It would be fair to say that I have an extra place in my heart for cooking with Dutch ovens. Even when it comes to making a cake, I routinely turn to the Dutch oven for such a feat. Often times they turn out just as good, if not better than what I could bake in the oven. Several times a week I can be found cooking Dutch-style outside for many main dishes, breakfasts, and even desserts. There are many others that have the same addiction as I do with Dutch oven cooking, but what many do not understand is the proper care needed to allow your oven to last for generations — and they will last for generations if properly cared for.
Cleaning The Oven
I often hear the question about whether not to use soap when cleaning the oven. Back in the cowboy days, the oven was simply turned over in the fire and the food was allowed to burn off. Nowadays, I see people taking Brillo pads to their oven to clean them. Which is right?
Many Dutch oven cooks, including me, never use soap. I believe the cast iron will absorb the detergents and food will taste soapy. Others believe that soap takes away the oils, and causes rust spots. Still, others use soaps and have no complaints. I guess to answer the question about using soap, it’s mainly a personal choice that one has to make for oneself. Take into consideration how often the oven is used, how well it’s cured, and how hard it would be to clean without the aid of soap. A lot of elbow grease could be eliminated with the aid of a detergent.
One thing that is consistent when cleaning Dutch ovens is to never pour cold water into a hot Dutch oven. This could weaken and even crack the cast iron. Any damage done is irreversible. Even though cast iron is tough, it will still break. Be careful not to drop it or let it bounce off other objects.
Some users of the Dutch oven will scrape the food off at camp and finish the cleaning process when back at home. I recommend a plastic scrubbing sponge to prevent marring the surface of the iron. If this is the route you take, dry the oven completely and apply olive or vegetable oil to the surface. Do not use spray coatings, lard, or other animal products. Lard or other animal products can spoil quickly, and will smell rotten. If by chance you have experienced this when using lard there is still hope for your oven. Clean the oven with steel wool and the re-season as you would a new oven. Another method is to spray the entire oven, in and out, with a 50/50 mixture of water and cider vinegar, and heat until dry.
Another no-no with your Dutch oven is to put it in the dishwasher. Your oven will quickly rust because of all the carbon in it. If your pot does rust, it can be removed with steel wool or an abrasive pad. Once the rust is removed, it’s necessary to re-season the oven.
I also hear the conversations about using salt to clean the oven. Some believe that salt mixed with oil can be used as an abrasive cleaner. It might work, but it’s not easy, and you stand a good chance of having pitting occur in the cast iron. Salt attracts moisture, which is the lead cause of rust. With that being said, please do not use salt to clean your oven.
When storing your oven, I recommend using wadded-up paper towels or newspapers inside the oven. Leave the paper hanging out in several places, or use a piece of cardboard to keep the lid from sealing tightly. This will allow air to move throughout the oven. When storing the oven, the most important thing to keep in mind that it needs to be in a clean and dry environment to maintain a lifetime or two of use.
With proper care and seasoning your Dutch oven can last for many lifetimes, providing great meals and everlasting memories.
Seasoning Your Oven
Every new oven needs to be seasoned before using to remove factory oils and to start the process of your oven becoming a non-stick cooking oven.
With a new oven, I use soap hot water to clean the oven. This is the only time I use soapy water on the oven. Preheat your kitchen oven to 350 degrees. Completely dry the oven in and out, as well as the lid with paper towels. Using a paper towel, rub the entire oven and lid with oil, and place upside down on a cookie sheet. Bake for one hour, turn off the oven, and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the Dutch oven from your oven, and wipe off excess oils. Start the process over one more time, from applying oil to cooking for 6o minutes. At the end of the final seasoning process, allow the Dutch oven to cool and wipe off any excess oils.
I also like to season my oven before the start of each season. I use the process that I would for a new one except I omit the hot soapy water.
This video offers a basic primer on cooking with a Dutch oven.
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