Cookin' Outdoors with Johnny Nix                                
Y'all Eat Yet?                                                                                                 
Charcoal Cooking
  • Charcoal Tips
  • Charcoal Placement
  • Weather Factors
  • Baking Temp Chart


Obviously it is not possible for everyone to have an open fire when cooking in dutch ovens.  Charcoal is a great alternative to wood coals because it is easier to obtain, transport and control the amount of heat in your oven.  

A good quality charcoal can make the difference between a great meal and one that is burned or raw.  A charcoal chimney starter can save a lot of time getting your charcoal ready to cook and does not require starter fuel.  It will generally take 10 to 20 minutes to get your charcoals ready to cook.  Should your dish take a long time to cook, additional coals will be necessary.  Generally coals will need to be changed about every hour or so depending on the charcoal, temperature and wind conditions.  Each briquette adds about 10-13 degrees in temperature to the dutch oven.

Just like in your kitchen, frying, boiling and steaming need higher heat on the bottom of the Dutch oven while baking requires a more even temperature on top and bottom.

Most often the cooking in a Dutch oven is done at 350° F.  To determine the amount of coals needed to produce this temperature just double the size of the oven.  If you are using a 10” oven you will need 20, if using a 12” oven then you will need 24 and so forth.  We recommended adding an additional 3-4 briquettes if using a deep oven. 


Almost everyone agrees that a full spread of briquettes under the oven is required for frying or broiling.  Arranging the charcoal for temperature control is the subject of many debates.  Some like to use a checkerboard pattern both under and on top of the oven, others like to use a circle pattern under the oven and checkerboard pattern on top and different still is the circle pattern under and on top of the oven.   Personally we like to use the circle pattern under the oven and the checkerboard pattern on top. Regardless of your preferred method a very simple rule of thumb for baking is to divide the number of coals by 3, placing 1/3 of the coals under the oven and 2/3 of the coals on top to cook at 350° F.

We recommend lifting the lid and checking your food about every 15 minutes.  If you notice areas browning more than others rotate the lid ¼ to ½ turn.  Don’t be afraid you will make your cake fall as cast iron maintains its heat very well.  Lift your lid up and away from your food to prevent dumping ashes on your food.  

Remember that cast iron maintain its heat for quite some time and foods will continue to cook after the coals have been removed.  Moisture will also accumulate in the oven so it is important to remove your foods before they become soggy.


Factors that will affect cooking times and temperature are wind, air temperature, sun, shade, high humidity, ash accumulation and charcoal quality.  Strong winds can make the charcoal burn extremely hot, ash accumulation will make them burn cooler, high humidity will make them burn slower and cooler.  The point being it is important to watch your food and make adjustments as needed.  Practice is much of the fun and rewards of Dutch oven cooking.


The following temperature chart will assist you in getting started and with a little practice you will look like a rock star.

Baking Temperature Chart:  Courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing Co.

                                                          Temperature Desired
 Oven Size

325   350  375   400  425  450
Total Briquettes

 Top/Bottom 10/5  11/5  11/6 12/6  13/6   14/6
 10"  Total Briquettes
 19 21  23  25  27  29 
   Top/Bottom 13/6  14/7  16/7  17/8  18/9  19/10 
 12"  Total Briquettes
23  25  27  29  31  33 
   Top/Bottom 16/7  17/8  18/9  19/10  21/10  22/11 
 14"  Total Briquettes
 30 32  34  36  38  40 
   Top/Bottom 20/10  21/11  22/12  24/12  25/13  26/14 
 16"  Total Briquettes
37  39  41  43  45  47 
   Top/Bottom 25/12  26/13  27/14 28/15  29/16  30/17