What Size Dutch Oven Should I Buy for Camping?

dutch oven camping

Whether you are camping as a large group, a couple, or a family of four, this will influence what size Dutch oven is needed. In this article, we will go over each of those options and determine exactly how large it needs to be.

Dutch ovens are great since you can use them directly over your campfire. They are made of cast iron, which stays hot for longer periods of time, making them ideal for searing meat and then slow cooking it, resulting in meat that melts in your mouth.

What’s great is that you don’t have to use a Dutch oven on a campfire alone, as it can be used on multiple heat sources. You can use it on charcoal briquettes or with propane as well. It works just like a regular cast iron pot on a stove when using propane flames from below. Some areas have campfire restrictions, so it’s good that these ovens don’t cause any limitations.

Size Capacities

How many quarts is a 12-inch Dutch oven? Let’s take a look at the size capacities of several Dutch oven sizes:

8 Inch Classic2 Quarts8 Cups
10 Inch Classic4 Quarts16 Cups
10 Inch Deep5 Quarts20 Cups
12 Inch Classic6 Quarts24 Cups
12 Inch Deep8 Quarts32 Cups
14 Inch Classic8 Quarts32 Cups
14 Inch Deep10 Quarts40 Cups
16 Inch Classic12 Quarts48 Cups

Now, to help you figure out what size Dutch oven for camping, here are my recommended sizes for large groups, couples, and small families.

Large Groups

If you are a large group of people camping, then a 16-inch cast iron Dutch oven is ideal. It weighs around 33 pounds and can serve approximately 16-20 people.

Even though it is one of the biggest sizes out there, it is still quite manageable to transport and cook with.


Most recipes tend to serve at least 4 people, so a pair of campers already have that challenge to deal with.

For a couple, a 10-inch Dutch oven is great especially if you prefer making proper meals except in smaller amounts. This oven weighs around 14 pounds and measures at 11.5 x 11.5 x 4 inches.

Families of 4

A standard 12-inch Dutch oven is ideal for a family of four. It’s actually the most common size for a Dutch oven since most camping recipes feed groups of 4-6 people, and it only weighs 19 pounds so transporting it is really easy.

Deep or Classic?

Whether you should get yourself a deep or standard/classic depth Dutch oven depends on the type of food you like to eat.

It is very difficult to bake food using a deep Dutch oven without burning the bottom before the top starts to brown. The reason for this is that the heat is too far away from the top of the food.

What deep Dutch ovens are good for is making large pots of stew, soup, chili, and so on because of the tall walls nothing splashes or boils over. They are also great for cooking BBQ ribs.

On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to simmer any stews or soups in a standard/classic Dutch oven because it is highly likely that it will splash or boil over the top. There just isn’t enough oven wall to stop it from happening.

So, things like pizza, cornbread, cake, and lasagna are great to cook in a standard Dutch oven.

How to Cook with a Dutch Oven

What’s great about Dutch ovens is that they can be used for any type of cooking with any type of fuel. When I mean any type of cooking, I mean any. You can brown meat and simmer soups, bake French toast, and even deep fry doughnuts if you’re feeling really adventurous.

Despite this, there’s still a challenging aspect when it comes to cooking with a Dutch oven in the outdoors, and that problem is the wind. Wind can add oxygen causing your coals to burn faster and hotter, and it can blow heat away from your Dutch oven essentially stealing away the energy necessary to cook properly. You end up using much more coal too.

There are several solutions to this problem, thankfully. There are special Dutch oven tables that have wind guards or foldable screens to protect your oven from the wind. Additionally, you could make your own wind shield using your camping gear. What I like to do is stack firewood to block the wind.

Now, to actually place your oven onto your campfire there are two popular methods. Either using a campfire grill grate or a Dutch oven tripod to hold it over the fire.

When I am doing that, I use hardwood (there’s an abundance of oak and mesquite in my area) and I let the wood burn down to provide coal that is about the same size as a charcoal briquette.

