Library hosts Dutch oven demonstration
Charcoal smoke scented the air behind the library as the briquettes gave heat for a handful of baked dishes in cast iron Dutch ovens behind the library on Wednesday, May 9.
Rodney Bechdoldt, Cubmaster for Neosho-based Cub Scout pack 34, put on a demonstration at the Bella Vista Public Library and showed people how to use and care for Dutch ovens, as well as a handful of recipes.
Bechdoldt said he’s been involved with Boy Scouts of America for more than 30 years — in addition to his youth involvement — meaning he’s done plenty of outdoor cooking.
The Dutch oven, he said, functions similarly to any other oven and can bake any recipe one might bake at home.
“You can do anything out here you could do in a kitchen,” he said. “When the power’s out, these things come in handy.”
The Dutch oven is essentially a cast iron pot, he said, but it has legs to help it sit over fuel, and a lip on the rim of its thick lid to prevent fuel on top from slipping off. The oven can be used with wood or charcoal, though charcoal is faster to light and easier with which to manage temperatures, he said.
To reach a temperature of 350 degrees, he said, one can simply take the oven’s diameter in inches and double that number to know how many charcoal briquettes are needed. One third should be placed on the bottom, he explained, while the rest go on top. Heating primarily from the top prevents the dish from burning on the bottom, he said.
Bechdoldt made three dishes — a chicken-bacon-ranch casserole, a Philly cheesesteak pasta dish and a simple peach cobbler — each in their own oven. He used a pan for each oven to sit in, putting charcoal in the bottom before placing the oven on top of it with additional charcoal on the lid.
In addition to a tool to lift and maneuver the ovens, he had a pair of welding gloves that made it possible to handle the cookware.
“It’ll burn, but it won’t burn as bad,” he said.
Bechdoldt said he prefers to focus on simpler recipes, especially while camping. It’s easier — and often less expensive — to cook one’s own meat and avoid particularly fancy eats, he said.
He spoke with attendees about cooking techniques and his work with the scouts while a few people kept a close eye on their watches, waiting for the food to be ready.
About 45 minutes after heat was applied to the chicken casserole, Bechdoldt hefted it up onto a metal folding table and cautioned guests from putting a hot oven on a plastic table — something his troop learned the hard way — before going to retrieve the beef dish.
The creamy chicken dish bubbled under a layer of browned cheese and tortillas, while the beef stirred easily, a gooey, cheesy mess with noodles, onions and peppers.
The cobbler was dished up last, featuring juicy peaches under a layer of soft cake.
“If you need an exercise program after this,” Bechdoldt told the group, “we can go back to Neosho. I’ve got some logs to split.”
One attendee, Lee Ryan, said the food was tasty. She wasn’t hungry, she said, but it was still a great meal.
Moreover, she said, the cooking skills she learned may be useful sometime and, perhaps more importantly, this was something Bella Vistans of all ages could appreciate. The demonstration drew people of a wide range of ages, she said.
“It’s a great way to pull the community together in different age groups,” Ryan said.
Beth Morell, who sat near Ryan, said she enjoyed the food as well as the stories about scouts.
Morell said she might not use these exact techniques, but she expects to have these dishes again.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a Dutch oven,” she said. “So I’ll be doing the recipes in my normal oven.”
Rodney Bechdoldt (left) moves coals onto a Dutch oven to heat it and cook the food inside while demonstration attendees watch.
Lee Howard scoops up some of the chicken-ranch casserole as other demonstration attendees wait to sample the food Rodney Bechdoldt made in his Dutch ovens.
Rodney Bechdoldt prepares a simple peach cobbler in his Dutch oven.
A freshly-cooked Philly cheesesteak meal (left) sits in a Dutch oven next to a chicken-ranch casserole.