How to Clean a Dutch Oven

Dutch oven cooking is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation – literally. Taking proper care of your Dutch oven will ensure its longevity for years to come. It’s no wonder these robust, versatile kitchen tools become a multi-generational family heirloom. 

Dutch ovens are perfect for cooking hearty stews, braising meats, and baking mouthwatering cobbler. But to ensure a lengthy lifespan, you’ll need to learn our (easy!) best cleaning practices and hacks. 

If you’re a baking aficionado who is just learning their hand at the Dutch oven, or a rookie seeking to expand your kitchen prowess, this article will teach you everything you need to know about keeping your Dutch oven clean. 

Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron

The type of Dutch oven you own will determine how you keep it clean. We’ll go over the basics of how to clean each of the two types: cast iron and enameled cast iron. Both are popular for different reasons. 

Traditional cast iron Dutch ovens are generally cheaper. They require a bit of extra maintenance when it comes to cleaning and seasoning, but they are durable and have that rustic, shiny black color that many people love. These Dutch ovens are hard to truly ruin and are easily resurrected. 

Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are increasingly popular. They are easier to clean and don’t require any seasoning process. They vary slightly from cast iron, as they are coated inside and out with shiny enamel. The Dutch ovens are normally available in a variety of colors, and their enamel coating makes them “non-stick”. 

Whichever Dutch oven you decide to go with, keeping your Dutch oven clean can be done efficiently and easily, normally using the items you already have in your house. 

How to Clean a Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Before you start cleaning your cast iron Dutch oven, you’ll want to make sure you have all the necessary tools for our tried-and-true cleaning ritual. 

What do I need to clean my cast iron Dutch oven?

  • Salt
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Cooking oil, generally olive oil
  • Non-abrasive dish scrubber (NO steel wool) 
  • Plastic spatula or wooden spoon (for scraping stubborn bits of food)

When it comes to cleaning cast iron Dutch ovens, the technique is fairly straightforward. Remember you want to keep the integrity of the Dutch oven intact with each cleaning, so avoid any abrasive tools or harsh chemicals – even mild dish soap is a no-no! Don’t worry, we’ve laid it all out for you below.

Our Simple Dutch Oven Cleaning Technique 

This cleaning technique is designed to clean the Dutch oven, while keeping the necessary grease (seasoning) intact. 

For simple, small messes, you can use warm water and a non-abrasive dish scrubber. Wash out the food residue and dry your Dutch oven out with a paper towel. You want your Dutch oven bone dry to avoid any rusting. You can also stick your Dutch oven in your conventional oven at about 350 degrees for a few minutes or on a hot stove to get it completely dry. Using heat to dry your Dutch oven is the preferred method. 

For particularly dirty bits, add a handful of table salt to the bottom of your Dutch oven and continue to scrub with a non-abrasive dish scrubber. The salt should help to unstick any burnt food. You may also heat up warm water inside the Dutch oven and scrape a wooden spoon along the bottom of the Dutch oven to remove any residue. Be sure to rinse out all the salt and dirty water and then dry completely. 

After cleaning, you may want to add a drop or two of olive oil in the Dutch oven and wipe it evenly across the bottom with a clean paper towel. Stick the Dutch oven on the stove on high heat for a minute or two to allow the oil to soak into the Dutch oven. This regular seasoning maintenance will help create that perfect non-stick coating. This last step is not necessary if you already have a well-seasoned pan. 

Can I use dish soap on my Dutch oven?

A key rule to remember when cleaning cast iron is to avoid dish soap. Cast iron Dutch ovens use natural fats from the foods you cook to create that wonderful, seasoned coating on the bottom of the pan. That’s why you need to avoid using anything that will break down that natural coating like dish soap. 

If you’ve already used dish soap on your Dutch oven, don’t worry. You can re-season your Dutch oven to restore it to pristine condition. Read below on how to season your cast iron Dutch oven. 

Do I need to season my Dutch oven?

It might seem counterintuitive, but to clean and preserve your cast iron Dutch oven, you’ll need to work backwards a bit by making sure your Dutch oven has been properly seasoned. If you didn’t correctly season your Dutch oven first and your pan is rusty, don’t worry. We dive into how to clean off the rust below. Then you’ll re-season and begin a proper cleaning routine that will improve your Dutch oven’s longevity dramatically.

