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How To Season a Cast Iron Dutch Oven: A Simple Guide

Welcome! You’ve come to the right place to learn how to season a rusty cast iron dutch oven. And what’s not to love about this precious metal?

Cast iron is durable, so it can last you a lifetime. It heats well, which is perfect for searing. And who doesn’t love their grandmother’s cast iron cornbread? 

A cast iron Dutch oven is a versatile and durable kitchen tool that can last for generations with proper care. However, over time, neglect or exposure to moisture can cause rust to form on its surface.

If you own cast iron cookware, you already know that taking care of it is important. Especially if you want to reap all the delicious benefits! 

Whether you own a cast iron kadai, skillet, or dutch oven, this article will guide you through your seasoning journey.  

What You’ll Learn

Before we dive deep into seasoning your dutch oven, it’s going to need a careful cleaning first. 

We’ll be discussing the step-by-step process to effectively clean and season your Dutch oven. We’ll also explore aftercare tips that will help keep your cast iron in tip top shape.

How To Clean & Season a Rusty Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Gather Necessary Supplies

Supplies needed will depend on the level of dust you are dealing with

  • Stiff bristle brush or steel wool
  • Mild dish soap
  • Non-metallic scraper (plastic or wooden)
  • Clean rags or paper towels
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Oven cleaner (for heavy rust)
  • Oven mitts
  • Vegetable oil or food-grade flaxseed oil (for seasoning)

Assess the Extent of Rust

Examine your Dutch oven to determine the severity of rust. Light surface rust can often be tackled with simple cleaning and seasoning, while heavier rust may require additional steps.

Step-by-step Process to Clean Your Dutch Oven

If you have light surface rust:

  1. Fill your sink with hot water and a few drops of mild dish soap.
  2. Place it in the soapy water and use a stiff bristle brush or steel wool to scrub away the rust gently.
  3. Rinse the Dutch oven thoroughly with hot water and dry it immediately with a clean towel.

For Medium surface rust:

  1. Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a container large enough to submerge the Dutch oven.
  2. Submerge it in the vinegar solution for several hours or overnight.
  3. Remove loosened rust after soaking, by using a non-metallic scraper.
  4. Rinse the Dutch oven thoroughly with water and dry it immediately with a clean towel.

To clean heavy surface rust:

  1. Apply a specialized oven cleaner to the rusted areas, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Let the oven cleaner sit for the recommended time.
  3. Scrub away the rust using a stiff bristle brush or steel wool.
  4. Rinse the Dutch oven thoroughly with water and dry it immediately with a clean towel.
Cast Iron Dutch Oven With Oven Cleaner

How To Season a Cast Iron Dutch Oven

After cleaning, it’s essential to season the Dutch oven to create a protective, non-stick layer on its surface. Seasoning involves applying a thin coat of oil and baking it onto the cast iron.

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Apply a small amount of vegetable oil or food-grade flaxseed oil to the entire surface of the Dutch oven, including the lid and handles. Ensure that it’s evenly coated and wipe off any excess oil with a paper towel.
  3. Place the Dutch oven upside-down on the top oven rack or on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (to catch any drips).
  4. Bake the Dutch oven in the preheated oven for 1 to 2 hours. This process allows the oil to polymerize, forming a durable seasoning layer.
  5. Turn off the oven and allow the Dutch oven to cool completely inside the oven.
  6. Repeat the seasoning process 2-3 more times, allowing the Dutch oven to cool between each coat. This will help build up a robust seasoning layer.

You now have all the steps to clean and season your cast iron dutch oven. With proper care and maintenance, a rusty cast iron Dutch oven can be fully restored and become a reliable cooking companion.

Additionally, remember to inspect your Dutch oven regularly and dry it thoroughly after each use to prevent future rusting.

With patience and attention to detail, your cast iron will reward you with exceptional cooking results for years to come. Happy cooking!

Seasoning a rusty cast iron Dutch oven

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best oil to season a cast iron Dutch oven? 

Vegetable Oil & Flaxseed Oil. Vegetable oil is a popular choice due to its availability and affordability.

It has a high smoke point, typically around 400°F to 450°F (204°C to 232°C), which makes it suitable for seasoning cast iron in the oven.

Flaxseed oil, specifically food-grade or pure flaxseed oil, is another excellent option.

It contains a high percentage of unsaturated fats, which helps in creating a smooth and hard seasoning layer.

Flaxseed oil has a smoke point of around 225°F (107°C), but when used for seasoning, the oil polymerizes and forms a stable, non-stick coating.

The best oil to use for seasoning a cast iron Dutch oven is an oil with a high smoke point and a low level of saturated fats.

Oils with high smoke points are ideal because they can withstand the high temperatures used during the seasoning process without breaking down or producing unpleasant odors.

Oils with low levels of saturated fats are preferred because they create a smoother and more durable seasoning layer.

Is it ok to use soap on cast iron? 

Yes, it is generally okay to use soap on cast iron cookware, including a cast iron Dutch oven.

