What Is Dutch Oven Stew?

Lori Kilchermann

Dutch oven stew is a traditional meal made in a cast-iron Dutch oven and cooked over an open campfire. Consisting of a protein, such as beef, venison or lamb, it also features vegetables and flour. The mixture is cooked for several hours over the fire until the resulting stew is rich and hearty. Used for the ease of assembly and the ability to cook, un-watched, for long periods of time, Dutch oven stew allows the cook to participate in other camping fun without having to babysit the evening meal as it cooks. This type of Dutch oven stew is also made indoors over a fireplace and can even be made on a kitchen range, however, it loses some of the smoky flavor.

Dutch oven stew with chicken, potatoes, and herbs.
Dutch oven stew with chicken, potatoes, and herbs.

When camping, two concerns that commonly equate to simple foods for dinner are the need to eliminate dishes that require washing and time allotted for cooking. Most cooks do not wish to toil over an open, outdoor flame for long periods in order to prepare a home-cooked meal. The Dutch oven stew meets both of these challenges by requiring only one pan and basically no time spent watching over the pot. Once the cook is certain that the pot is far enough away from the fire to prevent burning, the Dutch oven stew can be left alone with only periodic stirring of the stew required.

A vegetarian version of Dutch oven stew can be made with beans and various vegetables.
A vegetarian version of Dutch oven stew can be made with beans and various vegetables.

Another benefit in making Dutch oven stew is the meal can be nearly assembled prior to leaving the home for the campsite. Several washed potatoes, celery and carrots can be placed in a large, plastic bag with a self-sealing top. Before heading to the campsite, the vegetables can be packed along with the meat in a cooler so the cook need only place the food in a pot, add water, flour and spices to begin a hearty Dutch oven stew. This same basic meal can be prepared with ingredients gathered from the outdoors by using rabbit, mushrooms and other found, wild vegetables.

Although not as originally designed, a vegetarian version of Dutch oven stew can be made using tofu, beans or any other type of vegetable suitable as a substitution for the stew's typical animal protein. The main intent of the stew is to provide diners with a hearty and nutritious meal that can be easily prepared in a single pan and without a lot of fuss. Commonly served with a loaf of soft bread or with homemade biscuits to sop up the gravy, this stew is a welcome member of almost any campsite.

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