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Choosing, Seasoning And Caring For Your Dutch Oven

5 Qrt Lodge Kitchen or
Indoor Oven

Dutch oven cooking is a great skill for anyone to learn and a dutch oven is a smart item to keep in your supplies. Besides being just plain fun to use, a dutch oven can provide an option for cooking if the power is out, knowing how to use one is another step in your journey of self-reliance. 

A favorite cooking method of homesteaders, outdoorsmen, and those who live off grid, it's also a great way to enjoy dinner in the outdoors and not dirty up the kitchen. Once you decide to give dutch oven cooking a try, you need to find an oven that is right for you, because of course there are many different kinds! 

Outdoor (or Camp) Dutch Ovens (pictured below): Have feet (usually three of them), a snug fitting lid with a brim that holds the lid in place, and handle or two coming off the sides and over the top (called a bail) so that you can pick the whole thing up with a lid lifter (long metal handle with a hook) these ovens are made to be used directly in a campfire or hung over a campfire so they get HOT. You usually find these  outdoor ovens at Outdoor Adventure/Sports stores where you would normally find camping equipment. They are a tad expensive to get online as cast iron is heavy to ship. Click here to see one.

Indoor (or Kitchen) Dutch Ovens: Don't have feet, they have a smooth bottom, and usually lack a handle that goes over the top (a bail), but they may have two side handles so that you can grab it with oven mitts. These ovens are made, ironically, to be used in your electric oven at home or to be sat on top of a wood stove or other heat source. Because they lack a bail and feet - they usually don't work well for campfire/outdoor cooking. You can find indoor dutch ovens at most department stores and online for reasonable prices. Click here to see one.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Agriculture
Aluminum or Cast Iron? (both pictured to the left): Dutch ovens are made with aluminum and with cast iron. Aluminum is much lighter than cast iron and is often used for packing trips to save on weight, it is also much more expensive right now than cast iron. If you wanted a dutch oven for prepping purposes that you could also take with you while bugging out to a different location, aluminum is the choice for you. It's not dangerous to cook or eat from aluminum pots and pans as it was once was believed (see references at the bottom this statement is backed up)

However aluminum cooks VERY differently than cast iron, everything about the way they cook is different from cast iron dutch ovens so care must be taken to learn how to cook with one before you NEED to cook with one. Aluminum ovens can also melt if temperatures exceed 1200 degrees F, but in general they are easier also to care for. Click here to see one.

Cast Iron: It's is cheaper than aluminum, durable, and when cared for properly cast iron will last a lifetime and then your kid's lifetime. The melting temperature for cast iron is a sturdy 2200 degrees F and it's difficult to reach those temperatures with anything we may cook with.

It used to be that even the poorest frontiersman had at least one dutch oven to their name. This was for good reason as there is not much you can't cook in a dutch oven. One can even flip the lid over and use it as a frying pan. Cast iron takes longer to heat up but holds it holds heat for a long time and does not suffer from cold spots as bad as aluminum does. Cooking in a nice cast iron dutch oven will more closely simulate the heat of your electric oven at home. When weight is not a issue I prefer my cast iron oven. Click here to see another one.

What Size? Once you decide which kind of oven you are going to get you should decide on what size to get. The common recommendation for first time dutch oven purchase is a 12" 8 quart oven as most recipes are written for this size and you easily bake bread, cook a roast, or large meal in that size. Smaller ones are great for side dishes and of course even larger ones can accommodate more food or even a large turkey. 
8 Quart Outdoor Dutch Oven

Quality: Let's say you want an outdoor dutch oven for the sake of the article. You don't have to buy a name brand oven for it to work if you don't want to. Just like anything else you can spend as much or as little money as you want on a dutch oven. You can find them used on craigslist, at yard sales, or you can buy them new. If you are just starting out and you just want a good one, Lodge Logic is a good American made brand you can often find in department stores. I also like Stansport and Camp Chief too though.

If you are buying a mystery brand check the thickness of the iron. It should be fairly thick and the same amount of thickness all over. The lid should fit tight all the way around - this prevents steam from escaping while you are cooking. The legs should be positioned in such a way that the oven will remain stable when standing with a load of food inside. Make sure that the lid handle is attached at both ends with a hollow center - this allows you to use a lid lifter, as opposed to your hands to get the lid off to check your food or rotate the lid. So, yes, you do need a lid to your oven. Also make sure there is nothing riveted on the oven. Rivets are cheap and they fail. Pass on ovens with rivets.

Dutch Oven Tri-Pod

Another thing to consider when buying new is the roughness of the iron. Some people recommend a smooth oven as food tends to stick less. Regardless, as you use your oven the surface will naturally smooth out.

Pre-seasoned Dutch Ovens: The seasoning on a dutch oven gives it a non-stick surface that rivals teflon, it also waterproofs it to help prevent rust. Once you have a dutch oven, even if it is "pre-seasoned" by the factory many experts, including me, still recommend that you strip the factory seasoning and do it again yourself. I find that the seasoning I do myself far out performs the factory seasoning. If you want to strip your pre-seasoned dutch oven see the directions below for using the cleaning cycle on your electric or gas oven.

Stripping a Dutch Oven: You easily can strip a dutch oven of old seasoning, or pre-seasoning with one easy step of putting it inside your electric oven (handles removed) upside down with the lid on the dutch oven feet during a cleaning cycle! This results in some ash and smoke in your house - opening a window is recommended.  When the ash is wiped away you'll have a perfectly clean dutch oven ready to be re-seasoned. If there is any rust on the oven, now is a good time to scrub it off with some steel wool.

