Philip and I traveled to Kowalski Mountain for the Spring Workcation just in time for Easter. While it would only be the two of us for dinner, I still wanted to make something special. We raise or hunt almost all our meat, so I rarely purchase meat at the grocery store. However, a few times a year standing rib roasts go on sale and I try to snag them when they are more affordable. As I pondered how I would cook this exquisite piece of beef I decided I would bravely choose a cooking option that stretches me. Join me in the outdoor kitchen alongside the creek, together we will be cooking this prime rib roast in the camp Dutch oven.
Cooking in a Camp Dutch Oven
If you are unfamiliar with a camp Dutch oven, it is different from a Dutch oven that you may use in your kitchen. A camp Dutch oven is a thick-walled cast iron dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. The pot has legs so that it can stand in a campfire. The lid is flat and has a rim. The rim of the dutch oven allows the cook to place coals on top to evenly heat the pot, surrounding the food in the heat. This camp Dutch oven is used for traditional outdoor cooking.
Cooking in a camp Dutch oven is not hard, in fact it’s a traditional cooking skill used by generations before us as a primary means of cooking. Pioneers who traveled across the United States seeking a new life likely cooked all their meals in a Dutch oven. So why am I so brave?
I say bravely cooking for a couple of reasons, for one, a prime rib roast even on sale cost me over $40 for the 6-pound roast. When cooking such an expensive cut of meat, experimenting with my cooking technique makes me a bit nervous. I really don’t want to mess it up!
The primary reason I say bravely cooking in the camp Dutch oven is I lack confidence in my Dutch oven cooking skills. I know logistically how it works, but realistically making it work is another story! Really what I need most is practice! Philip and I go” 90 to nothing” all the time, so taking time to really practice my Dutch oven cooking skills is something I don’t prioritize.
Instruction from a Master
While I wanted to bravely cook this prime rib in the camp Dutch oven, I didn’t want to jump in blindly. Prior to leaving for the homestead, I began looking for instruction on how to properly cook a prime rib in the Dutch oven. While there are a ton of recipes and instructions on cooking a prime rib in the kitchen Dutch oven, that you would use in your oven, I struggled to find instructions on how to cook the prime in the camp Dutch oven. Finally, I found a video from Scott Chandler from the Backwoods Gourmet on YouTube. Scott’s channel teaches on a variety of outdoor cooking. He provided the instruction I needed to tackle this cooking project more confidently.
A Modern Spin
I opted to up my game and add a modern twist while cooking with the camp Dutch oven. While Philip and I are building an off-grid lifestyle, we don’t live primitively! I purchased a digital meat thermometer that I could monitor the meat temperature without lifting the lid. This digital thermometer has a probe that is inserted into the thickest part of the meat. I am able to monitor on the attached digital read out the exact internal temperature of the meat the entire cook time. In the past, I have used an instant-read meat thermometer, which works, but the cook must open the lid to check the meat temperature.
Old habits die hard. While I had the proper tools to monitor the meat, I struggled internally to trust my equipment. I’m use to being able to see the meat and use a fork to test the doneness. As the meat cooks, the meat will become more firm in texture. An experienced cook, can get a good feel for the doneness of the meat by just touching it with a fork rather than cut into the meat. I do a little of both of those techniques.
Herb Crusted Prime Rib
While I used Scott’s cooking technique, I used my own recipe to season the prime rib. My favorite recipe is an herb crusted prime rib that uses a combination of fresh herbs and dried herbs for a delicious prime rib. I don’t know about you, but cooking with fresh herbs makes me feel like a fancy chef, not a simple outdoor, home cook! This dry rub is easy to make and works well even if you choose to use only dried herbs.
One thing I learned from Scott at the Backwoods Gourmet was to sear the meat prior to seasoning it. If you sear the seasoned roast the herbs will burn while you sear the meat. Now that I have read that, it makes complete sense, though I am pretty sure I have done it wrong my entire life!
Prior to searing the roast, it’s best to let the prime rib roast sit out for at least an hour to allow the roast to come to room temperature. This allows the roast to cook more evenly.
When cooking in a large dutch oven, the best way to get a good sear on your roast, is to preheat the dutch oven itself. A preheated oven will make it easier to create a good sear on the meat to help seal the juices into the roast. To sear the meat, add the unseasoned roast to a preheated dutch oven that has a little bit of olive oil in the bottom. It’s important to sear all sides of the roast evenly before continuing the cooking process.
Basics of Camp Dutch Oven Cooking
Once seared, the meat will need to be elevated off of the bottom of the dutch oven to prevent scorching the meat. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Some dutch oven cooks scatter onion quarters or thick slices in the bottom of the pot. The onions keep the roast off the bottom of the pot and add to the flavor of the finished roast. Other cooks use a small rack for the same purpose. Either option works, it’s a cooks personal preference to which method they choose.
Finally, the last thing that most cooks neglect is letting the meat rest once cooked. Allowing the meat to rest, allows the fibers of the meat to reabsorb the juices. While no one enjoys a dry roast, the benefit is the juices add a lot of flavor. The nice thing is the rest time allows the cook to make the gravy and add any finishing touches.
- 1 large onion, chopped (I used wild onions)
- 6 large cloves, cut into quarters
- 3 tbsp fresh rosemary or 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 2 tbsp fresh oregano or 2 tsp of dried oregano
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tbsp fresh sage, or 2 tsp of dried sage
- 2 tbsp oil
- 3 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 lb bone-in rib roast
- 1 1/2 cups reduced- sodium beef broth (I used the drippings from the Dutch and added broth as needed)
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 tsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 to 2 tsp cornstarch
- Prior to cooking the prime rib roast, set the defrosted roast out on the counter for at least one hour prior to roasting. This is done so the roast is not as cold when it is cooked. The roast will cook more evenly.
