Bush Cooking Ultimate Guide

Bush Cooking - another way to enjoy the fire

Bush cooking is something that can really enhance your stay while camping. When we started our camping trips a long time ago we usually had a campfire going, regardless of the weather. After some time, though, we learned that we enjoy it better when we have fire, while the meal is getting ready. 

In this bush cooking ultimate guide I will share with you everything I know so you can do it yourself.

Campfire - now always with a meal

I remember my first dutch oven cooking like it was yesterday. It was already 10 years ago. From that day onward my family looked at a campfire in a completely different way. Don’t get me wrong, we all love bush TV (watching the fire going) and lazy staring at flames during amazing outback escapes. But what if at the end there is also a wonderful meal? That’s right – nothing tastes better than freshly baked bread or roasted meat with a hint of smoky flavor.

Dutch oven

There are many different Dutch ovens on the market, with legs or without them, with flat or round bottoms, colorful or made of plain cast iron.

For camping the best would be Dutch oven made of cast iron with short legs to keep the oven off charcoal. Cast iron gives Dutch oven consistent heating. Once heated to required temperature it will keep it for a long time. This means constant add on of charcoal is not required. 

Heavy lid prevents steam from escaping, allowing food to be moist and tender.

Dutch ovens come in a wide variety of sizes, from 8 to 16 inches.

Try what suits you best. For me, it’s a small kitchen oven that I got as a present and cooked in it my first campfire meal. I know it’s not a ‘proper’ camp oven – but hey, it works for me best!

Bush Cooking equipment
Bush Cooking equipment

My bush cooking equipment

I’ve tried many different equipment through the years, but this is my current, tested setup that works for me in any situation.

  1. Small kitchen Dutch oven 
  2. Big Dutch oven for bigger family gatherings
  3. Frying pan
  4. Heat resistant gloves
  5. Whisk broom
  6. Small shovel
  7. Wooden spoon

Start your fire early

Start the fire at least 30 minutes earlier before you want to start bush cooking to have an ample supply of hot coals , and if you use hardwood it should be much earlier than that.

cabagge rolles on campfire

How to know when food is cooked and general cooking time

This one is tricky as too many factors are involved to give a simple rule. In this case I can say one word – practice. As with everything, there will be hit and miss experience. In my case I learned quickly that during strong wind charcoal is much hotter than normal and my cake would burn black in a really short period of time. The type of wood can also have an impact on temperature and time of cooking.

A general rule – I open my pot every 15 minutes to check the progress and estimate how long food it takes for food to be ready.

How to set campfire cooking

Don’t put too many coals around your oven and definitely don’t bury it in the campfire. Overdoing it can cause food to burn. Take one shovel of coals from the camp fire and put it in secure place away from direct flames. 

Set camp oven on top of coals. One shovel full of coals should be enough for a small camp oven to generate enough heat to cook your meal. 

Put some coal on the lid of the oven, spread it evenly. It’s a good practice to turn the pot 180 degrees every 15-20 minutes. This will help keep temperature even (some coals could be hotter than the other). 

But don’t sneak peak too often – otherwise magic will not happen. 

I replace coals underneath the oven when I see that the temperature is dropping.  Keep your Dutch oven away from open fire as it could be tempting, but it is a simple recipe for burned food.

Bush Cooking - coals around and on top
Bush Cooking - coals around and on top

Dutch oven care

Because Dutch oven is made of iron, extra care must be given from time to time (and also before first use). This is called seasoning.

Seasoning creates patina, preventing food from sticking to a normally porous surface. Most importantly it prevents the oven from rusting. And finally, it gives food an extra flavor that can’t be achieved in any other type of pots. A well seasoned Dutch oven should look black, it happens because oil when heated forms dark coating.

How I season my cast irons

  1. Preheat an oven to 200 C
  2. Open all windows – some smoke will be created
  3. I rub vegetable oil using a paper towel inside and outside the pot and lid, removing excess oil leaving only a thin layer of oil (otherwise oil can be set on fire)
  4. I insert a pot and a lid into the oven and I put some pan at the bottom of the oven to catch any excess oil.
  5. I keep pot in the oven for around one hour, then switch temperature off and leave it still inside, letting Dutch oven to cool off

Cleaning after use

  • Don’t leave food in the oven after meal for latter on. Remove it right after it’s cooked, especially if its acidity food like tomato paste, otherwise re-seasoning will be required
  • Remove any leftovers, I always user wooden spoon to do it
  • Pour hot water in and boil it for a few minutes
  • Let it cool down for a few minutes
  • Scrap any remaining pieces of food using wood or plastic; now it should be much easier 
  • Rinse it with hot water and repeat process if needed
  • Dry it immediately after clean up to prevent rust

Last note – no detergents of ANY kind should be used to clean cast iron. 

Safety tips

  • Keep kids and dogs away 
  • Don’t pick up Dutch oven lid with your bare hands. I’ve done it once (just grabbed it without thinking). That was a lesson I will never forget. 
  • Make sure the fire can’t escape, especially when its a windy day and sparks are flying.

Happy bush cooking!

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