Dutch Oven Tips! Cooking River-style with Confluences River Expeditions

Dutch ovens (D.O.’s) are a staple of many river kitchens.

The Confluences river kitchen is no exception. We usually employ 3-4 dutch ovens a night, each specifically tasked with creating a delicious part of our elaborate river meals. They allow us to turn any camp into a five star restaurant!

Dutch ovens have a long, storied history. They are beloved on the river because they allow a cook to create anything one would want to bake in a conventional oven. Pizzas, loaves of bread, tasty sweet desserts, anything is possible. You’re limited only by your imagination. If you’ve ever been inspired to learn the ways of a dutch oven then there’s no doubt you have also been intimidated. In this post we will show you some of our best practices for cooking with these versatile kitchen tools. If you follow a couple easy steps, we are sure dutch oven cooking will become your new favorite way to prepare a meal. 

There’s a lot to cover in the world of dutch ovens. In this post we are going to focus on the basics of preparing, cooking and serving in a dutch. Stay tuned for recipe ideas in later posts! 

Types: Aluminum vs. Cast Iron

This topic is hotly debated in the dutch oven community. There are pros and cons to both types, with the major considerations for us being weight and cleaning procedures. On the river we choose cast aluminum dutch ovens because they weigh less than cast iron. A medium sized 14” aluminum dutch weighs in at 8 pounds, where a similarly sized cast iron dutch weighs 25 pounds. We typically carry 5 D.O.’s with us on our river trips, choosing cast aluminum saves us around an 85 pounds. Also note the different cleaning practices recommended for differing styles of D.O.’s. Aluminum can be cleaned like a normal dish, with soapy water and a sponge, whereas cast iron should not be cleaned with soap as it strips the “seasoning” off the oven. You can read more here.

Preparing and Placement

At Confluences we are meticulous about cleanliness in our river kitchens. Dutch oven preparation is no exception. You always want to make sure the D.O. is cleaned out and fresh for whatever delicacy you choose to create next. Depending on what that is, you will want to oil the inside of the dutch to avoid any sticking during the cooking process. Parchment paper works great too! One side note: some recipes inherently contain a lot of oil, particularly desserts. Avoid adding excess oil as much as possible. 

Dutch oven placement is a crucial aspect to the process. Especially when cooking outside where flat surfaces are hard to come by. Cooking on an uneven surface may result in an uneven final product! We like to use the metal lid of the fire pan as the base for our dutch ovens. But a metal pizza pan or D.O. lid works great too. The trick is creating a barrier between the bottom layer of coals and the ground, you want the heat to rise into the oven, not escape into the earth. 


Coals are the fuel of choice for dutch oven cooking. To activate the coals we put them over an open flame in the firepan, allowing them to light. Be sure that the coals don’t sit too long, they’ll turn to ash and not provide enough heat for your soon to be delicious D.O. creation. Our trick is transferring them with a small shovel or tongs to the dutch oven when the coals are roughly 2/3rds lit (not smoking anymore, color turning grey and red).

Quantity of Coals

There is some debate on this topic within the D.O. community. Even between river companies we’re sure there exist many “right” ways to number and place your coals. We will share our method that works well for our menu. Make sure to understand the heat requirements for what you’re trying to cook. You want to avoid drying out desserts, so typically less heat is fine. If you’re cooking meat or potatoes more heat may be required. 

Confluences River Expeditions dutch oven method:

  • We use the 1/3rd method, taking the number of coals we place on top and dividing by three for the bottom. 
  • We evenly disperse the coals. We create a ring of coals around the brim of the D.O. lid and place 2-4 coals in the middle of the lid. We also spread the coals evenly under the dutch oven.
  • We make sure to use less heat on the bottom. 

Checking the Dutch

Channel locks are a great tool for a dutch oven professional. The oven will be hot and the coals are dangerous. You’ll want to confidently grasp the D.O. while keeping a safe distance. Before you lift the lid be sure to know what you’re looking for. Is your meal golden brown, crisp, pulling back from the edges? Does it jiggle when you tap the side of the D.O.? You’ll lose valuable heat from the oven the longer you look so lift the lid prepared!


