Dutch Oven Cooking

Dutch Oven Cooking

Season 2 Episode 20


UTTS: S2E20: Dutch Oven Cooking


Ahhh… the sound of a crackling campfire. Not only does it bring memories of the outdoors, the fire's warm on a cold night, and a backdrop for legendary tales told by fellow campers…and it also reminds us of roasting marshmallows and yes, even cooking meals over an open fire.


One tool used for campfire cooking is the Dutch Oven, a thick and heavy cast iron pot with a tight-fitting lid. They've been around since colonial times and are used boil, bake, fry and roast. In fact, the famous colonist Paul Revere is credited with modifying the Dutch Oven by adding legs and a flared lid to increase its cooking efficiency.


Perhaps the more traditional view of Dutch Ovens came from their use by cowboy cooks on cattle drives……and pioneer wagon trains on their way to settle the West. Believe it or not that tradition is being kept alive and well today.

[TIM] Alright! Here’s some chicken stew if anyone wants to try some. That’s the little Dutch Oven. I think it's done too.


On the podcast we’ll meet cowboy cook extraordinaire Tim Spice. We caught up with Tim and his prized chuckwagon at McKinney Falls State Park near Austin. He was giving a Dutch Oven cooking demonstration to Les Dames d’Esoffier, a philanthropic group of women leaders in the culinary arts, fine beverage and hospitality industry. A tough crowd for Tim? Just wait 'til you hear what he cooked up.

Stay with us.


From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

[TIM] The first thing that I recommend you start out with, and we're going to do that today, is something wet. Like a stew.

Hovering over a campfire while managing several Dutch Ovens, Tim Spice looks like he just walked through a time portal from the Old West.

[TIM] I’ve been doing Dutch Oven cooking for most of my life. Started as a Boy Scout, and just like to eat. My mother was a home-ec teacher so I had to learn how to cook at home. And so, I’m pretty much self-taught.

Tim is introducing Dutch Oven cooking to a very curious and eager audience, cowboy style. Producer Randall Maxwell and I had a ringside seat at the campfire.

We recently sat down to share our thoughts about Tim's cowboy cooking and talk about our own experiences with Dutch Ovens.



[CECILIA] One of the things that is great about being outside is being able to cook and eat outside. It makes everything taste better.


[CECILIA] And you know Randall, you have experience with that right? Was it Boy Scouts?

[RANDALL] Absolutely, my days with Dutch Ovens go all the way back to my scouting days. Up in Central Texas, Meridian State Park was one of the areas we used to frequent with our boy scout troop. And we had about four Dutch Ovens. We’d always brings those out by the campfire, we had the coals, we’d take those and set those under the Dutch Ovens and put them on top of the lid and cook all kinds of things.

[CECILIA] So was this something you looked forward to and that you liked? Or as a Boy Scout like, like, I just gotta get a badge.

[RANDALL] No, I think once we tasted the food (laughs) we were all about you know…

[CECILIA] Hooked?

[RANDALL] Yeah we were hooked on that because being out there you know, our first instinct was like, okay who’s got the bologna for the sandwich?

[CECILIA] (laughs) Dutch Oven bologna?

[RANDALL] No, it was just, uh, would you rather eat bologna sandwiches or would you rather eat a peach cobbler or beef stew?

[CECILIA] I know what my choice is.

[RANDALL] Absolutely, and so when we started making these dishes and we started becoming more educated with the Dutch Ovens, we couldn’t wait to get started. Like, who's going to start on the Dutch Oven. You know, after scouts, I think that impression of the Dutch Oven stayed with me for life. I ended up buying three of my own Dutch Ovens.

[CECILIA] Do you use them?

[RANDALL] I actually gave two of them away because I educated people about them on campouts and they’d say, oh I’d like to do that, and I said well here take this one. (shared laughter) And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to lug them around anymore, I just wanted to share the love.

[CECILIA] Well, you know, I don’t have a Dutch Oven. So maybe you've got an extra?

