After a long day of camping, all you want to do is sit down to a delicious hot plate of food underneath a starry sky. And no pot is better suited for camp cooking than the Dutch oven. It can quickly cook a range of recipes from bread to stew!
Not all Dutch ovens are alike though. Camping Dutch ovens actually have features that make them better suited to the campfire.
Read on to find out why, and I help you choose the best Dutch oven for camping.
What Is A Dutch Oven?
A Dutch oven is a heavily constructed cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. The pots’ unmatched heat retention, and even heat distribution make them ideal for braising, baking, roasting, and preparing homemade soups.
The best Dutch ovens are made of cast iron and can last many years.
Factors to Consider When Looking for A Camping Dutch Oven
For centuries, cast iron has been the de facto metal of choice for Dutch ovens and with good reason. Besides being incredibly durable and heat resilient, the metal also boasts of excellent non-stick properties when seasoned well.
However, cast iron is heavy and needs plenty of maintenance. Fortunately, for all those looking for alternatives, Dutch ovens can be made from other materials.
Although gorgeous and perfect for home kitchens, I don’t find enameled Dutch ovens suitable for outdoor cooking. Their enamel is prone to chipping and cracking, especially when exposed to high temperatures, such as open flame heat.
Aluminum, on the other hand, is a great alternative. It conducts heat well, is lightweight, and does a decent job of retaining the heat.
One major drawback of such aluminum Dutch ovens is that the hard-anodized layer is more likely to get scratched over time, exposing the bare aluminum.
What is the best size Dutch oven for camping? Well, as ever, it really depends on how many people you are cooking for.
Don’t think – the bigger the better either! Some of them are absolutely monsters that need two people to handle!
Dutch oven sizes are measured in terms of quart capacity and range from 1 quart (0.9 liters) to 20 quarts (19 liters).
Theoretically, you can fill up your Dutch oven to the brim if you want to. However, to still have some room for stirring without spilling the food all over, I advise using only 2/3rds of the capacity.
As a rough guide, I would say;
- 1 quart (0.9 liters) to 1.5 quarts (1.4 liters) per person
- 2-quarts (1.9 liters) for up to two people
- 5-quarts (4.7 liters) is a family-sized dutch oven for three to five people
- 8-quarts (7.6 liters) or more for a group exceeding six people
When deciding what to add to your camping luggage, weight is a crucial factor. Small-sized cast iron Dutch ovens will typically weigh between 8 to 15 pounds while large ones can even go up to 45 pounds!
If planning to feed a large group, buying multiple smaller Dutch ovens is an excellent option to avoid weight. But that means cooking will be a hassle with all the pots.
Aluminium Dutch ovens are another way of avoiding the hefty weight.
Dutch Ovens are pretty heavy. Thus, you want a well riveted, sturdy handle to avoid the risk of dropping the pot, or even worse, burning yourself.
As you are probably going to be using open fire when camping, these should be longer.
A long looping (wire) handle above makes it easier to carry and hang above a campfire for slow-cooked meals.
Be careful though – it’s likely the whole pot, including the handles are too hot to touch. The looping handle, may be the coolest, but you are risking burns. Don’t touch the surface directly – use a tool to help you.
Some camping devices, such as this Dutch oven camping tool, can be used as a stand, to lift the lid, or even the entire Dutch oven (if it has a looping handle).
I call mine the “burn saver”. Don’t take your camping dutch oven anywhere without it!
Most camping Dutch ovens will typically have three legs, which offers you some flexibility in your cooking.
When you have a Dutch oven with legs, you don’t have to rely on tripods or cooking stands. The legs help it stand in a campfire with embers underneath while providing a little distance to ensure even heat distribution.
While you can put a flat Dutch oven without legs comfortably on top of coals, you will be risking nasty hot spots. Flat Dutch ovens can also be a little challenging to balance on top of coals.
Most camping Dutch ovens will come with flat lids as they are ideal for piling coals on top. And even if you aren’t planning on stacking coals on the cover, you want to have that option if needed.
Piling coals on the lid helps to cook food evenly, especially if you are trying to bake something.
Reversible lids that can function as griddles are a plus since pan frying foods like eggs is impractical using the thick deep pot. It saves you having to take another piece of cookware with you.
Some manufacturers add a little depth to the lids with the legs on top, enabling you to flip the lid and rest it on the legs. This way, you have two pieces of cookware in one: the Dutch oven and a griddle! Pretty cool.
Several brands make unique engravings or have designs on the lid. Although attractive and neat, these markings may make it a little harder to clean. I don’t consider this a deal-breaker, but you should keep it in mind before making your purchase.
How to Care for An Outdoor Dutch Oven
You may already know cast iron requires some care and maintenance. Thus, if planning to occasionally use your cast iron Dutch oven, ensure your storage is as dry as possible and that you re-season it regularly to avoid rusting.
I recommend coating it in a light layer of long lasting refined vegetable oil before storing it. This protects it. Just make sure the oil isn’t one that goes rancid easily!
If it all goes wrong and your cast iron Dutch oven ends up rusting, all hope is not lost. You just need to use a 50/50 vinegar-water solution to scrub off the rust and immediately re-season.