- Prepare the coals using a charcoal chimney. once ready, pour the coals out on your baking surface using the one-line method. (demonstrated in the video).
- Put the covered Dutch oven directly on half of the coals allowing the oven to preheat. Add 2 to 4 tbsps. of olive oil.
- Once the Dutch oven is hot, add the unseasoned meat and sear on all sides.
- Once the meat is seared, remove and allow to cool slightly before adding herbs. Just cool enough that you can handle it.
- In the meantime, prepare the Dutch oven to bake the prime rib. Consolidate the coals to one side. When cooking a prime rib, cook at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time.
- I cooked my roast closer to 325 degrees (higher than I intended due to a mistake, see the blog post for details). I had a total of 19 coals, 7 small coals on the bottom in a circle under the Dutch oven and 12 small coals on the top around the edge of the lid. Cook time at this temperature is about 12 minutes a pound.
- To cook at 250 degrees in an 8" Dutch oven, the total number of coals needed is 9. Put 3 coals underneath the Dutch oven in a circle, put the remaining 6 coals on the top, along the edge of the Dutch oven. Cook time at this temperature is 25 minutes per pound. Full description of how to calculate your Dutch oven temperature on the blog.
- Next, add the herb run to the prime rib. I doubled the herb rub recipe for this 6 pound roast. I tucked rosemary under the butcher's twine to secure it. Once ready place the roast into the Dutch oven,
- If using a meat thermometer (highly recommended), add it to the thickest part of the meat, ensuring it does not touch any bones.
- Every 15 minutes throughout the cooking time, rotate the lid and/ or the Dutch oven a quarter and turn in the opposite direction. See the video for instructions.
- Once the meat reaches the target temperate for doneness. Remove the meat, tent it with foil, and allow the meat to rest for 30 minutes.
- Making the Au Ju Sauce: I used the drippings from the Dutch oven to make the sauce. Add enough beef broth to equal 1 1/2 cups add 1 cup of wine, bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer. When ready to serve, add cornstarch to cold water and mix well. Pour into broth mixture and still until the broth thickens. Stir in butter and salt. Serve over meat.
Even as an Experienced Cook, I’m Always Learning
As I endeavor to improve my dutch oven cooking skills, I made a few mistakes along the way. Hopefully I will learn from these mistakes and become a better dutch oven cook.
Mistake Number 1
The first mistake I made when following Scott’s instructions was using too many coals. The target cooking temperature was 250 degrees. The meat thermometer measures the internal temperature of the meat, it does not monitor the temperature of the dutch oven. In Scott’s instructions, he used a 12″ dutch oven. My dutch oven is an 8″ dutch oven. I actually did not realize this mistake until I was editing the video, as the number of coals I used still seemed minimal.
When cooking a prime rib roast at 250 degrees the meat needs about 25 minutes per pound of cooking time. My 6 pound roast should have taken about 2-3 hours to cook. In the video I mention that I was afraid that I would be cooking in the dark. I should have realized later when it took less time that my cooking temperature was too high.
Get a FREE copy of the Cast iron Dutch Oven cooking chart in the Kowalski Mountain Subscriber’s Library.
Based on the number of coals I was using, I was cooking closer to 325 degrees, though likely a little under that. At this temperature. the cooking time is about 12 minutes per pound. My roast cooked in under 2 hours.
When I was cooking the prime rib in the camp Dutch oven this mistake did not ruin dinner for one significant reason. I was using the meat thermometer and was monitoring the target temperature of the meat of 135 degrees. Had I been cooking by time rather than actual meat temperature, it could have been disastrously!
Mistake Number 2
Mistake number two was not managing my coals well. I’m still learning how to maintain the cook temperature of the camp Dutch oven. With Dutch oven cooking, the cook adds coals to maintain the cook temperature as the coals burn down. Maintaining the heat source is a bit tricky because you don’t want to add coals too quickly and raise the temperature too high, but you don’t want to wait too long and allow the temperature too decrease significantly.
This might have actually helped slow the cook of my prime rib roast because I was already cooking at a higher temperature than I should have been. At one point when I am adding coals in the video, the bottom coals were almost completely burned down. When cooking in the camp Dutch oven, coals are added to both the bottom and the top to provide the optimal cooking environment. When baking, 2/3 of the coal go on the top of the Dutch oven and 1/3 of the coals go on the bottom. By allowing the coals on the bottom to die out too much, I wasn’t providing an even cooking environment for my camp Dutch oven. It’s a good idea to keep extra charcoal briquettes in the charcoal chimney heating up before you need them
I’m hoping that experience will improve this area of my Dutch oven cooking skills.
Mistake Number 3: The Big One
Mistake number three was my biggest mistake. Philip is a tree surgeon, he spends most every day high in the air cutting and pruning trees. He often says once you can trust your equipment, you are a more efficient worker and can do anything. Mostly because that removes the fear you might experience.
I upped my game this year adding the meat thermometer. However, I still didn’t really trust my equipment because I struggled for the last hour wanting to lift the lid and check the meat. I resisted the best I could. Be sure to watch the video and see what I did exactly and how I saved dinner!
Join Me in the Outdoor Kitchen
Try Something New
Whether you are an experienced cook, or just learning, I hope that you will be inspired to try new things in your cooking. Try a new cooking technique like camp Dutch oven cooking, or cook with fresh herbs rather than dried herbs. There are so many options to expand your palette and menu plans. In a day when eating out is becoming more and more expensive, learn to treat yourself at home!
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.