Before you decide to plunk down big bucks for an enamel-coated Le Creuset, there's another solution that works much better. Did you know that seasoning your pot will help to preserve the non-stick abilities for a lifetime? But to get the right seasoned surface does take a bit of helpful instruction. Here are simple steps you can do at home to help coat and protect your Dutch oven from start to finish.
What Does It Mean To Season A Dutch Oven?
At first, it sounds (like it sounds) which is adding some salt and pepper or spices to a meal. The same way you would add to a soup or stew when cooking it inside a pot. But this is not what seasoning means when prepping this particular cooking vessel. Seasoning is a more specific term. In science, this process is called Polymerization and used oil that is applied to cast iron and is heated to help oxidize it over the outer surfaces.
In a nutshell, this process is repeated every so often that you clean these select iron additions in your kitchen. The history of this process is a lot older than you think too. It's hard to believe that as far back as 220 A.D. in China when the Han Dynasty perfected melting down iron into sand and clay forms. One great example is the cooking wok which features that iconic black patina sheen. These Woks are never cleaned and only washed with water and wiped dry until they are used again.
A traditional wok contains a very special kind of seasoned surface that also includes using vegetable oil, scallions, and chives to help flavor the food that's cooked inside a wok. If you've ever enjoyed stir fry, you'll notice that flavor always tastes better when you get it from Chinese takeout. It's not because they're adding excess amounts of MSG. It's the successive layers of seasoning that makes Chinese food taste so flavorful!
Now, this isn't always the case with an iron pot that you're using for making stews, braises, or recipes that need to simmer for several hours. Seasoning these surfaces is meant to help preserve metal surfaces so that they can be used for daily use. Seasoning is also used to create the ultimate natural non-stick surface, so food that's cooked inside these vessels will slip right out afterward.
If there is anything leftover inside seasoned iron pots, it can be rinsed with water or even wiped clean with a paper towel. This surface is good for many uses but will need regular maintenance at least 2 to 3 times per year, depending on its usage. This can be done more often if the seasoned surface has become scratched by using metal spatulas or cooking utensils to poke at the food inside your pot.
You don't have to completely strip a seasoned pot to re-season the surface, but there are steps involved that do require some minor prepping. We'll address all of these steps in just the next section.
How To Season A New Dutch Oven
It's fair to say that anything made of iron will typically start to rust if it's not protected with some kind of coating before it's sold in stores. When it comes to cooking vessels and pots, they can be sold pre-seasoned or coated with thin water-soluble shellac to prevent any rust. This shellac is easy to remove with a scrubber sponge and some strong dish soap that you would use on greasy pots and pans.
After this, you dry off your pot with a clean towel or paper towels to remove any water on the surface. Then- you can start the seasoning process. But if you've bought an iron pot that comes seasoned already, you also want to clean this surface and remove that factory seasoning using a scouring pad and some good kitchen soap for greasy pots. Make sure that all of the inside and outside are properly scrubbed to remove as much as possible.
Since you don't know what kind of oil the factory has used (assuming they've used vegetable oil), you want to ensure that your seasoning oil is consistent. Once you start seasoning these surfaces, you need to stick to the same brand or oil type. Even though oil is essentially baked onto the surface, not every type of oil reacts the same way. This can lead to flaking problems or sections that end up in your food, which is the last thing you want to happen.
This is a good time to mention that several oils are used in cooking, and you should know they all have different smoking points. Not that you're going to be exposing these pots to extreme heat, aside from the intended use you want to use them for. Now, this is the extra critical decision that you'll have to make when it comes to deciding which kind of oil to use. Each of these oils has Pros and Cons when used for seasoning. Here's why:
- Vegetable oil
You probably have sunflower oil in your kitchen and use it for nearly everything. This is a fine oil to use because it's cheap to buy and is what people think of when it comes to cooking oil most time. And though the smoking point is around 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, this makes it ideal for standing up to high heat. The downside is that it's the weakest oil that doesn't last very long at all. It also breaks down faster than other types of oil.
- Vegetable shortening
Using artificial shortening like Crisco might sound like a good choice if you're sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet, but this is problematic for seasoning oil for iron pots. Instead of getting a true patina-like sheen, the surface ends up being continually sticky. It's just not a good choice for using when seasoning any cooking vessel. Aside from that, Crisco has a smoke point of just 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Grapeseed oil
While this isn't the most expensive oil on the market, it might be hard to track down at your local supermarket. It also has an excellent smoke point that doesn't start until you reach 420 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a strong favorite for experienced professionals, and it is the best choice for all-around non-stick abilities and long-lasting performance. This oil has a neutral flavor that doesn't affect your food either, making it ideal for many pot recipes.
- Canola oil
Everyone loves canola oil because it's healthy, but when it comes to seasoning, it will pass with a C+ grade. It's average enough to be in every kitchen and has a good smoke point of 425 to 450 degrees. The problem is that it breaks down just as fast as vegetable oil and the first coating is not very smooth looking, urging a second seasoning to remedy this. Then again, it's cheap and doesn't affect the flavor of your food either.
- Peanut oil
This oil isn't going to be any problem unless you don't like your meals with the added essence of peanut. You certainly don't want to use this if you have an allergy, but the smoking point is an impressive 450 degrees Fahrenheit! This doesn't apply to every brand of peanut oil, so only the refined versions will stand up better. Finding these refined versions is a matter of searching for the one that says 100% peanut oil on the label.