The long-standing myth that soap should never be used on cast iron is based on concerns that it may strip away the seasoning

The protective layer formed by polymerized oil that provides a non-stick surface and prevents rusting.

Here are some guidelines for safely using soap on cast iron:

  • Use Mild Soap: Use a mild dish soap or gentle detergent. Avoid harsh chemical cleaners or abrasive scrubbing pads, as these can be more aggressive on the seasoning.
  • Avoid Prolonged Soaking: Do not leave your cast iron in soapy water for extended periods. Briefly soaking it to loosen stubborn food residues is generally fine, but do not let it sit for hours.
  • Embrace Gentle Scrubbing: Use a soft sponge or brush to clean the surface.
  • Avoid Steel Wool: Avoid any abrasive scrubbers that could scratch or damage the seasoning.
  • Dry Thoroughly: After washing, dry the cast iron thoroughly with a clean towel. Moisture is the main enemy of cast iron, as it can lead to rusting.
  • Re-Season Regularly: With regular use and proper care, the seasoning on your cast iron cookware will naturally improve over time. Re-seasoning occasionally will help maintain its non-stick properties and protect against rust.

Remember that if you’ve just restored a rusty cast iron Dutch oven or are in the process of building up its seasoning, it’s essential to be more cautious with soap usage during this initial period.

As the seasoning becomes more established over time, you can feel more comfortable using soap for cleaning.

How often do you need to season a cast iron Dutch oven? 

Initial Seasoning: When you first acquire a new cast iron Dutch oven or if you’ve restored one that had significant rust or was poorly seasoned, it’s essential to perform an initial seasoning process.

This typically involves applying multiple thin coats of oil and baking them on the surface to build a strong seasoning layer. After the initial seasoning, you won’t need to season the oven as frequently.

After Intensive Cleaning: If you’ve had to use soap and water for a more thorough cleaning due to stubborn residues or if you’ve had to remove heavy rust, it’s a good idea to do a light re-seasoning afterward.

This will help replenish the protective layer that may have been affected during the cleaning process.

As Needed: Keep an eye on the condition of your Dutch oven.

If you notice that food is starting to stick more often or you see signs of rust, it might be time to re-season the pot.

Also, if you ever accidentally remove the seasoning while cleaning, immediate re-seasoning is necessary.

The frequency of seasoning a cast iron Dutch oven depends on usage and maintenance. With proper care, it retains non-stick properties and rust resistance. Additionally, frequent use naturally adds seasoning, thanks to oils and fats from cooking. You can maintain it by preventing moisture and acidic foods, drying thoroughly, and storing it in a dry place to extend its lifespan and reduce the need for re-seasoning.

How do you season enameled cast iron?

Seasoning is not necessary for enameled cast iron cookware.

Unlike traditional bare cast iron, enameled cast iron has a smooth, non-porous surface created by coating the cast iron with a layer of enamel—a type of glass-like material.

This enamel layer acts as a barrier, preventing direct contact between the food and the cast iron, which eliminates the need for seasoning.

Enameled cast iron is highly durable and provides excellent heat retention and distribution, making it a popular choice for many cooks.

It is also resistant to acidic foods, which can sometimes react with bare cast iron.

To care for enameled cast iron cookware, follow these guidelines:

  • Cooking: You can use enameled cast iron for a wide range of cooking tasks, such as braising, roasting, frying, and simmering. It’s safe to cook acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus-based recipes in enameled cast iron without worrying about damaging the surface.
  • Cleaning: After cooking, allow the enameled cast iron to cool down slightly before washing it. Use warm soapy water and a soft sponge or cloth to clean the surface. Avoid using abrasive pads or harsh chemicals, as they may scratch the enamel.
  • Stains and Stubborn Residues: For stubborn stains or residues, you can create a paste using baking soda and water and gently scrub the affected areas. Avoid using metal scouring pads or brushes, as they can scratch the enamel.
  • Avoid Thermal Shock: Enameled cast iron can withstand high temperatures but can be susceptible to thermal shock. Avoid placing a hot pot directly on a cold surface or immersing a hot pot in cold water, as this may cause the enamel to crack.
  • Storage: Store enameled cast iron cookware in a dry place to prevent moisture build-up and potential damage to the enamel.

What oil should not be used when seasoning cast iron?

Oils that should be avoided for seasoning cast iron are:

  • Olive Oil: While olive oil is healthy for cooking in other contexts, it has a relatively low smoke point and can leave a sticky residue when used for seasoning cast iron.
  • Butter & Margarine: These fats have low smoke points and can easily burn during the seasoning process, leading to uneven or damaged seasoning.
  • Flavored Oils: Oils infused with herbs, spices, or other flavorings should not be used for seasoning, as the additives can negatively affect the seasoning layer and potentially transfer unwanted flavors to your dishes.
  • Shortening: While shortening has been traditionally used for seasoning, it’s not the best option due to its high saturated fat content. Other oils like vegetable oil or flaxseed oil are better choices.
  • Coconut Oil: While coconut oil has gained popularity, it also has a relatively low smoke point and may leave a sticky residue when used for seasoning cast iron.

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