Dutch Oven Baking on Grand Canyon Rafting Adventures
Written by AzRA Guide Will Spaziani
“Wow! You baked that? Out Here?!?” Yes. We bake a delicious cake, cookie, brownie, or crumble almost every night on our river trips. Our guides love to whip up these fantastic desserts (in the desert). Dutch oven baking is easy and fun. We would like to encourage you to try it at home. This blog will not focus on any one specific recipe, but instead offer a few helpful tips and insights about dutch oven baking.
Dutch Oven Cake Recipes
To simplify things on the river, we use pre-made cake mixes. If you’ve got a special recipe from Grandma, that should work great too. Most guides will mix the batter in a separate bowl, then add it to a greased dutch oven. No need to pre-heat, and we recommend not filling the dutch oven more than about 60%.
Dutch Oven Baking
Next comes the baking. You can start your charcoal briquets (coals) in many different ways, letting them become fairly gray before starting your bake. Use caution in handling the coals, the lid of your dutch oven, and generally throughout the entire process. We like to use welding gloves, channel locks, and metal tongs to move things around. Typically the whole process is neatly contained by 4 inch deep ‘oil pans’.
How Many Charcoal Briquettes?
A big question in ‘D.O.’ baking is: “How many coals?” The answer is that every dutch oven and every cake is different; however, some consistencies do exist in the process. For baking, the ratio of coals on the lid to coals underneath is usually about 3:1. You’ll want to ensure airflow around the bottom of your ‘Dutchie’, and spread the coals evenly over the lid. On a standard 10” cast iron dutch oven we use 4 coals underneath, and a baker’s dozen (13) on top.
When is a Dutch Oven Bake Finished?
Once you’ve got your dessert baking, grab your favorite drink and feel free to recreate somewhere nearby. Some folks like to rotate the oven and/or the lid every so often. A 90 degree twist every 15 minutes seems to work well, but we’re not convinced it’s totally necessary. At some point (typically 30-40 minutes), you’ll begin to smell your dessert. This is a good indication that it’s getting near to being done. To test if your cake is done, remove the lid, and poke the cake with a butter knife (right in the middle). If any batter is stuck to the knife when you pull it out, your cake needs more time.
Removing a Dutch Oven Cake
After you’ve finished baking, let your cake cool a bit and remove it from the oven. Most of our guides will do this with a swift (and forceful) dumping action onto a cutting board. If you’ve been on one of our river trips, you may have heard a warning for “Loud noises!” Finally, spread the frosting, cut, and serve.
Dutch Oven Baking Tips & Hints
All of the above tips and hints apply to baking anything in a dutch oven. From corn bread to lasagna: try to not overfill the oven more than 60% full, use a ratio of about 3:1 for coals on the lid to coals underneath, and allow ample airflow around the oven. Be careful when handling hot items, keep alert with your nose for the delicious smells, and lastly, place your bake in a low traffic area.
Now get out your dutch oven, light some coals and start baking! Expect some trial and error at first. It’s okay, these minor ‘errors’ are usually pretty dang tasty.
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I am addicted to all the campfire cooking ideas, tips and hits but the biggest frustration is the coals/briquettes. Everyone talks about the need to keep the top to bottom ratio correct but no one talks about how the coals reduce in size and it’s like turning your oven down slowly a degree at a time and if you don’t pay attention and add more hot coals to both top and bottom to keep the heat up, the food will never finish cooking!
That’s an interesting point that I’ve never heard anyone talk about. I’ll mention that to Will for future blogs to incorporate that aspect of it. Thank you!