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Dutch Oven Cooking Programs are Tasty and Fun

April 24, 2008

Dutch Oven Cooking Programs are Tasty and Fun

Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

My recent cooking lesson started off familiar enough – we sprayed the pot with Pam – except that pot was a Dutch oven sitting on gravel at my campsite on the White River in north central Arkansas. I was enjoying a cooking program given by interpreters at the Bull Shoals-White River State Park in Bull Shoals.

Okay, I’ll admit I was hardly roughing it because I wasn’t in a tent. I was lounging at one of the park’s Rent-an-RVs with my husband and two boys. But, my goal was to learn how to cook some delicious meals for future family camping trips that don’t include kitchen conveniences. And what else would one use for that other than the Dutch oven? It is, after all, the official cooking vessel of Arkansas, named so in 2001.

My preconceived ideas led me to believe this sort of cooking would be harder than it was. I mean, who knew there was a chart to tell me how many charcoal briquettes to pile under and on top of the oven? Who knew you pile them under and on top? My family is going to be very happy I took a lesson because I would have buried the cast iron crock with flames licking every inch, the heat scorching everything inside.

Instead, my very fun park interpreter Randy Pearson checked a chart to determine how many briquettes to use under the base of the vessel and on its lid in order for it to cook at the correct temperature. After getting the charcoal started in the fire ring at the campsite, he then placed the chosen few on and under the Dutch oven for about 10 minutes to preheat it.

"Regardless of the recipe this part is going to stay the same," said Pearson of the temperature chart. Cooking time is critical because that’s the main element you’re going by. Don’t lift the lid to check on the look of the dish because it will let the heat out of the vessel.

Next, we opened the pot and layered three ingredients inside to make a cobbler – one can of pie filling, a dry mix from a box of cinnamon streusel quick bread, and a can of soda-pop. "I won’t use the whole can of soda pop," Pearson explained. Some fillings are juicier than others so you don’t always need as much carbonated beverage.

"You don’t have to be really super technical because it’s just a dump cake pretty much," Pearson said. "This is one of those things that if you know what to put in it you really can’t mess it up."

It was indeed delicious and so much easier than anything we usually try to cook at the campfire. Well, let’s face it -- cooking dessert is simply not something I even consider when camping, except for roasting marshmallows. And this cobbler that came out of two cans and a box tasted like a gourmet meal in the woods.

And, it was easy. Instead of spending a lot of time trying to cook several dishes in various pots, on grills and camp stoves, I could get a couple of Dutch ovens, dump some ingredients in and kick back, relax, and enjoy time with friends and family until it’s time to eat. I’d have less to clean up too. So, as you can tell, I’m sold folks.

You can cook a variety of dishes in these vessels – stews, casseroles, bread. However, some items do better than others. Tomatoes taste different in a Dutch oven, for example.

"You can get creative," said Pearson. "Some people get chocolate cake mix and cherry filling and use Cherry Coke or Cherry Dr. Pepper."

Pearson said another good dessert is "Brown Bears in the Forest," which contains applesauce and gingerbread. Actually, the original dish is called "Black Bears in the Orchid," but Pearson said the park doesn’t have black bears or orchids so they changed the name.

"A lot of these recipes, they won’t look like you want or maybe expect, but they’ll taste good," Pearson said, explaining they may not brown as much as you want. "What’s really amazing to me is how easy it is to make something good."

The program was extremely useful. I walked away with a booklet of recipes, information on how to care for a Dutch oven and some knowledge of the history of the vessel. Pearson provides lots of tips too, such as lining the vessel with foil to make clean up easier, not storing it with the lid on to prevent moisture build up, and more.

He also discussed buying Dutch oven cookware and how to season a vessel because you can buy them either way, seasoned or unseasoned. But, no matter which you choose, all pots must be seasoned before use.

If you have the opportunity, you really should sign up to take a full workshop.

The park holds at least two three-hour workshops each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. During the workshop, participants will cook beef stew, tamale pie, broccoli casserole, breakfast casserole and cobbler."“We also do cinnamon rolls, cheese biscuits and fried pies," Pearson added.

Participants not only get to experience cooking the dishes, they also learn about how to care for cast iron, store it, and what can be cooked in it. Of course, eating is part of the workshop too. Park staff start things off by serving cinnamon rolls, an item that has to be prepared the night before so the dough has time to rise. So the workshop begins with breakfast, participants prepare more food and end up three hours later with lunch. "We eat the whole time," said Park Interpreter Jennifer Bassett.

While the long workshops are only offered a couple of times a year, mini-sessions are offered often throughout the main programming season.

The park will host a Dutch Oven Cook-off from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 17. Judging begins at 2 p.m. Call the park at 870-445-3629 to sign up to compete and for details. Spectators can pay a nominal fee for tasting cups to taste the dishes after the judging is complete. In addition to the cook-off, there will be craft demonstrations such as wood carving and flint knapping. Three music groups have been booked to provide country/folk music. The cook-off will take place at the park’s lakeside property across the dam on Ark. 178.

In addition to Dutch oven workshops, other park programming includes astronomy, hikes, trout fishing basics, GPS basics, wildflowers, lake and river cruises, bears, reptiles and amphibians, and river critters. Park staff offer more than 40 different types of programming.

Dutch oven events in The Natural State:

At most of these workshops participants will prepare three or more dishes. Space for each is limited and reservations are required. Most classes are three hours. Admission ranges from $12 to $40. At some workshops the fee includes a Dutch oven to take home. Some events are demonstrations only and are free. Find more information on these and other events at the Calendar of Events or visit

"Now We're Cookin'" Dutch Oven Workshop," May 3, Mammoth Spring State Park. 870-625-7364

"Basic Dutch Oven Skills Workshop," May 10, Sept. 6, and Sept. 20, 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse, Historic Washington State Park. 870-983-2684;

"Dutch Oven Cook-off," May 17, Bull Shoals-White River State Park, Lakeview. 870-445-3629

"Dutch Oven Dessert & Game Night," May 25 and Aug. 30, Cane Creek State Park in Star City. 870-628-4714

"Dutch Oven Cooking Workshop,” Sept. 6, Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in Scott. 501-961-9442

“Advanced Victorian Dutch Oven Workshop," Sept. 13, Powhatan Historic State Park in Powhatan.

"Dutch Oven Cooking Workshop," Sept. 20, Lake Poinsett State Park in Harrisburg. 870-578-2064

"Dutch Oven Basics Workshop," Oct. 4, Lake Charles State Park in Powhatan. 870-878-6595

"Dutch Oven Skills 2: Beyond the Basics Workshop," Oct. 4, Historic Washington State Park. 870-983-2684

"What's Cooking? Dutch Oven Workshop," Oct. 11, Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott. 501-961-1409

"Dutch Oven Breakfast Workshop," Nov. 8, Old Davidsonville State Park, Pocahontas. 870-892-4708

"Basic Dutch Oven Cooking Workshop," Nov. 15, Crowley’s Ridge State Park, Paragould. 870-573-6751

"Holiday Sweets and Treats Dutch Oven Workshop," Nov. 22, Historic Washington State Park in Washington. 870-983-2684

"Outdoor Cookin’ Workshop," Nov. 29, Lake Ouachita State Park in Mountain Pine. 501-767-9366


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"