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Seasoning a cast iron Dutch oven – As aspiring home chefs, my husband and I have a special affinity for our cast iron pieces. When seasoned properly, cast iron is a naturally non-stick surface that can go from stove to table retaining a dish’s heat and charming diners aesthetically.
Cast iron is so durable that when well cared for, it can be passed from generation to generation. In fact, my mother still uses what was my late great grandmother’s cast iron skillet to bake her heavenly pineapple upside down cake.
With appropriate care, a great cast iron piece, like a cast iron Dutch oven, can become a beloved and well-utilized mainstay in your kitchen.
Seasoning your cast iron Dutch oven means treating it with lard or vegetable oil to develop its non-stick surface and prevent it from rusting.
Seasoning is required because cast iron itself is not a non-stick surface. The patina, or layer of oil that remains on the pan after proper seasoning, is.
Furthermore, exposure of iron to oxygen in the presence of water or water vapor will result in rust spots in or on your Dutch oven.
Developing a nice patina on your Dutch oven will keep the iron itself from overexposure to moisture, resulting in a prettier, more unique piece of cookware and the execution of rust-free recipes.
Seasoning your Dutch oven is an ongoing process. In fact, one of the best means of seasoning its surface is simply cooking in it with lard or oil. But, be warned: your first few cooking attempts in an oven that hasn’t yet benefitted from tender loving seasoning may be less than satisfying.
Whether you’ve bought a brand new cast iron Dutch oven or been gifted a well-loved piece that appears to have an expert patina, get in touch with your new friend by seasoning it yourself, and testing that seasoning, before your first cooking attempt. My husband and I learned this the hard way when we were elected to cook breakfast for six on a brand new cast iron camping griddle my father-in-law insisted was pre-seasoned and good to go. The integrity of many a good potato slice and bacon strip were sacrificed that day to the cast iron’s unready surface.
Save yourself the heartache of wasted food (and the humiliation of disappointing hungry onlookers!) by seasoning before preparing any important meal. You can easily test the success of your seasoning by throwing a potato slice in your Dutch oven and seeing if it will crisp without sticking or excessive scraping.
You should also season your cast iron Dutch oven after each cleaning and before using if the piece has been shelved for a while.
You have an array of options when it comes to selecting the products with which you’ll season your Dutch oven. First and foremost, you’ll need some sort of lard or vegetable oil. Your substance of choice should have a high smoke point so you can get your Dutch oven piping hot when cooking without the patina burning off and tainting the flavor of your food. My husband and I rely primarily on peanut oil, and never use extra virgin olive oil. Peanut and soybean oils, for example, can withstand heats 100 degrees higher than EVOO or butter without burning, which gives you peace of mind.
In addition to your seasoning substance, you’ll need something to apply, rub and wipe away extra. Excess oil or lard left in your Dutch oven can go rancid, which will require another go around of cleaning and seasoning, usually in addition to the untimely discovery of some noxious odor. Quality paper towels do the trick in our house (as long as the oil is warm and not sticky). You can also opt for cheesecloth or another clean, soft rag.
Once your Dutch oven is clean, pop it back on the stove over a low heat to steam off leftover water from washing and prepare it for a welcome massage. Apply a conservative amount of your chosen seasoning substance and rub it in with a paper towel or cloth. Don’t be shy about adding oil as the oven “drinks it up,” or surprised if the patina discolors your cloth as you rub the oil into the entire cooking surface. As long as you know all food debris and any odorous oil or lard (like bacon fat) was washed out of the oven during cleaning, discoloration of your cloth does not necessarily indicate the oven is dirty. Rather, your Dutch oven has achieved a well-established patina of oil mixed with the minerals of the cast iron itself.
Once you’ve treated the entire cooking surface with your oil or lard of choice, you’ll notice your Dutch oven smiling back at you with a rich, shiny glow. No spots should look dry, or, as my husband and I call it “thirsty for more oil.” Go for a final wipe-down, making sure there aren’t any oil drops or pooling. Turn off the heat, allow your Dutch oven to cool, and put it away for next time
Learning to cherish the chore of seasoning cast iron takes time.
As you come to appreciate the characteristics of your cast iron Dutch oven—from it’s naturally non-stick surface to its unique charm—you’ll find yourself increasingly committed to taking care of it.
Cast iron cooking is a 300-year-old culinary art form, and as it did in times of yore, cooking with your cast iron Dutch oven will require you to slow down a bit and enjoy the experience.
If you allocate time to lovingly clean and season your Dutch over after enjoying each meal you cook in it, your cast iron Dutch oven will love you back for seasons to come.