Dutch Oven Cooking, AZ with Video

by Darley Newman

Learn how to make peach cobbler- Dutch Oven style - with Barbara Kennedy in Arizona.


While filming our Equitrekking Arizona episode last year, I had the opportunity to take a lesson in Dutch oven cooking with Barbara Kennedy who owns and runs Cowgirls Forever, a catering company that specializes in Dutch oven cooking.

Since then, I’ve had many, many people email me for the recipe for the Dutch oven peach cobbler that I helped Barbara prepare. It was good. Below is my interview with Barbara and recipes for Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler and Chile Verde.

Darley: How did you get started with Dutch Oven Cooking?
Barbara: I've always loved to cook, and I love the old west lifestyle. Through western events I was introduced to Dutch ovens, and I participated in a chuckwagon cooking competition. It quickly became my "hobby" or obsession, depending on how you look at it! It's kind of a joke that I look for any excuse to cook!

Darley: Where do you cook with Cowgirls Forever?
Barbara: Well.........we compete twice a year in chuckwagon cooking competitions at The National Festival of the West and the Arizona National Livestock Competition, and as often as possible in other Dutch oven cooking competitions around Arizona. I enjoy charity events, so I participate in several of them every year. My heart is with NAMI (National Alliance on Mentally Ill). At their annual walk-a-thon, my mom (who's 83) walks, and I cook for her team and the event volunteers! For PF Chang's Marathon, my sister runs for ovarian cancer, I cook! The Wellness Community is another favorite, they have an annual "family picnic" that is wonderful. Three times a year I teach for a great event called BOW, Becoming an Outdoors- Woman, sponsored by the AZ Wildlife Federation. There's Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Junior Drama Club, Kiwanis, Wild West Days, etc.! And just for fun, on Friday nights (if the temp is below 105!) I cook at the Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, AZ.

Darley: What are some awards that you have won for your cooking?
Barbara: 1st Place at the PACE Foods Competition in 2007 was for shredded pork burritos smothered in green chili sauce and in 2009 I made Tinga, it's a Mexican style shredded chicken. Tinga also won 1st place at the Bluegrass Festival Cook-off last year. At the National Festival of the West, Cowgirls Forever has placed somewhere every year 2004 – 2009. This year we took 1st place for biscuits, coffee (funny because I don't even like the smell of coffee!), trail stew, and best overall breakfast! We had a blast!

We've placed at the Arizona National Chuckwagon Cook-off 2005-2007, AZ Chapter IDOS State Champion 2005, Cave Creek Wild West Days Chili Cook-off 2004, and in a few other cook-offs here and there.

Darley: What’s your favorite aspect of Dutch oven cooking?
Barbara: I like to make people happy! Food can do that, and I like food, a lot! I love Dutch oven cooking because I can cook anything absolutely anywhere for 2 or 200, no electricity needed. I've cooked on a sidewalk along Central Avenue for a huge tailgate party, the front yard of the State Capital, in the middle of the desert for saddle clubs, the beach, around a campfire at the Buffalo Chip with hundreds of friendly strangers, in people's backyards, parking lots, camping.... And, it (almost!) always tastes so good.

Darley: How did Dutch oven cooking originate?
Barbara: There are many stories, but most stories say that the Pennsylvania Dutch that migrated here were the ones that originally brought Dutch ovens to America. The story goes… Dutch traders or peddlers were selling wares along with cast iron pots, therefore the name "Dutch" oven. The cast-iron cookware was loved by colonists and settlers because of its versatility and durability. The ovens were so valuable that wills frequently spelled out who would inherit the cast iron cookware! My youngest daughter has dibs on mine!

Darley: What are some of your favorite dishes to cook?
Barbara: Well, as I said, I love food, so a favorite is tough! I really like blueberry buckle, bread pudding with amaretto caramel sauce, red chili, or chile verde, and the chicken and dumplings are so yummy too! The Cowgirl Quiche is so colorful. It turns out pretty.

Darley: What are some challenges with Dutch oven cooking?
Barbara: Patience! It's not good to hurry a Dutch oven, or it's cook for that matter (remember there's a fire and a shovel close by!). I tell people, when it's done it's done, it's not a microwave! The elements make cooking a challenge sometimes-- rain, wind, altitude, but with just a little experience you'll remember how to adjust to any situation. The old chuckwagon cooks encountered it all and survived!

Darley: What makes a good Dutch oven?
Barbara: Even casting of the iron pot and good seasoning. Look for a thick smooth surface all around and a tight fitting lid. Lodge has been making cast iron in Tennessee since 1896, and it’s still family owned, I'm partial to them for newer ovens. Don't forget you need a lip around the lid to hold coals in place and legs on the bottom for coals under your oven. If it's a flat bottom and domed lid, it's for indoor cooking, which turns out great too!