If your meal is fully cooked use the channel locks to slide the coals off the top lid back into the fire. Carry the D.O. to a “landing zone.” Somewhere safe and stable where your meal can rest. You want to make sure all the flavors in your delicacy have time to meld together. Once your meal has had time to cool slightly, dig in and enjoy!

We hope these tips give you confidence to explore the exciting world of dutch oven cooking! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or want some recipe ideas!

Dutch Oven and Craft Beer Dinner

Dutch Oven Craft Beer Dinner With Local Foods

We love good food and drink and jumped at the opportunity to raise money for one of our favorite local non-profits, Salmon Valley Stewardship, by offering a Dutch oven craft beer dinner using local foods for auction. Chris and I teamed with Jeff and Gina Knudson and Kristin Troy to produce a feast for the auction winners.

Continue reading “Dutch Oven and Craft Beer Dinner”

IPA Poached Salmon

Salmon Poached in Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

We love to catch salmon and especially love to eat it. If you have been a guest on our whitewater raft trips, you have tasted this wonderful and easy preparation for salmon. Our secret: poach the filet in a fantastic craft beer. We make our salmon poached in Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA.  Great news – you can now buy Torpedo in cans, perfect for on the river.

This recipe is meant to be cooked on a grill or over an open fire.

Cut heavy duty-foil long enough to double its thickness with enough room to fold over and completely encase the filet. Brush olive oil on the foil where the filet will lay. Put the filet, skin side down, towards one end, and fold up the edges a bit to catch the marinade. Drizzle lemon juice and honey sparingly over filet. Sprinkle with salt, dill and black pepper. Cut a lemon into thin slices and lay atop the filet. Pour Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, about 1/4 cup per filet, over the fish. Sprinkle capers on top and seal the packet tight.

preparing salmon poached in Sierra Nevada Torpedo to cook over an open fire
Season the salmon with salt, pepper, dill, honey and lemon

Continue reading “IPA Poached Salmon”

Spare Ribs and Sauerkraut in Scotch Ale

Mom’s Spare Ribs and Sauerkraut With a Scottish Kick

Spare ribs and sauerkraut make me think of my mom, Dorothy Wright. Her recipe – with my Scotch Ale twist – is a definite comfort food.

I very seldom use a recipe, or I start with a recipe and soon make it my own with additions and changes. All amounts will be approximate. Taste as you cook and decide what you like. Continue reading “Spare Ribs and Sauerkraut in Scotch Ale”

Brown Ale Teriyaki Chicken

Brown Ale Teriyaki Chicken With All the Fixin’s

It’s that time of year. You can hear your BBQ grill calling your name in hushed tones. Maybe you haven’t used it in several months and you feel guilty about ignoring your cooking partner. Or maybe you’re a four season griller, like we are just North of the 45th, in the eternal quest for sublime beer and meat pairings like this one. In any case, Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, and it’s time to fire it up. I planned to cook chicken thighs with beer and that’s how this brown ale teriyaki chicken recipe came about.

Sorry. No photo. This was so good, it was long gone before we remembered to take a picture. I flat out made this up from scratch, and served it with dirty rice and the best spring-time veggie known to man, lightly steamed asparagus with butter and lemon. Yum.

Brown Ale Teriyaki Chicken Recipe

8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
1 cup teriyaki syrup (we like Yoshida’s, but you can use any one you want)
1/2 cup brown ale (I used Nut Brown Ale from our friends at Bitterroot Brewing)
1/2 cup pineapple juice
3 cloves garlic minced or 1 tbsp. garlic powder

  • Whisk together teriyaki, beer, pineapple juice and garlic in a large soup pot.
  • Add chicken thighs, bring to a boil on medium high heat, cover and simmer for 60-75 minutes on medium low heat, turning every 20 minutes or so.
  • If you use charcoal, start your grill now.
  • Remove from heat. Plate thighs, cool slightly, and remove the skin.
  • Separate the fat layer from the beer teriyaki mix, and discard the fat. Boil down the remaining liquid on medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes, it’ll thicken up to a thin syrupy consistency.
  • If you use a gas grill start it now.
  • Dip thighs in sauce, and grill for two minutes a side on a hot grill. Dip again, and flip over for 2 more minutes. You’re just marking the thighs, they’re already cooked.
  • Remove from heat, drizzle with remaining juice, and serve.

