Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just When You Think You’ve Got it Figured Out...

I’ve been Dutch Ovening for a while, now.  I’ve gotten into my ways, my style, my groove.  It’s been working, pretty much, for a few years.

But the other day, I read a Dutch oven beginners book that suggested a way of doing things that shook me up, off my comfy chair, and made me rethink some things about managing the patina, the black coating, of my Dutch ovens.  It’s making me re-assess and rethink my whole processes, which will, in turn, change everything I’ve done to date.

...If it works.

Let me back up and explain...

The Patina

What makes cast iron such a great cooking tool is that thin black coating of carbonized oil that’s all over it.  It does so many wonderful things.  It coats and protects the raw iron, so that it doesn’t rust on contact with air and water.  It becomes a non-stick cooking surface to make cleanup smoother and easier.  It makes for better transfer of heat to the food.  It’s really amazing just how great this is.

It has to be maintained, though, and by continuous use and care, it can build up over time to be even better at the jobs it’s made for.

How I Did it Before

So, for all of my Dutch ovening life, I’ve done what I first read in the little pamphlet that lodge included with my first oven.  I seasoned it first, then after each use, I scraped out the food with plastic, rinsed it with hot water and scrubbed it with a plastic brush, then dried it off.  Finally, I’d recoat it with a very thin film of oil and put it away.

Then, when I got it out again the next week, I’d do the same thing.  Cook, scrub, rinse, coat, repeat.

Over the years, I’ve heard many different methods for cleaning and storing Dutch ovens, and many different opinions about those methods.  Most folks were pretty convinced that their method was the right way.  I was, too, but not really.  Sometimes, the patina on my ovens didn’t get better.  Sometimes, if I didn’t use a particular oven for a really long time, it would get a little smelly.

Pre-Heating the Ovens

So, this book suggested that the process shift.  First, light up the coals.  Then, after selecting which Dutch oven to use, coat it, inside and out, with a thin layer of oil.  Put the coals on it and under it and give it 15-20 minutes of preheating.  Let it bake on the layer of oil to help build up the patina, and heat up the cooking surface, ready for the food.

Then add the food and get cooking.

When you’re all done, you’ll still scrape and rinse, but you won’t need to coat it.

This has several advantages.  One, it will reduce cooking time, since the oven is already hot. That’s not that much of an advantage, because it increases the heatup time, so it all evens out.  Still, I can be chopping veggies while the oven heats.

Two, it will build up the patina.

Three, it will sterilize the oven before cooking in it.

Why I’m Not Sure

OK, so I’m going to try this.  I’ve done it once already, and I wasn’t displeased with the results.  I’ll have to do it over time to really be convinced.  Like I said, it will completely mess with my way of doing things.

For some dishes, like those that need assembly or preparation directly in the dutch oven first, that’s not going to work.  You can’t be assembling a pie, or letting bread proof in a super-hot dutch oven.  There are some dishes that you want to build up the heat gradually, rather than dump all of the items into a heated pan.  But for the most part, I’m thinking I like the idea.

I will definitely keep you informed and up-to-date as I discover more.


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


  1. I've actually been doing that for a while. And I agree, it doesn't work with every dish, but I've found that I really like the method. Even if I don't use an oven for a while it never gets smelly because the oil isn't sitting on the surface. Its been absorbed into the pores of the pot. I'll be interested to hear what you think once you've tried it for a while.

  2. Carbonized is a much nicer word for "burnt" so if anyone asks what what that smell is, I'll say something like "We're having carbonized chicken for dinner tonight". Chicken Brulee anyone?

    I've been using the oil & heat method the whole time. I even oil it before I cook wet things like soups. I found out from Matt Pelton's book "The Cast Iron Chef" to not leave a coating of oil on my irons and to bake in the patina before use. What book did you get it from?

  3. OK, so this is a bit of a "Doh" moment. Once again, I learn something that everyone else knew all along! I'm slow, but I get there!



Related Posts with Thumbnails