Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Re-Seasoning Cast Iron: Why Do I Do This Stuff on the Hottest Day of the Year?

It never fails that if you lack something to say, you can always discuss the weather. Garrulous as I am, even I have resorted to discussing this crazy Springtime we've been having with complete strangers as well as family members. It's just bewildering. Yesterday morning, I took my Boy-O to his last Monday of 4-year-old kindergarten in a long sleeve shirt since I was chilly, and by yesterday afternoon I felt as if I was relaxing in a sauna with no reprieve of a cool lake to jump into.

Before the spike in temperature yesterday, I decided that I should stop procrastinating the renovation of a newly acquired vintage Dutch oven. On my last visit to the Farm, my Mom and I performed our sporadic pilgrimage to our favorite "junk shop". Usually, I don't find anything. (Usually, I HOPE I don't find anything.) I didn't really need another 5 quart dutch oven, but when I saw this one in need of a bit of loving I stopped in my tracks. I actually didn't even buy it right away. I waited until we got back home (a half hour away), and then milled it around in my head over dinner and thought aloud "that is a really good deal for a nice old oven". My Mom said I should have it, and she actually drove back and purchased it for me, $38 (plus gas) well spent - especially after I have successfully restored it. It has exceptional design in my opinion, a boxiness that the newer models cannot boast. It also has a handle, should the desire to hang it over a campfire ever strike me.

I could tell that this oven was well used, and well cared for. The inside didn't have any build-up, though the outside told a different story. When I got it home, I washed it hard with soap and couldn't get around the "stickiness", blackish crud washing only a little away. Simple washing wasn't going to clean this new pot, I was going to have to do my first re-seasoning.

I always was a bit scared of re-seasoning. I supposed it's only because I have never had to do it. My old skillets are really in great shape, and I suspect I'll never have to put them through this process. I am actually glad I had the excuse to try it, since I was surprised at how well it worked. My reward for a bit of work is a gorgeous black pot, slick and ready for whatever I can throw at it.

I followed instructions at Byron's Dutch Oven Care. This required me to run a self-clean cycle on my electric oven, which did need it, and which I was also procrastinating. I figured a cool morning before Summer hit would be a good time to get both tasks accomplished simultaneously, but Crazy Spring heard me and decided to do a little self-cleaning outside as well. The downside is that my kitchen was hot as blazes, the upside was that years of build-up miraculously burned away from my pot.

The rust washed away; I used my favorite kind of grease (elbow) to steel wool the pot down to a dull grey color. I was meticulous, but not so much that it took me hours. I got the little hobnails underneath the lid and the curiously well-designed parts that hold the handle as best I could. Then, I opted to keep my kitchen cool and use my gas grill to bake on a couple layers of seasoning. My grill is pretty small, so I only did the base today. (I'm making some bread as a gift for the Boy-O's teacher for the last day of school tomorrow, so I figured I'd do the lid late tonight when I'm baking and the oven is on. I also had expired an entire canister of propane...)

I used coconut oil. I Googled, and read a few different sources that assured me it was ok. I do not detect any strange smell or feel. When using my iron skillets daily, I use coconut oil to grease them as well. I'm sticking with it, since I always have it on hand, and it appears to do the job well.

The handle catches on the well-designed tab, allowing you to pour without the whole pot tipping.

I know my electric oven will do just as great a job baking the seasoning on the lid, and then my handsome new pot will be fully ready for action. I now own 4 different Dutch ovens, and I can't say that I don't love each and every one of them. I rearranged my china cupboard this afternoon to appropriately show them all off, all four of them lined up like a detail of finely trained culinary soldiers.

You can see the difference in color from the baked-on seasoned base and the not-yet-baked-on seasoned top...

Do you have a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven that needs some attention? If it's not 96 degrees in your neck of the woods, give this a try. You will be happy you did!


  1. You are a little bit crazy for doing this on such a hot day, I'll give you that. But, it looks GORGEOUS!

    Can I confess I'm completely petrified of the self-clean cycle on my oven? I always clean mine by hand :)

  2. Great job! What a beautiful oven. I recently re-seasoned mine (which i had not done a good job looking after) and used lard, which smelt crazy and smoked up a storm but seemed to work well in the end. i think next time (if I need to do it again) I'm going to go the coconut oil route!

  3. That transformation is a thing of beauty.


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