[RANDALL] I only have one left. (laughs)


[RANDALL] But I can tell you where to get ‘em. (shared laughter)

[CECILIA] Well, you know something about the demo with Tim Spice, you know one of the things he made was Cowboy Coffee. You remember that?


[CECILIA] Okay well now, of course that’s not in a Dutch Oven, but, it reminded me when I was a kid growing up, my Aunt Maggie. She had a farm, long before Bob Dylan sang about Aunt Maggie’s farm I will tell you right now, she used to make this Cowboy Coffee, but we didn't call it Cowboy Coffee, it was Aunt Maggie’s Coffee. And it's where you put the grounds in the coffee, and with an egg and you stir it up and you cook it over the fire. And it makes the most mellow, beautiful coffee and you’re not getting little pieces of cooked egg, which I think everybody thought at the demo might in fact happen, but it was great coffee. And that harkened back to my childhood and my Aunt Maggie and the big family gatherings. And then a little kid drinking coffee and then bouncing off the barn walls, (shared laughter) and she just, it was over an open fire, outdoors. And she’d put in the grounds, the water in, stirred up with an egg in, she just went like that.

[TIM] Now traditional cowboy coffee they would have just poured the grounds in the top, and then put a little cold water in it and the grounds would settle to the bottom. But modern society, people don’t like grounds in their coffee. They get really upset. So I used a bandana. I put the grounds in there, and this also has chicory in it but I don’t think you’re gonna taste it because it’s very mellow coffee. Isn’t it? Very mellow coffee, because it has an egg in it, including the shell. The shell takes the bitterness out of it. And then the inside of the egg helps bind the grounds together so that they do not come apart. And some of them old time guys would keep coffee on the counter with egg in it and just stir it up and dump it in their pot so it’ll just bind together and keep it mellow.


[RANDALL] So he put all that in a bandana and then tied the bandana up, threw it in the coffee pot, and just started boiling coffee.

[CECILIA] Yeah, because he thought that the Les Dames who were there might not appreciate having a mouth full of coffee grounds. Which can happen sometimes with this even though the egg is there to collect all of it.

[RANDALL] And Les Dames are pretty sophisticated in what they’re tasting and eating right, ‘cause it’s all about cooking.

[CECILIA] Right, well the Les Dames are a non-profit, philanthropic group of women across the broad culinary spectrum. So we have restaurateurs, chefs, wine makers, we have distillers, we have people like me who will write about food and coordinate the Parks and Wildlife the wild game and fish cooking classes with Central Market. And yeah, they have sophisticated palettes but they love this kind of thing as well. Learning something new. And, well, you saw them. They’re all like kids at heart.

[RANDALL] We talked to several of them and they just had so much fun. One of the exercises I remember was they had to be blindfolded and work in teams.

[CECILIA] Oh yeah, to make biscuits. (shared laughter)


[TIM] Alright, here is the twist. One of you is going to direct the other one that is blindfolded to make your biscuits. You can choose. We’ll help a little bit. So I use this a lot. Especially with camping since it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. This is your milk. Here’s some flour for dusting your, your board.

[LES DAMES] Dust the board.

[TIM] And then we’re going to use a mix instead of trying to make it by hand. So here’s your mix. And this is my measuring cup. It’s made for people who are blindfolded. The first indentation is a half a cup. The second indentation is one cup. The third indentation is two cups. These are the things that you have to make this, I’ve got a couple of rolling pins if you choose to use a rolling pin and I got a cutter I’ll bring over. We’re going to eat these, we’re not going to look at them. We’re going to eat them so, remember that as you’re making them. I got a whole jar of black strap molasses if we need it. You guys ready? Begin!



[RANDALL] Some of the biscuits turned out pretty good and some of the biscuits were, you know, a little bit on the rough end. But they all got ‘em done.

[CECILIA] Oh they did. And the point of being blindfolded, Tim told us, is that when you’re a chuckwagon cook back in the day, you had to start your meal before the sun came up. So you had to do things by feel and by sound, so that was giving the Dames a sense of what it would be like to be cooking for somebody out in the wild without any sunlight or any light whatsoever.


