Woody Dutch ovens revived

by Pam Christensen

Woody Woodruff is an outdoor legend. Woodruff died in 1990, but left behind his cookbook, Cooking the Dutch Oven Way, and many outdoor memories.
Woodruff’s father and a friend took him on his first overnight campout in 1920. The two men brought a bedspring and mattress they loaded in their Model-T truck. This bed was placed on the ground. The Boy Scouts camping with them slept in an odd assortment of blankets made into bedrolls.
What Woodruff remembered most about this camping adventure was the elaborate meal his father cooked over a campfire. According to Woodruff, “Dad buried potatoes in the coals and smoked up a number of mother’s pots and pans in the ordeal of preparing the meal for fifteen or twenty hungry boys. We ate well, but what a mess to clean up, and what a lot of time wasted.”
1412_arts_woody_burgerWoodruff spent the rest of his life developing ways to keep cooking on the camping trail as easy, simple and delicious as possible. He resurrected and elevated the methodology of Dutch oven cooking from a lost art into a thriving business. Not only did he perform Dutch oven cooking demonstrations from “Hawaii to the East Coast and from Canada to South America,” but he did so with as many as fifty Dutch ovens cooking away at once.
He published three editions ofCooking the Dutch Oven Wayduring his lifetime, and produced his self-designed cast aluminum Dutch oven and accessories. His daughters Ellen Anderson and Jane Woodruff have published a fourth edition of the popular classic recently, containing more than 180 recipes, as well as photos of Woody with his signature oven.
Rocky Kimball was attending a West Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association symposium when one of the breakout sessions featured Michael Gray doing a back country cooking demonstration. Gray was using a two-piece aluminum pot to prepare one of his spectacular meals. Following the session, Kimball asked Gray about the cooking apparatus and was told it was a Woody Dutch oven. Gray quickly added that these Dutch ovens were no longer available, and despite many requests, he did not lend out his. He joked the oven would be in his will.
Kimball owns a consulting business, Tactical Quality Solutions, in lower Michigan. One of his clients is Non Ferrous Cast Alloys in Muskegon, so he is no stranger to the casting process. He and Gray discussed the possibility of redesigning and producing another oven. They designed the oven to work even better than the original.
They removed the long metal legs found on Woodruff’s Dutch ovens. These legs make stacking Dutch ovens possible, but do not allow the oven to slip easily into a kayak hatch. They also make it difficult to backpack comfortably with the stove. Instead of legs, the newly-styled Dutch oven has four legs drilled for bolts. Short bolts are installed on the oven. Height over a fire or for stacking multiple ovens can be obtained by installing longer quarter-inch bolts.
Gray was adamant the new Dutch oven needed to be called the “Woody” out of respect for Woodruff and his long history and popularization of Dutch oven cooking.
The new product was christened the Woody Dutch oven and placed into production after development of patterns by Portenga Manufacturing in Fruitport (Michigan). The ovens are cast of A356, an aluminum alloy used for cookware, engine blocks, airframe castings and missile components at Non Ferrous Cast Alloys and polished by Harbor Deburring and Finishing in Spring Lake (Michigan). Kimball assembles and packages the ovens from his shop in Dutton. The Woody Dutch oven truly is a Michigan product.
The contemporary version of the Woody Dutch oven is made of two parts. The bottom is 9.5 inches square. The top is ten inches square. The oven will hold eight cups, or two quarts, and easily handled the four-pound meatloaf I cooked in it. It weighs about seven pounds, but is durable, and both the top and bottom can be used for sautéing or frying. The Woody also can be used to slow cook roasts and stews or  for baking cobblers, breads, cakes and pies. The oven requires no seasoning or advanced preparation, unlike a cast-iron Dutch oven.
The Woody Dutch oven has a pebbled grain finish that keeps food from sticking to its surface and makes cleanup a snap. The aluminum is quick to heat, and the design of the Woody assures even cooking. It can be used on a stovetop, grill or in a campfire. Woodruff, who hated camp cleanup, would be happy to see how easily the oven cleans with water.
1412_arts_woody_tatersGray has written a book based on his outdoor cooking experiences. Hey, I’d Eat This at Home is a fresh and fearless approach to wilderness and home cooking. The book features many recipes for the Woody Dutch oven.
Kimball sent us our Woody in early August. Our attempts to use the oven over a campfire have been thwarted by weather, but we took the Woody to deer camp and used it in our travel trailer oven and on the stove. Most trailers are limited in storage, and we like that the Woody is so versatile. A roast can be cooked in the Dutch oven while hunters are in the woods. The oven is multipurpose. We can use it as a Dutch oven or use both pieces to fry, boil or sauté. The meatloaf I cooked was delicious, and the cleanup easy compared to our traditional style meatloaf. I also used the bottom of the oven to fry up leftover baked potatoes for breakfast. Once again, the Woody performed to perfection with little clean-up required.
Kimball and Gray sell the Woody and accessories at www.woodydutchoven.com The Dutch oven and Woody grippers are available, as are Gray’s and the Woodruff daughters’ books. There also is a nylon Woody carrying case, and space saving Woody measuring cup and spoon combination.
The Woody Dutch oven would be a wonderful holiday gift for the outdoor enthusiast. Kimball and Gray should be commended for preserving and improving this handy piece of camp history.

— Pam Christensen
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