Friday, March 8, 2013

Choosing, Seasoning and Caring for Your Dutch Oven

Choosing, Seasoning and Caring for Your Dutch Oven

Guest post By Stephanie Dayle

Dutch oven cooking is a great skill for preppers to learn and a dutch oven is good thing to keep in your supplies.  Besides being just plain fun to use, a dutch oven can provide you with another option for cooking if the power is out, knowing how to use one is another step in your journey in self-reliance. It means when the power goes out instead of wondering how you will get dinner you will simply get your oven out and make dinner yourself without depending on the power company or Pizza Hut.

Once you've decided you want to give dutch oven cooking a try, you need to decide which kind of oven you want to purchase.  Of course there are 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.  You usually find these at Outdoor Adventure/Sports stores where you would normally find camping equipment.

They are expensive to get online as the cast iron ones are very 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 use in your 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 for reasonable prices.  Click here to see one.

Aluminum or Cast Iron? (both pictured to the left):  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 that you could also take with you while bugging out to a different location aluminum might be for you. It's not dangerous to cook or eat from aluminum pots and pans as it once was believed  (see references at bottom).  However aluminum cooks VERY differently than cast iron, everything about the way they cook is different from cast iron 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 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.

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.
Another thing to consider when buying new is the roughness of the iron.  Some people recommend a smooth oven, I have found that in the long run a rough texture provides a better surface for your "seasoning" to adhere to.  As you use your oven and build the oil coating the surface will naturally smooth out.

Pre-seasoned Dutch Ovens:  Once you have a dutch oven, even if it is "pre-seasoned" by the factory, many experts still recommend that you strip the factory seasoning and do it again yourself, the decision is up to you.  If 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:  When you get a used dutch over with a lot of baked on grease (not seasoning but nasty rancid residue from someone not using it right) or if its a little rusty you can strip it 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) you have to wipe away but a perfectly clean dutch oven ready to be re-seasoned.

Oven in ovenIf its Not Pre-seasoned:  It will have a protective 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 season damaged by it).

Next, you need to make sure your oven is completely dry from your scrubbing.  I did this by placing my oven inside my 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 you want it 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.  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.  A lot of people argue about which oil to use, but 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.  For beginners I would just go with vegetable oil, it's easy, it lasts, and everyone has it.

Outdoor Dutch Oven Blackened with Use
Next, stick your oil coated, dutch oven in your electric or gas oven at home at 400 degree F.  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 degrees F for an hour.  Repeat this process one 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 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 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 bristle brush (the boiling water will sterilize your dutch oven) you will scrub the oven out and wipe is clean with a towel.  After your dutch oven is dry you can warm it up over a fire or in an oven and then apply another light coating of oil for storage.  Never add cool water to a hot dutch oven.  Ever.  It will crack.  Wait until the oven is cool to add water to clean it.
Now, Go Forth and Cook!  Already have your own dutch oven?  Share your favorite "beginners recipe" or "food storage dutch oven recipe" in the comment section and I will publish and credit them in a future dutch oven cooking article!
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 in the brains of Alzheimer's patients is a result of the disease process.  In other words, high aluminum levels do not cause Alzheimer's, but rather Alzheimer's causes high aluminum levels.