One question I’m asked at every class and every demonstrations is this, “What’s the difference between cast iron and aluminum Dutch ovens. Since there are different sizes of both ovens, for this discussion I’ll talk about 12″ diameter/six quart cast iron and aluminum DO’s.

The most obvious difference between the two is the weight. A CI 12” DO typically weighs about twenty to twenty one pounds and the aluminum version weighs about six and a half pounds. It’s obvious the approx. fourteen pound weight savings one gets by choosing an aluminum DO over CI makes a big difference in situations where weight is critical like horse packing, boating, RV-ing, and even back packing.

As an old horse packer and white water rafter I can testify to how important saving weight can be. Back in the days when I did a lot of horse packing I considered 200 pounds to be the upper limit for most pack horses/mules. The first commandment of horse packing is, “Thou shall balance both packs before lashing them on the animal”. At the time I owned a big black molly mule out of a Shire mare named Nancy and she handled these two hundred pound loads well. But…A cast iron Dutch oven in the load equals 5% of the load for that one pack animal. So by using the aluminum DO I picked up about fourteen pounds of payload.

What could I do with those fourteen to fifteen pounds? For Nancy it meant three additional helpings of sweetened grain and I could add a six pack of beer plus a rib steak. Though I never made those exact substitutions I use this as an illustration to show how one could use the additional payload.

Eighteen years ago I began formally teaching Dutch oven cooking and quickly realized light weight aluminum Dutch ovens made it easier for some folks. In the very first class I taught there was a young man, Billy, who was just ten years old. Shortly thereafter another guy named Bill who was eighty nine years old signed up for a class. Neither Billy or Bill had the upper body strength needed to man handle and safely carry hot cast iron Dutch ovens. But…using aluminum Dutch ovens the both of them did fine. In another class a gentleman in a wheel chair told me he preferred his old cast iron Dutch ovens but being confined to a wheel chair using aluminum DO’s made it possible to keep Dutch oven cookin’!

In next weeks blog I’ll discuss and compare the cooking characteristics of cast iron versus aluminum as well as cleaning and care of both types of Dutch ovens. If you have any questions or comments, please submit a comment form and I’ll address your input in next weeks blog.

Have you ever heard or read the statement that Lewis & Clark depended on their Dutch ovens? Jot a comment if you have and I’ll talk about that as well!

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