Not Just Another Trail Ride

Dutch Oven Cooking and Recipes

Page 1

dutch oven cooking, cowboy camp, horseback riding, Arizona Trail Rides

Cooking over an open fire has always been a part of western life and is usually done in dutch ovens.

Dutch ovens actually have their origins in Europe and when first brought to this country during the days of the colonies, were the traditionally shaped iron pots with rounded dome tops and bottoms. One of Paul Revere's many accomplishments was to flatten the tops and bottoms of the original design and add a lip around the lid for holding coals. The Dutch traders in New Amsterdam were quick to realize that the local Native Americans would love these ovens and kept an ample supply to trade for furs and other goods. Hence, they became known as Dutch ovens. And since one can fry, bake, or boil anything in them, rain or shine, they became favorites of outdoor people everywhere and quickly made their way west with pioneers, mountain men, prospectors and many others. Chuckwagon cooks on the Goodnight Trail (Charles Goodnight invented the chuckwagon) utilized them and they became staples on ranches, trail drives and cow camps throughout the west.

Dutch oven cooking when done outside, is traditionally accomplished using coals. Normally, the coals are from wood or commercial charcoal briquets, although desperate cooks in the past have been known to use anything that would burn hot enough to cook their food. For example, on the plains between Texas and Abeline during the days of the great trail drives, wood was extremely scarce or non-existant and buffalo chips or cow dung was often used. An old lady from Idaho told me that in her region they used the roots from silver sage.

When using wood, the best coals are made from hardwood, such as mesquite, catclaw, oak, hickory, and soforth. These make hot, long lasting fires and coals as opposed to coals from softer woods, such as pine, fir, cedar or elm. Some woods, such as cottonwood or palo verde should be avoided because either they don't make coals at all, or if they do, sometimes the smoke smells bad and imparts a foul taste to the food. I have never tried it, but one would think that cow dung or buffalo chips would make the food taste bad, too. However, my dad told me that this is not the case. And if one is desperate enough for cooked food, anything that will cook will suffice.

When using wood coals, it sometimes takes experimentation and experience to be able to "get it right." A lot of factors come into play, such as, type of food you are cooking, type of wood you are using, or weather conditions. For example, if the air is cold, you will need more heat than if you are cooking on a hot day or evening. If it is raining, you will need more heat, as the rain will extinguish the coals. If it is windy, more coals may be needed. Larger chunks of wood make larger, hotter coals. If the wood is old and not very dense, the coals will not be as hot.

In any case, build a big fire because it takes a lot of wood to make a just few coals. And be sure in planning your dinner time to allow for the time it will take to burn the wood into coals.

When using charcoal briquets, I have always had a simple formula. I add the same number of briquets as the size of the dutch oven, plus one. For example, if your oven is a twelve inch, use thirteen briquets under and thirteen on the top. This should work, and if it doesn't, adjust accordingly. There is also a marvelous Mexican charcoal made of mesquite that is not in briquet form, but is made from the limbs of the tree and it burns just like regular wood, except hotter. This can be used just like mesquite wood, only don't use quite as much of this charcoal as you would the mesquite wood.

Whether you are using charcoal or wood, you can stack the ovens on top of one another if you are cooking with more than one dutch oven. This allows you to use less fuel, as the coals on the top of one oven are serving for the bottom coals of the one on top.

And believe it or not, the people mentioned in these reciepes are real, as are the incidents. The siblings in the Koning family were really lucky to have had experiences with many types of people and characters. It made our childhood interesting and exciting. The strange part, we discovered later when we grew up, is that we thought everybody knew people like these and had these types of adventures.

You are now ready to cook! Gather up your food, build your fires and have at it! And be careful not to burn the desert or forest down!


This is quick, simple reciepe for a great one dish meal when camping or even when you have had a busy day and don't feel like fussing with dinner. You may want to add bread and a salad. This also makes an excellent breakfast when served with eggs.

