Cooking with coals

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Deer Meat

Smoking Fanatic
Original poster
OTBS Member
SMF Premier Member
Aug 8, 2006
Southwest Pennsylvania
I am sure there are alot of different opinions about this, But what I have found is that alot of reciepes and cook books call for the use of charcoal briquets for D.O cooking. 90% of the time I use a D.O. I am camping and have a fire going, so I just use the coals from the fire. This way I don't have to worry about having charcoal and dealing with chimney starters and things like that. I will admit there is a slightly different learning curve using coals over charcoal briquets.

Looking forward to some D.O talk
I know that most of the books tell you how many briks to put on top and how many to put on bottom. I have a link at home that details that and I will post it when I can. I have never used charcoal. All of my cooking has been over a campfire, and most of it using mesquite. I have also used oak and one time all I had was pine. I had to shovel coals on the DO lids 2 different times to get the bread done. I will leave with this, you can always add more, but when you start out too hot, something usually turns black becides your DO.
Yea, you are right...there are alot of opinions on this subject...
As for me, I like to keep it simple AND pretty much standard. when using charcoal put 2 bricketts on top and 1 brickett on bottom of the DO for every inch of, 12" DO gets: 24 top and 12 bottom...this rule of thumb works for all dishes EXCEPT breads and cobblers....for these cut the above numbers in HALF.
Clear as mud, eh?...but it works...
Let me follow up, if I may...
If you use charcoal, loading the DO lid and bottom as I described in my last posting here, you can load it with chicken , potatoes and such, walk away for an hour or so-- come back and pull the lid and is cooked to perfection with little or no babysitting.
You are right...the learning curve with wood fire is a lot steeper... it requires alot of tending, especially if it is a soft wood...or sage brush!
I have cooked with wood that I had to burn down 3 sets of coals in order to get bread done.
I honestly have never even tried with charcoal as I'm the same - always DO by campfire. I will say this though, let your fires be good established fires before you go to cooking. We usually have it going at least an hour or more before we think about cooking. Then I'll get the cobbler going when they start the meal as it takes about 45 minutes on my cobbler.

First run did turn out a bit crispy on the bottom and top as I set the DO IN the fire pit and had lots of coals on top. I find it best to pull coals out of the fire and make a pile and then lightly add to the lid. Turns out perfect! Definitely something you have to experiment with.
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And for 2cents worth,  Since I have a outside wood burning furnace, I can save some of the charcoal from it.  I take a shovel full  out before refilling it and throw it in the snow or a bucket of water to stop the burning. then when it dries out I have good charcoal for cooking on DO 's or to put in my smoker.    also have done some cooking over a fire.

I use a lot of hard maple for cooking. When I cook cornish hens or chickens in the DO I put the cover on and fill the whole wire hoop with small maple branches 1"-2" diameter. Then add a enough coals to ignite them. It expand the duration for the top heat.
Sparrky, that looks like a nice setup.  My DO cooking has always been done on top of the stove; I'll have to get one more suited to cooking outside, as my BBQ pit would be perfect to do some DO cooking, even in the winter time. 
When camping, I use 2 different DO's on our last night. A last hoorah, if you may. I built a tripod similar to the Camp Chef tripod( mine was about $10 to make) and I hang my stovetop DO on it. In that one, I do a cobbler. I also use it for camp chili. The 12" Do I have has feet and rimmed lid. That one has the main course in it(food varies with the mood). I usually bury that one while we hike or fish. I dig the hole where the fire has been the last couple of days, throw in some good coals from the camp fire, set the DO in the hole, cover it with dirt, and shovel the campfire back over it. I'll stoke the fire before we head off. When we get back, I dig it up, sweep it off with a wisk broom, and we pig out. At home, I use briquettes. 12" DO, I put 16 on top and 8 on bottom. If the temps are low outside, I add a few more. It was what I was taught as a kid, so I've been doing it that way ever since.

I never use charcoal...I only cook DO over a camp fire. learning how to build a fire that will produce good coals is the trick, more so when burning soft woods. I was thinking that briquettes would be easier and save on fire wood. I think I will buy a bag of charcoal and try it next camping trip.
Looks nice,  I have thought about making a tri pod to hang a pot. Saw a nice one at a Scottish Games one time. didn't take a picture. it was kind of unique the way the top was made.  May just make one with forged rings at the top with open place where they can separate if needed for packing.  Do you have a favorite recipe to cook over open fire?
Thought I'd bump this older thread, because it touches a topic dear to any DO cooks heart.

There's no question, cooking with wood coals is a different learning curve. It's a matter of experience, rather than rules of thumb. But that's true of all wood cooking.

The same is generally true about lump charcoal. It burns hotter and more consistently than wood, but not enough to say "such and such always work." As with wood, it's a matter of feel and experience.

With briquettes you can start operating more in the realm of science. Well, with more consistency at any rate. F'rinstance, the rule of thumb for consistent heating is to take the number of the oven. Add three to it, and that's the number of briquettes to put on the bottom. Subtract three, and that's how many go on top. Do that and your oven will operate consistently at 350G, which is where most food roasts best. is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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