Lasagna at camp? It’s not as hard as it sounds if you’ve got a Dutch oven. On a recent adventure in New Mexico, we busted out this workhorse of a pot to make lasagna and a s’mores pie. With the help of our videographer, river guide, and Dutch oven expert Alex Mager, we cooked up quite a feast out in the Taos hills.
We’ve rounded up some Dutch oven cooking basics, some of Alex’s tips, and two of his favorite recipes for your next camping trip.
Dutch Oven Camp Cooking Basics
First things first: What exactly is a Dutch oven and what makes it so great for car camp cooking? This thick-walled, wide pot with a tight-fitting lid traces its roots back to 1704 in the Netherlands—hence the name.
There are a few reasons why Dutch ovens and camp cooking go together like marshmallows and flames. These pots are durable enough to stand up to a campfire and the elements. Bake, braise, sear, deep fry—the Dutch oven is also incredibly versatile. And finally, Dutch ovens retain heat (and moisture) really well. That heat retention keeps going long after your dish is done, making it easy to keep your meal warm, too.
P.S. Do not bring your pretty turquoise Le Creuset pot to whip up chili over the campfire—cast-iron Dutch ovens are the way to go when it comes to camp cooking. Some models designed specifically for camping also have little support legs to help stabilize the pot over uneven surfaces.
Coals vs. Fire vs. Stove
Armed with a cast-iron Dutch oven, you can cook your meal on a grate over a fire (like those found at many developed campgrounds), directly over fire or charcoal embers, or over a camp stove (if it’s big enough).
If you’re cooking over store-bought charcoal, you can also add charcoal lumps on top of the lid to increase the temperature and create more of a convection effect. Keep in mind that if you’re planning to cook directly over a wood fire, most of the wood found at campgrounds (like pine) will die out quickly and won’t create heat high enough to cook your dish—hardwoods work better.
For more in-depth info on getting Dutch Oven camp cooking right, Fresh Off the Grid has a great guide to fuel types, temperatures, helpful accessories, and more.
Dutch Oven Pro Tips
Alex Mager knows a thing or two about Dutch oven cooking. He mastered the art when he started river guiding, and on most trips, he uses one to cook meals on the daily. Here are a few of his pointers for successfully cooking with a Dutch oven at camp:
To make clean-up easy, line the Dutch oven with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Make sure the Dutch oven is hot enough before you put coals on top of the lid. “If you start with a cold Dutch oven when you put the charcoals on, it will take hours longer,” Alex warns.
“Don’t buy cheap charcoal.” Low-quality charcoal might fall apart on you.
Cook with your nose. Especially with desserts, “once you smell it, you know you’re pretty much there,” he explains.
Finally, Alex asks that no matter how you’re cooking at camp, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and leave your campsite better than you found it. “As more and more people have started to go on river trips and get into rafting,” he says, “there’s been a lot more trash and human waste around campsites.” This applies to everything from packing out food packaging and extinguishing your campfire to disposing of dish water responsibly.
Camp Dutch Oven Lasagna Recipe
- 14 oz sausage, pork, or plant-based
- 15 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 25 oz (2-1/2 c) marinara sauce
- 9 oz oven-ready/no-boil lasagna
- 1-1/2 c shredded Italian cheese blend
Prepare your coals: Either ignite charcoals (recommended) or start a campfire for cooking. Coals will take about 20 minutes to light, a campfire will take up to an hour to burn down to embers that you can cook over.
Prep the ricotta filling: While the fire or charcoals get going, crack an egg into a large bowl and thoroughly whisk. Add ricotta, chopped parsley, Italian seasoning, and salt; mix until combined. Set aside.
Brown the sausage: Place Dutch oven over coals/campfire (or a camp stove) and heat a touch of oil. Add sausage. Brown undisturbed on one side, then use a metal spatula to break into bite-sized pieces. Once sausage is uniformly brown, remove Dutch oven from heat and transfer cooked sausage to a bowl.
Assemble the lasagna: Layer ingredients as follows in Dutch oven. You may want to break lasagna noodles to better fit the shape of the Dutch oven.
Base Layer: Olive oil + marinara sauce (1/2 c.)
First Layer: Lasagna noodles + marinara sauce (1/2 c) + ricotta blend (half) + Italian cheese blend (1/2 c) + sausage (half)
Second Layer: Lasagna noodles + marinara sauce (1/2 c) + ricotta blend (half) + Italian cheese blend (1/2 c.) + sausage (half)
Top Layer: Lasagna noodles + marinara sauce (remaining) + Italian cheese blend (1/2 c.)
Bake: Cover Dutch oven with lid and place on top of spread-out pile of charcoals. Layer additional charcoals over the Dutch oven lid. Rotate the lid and Dutch oven occasionally to even out any hot spots. After about 30 minutes, it should be ready! Take a peek inside—the cheese on top should be melted and lightly browned.
Serve: Take Dutch oven off heat. Carefully remove lid and set aside. Cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving.
Dutch Oven S’mores Pie Recipe
If your Dutch oven is smaller, you can also opt for more of a lasagna-style dessert dish, with 2-3 layers of each ingredient, vs. just one layer of each.
Serves a crowd
- 1 sleeve graham crackers
- Semisweet chocolate chips (100 g)
- Mini marshmallows (100 g)
- 1 stick butter (8 oz), softened
- Line Dutch oven with parchment paper. This step can be skipped, but it makes clean up WAY easier.
- Crush a whole sleeve of graham crackers and combine with butter to make the crust.
- Spread graham cracker-butter mixture over the bottom of the lined Dutch oven. Press down firmly all across the bottom and a little bit up sides.
- Sprinkle chocolate chips over crust.
- Top with mini marshmallows. Repeat layers if desired. If you do multiple layers, instead of pressing down the second or third layer of graham cracker crumbs, you can just sprinkle them over the marshmallows.
- Cover Dutch oven and cook over fire or grill for 15-20 minutes.