1 can corned beef, crumbled
5 large potatoes, diced
1 large onion, sliced and cut up
garlic salt
1 can whole kernel corn, optional
Any left over vegetables, optional
cooking oil (any kind)

Pour just enough oil to cover the bottom of the dutch oven and heat over a shovel full of coals that you have pulled from the fire and set to one side. Add onion, potatoes, garlic salt and pepper and cook until done, stirring frequently, adding more coals as needed. Add crumbled corned beef and corn or other vegetable as desired. Heat through and serve. Serves about five people.


During the 1950's, when I was a teenager, my family spent a lot of time in the desert hunting semi-precious gemstones. Periodically, we ran across an old Mexican cowboy who frequently camped out as he was about his ranch work. He was an excellent cook and we sometimes ate with him at his campfire or ours. Following is one of our favorite breakfasts that he cooked.

5-7 corn tortillas, torn into one inch pieces
8-10 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb. chorizo
6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheese such as cheddar, longhorn, etc.
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooking oil

Take a shovelful of coals from the fire and set aside. Place dutch oven on top of coals, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the oven. Add the corn tortilla pieces, a few at a time and brown. Take from oven and set aside on plate with paper towel for draining. Remove any oil left in oven. You may need to replenish the coals at this time if they seem to be cooling off.

Brown chorizo and onion in pan, crumbling the chorizo as it cooks. Add beaten eggs, salt and pepper to chorizo and onion and scramble until eggs are cooked. Mix in the tortillas and top with cheese. Serve immediately. Refried beans are a great accompaniment to the chilaquilas. Serves 5-7 people


In a remote canyon on the Arizona desert, there lived an old couple named Bertha and Fred. They were mostly hermits and seldom came to town or socialized. However, they did like our parents very much and always recieved us warmly when we came there.

One fine day, we came down the canyon expecting Bertha to come running out with her usual smile and friendly greeting. Instead, she came out yelling and screaming, apparently furious with us. It took awhile to settle her down enough to get the story out of her. She told us that a man named Jim identified himself as a good friend of our family and requested to camp outside her cabin for the night. Permission was granted. Jim asked to borrow a frying pan to cook his supper over his campfire. Bertha readily complied. Jim built a fire and whipped out a dead rattlesnake, which he proceeded to skin, cut up, and cook, despite loud protests from the old couple. Bertha told us that he was to never darken her door again and that she had thrown the frying pan away, as she considered it ruined and unfit to ever cook in again. It took great persuasion on the part of our parents to get Bertha to remain our friend.

We knew who Jim was, as he had mentioned to us that he had camped at Bertha's, (carefully leaving out the snake incident.) He was actually more of an acquantiance than a friend. I was pretty curious and asked him how to cook a rattlesnake. Following is the receipe he gave me. I don't eat this sort of thing, but when we are giving horse rides to guests and a rattlesnake is encountered, Rusty shoots it, brings it back and I cook it up into snake McNuggets for the tourists. They say it is great and they love it. I think it tastes like chicken. (Doesn't everything?) My brother said it doesn't taste a thing like a @!&&& chicken. I don't know. You'll have to try it for yourself.

1 dead rattlesnake
cooking oil (Jim used lard)
garlic salt

Skin the snake. You can do this by cutting off the head, which you should have done as soon as you killed it because it can still bite you after it is dead. It has reflexes for quite some time. Make sure you drain all the blood out of it. Peel the skin down from where the head was, similar to taking a sausage out of its skin. When you get to the tail, it will be difficult to go further. Just cut it off. Slip the guts out of the snake and clean it by washing thoroughly.

Using a meat cleaver or heavy knife, chop the snake into approximately 2 inch pieces.

Remove a shovelful of coals from fire and place nearby. Place dutch oven on coals and cover bottom of oven with oil. Add snake pieces, garlic salt and pepper, and fry slowly until done. Serve immediately. You may also add onions or you may bread the snake. Number of servings depend on how big the snake is, how many people are partaking and how much of it they can stomach.

All animated graphics on this site courtesy of Free GIFs and animations