How do I clean a Dutch oven?

Once a really good layer of oil has been formed on your cast iron surface cleaning should be pretty simple.  You can skip the cleaning step almost altogether by lining the inside surface of your oven with aluminum foil.  A true, dyed in the wool, Dutch oven cook might not be caught dead doing this, but it is a way to avoid some potentially messy clean ups.  

The first thing you want to do, is what you might expect, remove the left over food.  You can make the process a little easier if you add water into your Dutch oven, put the lid on and get it over some coals.  The hot water should soften up the remaining food.  Let it cool a bit and clean, scraping with a plastic spatula to remove the bits of food.  Using mild dish soaps can help in this process and it’s totally safe. Read more about this here!

Once the food is no where to be found, you want to dry out your Dutch oven.  This can be done by putting it by a heat source to open up the pores and get all the moisture out.  This shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes.  Let the oven cool, and then add a nice new coat of olive oil with a lint free cloth.  Wipe off the excess oil with a clean paper towel.

There are other ways to clean a Dutch oven that are not necessarily as effective.  For example some people have been known to turn their Dutch oven face down in the fire and simply cook the food out then wipe with a dry cloth when cool.  If really bad you can wash with soap, and then re-season the cast iron.  Salt can also be used to scour the inside.  Dump salt in your oven and scrub with a paper towel, then rinse and dry. In all cases it is good practice to add that extra coat of olive oil after.

What is the best way to clean a REALLY dirty Dutch oven?

There are those instances where food was left too long in the Dutch oven and it has grown into a little green monster or you have a bunch of burned food.  In those cases it might take a little more doing to clean.  The first step is to remove all the food that you can with a food scraper, hard spatula, or butter knife.  Add water, heat and allow the water to soften the remaining food and do some more cleaning.  There is even cast iron cleaner that you can add to the boiling water that helps, but not totally necessary.

After removing the water, food bits and allowing to cool, you make a damage report.  If things look clean, then add a small amount of your preferred oil to where you were working hard to replenish the seasoned cast iron.  If there is still stubborn food stuck to the side then the oven may have to have the remaining food cooked and scraped out. 

To do this place your oven upside down in a fire, on a propane burner or in a conventional oven.  If you want to do a clean sweep of all the food and all the seasoning, then go hot, but you’ll have to start fresh and re-season your Dutch oven.  Hot in a conventional oven means placing it on the clean cycle.  Leave your oven long enough to turn everything to ash.  

After you have removed the oven and allowed it to cool, take a metal scraper, coarse steel wool, a little water and scrub all the way down to the base metal.  Shortly after getting things to this state, re-season.  You don’t want to wait too long as it increases the odds of rusting.

What if I have flakey seasoning in my Dutch oven?

If you are noticing black specks in your food, it is either because you didn’t clean it well from the time before or your seasoning is breaking down.  If your seasoning is bad, there is only one thing to do and that is remove it and start over.  This is done with a conventional oven on the cleaning cycle, a fire or the propane burner.  Turn the Dutch oven upside down and burn off all of the seasoning.  Once it is completely stripped of seasoning, allow it to cool, and then re-season the cast iron.

Storing a Dutch oven

There isn’t a lot of magic to storing a Dutch oven, but you do want to remember a few things.  First, keep your Dutch oven away from moisture.  It is a solid piece of cast iron and over time and exposure to water, it will want to rust.  Keep it dry, properly seasoned and in and area with good air circulation to keep it from rusting. 

Another good practice is to place something in the Dutch oven to soak up excess oil and between the lid and the oven to keep good air movement.  A wad of paper towels should be sufficient as well as a few folded pieces between the lid and the oven. These steps help keep your oil from going rancid and the iron from rusting. 

There are covers that can be purchased these days to further protect the outside of your Dutch oven, especially if they are in places that can expose them to scratches, dirt and moisture.  Dutch ovens are pretty resilient though and even some of the most neglected pieces can be restored with a little cleaning, love and olive oil.

Restoring a rusty Dutch oven

There are three ways to restore a rusty oven: 1) Scrubbing, 2) Cola or 3) Sand blasting/Electrolysis. The method you choose depends on the amount of rust and where it is located. Click here for our in depth guide on resorting rusty cast iron.

For minor rust scrubbing with a dry SOS pad (Steel wool with soap) should be all that is needed. 

The second method is to apply Coca Cola to the rusted area. The phosphoric acid in the cola will help break down the rust when soaked long enough.

For a VERY rusty oven use the third method of sand blasting or electrolysis to remove the rust.  

With all of the methods, you will have to wash and re-season your cast iron.

You’re now ready to cook in your Dutch oven.