Cleaning a Dutch Oven: 5 Steps to Great Cast Iron Care

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Cast iron is a wonderful material, but requires some unique methods to keep it clean and rust-free. Following these simple techniques will help make your Dutch oven a real treasure that can last for generations.

Especially if you’ve purchased a pre-seasoned Dutch oven, it can be easy to forget that the oil in the seasoning is the key to preserving your cast iron, preventing rust, and keeping its non-stick surface. (Those who’ve been through the simple but memorable process of seasoning a Dutch oven probably understand this already.) This is the primary thing to remember when cleaning your cast iron Dutch oven.

1. Avoid soaps and chemicals

Soaps and cleaning chemicals are made to strip away oils and leave the surface squeaky clean. This is the worst thing you can do for your Dutch oven, since it robs the metal of its protection against rust. Soap also has a tendency to remain within the pores of the iron, no matter how much you rinse it off, and seep out again to flavor your next meal.

True story: As a young cook I once used a freshly soap-washed skillet to prepare a meal for dinner guests, and was left wondering for ages what I had done wrong. They were kind enough to eat it without complaint, but there was no mistaking the lemon-fresh scent of Palmolive in that chicken pot pie…

2. Let it cool first, then wash with hot water

The lid of a Dutch oven can be extremely hot when the coals are removed, and pouring water on it when it’s that hot can actually cause it to crack. Ouch!

Just let it cool down until you can pick it up with your bare hand, which it probably will be anyway by the time you finish enjoying your meal. If not, have another cup of coffee while you wait.

Then, wash and scrub in hot water, the hotter the better, within reason. (Don’t burn yourself!)

3. Scrape and scrub, but no metal!

Metal scrubbers and metal utensiles can scratch off that all-important seasoning. Plastic spoons and spatulas are great, and the commonly green plastic scrubbing pads are fine, too. To put a real edge on your scraping, try using a specially made polycarbonate plastic pan scraper that’s stiff enough to get under the gunk and kind enough to leave the seasoning alone. Click here to see a nice set on Amazon that gets great reviews.

4. Dry well, then coat with vegetable oil

When you’re done washing and scrubbing, the Dutch oven will still be hot from the water. This heat helps evaporate the water from the surface as you thoroughly towel-dry it.

While the metal is still hot, uses a cloth or paper towel to rub it down with fresh vegetable oil, inside and out. Some cooks prefer peanut oil, or canola oil, or whatever, but in general any vegetable oil is fine. I’ve heard from several people, that animal fats become rancid more quickly, though I’ve never tried it.

5. Store with ventilation in mind

Now you’re done, and you can put everything away until next time. When storing the Dutch oven, be sure to allow air to flow in and out of the pot, to help prevent the oil from turning rancid. The easiest way to do this is to place a folded paper towel between the lid and the pot, which is normally enough spacing to do the job.

If your ventilation is insufficient, you can end up with a rancid oven. In this case, don’t cook with it before reseasoning it. 

For what it’s worth, all these points can apply for caring for any cast iron cookware. With all these points in mind, you’ll be able to keep your cast iron Dutch oven in great condition for years to come.

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