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I got a camp Dutch oven (with three legs and a lid) and tried to make two dishes with it:

  • Apple crisp
  • Nachos (I wasn't sure how this would turn out, but none of the ingredients were raw so it was safe to just try it)

I cooked both on separate campfires that were at least partially down to coals.

Both dishes tasted terrible. First, the bottom was burnt so we couldn't eat it all if we wanted to. But we didn't want to because the entire dish was infused with a nasty flavor, kind of smoky but in a gross way.

How do I figure out what I did wrong? Or if I just got a bad dutch oven?

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    You burnt your food - if you do this, the rest of the food can/will taste bad, especially if it has badly burned so that the bottom of the food is black and/or if you have stirred (some of) the burnt bits into the rest.
    – bob1
    Aug 25 at 22:28
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    Low and slow... For most things just put on top of a few coals (not whole fire) and (depending on the dish) a few coals on the lid
    – noah
    Aug 25 at 22:44
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    @bob1 I have from time to time burned things at home, in the oven, on the grill, etc., and yet it never infused the entire dish with this unpleasant flavor. What's different about the Dutch oven? Is it just that the lid contains the smoke or whatever from the burning?
    – stannius
    Aug 27 at 13:47
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    Yes, the lid keeps things sealed up, stewing the food in the heat-changed cooking products. The sealed oven conserves heat, so you really don't need the full heat of the partially down-to-coals fire.
    – Dave X
    Aug 27 at 16:00
  • Use nicely aromatic wood on the fire. Some wood stinks, such as elm (the stinky wood), so it is never used on a domestic fire indoors. Aug 27 at 16:12
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Dutch ovens (for camping) are meant to be used with coals or embers, not an actively burning fire. Kind of like how when you grill with a charcoal BBQ you wait until the coals are glowing or your food will be burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.

There are many helpful links for how to cook with Dutch ovens so I won't reinvent the wheel, but: 1. Make sure your Dutch oven is made for camp cooking. It should be made of cast iron. It should not have a non-stick coating. There are other Dutch ovens that are meant for ovens or stovetops that might leave a chemical/weird taste on your food if cooked on a fire. 2. Use coals not fire under and/or on top of Dutch oven for low heat cooking. If you want to cook over a fire, use a grate or hang it to keep some distance between the fire and the pot. 3. Use recipes meant for Dutch oven cooking while you get the hang of it. 4. Rotate your Dutch oven to encourage even cooking. 5. Season your Dutch oven to prevent sticking that may result in a burnt bottom

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"what I did wrong" -> "the bottom was burnt".

Look no further: don't burn the food

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    Technically correct and answering the question, yes. Helpful? Not really. If you added a brief section mentioning how not to burn food on the bottom of a Dutch oven, this would be a great answer. IMO at least, “what I did wrong” includes not just what was wrong with the result, but how to improve the process for it to not happen again. Aug 27 at 0:00

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