Seasoning your Dutch oven is an important step that is part of the regular cleaning process. We’ll describe the initial seasoning process and the routine seasoning step in-depth below. The more you regularly season your Dutch oven, it becomes easier to cook (creating that natural nonstick coating) and easier to clean.

How to Season Your Dutch Oven in 6 Steps

Thoroughly seasoning your Dutch oven helps keep bits of metal out of your food. As we mentioned above, proper seasoning coats the cast iron with a thick layer of oil that prevents rust and preserves the Dutch oven’s quality. While a variety of oils will work when it comes to seasoning your Dutch oven, we prefer olive oil, as it is less likely to go rancid after the seasoning process is complete. 

  1. Heat your oven to 425 degrees 
  2. Pour a small amount of oil into your Dutch oven. Using a clean, lint-free cloth or paper towel, evenly coat the surface of your Dutch oven with the oil – you can season your entire Dutch oven, including the outside of the pan. Be sure to coat the Dutch oven in a very thin layer of oil. Too much oil will create a gummy or sticky surface after heating. 
  3. Once the oven is ready, place the Dutch oven upside down (to avoid any oil pooling) on the rack. You may also follow the above steps with the Dutch oven lid, and place it in the oven as well. This will produce some smoke. 
  4. Keep the Dutch oven in the heat for about an hour, or until the smoke has disappeared. 
  5. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Add more oil to the pot and use the cloth to evenly distribute it across the surface. Return it to the oven. 
  6. Repeat this process for three coats of oil. You’re looking for a black, glassy-looking finish at the end of your seasoning process.

Following these steps will create that iconic, black color throughout your Dutch oven. If there are spots that don’t look fully seasoned, add more oil and repeat the heating process. Completely and properly seasoning your Dutch oven will make it easier to clean. Seasoning the Dutch oven (also called sealing) creates a non-stick surface for cooking food. The seasoning process helps meat to sear better, and cook evenly, as well. 

How to Remove Rust from Your Cast Iron Dutch Oven in 

Rust is the last thing you want to worry about when you’re preparing a meal. Failure to properly season your cast iron Dutch oven can cause rust to form on the iron. Your Dutch oven may also start to rust if it’s left in the sink to soak, cleaned in the dishwasher, or left to air dry.

But one of the best things about cast iron is that even the rustiest Dutch ovens can be restored to their former glory with a little work. 

  1. Wash your Dutch oven with warm, soapy water and steel wool. This is one of the ONLY times you’ll ever use steel wool (or soap) on your cast iron Dutch oven – when removing rust. Keep scrubbing until you’ve removed all the rust from the pan. 
  2. Dry your Dutch oven completely with a paper towel, or better yet, placing it on low heat on the stove for a few minutes. You want to make sure the Dutch oven is completely dry. 
  3. Apply a very thin layer of oil to the Dutch oven and place upside down in the oven (425 degrees) for an hour.
  4. Repeat the seasoning process one or two more times. 
  5. When finished heating, turn off the heat and allow the Dutch oven to cool inside the oven, ideally overnight. 

Why is My Dutch Oven Sticky and Gummy? 

If your cast iron Dutch oven is sticky or gummy after the seasoning process, it’s because you either used too much oil, or didn’t heat it long enough. Fortunately, there is an easy solution: stick it back in the oven for another hour or so, or until the stickiness is gone. 

Remember, you want a smooth, non-stick, beautifully black surface after the seasoning process is complete. You may see a little smoke in the oven during the process. This is normal.

Why Does My Cast Iron Dutch Oven Look Dull and Burnt?

This is likely because you heated the Dutch oven without any oil, or it wasn’t properly oiled before the heating process. You can fix this by reseasoning the pan. Keep reseasoning the Dutch oven until it has that beautiful, shiny black sheen. 

Cleaning an Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Cleaning a stained, crusty or dirty Dutch oven doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Let us spare you the scrubbing. If you have some common household items available, you can let the cleaning tools work for you, and save all that elbow grease for another day. 

What do I need to clean my enameled cast iron Dutch oven?

  • Hot water
  • Mild dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Non-abrasive dish scrubber or sponge (NO steel wool)
  • Dish towel or drying rack

This is a general list of cleaning materials you’ll use. As we explore specific cleaning techniques for the enameled cast iron Dutch oven, you’ll see you may also want to include other cleaning supplies such as salt, lemons, or toothpaste to name a couple. Let’s look at a few common cleaning techniques for the enameled cast iron Dutch oven. 