[TIM] So, lets talk about biscuits. What makes a successful biscuit?

[LES DAMES] Butter.

[TIM] Butter.

[LES DAMES] And very little kneading.

[TIM] Right, very little kneading is a critical component to biscuit’s tenderness. Now, what I’ve learned too. Two things. I have a couple of different biscuit recipes. I have a great biscuit with lard. It’s half lard, half Crisco. What’s the problem with a lard biscuit? Real flakey, their brown, their gorgeous. They get cold. They taste like lard.

[LES DAMES] aww (laughing).

[TIM] So in a competition by the time a judge gets a biscuit, it’s cold. So the other thing is butter. So I use butter in competitions because the butter will taste good cold. Now over a fire, you will never burn your biscuits if when you put ‘em on, set your timer for 7 minutes and take ‘em off the bottom heat to finish 10 or 12 minutes. And they won’t burn.

[LES DAMES] With the coals still on the top?

[TIM] Coals on top. So it keeps heating ‘em, they keep rising, but the bottoms won’t burn. An’ that was an old cowboy trick and I’ll be darn… works like a charm.


[RANDALL] I wonder if they’d trade that experience for what they have now. (laughs) Probably not.

[CECILIA] (laughs) Probably not, but it’s hard to say. They all had a great time and Tim Spice, again, amazing guy. Great teacher, very knowledgeable. He was so much fun to work with.

[RANDALL] And you know what was cool was, he had this chuckwagon that was, he took to competitions.

[CECILIA] Oh yeah.


[RANDALL] And it was totally decked out to the nines. I mean, it had all the amenities that a chuckwagon would have back in the 1800s, and a little cupboard that would pop up in the back with all his utensils and his ingredients, except for the demo of course he actually pre-prepared with, I think it was gallon zip-lock baggies. (shared laughter)

[CECILIA] Yeah those are hard to find on the trail.


[LES DAMES] You need any help with anything?

[TIM] Well, I’ll tell you the other secret to being in the outdoors and enjoying it. I mean, we’re here for this. So, I prepped everything.

[LES DAMES] okay.

[TIM] And that’s the secret. Prep before you go out into the outdoors. So, I’m going to tell you how much prepping we did here. And you can thank my wife later, ‘cause this is her award-winning pie crust, (laughs) that we put together last night. You know, at home when you got all the equipment, all the vegetables are chopped in bags ready to go. So we’re good and prepped. So what I want to do is get that chicken on, ‘cause we need to get that stew goin’. Then we’re going to make some quiche real quick and everybody can help with that. And I cheated on that too. We’ve got pie shells already. And the other thing that I do when we’re not in a competition, but we use, our mixing bowls are baggies. One and done. So we’re going to make the quiche in here. And then we don’t have any clean up while we’re going at it. So we’ve got some chopped up bacon, finely chopped onion...


[CECILIA] You know, that was one of the things. He used old school techniques and modern-day techniques to show that it’s fun and easy and you can make a great meal, and oh my God, I mean the food was fantastic. I mean, you talk about peach cobbler, like when you were a kid and he made a pretty darn good peach cobbler I thought. It was award winning.

[RANDALL] And wasn’t there a special ingredient that he used?

[CECILIA] Glug, glug, glug, glug, glug.

[RANDALL] Yeah. (shared laughter) Shhhh. We won’t talk about that. But it was really good and you can blend it into flavor.

[CECILIA] Oh absolutely. I think that what he said and I believe this after watching his demonstration, is that anything that you can do in your home kitchen, you can do outdoors using a Dutch Oven over an open fire. I mean, the food was a wonder. And I think maybe it even tasted better because we were out of doors.


From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Being outdoors is a gift. We unwrap it every time we step outside. And one of the thrills of being in the out of doors is being able to cook over an open fire.