Darley: For someone starting out, what are the basic pieces of equipment/tools that they need to purchase?
Barbara: A 12" or 14" Dutch oven (or two!) are a good size to start with, a lid lifter for pulling the lid full of coals off, a small fireplace shovel and tongs to move your coals around, a lid stand is helpful, a pair of very thick heat resistant gloves, and a bucket with a tight lid to put your ash in if you aren't using a campfire. A charcoal starter is great to get coals started faster and keep them well contained. You can improvise if you're handy and on a tight budget. I've used the claw of a hammer to lift lids and a large coffee can with holes in it for a charcoal starter.

Darley: What are a few basic cooking tips you could provide?
Barbara: Start with juicy meats first, they are harder to burn, and they season your oven wonderfully! Remember, everything takes time so don't rush yourself. It’s easier to add coals than to deal with an oven that’s too hot. Generally, if you are using a 12" oven, double that amount for your coals- 24, and use a third or so on the bottom and the rest on top. When baking dessert or bread be sure to use even a bit less on the bottom so it doesn't burn. Trust your nose, if you smell it check it. I don't believe in not checking the pot from time to time. It won't hurt most dishes. Rotate the oven and the lid to get even heating. Never leave your oven wet, or even damp. Dry it thoroughly and give it just a swipe of oil all around after each cleaning. No soap ever unless you really get something nasty in there, then you need to rinse it in lots of fresh warm water to be sure the soap doesn't stay in your seasoning, you'll taste if you don’t get it rinsed out!

Darley: Does that well seasoned oven make the food taste better?
Barbara: Oh my gosh, nothing tastes better than out of an old seasoned Dutch oven! And cleaning a seasoned oven is worth it's weight, just add hot water to loosen desserts or settled foods, scrub gently and wipe clean. Then don't forget to oil. People are so surprised at how easy they are to clean.

Darley: How do you know what you’re cooking is done?
Barbara: Again, trust your nose, if it smells done it probably is. Breads and desserts will pull slightly away from the side and be set in the middle, meats will be so tender they'll fall off the bone. Remember the ovens stay hot for quite sometime, so get the oven off the coals so they aren't still cooking foods.

Peach Cobbler Recipe Dutch Oven Style

14" Deep Dutch Oven
28 Briquettes
1 stick of butter
28 oz. can of peaches in syrup
2 boxes cake mix (yellow, vanilla, or butter)
6 oz. can crushed pineapple
1/4 cup brown sugar

Heat oven with 10 coals on bottom and 18 on top for about 5 min. Melt butter in bottom of oven, add fruit, stir in cake mixes, sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on top. Cover and bake about 35 min. Turn oven 1/4 turn every 10 min or so for even heat. Lift lid to check heat after about 15 min., if browning too fast just remove a few coals from top or bottom. Done when firm throughout. Let sit for a few minutes before serving. Be very careful, fruit stays scalding hot for quite some time and will burn your mouth!!
Any fruit can be substituted. It's best to use fruit in juice or syrup, pie filling is too sweet and thick. If more moisture is needed use 7up or Mountain Dew (not diet).
Dark, sweet cherries are great with chocolate cake mix too. Apples, raisins and carrot cake mix. Frozen mixed berries need the soda.

Chile Verde Recipe Dutch Oven Style

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions
2 bulbs garlic
8 lb. pork roast
2 lb. green chilies
3 bunches of green onion
2 bunches of cilantro
2 limes
2 tablespoons coarse salt
4 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons lemon pepper
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup milk

Add oil to 14” deep Dutch oven to preheat, 14 coals on top & on bottom.

Cut onions in half then slice each half into thin strips. Skin garlic and mince. Sauté in oven till caramelized-- about 7 min. Check and stir once or twice so they don’t burn, your oven should be hot.

The pork can be any roast you like but some marbling is good for flavor & broth. I usually use shoulder or picnic roast, cut into 1” cubes (you can have the butcher do this for you if you’d like!). Add to oven to brown. Stir well. Cook covered for about 30 min. Check and stir. Be sure it’s at a high simmer & producing a nice broth. You shouldn’t need to add water but if it’s not producing broth, add a couple cups warm water.

Have some extra coals started to maintain heat. Don’t be afraid to add coals as needed to keep the heat up.

Cut the chilies and green onions into 2” strips, chop the cilantro, add to meat, and stir well. Let simmer another hour or so, stirring occasionally.

Stir in spices and the juice of the limes. Keep at low simmer another 30 min.

In a bowl, whisk milk into cornstarch until there are no more lumps. Stir quickly into the middle of the pot to keep lumps from forming, and then blend completely. It will thicken as it simmers. If it is too thick, then stir in some milk.

If you want a thicker consistancey, add more cornstarch and milk mixture.

Keep at a low simmer till meat is completely tender.

If it’s too spicy, stir in a cup or so of sour cream!

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