The chuck wagon cook’s Dutch Ovens and skillets were made out of one thing – cast iron. It’s what they had, and it worked well. Well-seasoned cast iron is the original (and some say still the best) non-stick cooking surface. And besides, they didn’t have fancy health clubs available out in the Big Lonesome, so slinging heavy cast iron pots and pans morning, noon, and night kept them in good shape.
Today, there’s another option. Aluminum anyone?
Like anything else, aluminum Dutch Ovens have their pros and cons. The biggest pro is reduced weight. A 12-inch cast iron Dutch Oven with cover weighs in at about 20 pounds before you put anything in it. An aluminum Dutch Oven of the same dimensions pulls the scale to slightly less than seven pounds. A 60 percent weight reduction means a lot when you’re packing in somewhere on horseback or afoot. It also means youngsters will have an easier time with them and old timers can add years to their camp cooking careers when cast iron gets too heavy.
Aluminum is also a very efficient conductor of heat. That means you may need less fuel and lower temps to cook with aluminum, however in campfire cooking aluminum’s characteristic of heating and cooling faster presents challenges in cooking in cold temperatures and windy conditions. Aluminum Dutch Ovens also tend to develop hotspots.
You’ll never have to worry about an aluminum Dutch Oven rusting and you don’t have to season them like cast iron. However, neither will cast aluminum ever be as stick-free a surface as well-seasoned cast iron. GSI Outdoors offers anodized aluminum Dutch Ovens that come close, but still take the experienced cast iron chef some time to adapt.
Aluminum Dutch Ovens work fine for long simmering liquid soups, stews, chili, and the like, especially with ingredients that may tend to pull the seasoning from a cast iron pot. When you’re done, you can clean them up just like the rest of the dishes with water and detergent. However when it comes to baking or cooking anything that might have a tendency to scorch or stick, you’re best off with cast iron.
Finally, when it comes to pricing, aluminum Dutch Ovens tend to run a bit more than cast iron kettles of the same size. GSI Outdoor’s 12-inch aluminum Dutch Oven retails for $89.95 and its 12-inch hard anodized model is $109.99. A Camp Chef 12-inch Classic Standard cast iron Dutch Oven’s MSRP is $65.00.