Monday, August 16, 2010

Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven Buffalo Pot Roast

Camp dutch oven buffalo pot roast over an open fire

When I go camping, I refuse to relegate my tastebuds to hot dogs and mac & cheese. I may be sleeping on the ground, but that doesn't mean I should eat dirt.

As it turns out, fresh air, cool breeze, and sunlit mountainside are some of the best seasonings available. But instead of resting on these outdoor culinary laurels, this recipe takes full advantage.

As with all of my camp dutch oven recipes, this recipe was made over an actual campfire (as opposed to using charcoal briquettes).

To boot: this is the easiest camp dutch oven recipe I know of, and results in a dish that could be served in the finest restaurants anywhere. I'm serious.

Needless to say, cooking an entire pot roast assumes that you've got at least a handful of folks to cook for. This recipe serves 4-6.

Fair warning: this recipe kicks it up a notch or three, and may well earn you lifelong camping partners. I leave it to you to decide if that's a good thing.

Feel free to use beef pot roast instead of buffalo (also called bison).

  • 1 2-lb. buffalo (or beef) pot roast
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 bunch celery
  • salt
  • pepper
  • granulated garlic
  • oil
  • 1 1/2 cups water
To get started, make sure your fire ring is ready for dutch oven cooking.

As shown at right, I typically dig out a cooking area next to where the fire will eventually be, and start an initial fire there.

Once I have a nice pile of coals, I move the fire over about two feet, and start cooking in the spot formerly occupied by the fire.

Additional notes on cooking over a real camp fire:
  1. You want a nice bed of coals for cooking, not a bunch of flaming logs and sticks. 
  2. The best way to get a nice bed of coals is to build a raging fire composed of flaming logs and sticks... and then wait 20 minutes (see image at right). 
  3. The idea behind building a fire in one spot and then moving it to another is to warm the ground where you're going to cook to help even out temperature fluctuations. 
  4. You want to keep your campfire burning nearby so as to produce a steady supply of hot coals for heat replenishment. 
  5. Once you are cooking, your dutch oven should be far enough from the flames to avoid scorching the food on the side facing the fire. With proper dutch oven rotation, a foot of distance between the fire and the near edge of the dutch oven should do it.
  6. You can check out a little more campfire dutch oven cooking theory in my apple crisp recipe.
Let's see, where were we... Ah yes, while your campfire is burning into nice coals:

Roughly chop the veggies and potatoes, and set them aside. Season the buffalo pot roast generously with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

When the campfire has settled down, clear out a cooking spot of all coals, and then add back in a layer of sparse coals, roughly equivalent to 15 or 20 inch-square coals.

For you math geeks: that's 15 to 20 cubic inches of hot coals, spread thin to an area equal to Pi (3.1415) multiplied by the square of the radius of the bottom of your dutch oven.

For everyone else: just spread about an inch-thick layer of hot coals into a spot that's about as big around as your dutch oven.

Place your well-oiled (shiny) dutch oven over the coals, and let it heat up for 3-5 minutes. When the dutch oven is hot (just beginning to smoke), add a few tablespoons of oil, and then toss in the pot roast to sear.

Sear the pot roast on all sides, turning it every 1-2 minutes to avoid burning (total searing time 5-7 minutes). Leave the lid on whenever possible. When the pot roast is browned on as many sides as are feasible, add the vegetables and potatoes. Stir things around for another few minutes, and then add 1 1/2 cups water.

Cover the dutch oven with the lid, and pile another 15-20 cubic inches of hot coals on top. If there are hot rocks in the vicinity, I will often pile those on as well since they give a nice even heat.

Cook the roast for 3-4 hours, replenishing coals below and above every 45 minutes or so. Always err on the side of too little heat as opposed to too much. If, upon checking your dutch oven, nothing is bubbling and everything seems to be getting colder, go ahead and add coals. Chances are, there's too much heat. Never be afraid to remove your dutch oven from all heat (pick it up by the wire bail and set it on the ground), and then add heat back slowly as needed.

Be sure to taste the liquid as things progress. If it isn't amazingly flavorful, add some salt.

When the roast is done, serve it up with the surrounding vegetables and potatoes. Pot roast can hold for many hours as long as it is kept warm.