For more information on this, check out this video:
Best Dutch Oven for Camping
For over a century, Lodge has provided quality cast iron cookware that has withstood the test of time. And this Lodge Dutch oven is no different. It boasts all the characteristics of a great outdoor Dutch oven- a flanged lid that can double as a griddle, three well-fitted legs, and a loop handle for convenient handling.
This Lodge camp Dutch oven comes in several sizes ranging from 2 quarts (1.9 liters) to 10 quarts (9.5 liters); thus, there’s something for everyone. The 10 quart one should be able to feed two families (about 7 – 10 people).
The 8-quart (7.6 liter) Dutch oven is the deepest of the six and can serve 6-8 people.
If you happen to get the 6 quart (5.7 liter) version (serves 3-6 people), there are liners you can use to make cleanup easier or cook acidic foods.
- Pre-seasoned and ready to use
- Sturdy legs perfect for cooking over an open flame
- Flanged lid that can double as a griddle
- Loop handles for convenient handling
- Easy to maintain
- It comes with a Dutch oven cookbook!
- High quality cast iron
- Complaints of some scratched models on the inside
Best known as a lifetime pot, this 6 quart (5.7 liters – serves 4-6 people – in theory) cast iron Dutch Oven from Overmont is perfect for outdoor cooking. I love the thought that went to the lid. It has three tiny legs, thus can double as a skillet for frying.
The legs on the lid are short enough to put it over your kitchen stove. To me, this is an excellent choice for both cooking at home and camping.
This Overmont camp Dutch oven also comes with a Dutch oven lid lifter to lift the cover or entire pot when it’s hot. Never underestimate the value of this tool. Try rigging something up like this with branches and you’ll find out why it’s so important!
Overmont also manufactures an 8-qt version (should serve 6-8 people) suitable for larger families and group camping.
Unfortunately, the pots supplied have a smaller size than is actually stated. If you buy Overmont, I would suggest ordering one size bigger just in case.
- Sturdy legs on the pot to sit perfectly over the campfire
- Integral legs on the lid
- Flanged lid that doubles as a skillet
- Lid lifter to lift the pot when hot
- Made in China if that matters
- Pots hold less capacity than stated
This Camp Chef oven is one of the best cast iron Dutch ovens for camping. I find the size (serves 8-14 people) perfect for roasting chickens and cooking large stew batches for large families. The pot’s legs are convenient as it can stand directly on the floor of your oven or a campfire.
I love that the lid has built-in legs and effortlessly doubles as a skillet making it almost the only cookware you need for camping.
This oven also includes a built-in thermometer notch enabling you to manage the temperature inside without lifting the lid. The included Dutch oven starter booklet with seasoning tips is also a plus.
Considering the Dutch oven’s significant weight, Camp Chef provides a lid lifter that lifts the lid and the bail. This is great for fishing the pot out of the campfire.
This Dutch oven is available in a smaller 6-qt (5.7 l) model that is perfect for families of 4 to 5.
Several users report quality control problems with this pot. The casting process for this cast iron doesn’t seem to be consistently good.
It’s a shame as this is a cleverly designed pot. I love it, and if I knew I was getting a good version, it would be very tempting. For me, it would be a bit of a risk to order it, though. Another example of a great idea being let down through poor execution.
- Legs on the lid make it easier to use it as a skillet
- Legs to hold the pot above coals
- Built-in thermometer
- Comes with a lid lifter and starter booklet with seasoning tips
- Perfect size for large families and groups
- Reports of Quality Control problems
Offering long-lasting durability at an affordable price, this is one of the best Dutch ovens for camping. The three little legs on the pot help it stand in a campfire while providing sufficient distance to ensure even heat distribution.
The Dutch oven features a tight-fitting lid that keeps foods warm, and bail with a center hook decent for hanging.
Weighing just 13 pounds (5.9 kg), I find this 4-qt small Dutch oven slightly lighter and convenient for carrying around than larger-sized models. It’s a great size dutch oven for a small family (2-3 people).
It’s worth noting that the Dutch oven comes with a slight waxy film that you will need to remove before the iron can be seasoned. The film helps to protect the Dutch oven from rusting and can easily be removed by warming the pot and wiping the layer.
Usually, cast iron comes pre seasoned, so this is a slightly odd approach. I guess it’s all about saving money with this pot.
The surface of the Dutch oven is a bit rough. Cast iron surfaces will be rough, but this is excessively so.
This pot is useable, yet it’s definitely on the budget end in terms of price and quality.
- Great price
- Legs on the pot help it stand in a campfire
- Sturdy bail with a center hook decent for hanging
- It comes coated in wax
- Overly rough surface even for cast iron
- Not pre-seasoned
This hard-anodized Dutch Oven from GSI Outdoors is a great alternative, and probably the best, for those looking for a lighter outdoor Dutch oven. It’s well-constructed, works great, and has decent heat distribution.
The Dutch oven comes in three sizes, 10 inches (4 quarts), 12 inches (8 quarts ), and 14 inches (15-16 quarts).
