Cast Iron Basics

Serves: 5



Cast iron may be heavy, but with a proper seasoning, is the greatest type of metal to cook in. But, you need to keep your cast iron free from rust and well seasoned to make it “stick free”.

When someone buys cast iron from the store, the foundry (manufacturer) coats the pot or pan with a coating of some sort to keep the item from rusting. This is done by spraying with a type of varnish or dipping it into hot paraffin wax. This protective coating must be cleaned off before seasoning your cast iron.

If your Dutch oven is made by LODGE, the protective coating is a sprayed varnish coating, which must be scrubbed off. Heat the Dutch oven inside your home oven to 200°F., then with a hot pad, lower the oven into hot soapy water, and scrub the Dutch oven with a S.O.S. pad. Scrub the inside and outside of the Dutch oven very well, rinse well, and towel dry. Then place the Dutch oven back into your oven at 225°F to dry for about 10 to 15 minutes. The only way to dry cast iron is to dry it completely. I do mine in the oven because, the heat is not concentrated in one spot, as it is on the stove top, which can cause minute cracks.

If your Dutch oven is made by any of the other companies that make outdoor Dutch ovens, the protective coating is dipped paraffin wax, which can be burned off. Do this outdoors in your gas B.B.Q. or, a kettle type charcoal B.B.Q. like a Weber. In a charcoal B.B.Q., use Mesquite charcoal for fuel because it burns much hotter than briquettes. Start the charcoal or light the gas B.B.Q., set on high and pre-heat the B.B.Q. When the charcoal is white, spread it out a little so that is not to close to the cooking grate. Place the oven onto the cooking grate, upside down, and close the lid on the B.B.Q.

Heat the oven to 450° to 500°F for 15 minutes. Close the B.B.Q. and cook the Dutch oven for about 1 hour at 450° to 500°F, or until the oven stops smoking. Cool the scrub the oven and dry as directed above.

To season the Dutch oven, place the oven upside down on the cooking grate and warm the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 450° to 500°F. With hot pads, remove the D.O. and rub a light coat of lard, bacon grease, white Crisco, or vegetable oil, using a paper towel, coat the inside and outside of the D.O. and lid. You only need a light coat of oil, you don’t want the grease to be dripping off the oven. Place the Dutch oven back onto the cooking grate and cook the Dutch oven for about 1 hour at 450° to 500°F, or until the oven stops smoking. Remove the oven from the B.B.Q. with hot pads to cool. If the D.O. is a glossy brown color, not black, return to B.B.Q. to cook about thirty more minutes. By doing this outside in the B.B.Q., you don’t have to fill the house with smoke and set off the smoke detectors.

Cleaning cast iron is really quite easy and simple. As the same principal with seasoning, there are as many opinions as there are cooks. The methods I have found to work for me are written here to share with you. However, as you cook more with cast iron and outdoor Dutch ovens, you will find a method that works best for you and your style of cooking.

Right after I am finished cooking in my Dutch ovens, I like to a spray bottle filled with a solution of 4 parts of water to 1 part of apple cider vinegar to clean and sanitize with. Scrape out all the extra bits of food with a spatula then spray the solution into the hot Dutch oven and wipe it out with paper towels. Sometimes, I need to spray and wipe out the oven several times to get it clean. But, it works well and the vinegar has other uses as well.

Many people will tell you to never clean cast iron with soap and water. I have found this to be an excellent way to clean cast iron and use soap and water frequently myself. Be sure that cast iron is warm, to free the food from the pores easily, and to rinse the cast iron with hot water very well to remove all of the soap.

The last and most important thing to do after cleaning your cast iron is not applying more oil to the iron. But, is to dry it completely over or in a heat source, to keep it from rusting. When drying cast iron, don’t get it to hot. It only needs to be about 225°F for the moisture to evaporate and dry out. Once the pot, pan, or Dutch oven is cleaned and dried, place a paper towel inside with a little of the paper towel going to the outside to “wick” out any moisture from inside the pot and lid. Be sure to store your cast iron dry, without oil to keep it from turning rancid.