Now, when it comes to temperature and coal placement it entirely depends on the type of cooking that you’re planning on doing. When trying to maintain a very specific temperature it’s better to use charcoal as it provides consistency.

When baking, the heat should be divided in a ratio of 3:1 with most of the coals on top and when roasting food, the ratio can be 1:1 with an even number of coals on the top and bottom. For simmering and stewing, a ratio of 4:1 (more coals on the bottom) is good, and lastly when frying and boiling there is no ratio as all of the coals should be on the bottom.  

Additional Considerations

There are some other things that you may want to consider before purchasing a Dutch oven. The two most important ones are; whether you want a legless one or not and whether you want it to be made out of cast iron or aluminum.

Dutch ovens with legs are specifically made for outdoor use with a campfire or coals as the legs help control the heat inside. They cannot be used on cooktops since the legs stop the heat from reaching it.

As for material – cast iron ones are thought of as higher quality whereas aluminum ones are more lightweight.

There is more to it though. There is the possibility that aluminum can react to certain food, since the ovens are made with bare aluminum, acidic foods can oxidize it causing a change in flavor. So, tomatoes, citrus juice, and vinegar can cause some issues. Even meat and sugar, with the right additives, can be acidic as well.

Dutch Oven Care

Although almost all Dutch ovens have already been seasoned by the manufacturer, you still need to re-season it after each use.

First, you should wash your oven with water only, dry, season, then store.

Wipe it with a clean paper towel and wash with hot water (never use soap as it ruins the seasoning). If need be, use a sponge, scraper, stiff-bristle brush, salt, or a chainmail scrubber to remove food that is stuck to the oven. Worst case scenario, if the food still won’t come off, fill the oven with water and bring it to a boil to loosen the food.

Dry the Dutch oven immediately because any amount of moisture can lead to rust, especially in humid conditions. For good measure, I usually place mine near the campfire upside-down so that it dries quickly and properly.

Afterward, a light coat of oil should be applied with a paper towel. Wipe off any excess before packing it away for storage. Vegetable oil is the most common choice, but olive oil and lard are also options.

For Dutch ovens that have a lid, a paper towel should be placed between the two in order to stop them from sticking together. It’s important to store your oven somewhere that is clean and absolutely dry.

Personally, I have a tote bag for my Dutch oven and it’s excellent for storing and transporting it thanks to the handles.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big of a Dutch oven do I need for camping?

For large groups of campers (around 16-20 people) a 16-inch Dutch oven is recommended, whereas for a family of four 12-inch ovens are ideal, and a 10-inch one should be enough for a pair of campers.

What is the best Dutch oven for camping?

This aluminum Dutch oven by GSI Outdoor store is one of the best out there at the moment. It’s available in 10 and 12 inches and is rust-proof and even-heating for best results and long-lasting.

Aluminum is lighter than cast iron so many campers prefer it for that reason, and they are just as durable and affordable as iron ones.

There is a possibility that the aluminum will react to certain food, since it is bare aluminum acidic foods can oxidize it causing a change in flavor. So, tomatoes, citrus juice, and vinegar can cause some issues. Even meat and sugar, with the right additives, can be acidic as well.

What size of Dutch oven should I buy?

If you need to cook for a big group of over 15 people then you should buy a 16-inch Dutch oven. For a group of four campers a 12-inch one will do, and for less than three people a 10-inch is great. Whether you should get a deep or classic/standard one depends on what you plan to cook though.

Is a 4 qt Dutch oven too small?

A 4-quart Dutch oven is great if you are cooking for 1-3 people. It’s very easy to maneuver one of this size, and not too big for when you’re cooking just for yourself. Anything smaller than this size is only good for reheating single servings of soups, sides, etc.

As an added bonus, it’s small enough that it won’t get in your way when not in use and it’s even easier to store and transport.

Related Posts –

Best Camping Cookware

Best Camping Percolator

How to Boil Water While Camping

How to Wash Dishes While Camping

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