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.


  1. I haven’t been camping in years! I don’t think I could pull off cooking a Pot Roast over a real camp fire. The next time you cook a pot roast over a camp fire, I would recommend using grass fed beef. A good place to get your meat from is La Cense Beef. I work with La Cense Beef which is an approved USDA grass fed program. Grass fed beef is lower in calories and fat unlike traditional grain fed beef.

  2. Hi Kara,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I am definitely a fan a grass fed beef, and use it nearly interchangeably with bison. Does your company sell products anywhere near Boulder where I'd be able to check it out? Do you offer sample packs? Thanks.


  3. I made this pot roast camping this summer and I have dreamed about it since. We are leaving on Wednesday for the mountains and this is first meal on my menu. I can hardly wait to get up there and start cooking. what is it about cooking outdoors? Thanks so much for the recipe and especially the pics:)

  4. Hey There,

    Glad to hear it went well this summer. I agree that outdoor cooking tends to make everything taste better.

    Have fun in the mountains... and enjoy that pot roast tonight!


  5. Thanks for the really simple recipe and the basics for cooking with the coals and rocks. We put our New England twist on it and added freshly dug carrots, parsnips, red potatoes and horseradish root. We got the dutch oven prepared, raked our leaves and put our garden to sleep and when we were done we had a great autumn feast. Jay

  6. Hey Jay,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like you enjoyed the fruits of a beautiful day up there in the northeast. I approve heartily of your local additions. I'll have to try the horseradish root next time! Glad your autumn feast was great.

    We had frost here in many place around Boulder last night, but being on a slight ridge, we avoided it in our garden. Good thing since we have about 15 huge tomatoes that are dying to get ripe. Hope we get a few more weeks, but it's been a good summer crop either way.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  7. Hi Derek! Thanks for some great advise and instructions. Had a cold and snow day here in Savage, Minneosta yesterday and after all the chores were done around our place, I decided to do something I had been hankerin' to do for a loooong time now: cook a pot roast in the firepit. Dug out my old dutch oven and got the pit fired up then asked myself "self, do you have any idea what your gonna' do with this?" of course, through the miricle of "Google," I found your site and am happy I did! I did my own take on your recipe and threw in some dried mushrooms (legal ones!) and added a can of beer later when I decided it needed a bit more liquid. Word of warning about doing this recipe: If you're planning on hanging around while it cooks, it smells so good you'll get tired of waiting...BUT IT'S WORTH THE WAIT!
    Thanks for the help!

  8. Hi Randy,

    Glad the recipe worked out for you! I spent most of my summers as a kid in Minnesota... and need to get back there soon. The Boundary Waters are calling my name.

    Take care!


  9. Hey Derek-
    Made the recipe this past Saturday at Gov Dodge State Park, and it received rave reviews!! I used a beef roast, onions, carrots, red potatoes, and garlic salt. Cornbread on the side received the juices and made a lovely mush! Thanks so much!

    1. You bet! Glad it worked out... and thanks for letting me know. Corn bread is a great choice for soaking up the juices.... I'll have to try that!



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