Dutch Oven Care
A dutch oven with some basic care will last you a lifetime and in many cases can be passed on to the next generation to carry on producing some of the finest food there is. In this issue I will guide through how to keep you Dutch oven in tip top condition.
Dutch ovens and cast iron cookware can come in two different coatings the first and now not so common is a yellow waxy like coating applied to the cast iron to prevent rust in transit and the oven be grey colour . The second and now more common is pre season with vegetable oil coating that has been applied and baked on at the factory turning oven black. If you receive an oven with the waxy coating you will need to clean it of. Removing the protective coating requires scrubbing with a little soap, some hot water, steel wool, and a little elbow grease. This is the only time you will ever use soap on your Dutch oven. Once the oven has been cleaned it should be rinsed out with clean water then towel dried and allowed to thoroughly air dry.
The first step will be to season your oven this is quite simple to do. It is the seasoning that will protect you Dutch oven from rust and start to build up a non stick coating. The best way to do this will be in your oven at home but I suggest you do it on a day when you can have the windows open for ventilation as it will produce some smoke. An alternative can be to use a BBQ with a pull down lid but I have found it harder to control and even temperature.
The first step after cleaning will be to get your oven temperature as high as possible but no hotter then about 200 – 220 degrees C. Once your oven is up to temperature you will need to warm you pot and lid by placing it in the oven until its just about to hot to handle doing this will dry the oven and open the pores in the iron so that it better absorbs the seasoning oil. Once warmed remove from the oven taking care not to burn your self and allow to cool for a few minutes until you can safely touch it.
Step Two: Take a paper towel of cotton cloth and wipe a thin layer of vegetable oil all over the pot and lid inside and out, wipe away any excess that may puddle or drip. Vegetable oil is recommended as it will set and harden at lower temperatures, tallow or lard can also be used but they tend to break down over time.
Step Three: Once oiled place the pot back in the oven up upside down this will help to prevent any puddles, then place the lid onto the legs or if you have room in your oven place the lid on a separate shelf. Now leave to back for 45-60 minutes this baking hardens the oil into a protective coating over the metal. Don’t forget to open those windows as it will smoke the house out.
Step Four: After baking turn off the oven and allow you Dutch oven to slowly cool. When it is cool enough to handle apply another thin coating of oil and repeat the baking and cooling process. After the second full bake apply a final thin coating of oil and allow the Dutch oven to cool completely. If after the first or second back the oil is still tacky then you will need to back it a bit longer until it has backed on dry. Now it should have three layers of oil, two baked on and one applied when it was warm. The oven is now ready for use.
If the Dutch oven you have purchased has already got a pre seasoned factory coating you can cook with it straight out of the box but if you have time I would recommended that you give it a second seasoning coat. Firstly rinse of with warm water then follow steps One to Four this will help to reinforce the coating.
Now you have seasoned your oven as long as you take some care with it you should not need to do it again and as you cook with it, it will slowly build a better and stronger seasoned coating and eventually become smooth and glossy as the oils from cooking will fill the pores on the surface and it will become as non-stick as any modern Teflon type coating. Were fatty foods such as meats, fish and frying will help to improve your Dutch oven seasoning, acidic sugary foods such as tomatoes & fruits can if left to sit damage the seasoning, but don’t let this put you off cooking with them as a simple solution can be used to prevent any damage.
Now you have seasoned your oven and done some fine cooking you will be wanting to clean it. Two things to remember never use any kind of soap or washing up liquid the reason being is that the cast iron and the seasoning will absorb it and then leach it back out tainting the taste of you food. Secondly do not use any hash abrasive brushes or scrubbers as this will damage and start to remove the season coating resulting in bear metal being exposed and them rusting if this happens you will need to strip and reason your pot which can be a bit of a chore.
The good news is it is very easy to clean your pot properly. The first thing to do is remove as much left over food as possible, once this is done half fill the pot with warm water and with a sponge, cloth, wooden spatula or even a feathered stick gently work off any remanding food if some of it is proving to be stubborn you can place the lid on the pot and then gently heat it this should soften up and remanding bits so they clean off easerly. Once your are satisfied all the solid food has been removed rinse your pot with clean water and wipe dry then place back on a gently heat for about 5 minutes to dry out any moister. Once this is done allow it to cool enough to touch and then with a cloth or paper towel wipe a thin layer of vegetable oil all over the pot and lid this helps to protect it from moister and adds another layer of seasoning next time you use it.
A handy tip to help with cleaning up and one which I use quite a lot myself is to line the pot with tin foil so when your done you can just lift it out leaving the pot relatively clean I find this is also a good method when cooking with acidic foods to help protect the seasoning.
So, you've cleaned your Dutch oven and the camping season is over. Now, you need to store your Dutch oven for a few months and prevent it from rusting and going rancid. It's not difficult, but it is important to take a few cautionary steps.
Keep It Coated - a very thin film of light vegetable oil should be applied after the last time you clean your Dutch oven. You should try to rub off practically all the oil with paper towels and that which is left will help keep moisture away from the metal. With a good solid seasoning layer, the metal of your oven should be well protected so you may want to skip this if you've got a well-used Dutch oven.
Leaving too much oil on or in the oven can result in a foul, rancid smell when you pull it out of storage. If that happens you will need to strip and restore your oven. I will cover this in the next issue.
Keep it Dry - moisture is the worst thing for your Dutch oven. Try to store it in a dry location.
Keep Air Moving - a useful trick is to prop the lid off the oven to allow a small amount of air circulation inside the oven. A good way to do this is to roll a paper towel into a pencil shape and set one end in the bottom of the oven. Then, put the lid on which should bend the paper towel over but keep the lid a fraction open. The towel will help to wick moisture out of the oven and keep it dry. You could use two or three of these paper towel wicks on larger ovens.
Keep It Protected - Dutch oven bags are perfect to store your cookware and if you need to transport them and you want to keep other gear clean around your Dutch oven, they will help to keep the dust and grim off when stored away.