Convert or Starve!

recipe-box-612wHow do I convert home recipes for camp cooking?

Between a camp stove and a Dutch oven, you can convert just about any home recipe into a camp recipe. Why rely on cookbooks that are strictly for camp cooking? You can convert recipes from any cookbook, including your family cookbook, for cooking in camp.

Camp Stove

Anything you can cook on your stove top at home can be cooked on a camp stove at camp, but managing the flame on a camp stove can be a challenge. Too low and it will take forever to cook. Too high and your food will be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. My son’s common complaint is that our camp stoves don’t come with the fancy numbered dials like our home stoves do.

When adjusting the flame on a camp stove, you need to bend down so that you can see the flame and you need to listen to the hiss of the propane gas. As you gently turn the knob and lower the flame, look and listen. Over time, you’ll get a feel for how low you can go before it extinguishes. It takes a really light touch, which you will develop with patience and practice.

To judge the temperature of an open flame, cautiously hold your hand, palm side down, over the fire at cooking height. Count the number of seconds you can hold that position and you will have an indicator of how hot the fire temperature is:

5 seconds = low

4 seconds = medium

3 seconds = medium-high

2 seconds = high

After a while, you’ll probably just be able to eyeball it.

A common mistake I see with young camp chefs is they plan a menu that requires too many things to be cooked at once. They are so used to cooking on their home stove, which has anywhere from 4 to 6 burners, they forget that their camp stove only has 2 burners and if you’re using your griddle, that consumes both of those burners. So I can’t fry bacon on the griddle and cook oatmeal at the same time.

To minimize the number of pots and burners you need in camp, you can pre-cook in your home kitchen things like sauces, noodles, meats, etc. Just remember to slightly undercook them because they will cook more at camp. When you get to camp, perhaps all you need is one pot to assemble and heat everything.

If you add a Dutch oven or two to your camp kitchen, now you’ve increased your cooking capacity.

Dutch Oven

Anything you can cook in your oven, slow cooker or bread machine at home can be cooked in a Dutch oven.

Dutch ovens are cast iron with tight fitting lids and they make excellent vessels for cooking over the campfire. They can handle high temperatures and long cook times. They are excellent heat conductors and champion slow-cookers.

Campers usually use charcoal briquettes with Dutch ovens to get the best results. For more information on charcoal, please see my blog post: “I Want Coal in my Stocking!

With a few easy modifications, you can turn any home recipe into a camp recipe. The first thing you need to determine is what size and type of Dutch oven will be most suitable for your recipe.

Ovens with shallow sides of about 4” are called “bread” ovens and the deeper sided ones are known as “stew” or “meat” ovens. The 12-inch to 16-inch regular ovens are excellent for baking pies, cakes, breads, biscuits and rolls.

The “deep” ovens can more easily handle turkeys, chickens, hams, and even standing rib roasts!

If you’re converting a casserole, quick bread, or dessert—anything that calls for a specific size of pan—you’ll want to compare the area and get as close a match as you can. This will involve a little math. Let’s convert brownies out of the box. Directions call for an 8 x 8, 9 x 9 or 7 x 11. To determine the area, multiply width by length. I’ll “show” my work below:

8 x 8 = 64

7 x 11 = 77

9 x 9 = 81

I should note here that I’m only interested in the area so I’m only working with 2 dimensions. For our brownies, we need a Dutch oven with an area between 64 and 81. Smaller area means thicker brownies; larger area means thinner brownies. So, how do we figure out the area of a round Dutch oven? I have to admit that I had to go ask my resident math geeks for how to do this, but I’m sure that once I give you the answer, like me, you’ll slap your forehead and say, “Oh, ya, I remember that!” We need to use the math formula πr2 (read: Pi times radius squared).

Pie?! I Like Pie!

Yes! You could bake a pie in a Dutch oven, but I digress. Back to our math homework. To simplify my math, I’m going to use the rounded version of π (Pi), which is 3.14, and multiply it by the radius squared, which is half the diameter of my Dutch oven multiplied by itself. With me so far? I’ll start with my 10-inch Dutch oven and show my work below:

First, I will find the radius of my oven by dividing its diameter – its size – in half. For my 10-inch oven;

10 / 2 = 5

So my radius, r, is 5. Easy!

Next, I need to “square” the radius by multiplying it by itself,

5 x 5 = 25

Now it’s time to multiply my squared radius, (r2 = 25), by π (for which I am using the simplified value of 3.14),

25 x 3.14 = 79

Bazinga! The area of my 10-inch Dutch oven is 79, which is really close to the area of a 7×11 baking dish.

Just for giggles, I used the same formula for my 12-inch Dutch oven and it has an area of 113, which turns out to be a little too big and would make really thin brownies that will likely burn – and nobody likes burnt brownies! So, it looks like my 10-inch Dutch oven is “just right” for the box of brownies. (I should add here that a double batch of brownies would fit just about perfectly in a 14-inch Dutch oven, which has an area of 154.)

If you’re cooking a stew or something that needs volume, the recipe will most likely tell you what size pot (in quarts) you’ll need. The chart below will show you (in quarts) how much a Dutch oven can hold.


Betcha didn’t think you’d be doing so much math, did ya?! Well, a lot of cooking is a science as well as an art.

Cooking Temperature and Time

Check your recipe for baking temperature. Using the chart below, find your required oven temperature and then run down that column to the size Dutch oven you’re using. This is how many coals you’ll need. The first number is your total number of coals. The numbers inside the parenthesis is a breakdown of how many coals go on top and how many coals go underneath. This is a typical distribution of coals. Some recipes may require a slightly different distribution of coals depending on whether you want more heat on the top or the bottom. Make a test batch and adjust your distribution if you need to. If you are cooking in really cold temperatures, you may want to throw a few more coals on, but try to maintain that 2:1 ratio or two-thirds of your coals on top and one-third of your coals underneath.


Refer to the recipe for the length of cooking time. If you’re camping in high altitude you may want to cook things a smidge longer.

Prep Work

Now you just need to decide how much prep you want to do in camp versus at home or are there ways to simplify the prep for camp? Does the recipe call for noodles or meat that could be pre-cooked at home? Could you cook the noodles in the pot with the rest of the ingredients and just add water or more liquid for the noodles to absorb? Are there dry ingredients that could be pre-mixed at home and sealed in a bag or container? Determine how you want to prep it and then I would recommend prepping it like you would for camp and doing a test batch at home before taking it to camp.

So that’s really all there is to converting your home recipes to camp recipes. Now you can take that favorite family recipe and make it in camp! How cool is that?!

Let’s get outside and get cooking!

Categories: Cooking Outdoors, Dutch Oven | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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