As mentioned before, cast iron needs to be stored absolutely dry, free of any water, or oil. The water will rust the cast iron. The oil may turn rancid, especially if stored for a long period of time. Personally, I dry my cast iron in the oven at 225°F for 30 minutes, after towel drying. So that I don’t burn my hands, I just leave the cast iron in the oven until the oven has cooled down, about 45 to 60 minutes. When I’m camping, I dry my cast iron over a few coals, about 6, 4 under the bottom and 2 on the lid of the Dutch oven. Only keep the cast iron until the water evaporates. Then remove the cast iron from the heat source with hot pads and place paper towels inside the pot and place the lid on the pot. Be sure some of the paper towel lays over the edge of the pot to the outside to wick any internal moisture to the outside of the pot and into the air.

Once cast iron has been seasoned, unless it has not been cared for properly, does not need to be re-seasoned after you use it. So, why store it with more oil in the pot, pan, or Dutch oven. The oil will turn rancid, becoming sticky, smelly, and spoiled; just like food that has been around for too long in the refrigerator. The oil also attracts dirt, dust, and other things flying around in the air, like bugs. So don’t apply any oil to your cast iron until it is warmed up just before you use it and put food into it. Take care of your cast iron and, it will take care of you.

Judging temperature is an important skill that needs to be practiced when cooking with a Dutch oven. First off, use only name brands of charcoal. Once you find a brand that you like, stick with that brand. That way you become familiar with how it burns, how long the coals last, etc.

When cooking in a Dutch oven, use the 2/3rds rule. The 2/3rds rule is not based on fractions of any number of coals. But, is short hand for figuring out how many coals to use for a 350° to 375°F oven. Take the diameter of the oven for the bottom coals and subtract 2. So, if you have a 12” oven, take the diameter (12”), subtract 2 (10 coals). That’s the 2 in the 2/3rds rule. For figuring the number of coals for the top heat, again take the diameter of the oven and add 3. So, if you have a 12” oven, take the diameter (12”) and add 3 (15 coals). That’s the 3 in the 2/3rds rule. This rule works for any sized oven from 8” to 16”.

Just remember that things like wind, moisture (rain), ambient temperature, etc. have effects on oven temperature. Wind and humidity or moisture cool the oven so, you need to add extra coals. A hot summer day will need less coals than a cool fall day. In the summer, when baking breads, I simply let the Dutch oven sit out in the sun and led the heat from the sun warm the oven to let the dough rise. The rest of the year, I use a few coals to warm the oven.

When frying in a Dutch oven, use only bottom heat. To simmer, remove a few less than half of the coals and cover. Using briquettes provides a consistent heat source and burn at the same temperature according to the brand. Different woods, when burned down to coals, burn at different rates and temperatures. So, practice with different wood sources to become familiar with each woods characteristics. Just remember when cooking in a camp fire, use only the coals, not the flame to cook with. Also, don’t use bottom heat, pile the coals around the Dutch oven and on the top.

Here’s a short list of some tools and utensils that you should have in a “Dutch oven kit” carried with you every time you cook in your Dutch oven, weather at home or out on the road. There may be a few more things you may need, but this is what I carry with me every time I cook Dutch:

News paper (lighting charcoal)
Lighter or matches
Charcoal chimney
18” tongs (for handling hot coals)
Small and large knife
Steel (for sharpening knives)
Large spoons, slotted and solid (for stirring and serving)
Vegetable peeler
Whip (mixing)
Cutting board
2 spray bottles (1 for oil, and 1 for vinegar water)
Paper towels
Aluminum foil
Measuring cups and spoons
Lid lifters
Wash pan
Small damp towel or cloth
Hot pads or mitts

This Cast Iron Basics recipe is from the Cast Iron "Covered Wagon" Cookin' Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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