Can I Use Soap On My Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven?

Yes! One of the main differences between cast iron Dutch ovens and enameled cast iron Dutch ovens is that the enameled Dutch ovens can handle regular hand washing with warm water and a mild dish soap. This can dull the brightness of the enamel over time, but with the techniques we lay out below, you can learn how to restore that original brightness. 

Dish soap is safe on this type of Dutch oven because the enamel coat over the cast iron acts as the non-stick surface you create from seasoning a traditional cast iron Dutch oven and therefore can’t be stripped away with the use of dish soap. 

Baking soda and water

One of the most common ways to clean your Dutch oven – or simply restore an old-looking one – is with regular baking soda and boiling water. Fill your Dutch oven with enough water to cover the burnt-on bits of food. Bring the water to a steady boil. Once you’ve got a nice boil going, slowly add a few teaspoons of baking soda to the water and boil until the bubbles work off the grit and burnt areas. You may need to use a spatula or a wooden spoon to scrape off any stubborn bits. 

Once the pot is mostly clean, dump out the dirty water and run your Dutch oven under warm water. You can use a minimally abrasive dish sponge (no steel wool!) and a mild dish soap to get your Dutch oven looking good as new. 

If you’re still seeing some burnt food on the bottom of the Dutch oven, repeat the process. You can also make a paste of mild dish soap and baking soda and let the paste sit overnight (or for a few hours). Scrape the burnt areas off in the morning and wash the Dutch oven with warm water and soap. 

Baking soda and hydrogen peroxide

This effective technique combines baking soda and hydrogen peroxide together to chemically remove any stubborn stains and scorched food on your enamel Dutch oven. 

To start, fill your Dutch oven with about ½ inch of hydrogen peroxide and then add ¼ cup of baking soda. Bring this mixture to a boil until foamy. Use a wooden spoon or a spatula to help scrape off any problem spots in the pan. Once the mixture is foaming, remove from the heat and let rest for about 10 minutes. You may use the wooden spoon to do a final scrape of the bottom of the pan. 

After the rest period, dump the dirty water and wash with mild soap and warm water. Repeat if necessary. This technique will help to restore the original brightness to your enamel Dutch oven. 

Lemon juice and salt

You’ve just enjoyed a delicious meal and now you’re dreading cleaning up the glorious mess? Look no further than a lemon and some regular table salt to help expedite the task. 

Once your Dutch oven has cooled, pour a couple of tablespoons of salt into the bottom of the pan, trying your best to spread the salt evenly. Then slice a lemon in half and dip one side of the citrus into a small dish of salt. Use the lemon to scrub the pan. You may repeat with the other half of the lemon if necessary. 

For particularly stubborn scorches, try scraping off the burnt areas with a wooden spoon and some warm water in addition to the lemon and salt. Rinse with water and optional light soap afterward. 

Toothpaste

If you find yourself with a mess in your Dutch oven, but no baking soda, you can try toothpaste. Spread a thin layer of toothpaste on the bottom of your Dutch oven and let it sit for at least two hours, up to overnight. When you’re ready to start scrubbing, grab an old toothbrush or a minimally abrasive cleaning pad (like ScotchBrite) and scrub off the dirty areas. 

Finish off this cleaning method by rinsing off the Dutch oven with soap and water. Repeat the process if necessary. This is a great method for restoring your Dutch oven enamel’s original brightness. 

Bar Keepers Friend

Though less common, Bar Keepers Friend is an efficient way to clean the inside of your Dutch oven. 

Begin by wiping or lightly scraping as much of the food residue as possible. Don’t worry about getting it all off  – that’s what the Bar Keepers Friend is for. After a quick wipe-down, sprinkle the Bar Keepers Friend in the bottom of the Dutch oven to cover the stained areas. Use a scrub brush or sponge to scrub the pan clean. You may apply a paste of water and Bar Keepers Friend for especially dirty areas – try letting it sit for a while before scrubbing it out. 

After the scrubbing rinse your Dutch oven out with warm water and a mild dish soap. Good as new and ready for your next kitchen creation!

As long as you follow these simple steps for keeping your Dutch oven clean, you’ll be able to use this popular kitchen tool for years, and even generations to come. 

 

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