Producer Randall Maxwell and I continue our conversation on Dutch Ovens and cowboy cook extraordinaire Tim Spice.


[RANDALL] Cecilia what’s your experience with Dutch Ovens?

[CECILIA] I have to tell you, I really don’t have a lot of experience with Dutch Ovens. My experience with Dutch Ovens is really mostly around the demo that we did with Tim Spice over at McKinney Falls State Park. I’ve been around people who cook in Dutch Ovens. I’ve interviewed people who’ve cooked in Dutch Ovens. I’ve eaten food out of Dutch Ovens, but I’ve never actually cooked in a Dutch Oven. Now at home I have a cast iron frying pan, so I do have a little bit of cast iron in my life but it may be in fact time to get a Dutch Oven.


[RANDALL] We’re talking about Tim Spice, who’s the lead for Boater Education at Texas Parks and Wildlife who happens to be a cowboy cook specialist. And Dutch Ovens are a main tool of his cooking.

[CECILIA] He is the quintessential cowboy. I mean, you look at this guy, he’s a big tall guy. He’s got the hat, the bandana, the vest, and he kind of strolls a little bit like John Wayne. You know, he knows how to cook and use a Dutch Oven, I mean, he’s the whole package.


[TIM] So the peach cobbler is way too much sugar, your standard spices, and two secret ingredients. So if I tell you them you can’t tell that you got it from me. The first one is whiskey.

[LES DAMES] woooh!

[TIM] And the second one is chili powder.

[LES DAMES] Alright.

[TIM] Why? Why do you put chili powder with peaches?

[LES DAMES] Why not?

[TIM] Or chocolate?

[LES DAMES] We’re in Texas.

[TIM] Nope!, no no no no no!

[LES DAMES] Why, why, why?

[TIM] It tricks the tongue receptors and accentuates the flavor of sweet things. That’s why they put it in chocolate. If you put it in peaches, you’ll see. You’re gonna go wow, that’s really… trust (me), it’s amazing and you can’t taste the chili powder.


[RANDALL] This was actually a presentation for the group, “Lez Dahms?”

[CECILIA] Les Dames d’Escoffier, but uh, good try. It sounds a little bit snooty, the name Les Dames, but it’s anything but. I mean, you have to know a lot of these women didn’t start out like you know eating haut cuisine, I mean they started like you and me, I mean, in kitchens with their moms and their grandmoms, and some of them even outdoors cooking as we learned when we talked to a few of them.


[RANDALL] What do you remember about your first outdoor meal at a campfire?

[JESSICA MAHER] I would say trout fishing. And then cooking trout on a grill. It's just like the absolute best. Trout cooked in a pan and served in a restaurant is fine, but eating it outside in tin foil, you know, it's so fresh you know too, because you just caught it yourself. There's something really wonderful about that.

[LIZ BERRY HUGHEY] I live in the Hill Country and I love cooking out with my husband and he wanted to be here too. We have Dutch Ovens but I don't know too much about using them. So this has been really educational. I didn't realize how much you can actually cook on a Dutch Oven. So I had an idea, but, some of the things I had no idea. And everything he's making is so flavorful, but it's so simple, which is great.

[JESSICA SANDERS] I'm very impressed and excited to know that this kind of cultural preservation is still happening. You look at things like this sort of a craft or a hobby that may be dying out, you know as older generations move on and, so I think it's really neat to see that there's kind of a passing of the torch in terms of the knowledge, and to be honest the part of this that I was most surprised by is the versatility of you know cooking over in a Dutch Oven like this, because I think we all, at least I did, had this perception that you make a chili. Right? And that's kind of the extent of it right? But to know that you can bake in them and you can braise in them and you can cook pies and quiches and I would have never realized that there was so much versatility to the cooking.

[JOY CHEVALIER] I make cake, I make lasagna, that's probably the biggest thing I do in my Dutch Oven is make lasagna, spaghetti, sauces, stew, pasta. My meals in the parks are pretty elaborate.

[RANDALL] So who you got with you? You bringing friends?

