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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

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.

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


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mrg adget
Sep 13, 2012

tried the SILICONE CUP in a POT in a POT of WATER.... it worked with briquettes 3up/4below
up until I got cocky....
and burnt my silicone collapsible mug ....
"with too much water" and it floated up to lid/upper briquettes....
LIVE AND LEARN.... good thing to experiment at home

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Iron Cooker
Sep 04, 2010

What a great idea, we do a lot of camping and enjoy reading this type of articles. I write dutch oven cookware articles and have a ton of recipes your readers might enjoy.
my latest Dutch oven cookware article is
at this link.

Eric nelson
Mar 04, 2010

A 2 qt pan makes a very large recipe for two. You can cut it in half and use a 2 qt/1 qt combo and reduce weight, too. I made my own corn bread with creamed corn, lots of sugar and butter in about 20 minutes with my Coleman exponent. It does us a lot of fuel, though.

Jeff in Colorado
Mar 04, 2010

I've used my "Bake-packer" for similar results almost 20 years and had great results with a variety of bread/cake mixes> (also try cornbread)
The MSR stainless cook kit has served for me well for that over the past 15 years, and still going strong.

Steve Cash
Mar 04, 2010

This sound great. I'll try it tonight. I've wondered about doing something like this for a while. I love my dutch ovens and use them often, but when I want to go light, I often opt for a reflector oven if using a fire. Now this gives me another option for when I'm using a stove. Thanks!

Mar 04, 2010

maybe you could go a little more "ultralight" than a 3qt pan?

try 8 0z of water in a beer can stove:

Tinny has the best baking technique that i've come across on the net. His videos are great, and his products are for serious ultralight users.

Feb 28, 2010

I think this would be a great addition to Sunday morning camping breakfast. Thanks!

Feb 27, 2010

You can also use muffin tins and pie plates to make your DIY backpacking oven. you can find a old 90's scout pdf on making DIY ovens at

Feb 27, 2010

What a great trick. I cant wait to try it this summer.

Feb 27, 2010

Yea I was wondering about the you put a a lid on it and a few coals on top...impossible to do so if using a stove.
Wouldnt a double boiler do the same thing? Just fill the larger pan or pot with water instead of rocksand put the second pan or pot in the water. This way you dont scratch up the inside of you pans with rocks

Feb 26, 2010

Can't wait to wake my girlfriend with the warm aroma of my very own dutch oven next time we're on the trail!!

Feb 26, 2010

Yum! I love this idea, I'm going to surprise my boyfriend with this one next time we are on a trip.

Feb 26, 2010

Sounds like I will have to add two pots (2qt & 3qt) to my Jetboil solo. Maybe if I put the rocks in my jetboil and the "thickened" batter on top of it I won't need the two extra pans?

Feb 26, 2010

Hi Glenn,
The author of this recipe is out fly-fishing, but other Dutch-oven users in the office report that you should cover the 2-quart pan, but not the 3-quart. To speed the baking, you can then put coals (or a small fire) on top of the lid. Regulate the temperature with the size of the fire or the number of coals. We'll double-check this with the author on Monday and get back to you.

Eric Stephenson
Feb 26, 2010

Wow, that looks incredible! I'm going to have to try that one of these days! I wonder if it would work with quick bread mixes too?

Glenn P.
Feb 25, 2010

So do you put the cover on the 2 qt. pan? How about the 3 quart pan? Do coals go on top? Any suggestions for regulating the temp?


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