If its Not Pre-seasoned:  But is is still new, it will have a protective waxy coating on it that needs to come off. It is hard work to get this coating off - but it needs to be done. Use hot hot hot soapy water (so hot you should be wear rubber gloves), some steel wool and alot of elbow grease. Scrub until you can't feel it anymore then wipe it down with a paper towel. If your paper towel still comes up with residue then you have more scrubbing to do. THIS IS THE ONLY TIME YOU WILL EVER USE SOAP ON YOUR OVEN (while I understand some people do - I do not use soap on mine as I have seen the seasoning damaged by it).

Next, you need season your dutch oven right away to insure rust does not take hold again.  Make sure your oven is completely dry from your scrubbing by placing it inside an electric oven upside down with the bail removed, with the lid placed on the feet for 30 minutes at 200 degrees. When it comes out it will be perfectly dry and ready for oil. Wait for it to cool off a little first before applying oil. You want it warm, but cool enough for you to handle with your bare hands.

Seasoning a Dutch Oven: There are as many different theories on how to "correctly season" a dutch oven as there are stars in the sky. I will share with you my approach but doing your own research is always good since it really boils down to a personal preference.

People like to argue about which oil to use, personally I use either vegetable oil or tallow. Here is why: vegetable oil has a lower burning point than peanut or olive oils and will therefore set up and harden at lower temperatures (meaning you don't have to run your oven at 500°F all day to do it). Tallow has a higher smoking point and will set up a very durable coating that is resistant to high temperatures. For beginners I recommend vegetable oil, it's easy, it lasts for most uses, and everyone has it. However if you have tallow, give it a try the benefit is that it is more durable to higher temperates which could come in handy when cooking over an open fire.

So next take a paper towel or cotton rag and apply a thin layer of cooking oil covering every square inch of the oven inside and out. If there is excess oil soak it up with a dry towel.

Outdoor Dutch Over Blackened with Use
(public domain image)
Then, stick your oil coated, dutch oven in your electric or gas oven at home at 400°F (475° F for tallow). You can also do this on your gas BBQ outdoors if smoke is a concern (and it will smoke). Again upside down, bail removed, lid resting on the feet of the oven - placed in the middle on your oven rack. Bake for an hour.

Allow your dutch oven to slowly cool until it you can handle it with your bare hands, but it should still be warm. Apply another light coating of oil. Bake again at 400° F  (or 475° if using tallow) for an hour. Repeat this process at least one more time, you may want to do it two or three more time. It's important to apply the oil while the dutch oven is still warm - the pores in the cast iron are open and the warmth liquifies the oil even more.

Caring For Your Dutch Oven: After seasoning is complete apply another light coating of oil over the entire oven while it is still warm. This will protect it from rust and make it ready for your first meal or for storage. Take a towel to it to make sure that oil is not pooled anywhere. Pooled oil will go rancid. Over time the non-stick protective coating you just applied will turn dark and almost black with age. This is a sign of a well kept and used oven. You are now ready to cook in your dutch oven.

From now on after you cook in your dutch oven you will empty it, add a little water and heat it to boiling or near boiling, then using a plastic scrubber or a natural bristle brush (the boiling water will sterilize your dutch oven) and scrub the oven out and wipe is clean with a towel. After your dutch oven is dry apply another light coating of oil for storage. Never add cool water to a hot dutch oven! It may crack. Wait until the oven is cool enough to touch by hand to add water to clean it.

If you need to store your dutch oven do so with the lid upside down (so it doesn't trap moisture and rust) in the box it came in, a milk crate, or a dutch oven bag. I am partial to the dutch bags as they make moving and storing dutch ovens easy (I have dutch ovens like other girls have shoes, therefore some of mine always end up stored somewhere), they protect the heavy cast iron and anything it happens to bang into.  Also they allow for good airflow and thus protects against rust.

Alzheimers not linked to aluminum - Subsequent research has failed to show any connection between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's, and it is believed that the elevated aluminum levels found in the brains of Alzheimer's and non-Alzheimers patients is a result of the aging process.

Byron's Dutch Oven Cooking Page - Great website on Dutch Oven Cooking and Care, also has great recipes. This is the site I used when I was just starting with my dutch oven cooking.

Dutch Oven Dude - Another great dutch oven site - packed with recipes and advice.

Dutch Oven Madness - A blog about dutch oven cooking for the beginner.

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  1. Excellent article for the beginning Dutch Oven cook.

    My preference for new cast iron is Lodge. Been using their stuff for years, and have no problems, whatsoever. The Lodge Logic is good, in fact the last time I was out in TN, I stopped by the Lodge outlet store and purchased a new dutch that was Logic and it works really well.

    Again, kudos on your article.


  2. That is the second time I have heard great things about that outlet store in TN - I didn't know it was there and I WAS JUST IN TN! Dang it! Next time for sure!

  3. I just want to give you alittle advice in finding the store.

    It is in South Pittsburg, which is between Murfreesboro and Chattanooga.

    When you take the S. Pittsburg exit, it seems like it takes forever to get to the town. Do not despair. When you almost get through the town, you will see a very small sign that tells you the store is on your left. It is set back aways off of the main street and really doesn't look like much. But.....they always have something on sale, and I have found they have a lot more stuff than I have ever imagined.

    Next time you are in TN make sure that you stop. You will not regret it!


  4. I will be in Nashville in February and I have already put it on my itinerary!

  5. There is also a Lodge Outlet store in Sevierville, TN. It is great too! I pick up several pieces the last time I was there and could have bought many more, but ran out of time and money... ;)

  6. Hello,

    Indeed a good post, And I believe having a dutch oven in our all important kitchen is crucial it helps us cook the best food for our family,, so that's why we need the best dutch oven, and recently I have purchased one of the top dutch ovens available, because i want to make best food with the best dutch oven.
    By the way, Keep up the good work.


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