Getting it Off the Ground

By Keith Fisher

Back when our forefathers cooked in Dutch ovens, Chances are they cooked in a campfire on the ground. It was a back bending proposition and probably took longer than it should. Some folks still cook on the ground or in a hole. Today, I’d like to show you a better way.

As a Boy Scout, I learned that if I lay my sleeping bag directly on the ground, most of my body heat is absorbed into the earth. If I use a tarp or piece of plastic under my sleeping bag, I sleep warmer at night. The same holds true for Dutch ovens on the ground. You might suggest that’s why we put coals on the bottom.

It’s true—we use heat on the bottom, but instead of cooking our food, the majority if the warmth is sucked into the cold earth. Also, there’s the problem of putting coals on a concrete patio, making heat marks and damaging the cement.

It’s simple. A sheet of tin foil under the oven will do wonders to slow the heat loss and protect the concrete. You can also use a garbage can lid or any metal surface. In competitions they require at least 18-inches off the ground to protect the grass but there are other reasons.

Stooping and kneeling over a pot all day can give you serious back strain. Lifting full pots is easier, since they’re already halfway off the ground. There are about as many types of Dutch oven tables as there are cooks. Everyone has a different preference. Whether sold commercially, or fashioned in some way.

For some people, a wheelbarrow works fine, others use a barbecue without the grill. Garbage cans and inverted metal buckets also work. I’ve seen old farmers put legs on used plow disks.

My Dutch oven table began life as a conveyor bed. Scrap metal can be fashioned in many shapes. Mine had a bend on one side and I welded a lip on the other, to keep the coals from falling off. The legs are mounted so that gravity keeps them spread and stable.

I loved my table but I spent sleepless nights wondering how I could keep my tools handy, but out of the way at the same time. The answer came in the form of a fireplace transom. I mounted a bar to the table, brought it up vertically before making the bend. Now I have a bar at eye level that holds my fire tools. My table has served me through many backyard parties, camping trips, and Dutch oven competitions, but there is one thing I would do differently. I would make it taller. I sometimes stack my ovens, but for the most part bending over becomes a burden.

Take a look at some of the tables I’ve seen, and start making plans. There are many fine commercial tables on the market, and several good craftsmen who will make them for you. Keep in mind, there’s noting wrong with cooking on the ground, but I promise, cooking is better at arms reach.

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1 comment:

Kim Thompson said...

I always thought you had to be a SERIOUS dutch oven cook to need a table, but I can definitely see it's benefits. Makes the cooking seem a little less primitive to me!

Great article, Keith!