Dutch ovens are amazing. They are basically a stock pot made out of cast iron. They are heavy and very durable. Most commonly they are used to do slow cooking and baking in camp, generally over charcoal. Dutch ovens come in all sorts of different sizes from small to large. The size you need, depends on what your making and for how many people.
It is worth noting that you can also get frying pans, kettles, other neat gadgets made out of cast iron as well. Personally I use one brand Lodge Manufacturing. I just find them to be the best quality for the price.
There are literally tens of thousands of meals you can make in a dutch oven. For some ideas take a look at http://insanescouter.org/c/72/dutch_oven.html.
Many people like to line their dutch oven with foil to make clean up easier. Others say that doing this changes the flavors of what you are cooking, and refuse to do it. No matter which method you prefer it is important that you do clean, dry and season any cast iron after each use. First, although many will kill me for saying this, it is ok to wash your dutch oven out in water. Do not let it sit in water though and afterward completely dry and season it. However, often times the easiest way to clean out a dutch oven is to just turn it upside down over a fire. This allows the fire to burn all the crud out of it. Then just wipe it down and season.
Ok, I can see the question coming what does “seasoning” mean. This is when you get the cast iron to hot to touch, and then spread a very thin layer of oil all over it. When I season my cast iron I do the inside and out normally, but it depends on how it looks. Also use a vegetable oil that does not go bad. Oils like olive oil for example goes rancid and thus are not a good choose.
Never use soap on cast iron. The soap will get into the pores of the metal and won't come out very easy, but will return to taint your next meal, though. If soap is used accidentally, the oven should be put through the pretreatment procedure, including removal of the present coating.
Do not place an empty cast iron pan or oven over a hot fire. Aluminum and many other metals can tolerate it better but cast iron will crack or warp, ruining it.
Do not get in a hurry to heat cast iron, you will end up with burnt food or a damaged oven or pan.
Never put cold liquid into a very hot cast iron pan or oven. They will crack on the spot!
Here are some cooking technique tips:
ROASTING: The heat source should come from the top and bottom equally. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1 to 1 ratio.
BAKING: Usually done with more heat from the top than from the bottom. Coals should be placed under the oven and on the lid at a 1 to 3 ratio, having more on the lid.
FRYING, BOILING ETC: All of the heat should come from the bottom. Coals will be placed under the oven only.
STEWING, SIMMERING: Almost all heat will be from the bottom. Place the coals under and on the oven at a 4 to 1 ratio with more underneath than on the lid.
THE LID!: The lid can be placed on the fire or stove upside down and used as a skillet or griddle. Using the lid in this fashion, you can make virtually error free pancakes and eggs that don't run all over. This is because most lids are shaped like a very shallow bowl so things naturally stay in the center, even if the lid is not level!
Tell us about your dutch oven preferences, experiences, techniques, thoughts, etc by posting comments below.