Trail Chef: Ultralight Dutch Oven

Wake up to freshly baked muffins with a DIY Dutch oven, built from two trail pans and a handful of gravel.
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Wake up to freshly baked muffins with a DIY Dutch oven, built from two trail pans and a handful of gravel.

Is there anything better than fresh-baked muffins on the trail? That question is rhetorical because there isn’t anything better. Although it’s not practical to huff your Dutch oven along the John Muir Trail, you can get the same results from the trail pans you already carry. Forego your usual cold Gu and oatmeal offerings, and impress your friends with this fluffy delicacy.

1. To assemble the oven, fill the bottom of a 3-quart pan with small rocks or gravel. Rocks or gravel should be about 1-inch deep throughout the pan. Next place the 2-quart pan inside the 3-quart (on top of the rocks). The rocks will evenly spread the fire’s heat to all sides of the 2-quart pan.

2. Fill the bottom of the 2-quart pan with Jiffy Muffin Mix (net weight 8.5 oz.), and mix with water according to package instructions.

3. Depending on the shape of your pans, you can either put lids on both pans (or use tinfoil for the 2-quart one and the lid for the 3-quart), or just put the lid on the 2-quart pan and leave the 3-quart pan uncovered (since the inner pan might stick up too far to fit the 3-quart lid). You can also put coals atop the lid, to spread heat downward.

4. (Optional) Search your surroundings for fresh wild edibles like huckleberries, and add them to the mix.

5. Build a reasonable fire, season permitting, or use a trail stove.
If cooking on a stove, medium heat works best. If cooking atop coals, place the pan directly on top of the coals at the edge of the fire (away from the strongest heat). The key is to make sure the pan is not over the coals or stove at such a hot temperature that the bottom and sides burn before the middle has a chance to cook. Cooking time varies according to the heat level, but anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. The muffins are done when you can stick a knife in and the consistency is the same throughout.

Serve warm, and enjoy! The final product may not look as pretty as those from a real Dutch oven, but don’t tell that to the muffins.

—Trail Chef

Image Credit: cbertel