- Extra Virgin olive oil
Many websites will try to tell you that olive oil is terrible for seasoning, but using extra virgin olive oil is an exception. It has a smoke point of 375 degrees and does have a tricky application point when you first put this onto exposed heated iron pots. This is part of the bonding process which if you aren't following the instructions correctly, will crack off too soon because it didn't bond correctly.
- Avocado oil
Avocado oil is a very pricy oil to use, and there is a good reason why it can work for your cooking needs. If you're doing any kind of hot baking with your pot, avocado oil has a smoke point of 520 degrees Fahrenheit. This is especially good if you're into using this pot inside outdoor pizza ovens that have high heat. It also requires that you heat your iron to these temperatures for the seasoning process, which is a risk of getting burned if you aren't careful.
- Flaxseed oil
This is relatively new to the oil category and is certainly celebrated for being the toughest of the bunch. The key to success here is using the least amount of oil to coat the surfaces to get the desired effect with the iron being just hot enough to hold with an oven mitt. The next part is heating this to at least 500 degrees to bake it onto the surface. This is more of a waiting game than anything but the results are worth it.
Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven Blue Color | 5-Quart | imarku
What You'll Need
Now that you have a better understanding of oil and how many different types of oil can be used for seasoning a new cast-iron Dutch oven, you'll need some other accessories to start. The most important item that you'll need is a good pair of oven mitts. This is because your pot will be relatively hot when you apply oil to it. You don't want to get burned, and considering that all iron pots conduct heat so well, you could easily burn your hands.
The next item is obviously your oil, so choose the selected oil that's dedicated to seasoning your pots that isn't used for cooking in any way. This way you have the same result each time that won't create the potential for a seasoned surface to fail. Using different brands of oil could potentially start to separate from each layer and end up in your food. This is why each layer will bond perfectly to each other and help your pot's last generations.
You also need an application rag. The easiest is to use a lint-free bandana cloth. This keeps fabric particles off of your iron surface and the lay of oil leftover is a smooth layer. You can store this rag inside a Ziplock bag until you use it next. If your rag starts to get icky or smells weird, then toss it into the garbage. Bandanas aren't very expensive, and you can buy a big pack of them for next to nothing.
You also need to use your kitchen oven to heat your pot. Keep in mind that each type of oil that's used requires specific temperatures to apply your coating of oil. If you happen to have a digital thermometer, this is excellent to see if your pot is at the right temperature to apply the oil. The other consideration is opening a kitchen window to let out the smell of your oil that's baking. It's not a terrible smell, but for most people, it can smell odd.
Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven Blue Color | 5-Quart | imarku
The first seasoning of any cast-iron pot is going to be the most important, which is even more reason to be prepared beforehand. You want to clean your pot using a scouring sponge and dish soap to remove anything on the surface of your pot inside and out. If it comes with a lid, this should also be cleaned so it will be seasoned as well. All of the surfaces need to be dried with a lint-free towel and then it's ready for these critical steps.
- Preheat your oven
According to the type of oil that you're using, heat the oven to that recommended temperature. Check the section in this article for cooking oils to use as a guide. According to the smoking point with each selected type of cooking oil, this is important to get your oil to bond with the iron surfaces. Open some windows for the entire seasoning period just in case there are oil fumes or there is minimal smoke coming off of your pot as it bakes.
- Heat up your cooking vessel
This initial heating-up stage not only helps to heat the iron surfaces but also evaporates any water that was used while washing your pot. Be sure to have room for your pot and lid separated on different oven shelves. It only needs half an hour to get hot since iron conducts heat easily. Now remove the pot and lid from the oven and place it onto your stovetop to cool down a little bit. Always use kitchen mitts so you don't get burned.
- Give your pot a coat of oil
Don't allow your pot to get cold, since it needs to be hot enough to start the Polymerization. This is where a coat of oil starts to dry when it touches a hot dry surface. Coat the inside surface first since this is where your food is going. The outside can be completed after the first bake-out. Only apply a thin layer of cooking oil using a bandana to spread it around. This layer only needs to be a simple sheen and not dripping anywhere to be sufficient.
- Allow baking for 1-hour
The first time should always be a full hour but after this, each seasoning in the oven is just 45 minutes. That initial layer needs to be baked so it gets nice and dark like a black patina. It should be smooth and shiny but never sticky or tacky whatsoever. If this happens, you need to start back at the beginning and use a thinner layer of oil.
- Repeat 2-3 times
Once your pot is seasoned on the inside, you can repeat the process on the outside and also for the lid. Keep track of the layers that are put down. You only need 2 or 3 layers for a new pot that will be optimal for cooking after this. Try to reserve an afternoon that gives you at least 4 to 5 hours to complete the seasoning process. When you're done, you won't need to re-season your pots for at least 3 to 4 months depending on what you cook or how it's used.Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven Blue Color | 5-Quart | imarku
Learning to season a cast iron Dutch oven is not so hard when you review all of these steps. The hard part comes from being careful so you don't get burned while handling a hot pot. The rest of the work is simply following the steps and sticking to these recommended tips. Your hard work will pay off with a pot that is well seasoned and will last a lifetime using this simple method for making a non-stick cooking surface for your cast-iron cooking pot.