[JOY CHEVALIER] Usually my family, my husband, my niece, sometimes friends will come out, but it's usually he and I. I've come to like it a lot.


[RANDALL] That was Jessica Maher, Liz Berry-Hughey, Jessica Sanders and Joy Chevalier of Les Dames d'Escoffier. They were all pretty impressed with everything Tim Spice prepared, and he cooked several things for the demo, I mean I saw him cook a chicken stew with drop biscuits on top.

[CECILIA] Oh my God that was delicious.

[RANDALL] And he even did what he called for guys, an egg pie.

[CECILIA] Yeah that's right, we call it quiche for the rest of us. And he also did something for vegetarians, he did a "minestroney" or minestrone as he liked to say.

[RANDALL] And it was good.

[CECILIA] It was vegetarian and it was actually my favorite, and he put in gluten-free pasta for cryin' out loud, which I thought was very extremely thoughtful.

[RANDALL] There's your testament. Anything you can do in the kitchen, you can do in the outdoors.

[CECILIA] Amen brother.


[TIM & LES DAMES] Hey guys there's some quiche up here if you want to cut it open and get after it. The edges are a little brown but they'll work. Go after it. It's probably hot, there's a lot of cheese in there.


[CECILIA] So, what are you going to cook next in your Dutch Oven?

[RANDALL] You know, it's probably time for a peach cobbler. I really want to taste one again and I've been without cobbler for a while.

[CECILIA] Oh, that is such a sad story. (laughs)

[RANDALL] I know but, I'm also interested in trying meat loaf and all these other recipes that I haven't had in years, but I know it's possible because I've seen people do it and I've seen a lot of recipes online, so I'm going to give it a try. What about you?

[CECILIA] Well, uhh, I am first going to have to get a Dutch Oven, but if you invite me over for some meat loaf I can get a sense of you know, what's cookin'.

[RANDALL] And I'll probably lose my last Dutch Oven to you.

[CECILIA] (laughs) Yay me!

[RANDALL] (laughs) Okay I'll make it a point of inviting you and get your spirits fired up about Dutch Ovens, and maybe you'll go down to the Western Auto and pick up a Dutch Oven (laughter) Do they even have Western Autos anymore?

[CECILIA] Western Auto? (laughs)

[RANDALL] Or maybe that was the True Value Store.

[CECILIA] I have no idea.

[RANDALL] That's how long I've had my Dutch Ovens.

[CECILIA] Well, there are so many options these days, stores, online, I will find a Dutch Oven. But until then I'll continue to use my cast iron skillet, which I do use so I have a little cast iron in my life, but I think there is room for more.

[RANDALL] I think that's great. I hope this podcast encourages everybody to consider when they cook outdoors, bring a Dutch Oven. You won't be disappointed. It doesn't take that much. You can bring all the ingredients pre-cut and pre-measured.

[CECILIA] And you know what? You can even do it in your own backyard if wanted to, so if you wanted to test it out there first, give it a try, that is also a whole bunch of fun, but when you take it on the road to a Texas State Park, then you know you've arrived.



[TIM] People have to get in the outdoors and enjoy it. So, it's easy to do. And you can, anyone can do it I think is, the ah-ha moment for a lot of people is typically a biscuit or a cobbler comin' out and it, they look nice and they taste good. You know, you just go out you just go out to a campsite and campground and make a cobbler and everybody loves ya.

It's good to be loved. My thanks to producer Randall Maxwell for sitting down and reminiscing about our time spent with the Les Dames d'Escoffier and Dutch Oven expert Tim Spice.

What do you love about the Texas outdoors? Share it with us in our occasional feature Shout Out to the Wild. Just go to underthetexassky.org and click on the Get Involved link…leave us a message…and we’ll be in touch.


And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available at UndertheTexasSky.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

We record the podcast at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our sound design.

We receive web and distribution assistance from Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside

[TIM] Alright! Here’s some chicken stew if anyone wants to try some.

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.