Saturday, January 23, 2010

Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven Enchiladas

The camp dutch oven is a beautiful piece of equipment for car camping, raft trips and even canoe trips (with short portages).  Enchiladas are nearly always a crowd pleaser if done right, and they're quick-cooking and not too hard to prepare. If you don't have a dutch oven, there's a recipe for skillet enchiladas, too.

The secret to excellent enchiladas is excellent enchilada filling.  You can use just about anything to fill your enchiladas... just make sure you taste it before you start filling the tortillas.  Your enchilada filling should be tasty enough that you'd want to eat a bowl of it.

This recipe uses Derek's (almost) Famous Seasoned Pinto Beans, but you can substitute 2 (15 ounce) cans of drained and rinsed pinto, black, or other beans.  You can also use 2 pounds of ground meat such as beef, turkey, or buffalo—or a mixture of beans and ground meat. 

Caramelized onions are a great way to add flavor and complexity to your enchilada filling.  The sweetness of the onion tends to balance out and extend the generally salty taste of the filling.   Diced tomatoes wouldn't be out of place. Nor would caramelized peppers or other veggies.  Rice is a fine enchilada filling.  I've even used squash and Swiss chard.  I've included the seasonings I use in my pinto beans in this recipe to provide guidance in case you're using canned beans or other ingredients.

Don't forge to taste your filling. 

For this recipe, you want to end up with about 3 cups of total filling (roughly 1/3 cup per tortilla). If you somehow end up with too much filling, even better! Just freeze it (assuming you're near a freezer) flattened in a Ziploc bag.

  • 2 1/2 cups of cooked (nice and soft) pinto beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped or sliced
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • granulated garlic
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • Canola oil
  • 1 can (about 2 cups) enchilada sauce
  • 1 pound grated jack cheese
If you're new to camp dutch oven cooking, there are many great resources online, including Dutch Oven Cooking 101 from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

For the Filling

Heat your camp dutch oven over medium heat, which can be obtained with either 8 (burning) charcoal briquettes placed underneath, or a pile of wood charcoal (from a "real" fire) that's about 50% more volume than 8 briquettes would be.  The reason for the extra volume when using real wood charcoal is that briquettes contain additives like coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax, parrafin, and other petroleum products—which make them burn hotter and longer than wood. 

To begin, slice the bacon into small pieces (maybe a quarter inch wide) and toss it into the heated dutch oven.  Saute the bacon until it's halfway-cooked and has rendered some liquid fat.  Add in your chopped or sliced onion.  Keep an eye on your heat, and add or remove coals as necessary to speed things up or to prevent burning.  Once the onions have turned translucent and are beginning to brown, and the bacon is pretty well cooked, add beans, meat or any other filling ingredients.

Cook any meats through, and then season to taste with chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper.   Remember, the flavor of this filling is in large part the flavor of your enchiladas, so taste the filling, and don't skimp on seasoning!  Set the filling mixture aside in a place that it'll stay warm—like covered in another cooking pot and surrounded by a sleeping bag.

For the Tortillas
Wipe out the dutch oven with a cloth, or rinse with a little water to get the big chunks out.  Add an eighth of an inch of oil, and let it heat up.  You may need to add more wood charcoal (or replace dying briquettes with fresh ones) under the dutch oven to keep the heat up.  Once the oil is hot (but not smoking), lay each tortilla in the oil for about 30 seconds per side. Some calm bubbling is what you are after here, but not browning or crisping.  Gently fry all of the tortillas.  Wipe out any excessive oil left in the dutch oven and remove from heat.

Assembling the Enchiladas

Pour about half of your enchilada sauce into the bottom of the dutch oven.  Take each tortilla, lay in a good bit of cheese, add filling mixture, roll it up, and place it in the sauced dutch oven seam side down.  Use about 3/4 of your cheese for filling, and reserve the rest to put on top.

Pack the enchiladas in until the dutch oven is full, and then cover with remaining sauce.  Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, cover, and then bake at 325 degrees F (or so) for 35 minutes (or so).

To get 325 degrees in a 12-inch camp dutch oven, use 8 charcoal briquettes underneath and 16 on top.

Again, if using a wood fire, place the dutch oven over a pile of mature coals that has about 50% more volume than 8 briquettes would, and pile coals on the lid to equal about 16 briquettes plus 50%.  Check the dutch oven every 5-10 minutes to make sure your enchiladas aren't burning (usually observable by rigorous sauce-bubbling in one or more spots).

Rotate the dutch oven 90 degrees every 7-8 minutes, and at the same time rotate the lid 90 degrees in the other direction.  The idea here is to even out hot spots below and above your food.  Slower cooking is better, so don't be afraid to remove the dutch oven from heat if you suspect burning.

When the enchiladas are hot after 30 or 40 minutes... you're ready to eat!


  1. I made these for dinner tonight in my dutch oven at home. Fantastic. Thanks for all your wonderful cast iron recipes. Cooking with cast iron definitely makes the food taste better. Keep up the great work.
    God Bless!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement! I'm so glad you're finding the recipes tasty. Hopefully they're easy to follow as well.

    Happy cooking!



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