Sometimes banana bread just has to happen. Bananas go brown on the counter year round, and much of the time it’s way too hot to turn on the oven and heat up the whole house. When it’s 100 degrees outside and the middle of July, turning on the oven is a horrible idea. Campfire dutch oven banana bread, on the other hand, is a great idea.
All in all, I’m generally disappointed by campfire cooking recipes. Time and time again, baked goods are a gooey mass of cake mix and canned fruit baked in a crinkle of foil. Repeat after me, “I can cook real food in a dutch oven. A dutch oven can cook anything a real oven can, sometimes better. I will cook real food.”
The key to Dutch oven cooking, banana bread or otherwise, is to place hot coals both above and below the pot. The thick walls of the dutch oven distribute the heat and cook baked goods evenly from all sides, just like a standard household oven.
But wait…it doesn’t have a temperature dial!?!?! How do I cook anything? Grandma didn’t have a temperature dial either, and she figured it out. Instead of just waiting until the timer dings, you’ll have to watch it a bit. No big deal.
The lodge cookbook that comes with each dutch oven they sell has recommendations for the number of coals needed, both above and below the dutch oven cooker, to achieve the desired temperature. For example, for a standard 10-inch dutch oven, 7 coals underneath and 14 coals on top will give you roughly 350 degrees.
That oven isn’t quite big enough to hold a loaf pan, but you can cook the banana bread directly inside the dutch oven. I’m using a 14-inch deep dutch oven, which can easily hold a standard loaf pan. For 350 degrees, I’d need 24 coals on top and 12 on the bottom. Easy enough, but I’m cooking with lump charcoal instead of standardized briquettes. If you’re cooking with briquettes, it’ll be much easier. I just have to wing it.
Start by heating the coals. Light a paper grocery bag at the bottom of a charcoal chimney, and then place the coals on top. I didn’t use lighter fluid, and I never do, but if that’s what you’re used to then go for it. Either way, they should light, but it’ll take a while for them to get burning and turn into hot coals. Leave the chimney to heat for about 20 minutes while you prepare the banana bread and dutch oven.
I’m using a dutch oven trivet which creates space at the bottom of the dutch oven and works like a rack in a standard oven. This will keep the bottom from burning and help the banana bread cook evenly. The trivet is a standard 8 inches and will fit in just about any dutch oven.
Pick your favorite banana bread recipe, or use a mix. It doesn’t matter, but prepare it and put it in a greased loaf pan. I’ll share my favorite banana bread recipe below. Lots of banana flavor and not a lot of sugar. Feel free to use just about any recipe you like. Place the loaf pan on top of the trivet inside the dutch oven and put on the lid.
At this point, the coals are nice and hot. Make sure they’re white on all sides and burning well. They should be hot and glowing, but not engulfed in flames. The picture below is a good guide.
Tak out a selection of coals and place them on a cast iron skillet. This will hold the coals underneath the dutch oven. I have a cast iron griddle that I use to make crepes and it was the perfect size to hold the coals underneath my 14-inch dutch oven. The guide says I need 12 standard charcoal briquettes underneath, and I put a selection of lump charcoal. Basically as much as would fit in the middle of the griddle.
The legs of the dutch oven fit perfectly inside the rim of the cast iron griddle and help hold everything in place. There’s not much space under a dutch oven, so all the really big lumps of charcoal had to go on top. I’ve left a good bit of space between the coals and the bottom of the dutch oven to help prevent burning.
Top the dutch oven with coals so that the banana bread cooks evenly from all sides. Ideally, the whole setup would be protected from the wind. Lodge sells a dutch oven cooking table that holds 4 dutch ovens (in 2 stacks), helps retain heat and protects the coals from the wind. That’s a great option for feeding a crowd while car camping.
This day, in particular, was hot, humid and still. Record temperatures in Vermont, and not a kind breeze in sight. The dutch oven did just fine out in the open on top of an old stump.
At this point, all that’s left to do is kick back and relax at camp waiting for your bread to bake. Our “camp” is about 50 feet from the house just inside the woods edge. A backyard camp makes camping with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old a lot more realistic, and who needs to leave home when your own little slice of heaven looks like this?
I worried that the dutch oven wasn’t going to get hot enough. I put my hand next to it, and I couldn’t hold my palm closer than 8 inches from the side, so I decided it was cooking hot enough.
My banana bread recipe usually takes a bit over an hour to cook, but since I don’t have a temperature gauge I checked it at 45 minutes. A cloud of steam released and then that beautiful loaf was waiting for me. The top came out a bit darker than I’d like, and I was worried, but it was perfectly done inside and just right on the bottom.
Clearly, the oven was cooking at well over 350 degrees since it only took 45 minutes to cook completely. None the less, with the enclosed space, the bread steamed a bit and came out perfectly moist and tender. I bake a lot, and I’ve even done catering for a living, and I’m not lying, this was the best loaf of banana bread I’ve ever had. Better than the same recipe made in the oven, mostly because of the texture. Tender, springy and perfectly moist.
Once the banana bread was done, there was still plenty of heat left in those coals. I was impressed, and had it not already been getting quite dark I would have tried to whip up a couple more things to bake with that same heat. I’d guess that those same coals would have been good for about 3 hours of baking, all with 20 minutes of prep in a charcoal chimney.
Equipment for Outdoor Dutch Oven Baking
- 14-Inch Deep Dutch Oven (Or a smaller oven, but this is the one that fits a loaf pan)
- 10 inch Cast Iron Round Griddle (for holding coals under the oven)
- Dutch Oven Trivet (Optional, to help prevent bottom burning)
- Lid Lifter for Dutch Ovens
- Charcoal Chimney (for starting coals)
- Dutch Oven Cooking Table (Optional)
- Standard Metal Loaf Pan or a Cast Iron Loaf Pan
- Charcoal Briquettes (or Hardwood Lump Charcoal, but that’s harder)
Banana Bread Baked in a Dutch Oven
This barely sweet banana bread is a great way to use up browning bananas in the summer months without heating up the house. Baked in a loaf pan outdoors in a dutch oven.
- 2 bananas, over-ripe
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Mash the bananas and beat in butter, sugar and sour cream. Beat until well combined, 2-3 minutes.
Add eggs and vanilla and beat them until completely combined, but do not overwork.
In a separate bowl, mix remaining dry ingredients.
Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix to just combine.
Pour banana bread batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for about an hour, until browned and a toothpick comes out clean.
If baking in a dutch oven, use the instructions outlined above to prepare the coals and dutch oven for outdoor cooking.
More Great Real Food Dutch Oven Cooking
If you’re looking for more great real food baked outdoors in a dutch oven, try any of these recipes:
- Campfire Spinach Lasagna
- Dutch Oven Apple Cinnamon Cake
- Campfire Stew
- Dutch Oven Giant Cinnamon Roll
- Campfire Pizza
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