Although the 12 and 14-inch have legs, this 10 inch (25 cm) version doesn’t, and you may need to use a stand that will raise it off the ground.
I like that the handle flips down one way, but this can also be a problem. If the pot is full of liquid and you carry it by the bail, it will flip over and spill your dinner.
Aluminum transfers heat pretty fast, so be extra careful with the placement of the coals.
Aluminum isn’t the safest material to use in cooking. Since this pot has a hard-anodized layer, it will seal the aluminum away from your food. In theory, this means it’s safe. But what happens when the pot gets scratched?
If you don’t want cast iron, then this is a good alternative. But, I do prefer my camping dutch ovens to be made of cast iron.
- Significantly lightweight
- Doesn’t require seasoning
- Easy to clean
- No legs on the 10” model
- Reports of the pot tipping over when lifted by the wire handle
- If hard-anodized aluminum gets scratched, it can be unsafe
This large cast iron Dutch oven is a cooker fit for a king – and his whole court!
With the perfect size to serve up to 20 people, this pot is excellent for preparing chili, stew, soup, or pot roast for a small army.
The lid fits nicely and also doubles as a pretty big fry pan on its own. It’s worth noting that this oven is heavy, weighing at around 30 pounds (13.6 kg) and, when full, becomes almost impossible to carry alone. Really though, this is what I would expect in such a large camping Dutch oven.
The steel handle holds up well, but isn’t stable with the coiling system being mobile, making it dangerous to handle. Aside from that, this is a real workhorse and one of the best size Dutch ovens for group camping.
- Great size for group camping
- Lid doubles as a skillet
- Great price for a jumbo version
- No legs
- Unstable handle
Best Camping Dutch Ovens
Best Dutch Oven for Camping
I would choose the Lodge L12DCO3 Deep Camp Dutch Oven as the best cast iron Dutch oven for camping. In addition to the pot having legs suitable for campfire use, it also features a flanged lid convenient for frying. I also love that the model comes in a range of sizes from 2-qt to 10-qt, making it perfect for individuals and groups.
Best Budget Camp Dutch Oven
If you’re on a budget, consider the Texsport Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Legs. It’s OK and should do the trick. Yes you need to season yourself from scratch, and yes it’s a bit rougher than usual, but that’s all manageable.
This is the camping dutch oven for those who have more time than money!
Best Non Cast Iron Camping Dutch Oven
If you’re looking for a different material, this hard-anodized Dutch oven offers a great alternative. I would say it’s the best non-cast iron camping Dutch oven.
What’s great for cooking over a campfire?
If you are using a cast iron Dutch oven then any stew, or anything else you would cook in a pot. But generally some great camp food includes:
- Cast iron poutine
- Campfire Nachos
- Banana Boats
Can I Use My Home Dutch Oven for Camping?
While you can use your regular Dutch oven for camping, there are Dutch ovens suited for camping worth considering. These can come with extra legs for more flexible cooking, long handles for open flame use, and even deep legged lids to function as griddles.
They are also made of sturdy materials, normally cast iron, better suited to a campfire.
Is a Dutch oven a lot of work?
It doesn’t have to be. Cast iron does need to be treated correctly, and this applies to Dutch ovens as well.
Yet a bit of seasoning, a little gentleness when cleaning and some care when storing will go a long way. If you are in any doubt check out my guide to cast iron.
What is the best size Dutch oven for camping?
I recommend allowing 1.5 quarts per person for your camp Dutch oven. So for a family of four then perhaps a 6 quart Dutch oven.
If you have small children – perhaps you could go a little smaller. On the other hand, with hungry teenagers you may want a bigger Dutch oven!
Can I put cast iron directly on coals?
Yes you can put cast iron directly on hot coals. Make sure it is “bare” cast iron, nor enameled cast iron.
In fact some camp Dutch ovens are ideal for this as they have a flat lid with a rim. This lid is designed to put hot coals on top of it to promote “all-round” heating.
Can you use enamel cast iron on an open fire?
No you should not use enamel cast iron on an open fire. Enameled cast iron is heat sensitive and you need to keep it within the manufacturer-specified heating range (normally 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit).
I’ve never heard of a camp Dutch oven made of enameled cast iron. Even if the Dutch oven wasn’t damaged somehow, the soot from the coals / fire would likely mar the surface.
Does fire damage cast iron?
Yes. Although cast iron is very tough, extreme heat can damage cast iron. Once your cast iron Dutch oven is damaged in this way it cannot be repaired.
You should stick to coals, or low flames. Just as you would when cooking a BBQ.
Why do I need to use a cast iron Dutch oven for camping?
The truth is that cast iron Dutch ovens are the only real Dutch ovens. Sure you might hear about non-cast iron Dutch ovens, and anyone can technically call their cookware what they like.
But to me a Dutch oven that’s not cast iron is just a pot.
And you absolutely can use pots when cooking over a campfire. I wouldn’t recommend non-stick but stainless steel can work well. I recommend coating it with detergent.
Be warned though: A cast iron Dutch oven is just much more durable, especially when it comes to putting it in or over a fire. These Dutch ovens are literally designed for fire.