Whitewater Rafting and Sport Fishing on the Salmon River

Contact Silver Cloud for whitewater rafting and sport fishing information

Roast Pork with Brown Ale Dinner and Beer Pairings

Brown Ale Roasted Pork Dinner with Craft Beer Pairings

Mary and I enjoy spending time cooking together so the kitchen has turned out to be a focal point in our house. We always cook from scratch – meaning it takes time – and it’s yummy. After our kids get home from school, we reconnect and talk about our days over dinner. We’re always looking for ideas for our river menu, and over the years we’ve come up with some incredible food and beer pairings. One of our all-time river favorites is a brown ale roasted pork loin recipe, with a brown ale sauce reduction that’s to die for.

Brown Ale Roasted Pork Dinner - Main Course
Brown ale roasted pork loin with Moose Drool

We haven’t had that at home for a while, so I thought it would be nice to have for Mother’s Day. Once I got started with that as a base, I ended up planning a delicious beer paired dinner. Nothing like the creature comforts to make Mom happy. It wasn’t hard to do, and it was a lot of fun choosing beers and anticipating how everything was going to taste.

Salad and Geuze beer- Brown Ale Roasted Pork Dinner
Salad and Geuze

Here’s what was on the table Sunday night:

Apps – Assorted Cheeses, Wild-Game Summer Salami and Crackers; Beer – Alaskan IPA

Salad – Chopped Romaine w/Fruit & Herbal Balsamic Vinaigrette; Beer – Horal Geuze 2009

Dinner – Roast Pork Loin w/Brown Ale Chipotle Raspberry Cream Sauce, Rice Pilaf; Beer – Moose Drool Brown Ale (pork recipe adapted from The Best of American Beer & Food by Lucy Saunders)

Dessert – Chocolate Stout Cake w/Grand Marnier Ganache (recipe follows); Beer – Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Stout Fritz and Ken’s Ale

Chocolate Stout Cake

(adapted from the Great American Beer Cookbook by Candy Schermerhorn)

¼ cup cocoa powder (to dust baking pan with)
2 sticks butter
1 cup stout beer
2/3 cup (scant) Dutch-process dark cocoa powder
1 scant teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached flour
2 cups sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda, sifted
2 extra large eggs
½ cup sour cream

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Lightly dust a greased 9 ½-inch springform pan with cocoa powder.
  • In a heavy saucepan or microwave oven, heat butter, beer and cocoa powder until butter melts. Cool.
  • Sift dry ingredients together, add the beer-cocoa mixture, and beat thoroughly 1 minute on medium speed. Add eggs and sour cream and beat 2 minutes on medium.
  • Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Place pan on a wire rack, cool 10 minutes, remove the sides, and cool completely.
  • Use a flexible spatula, spread the top of the cake with a thin layer of frosting (recipe follows) and cover the sides.

Unforgettably Chocolate Frosting – Grand Marnier Ganache

(adapted from the Great American Beer Cookbook by Candy Schermerhorn)

8 ounces high quality, extra-bitter chocolate, chopped – or semisweet chocolate chips
5 1/3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/6 cup stout beer
2 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons liqueur – we like Grand Marnier (Amaretto, Frangelico, Kahlua) optional

  • Melt chocolate and butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until just melted. Remove from heat.
  • Combine cream and stout in a bowl and microwave for 45 to 60 seconds or until hot. Whisk into chocolate-butter mixture.
  • Add powdered sugar, whisking until smooth.
  • Add liqueur and whisk. Cool.

Whitewater Rafting and Sport Fishing on the Salmon River

Contact Silver Cloud for whitewater rafting and sport fishing information