 coals for the oven.

After purchasing an oven, the next step is curing the cast iron cooking vessel. The purpose of curing the oven is to prevent rusting and create an interior coating that will prevent food from sticking. The only thing that needs to be done is simply scrubbing the inside using a fine grade of sandpaper on both the inside and out.

The oven must then be heated in a home oven at 200 degrees with the lid in place. After it is heated, place cooking oil or lard in the oven and wipe down the entire surface including the lid. Then placed the greased oven in the home oven and bake it at 350 degrees for an hour. This process creates the desired coating, now the oven is ready to cook any dish desired. After each use, simply clean it with a light coating of oil while it is still warm.

The oven should be treated the same as a teflon lined piece of bakeware, avoiding metal utensils that can possibly damage the coating.

The best method of cooking is using charcoal briquets or coals from a fire that are similar in size, although the charcoal tends to burn longer than the coals and helps to maintain an even temperature with little fluctuation.

When beginning to cook, the placement of the coals is very important to uniform cooking and avoiding hot spots. Several Web sites dedicated to cooking with Dutch ovens recommend placing the coals in a circle about one inch a part.

Whether meat, bread, desert or anything in between, cooking on a Dutch oven is a welcome treat and a way to prevent heating up the house during the hot summer months.

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Below is an easy, but very, very good recipe called "Trail Side Beans" This recipe can also be cooked in an oven, same temp. for apx 90 minutes. Here it is and do enjoy.

Trailside beans

1/2 pound bacon, sliced in small pieces

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 diced onion1 diced red bell pepper

1 diced green bell pepper

Two 33-oz. cans of pork and beans

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce

2 Tablespoons of white vinegar

Cook bacon and ground beef well in a 12-inch Dutch oven. Use 24 coals all on the bottom to start, then separate and place the coals as noted earlier during the baking stage. Before removing excess oil, sauté diced onion, diced red bell pepper, and diced green bell pepper with the meats until the onions and peppers are soft. Drain off excess oil. Add pork and beans, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and white vinegar. Stir well, place lid on oven, and cook with repositioned coals for 90 to 120 minutes.

Check for moisture content every 15 to 20 minutes. (Some ovens allow too much moisture to escape.) If there is not a soupy layer of liquid covering the beans, add water, a little at a time, and stir to maintain the moisture content.

Eat this with hot biscuits and jam, and you'll understand why cowboys always looked so happy on those long, hard, dusty cattle drives.

P.S. I am going to cook this today for our Farm Club Meeting. The last get together we had I didn't take it and some of the folks were disappointed. See Ya and enjoy.

-- Posted by E Smith on Sat, Mar 20, 2010, at 8:25 AM

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