How to Clean Cast Iron and Enameled Dutch Ovens

Don't put it the dishwasher — we beg you!

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March 19, 2021
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Photo by: vaphotog/Getty Images

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We all have a favorite pot or pan that we turn to when we aren’t making something with specific needs — it’s a pan we trust and is likely the one that looks the most used. For me, it’s a Dutch oven. I have a couple size options, but I find our 3.5-quart gets the most use since it’s typically just my partner and I cooking. Strong sear? Dutch oven. Pasta boiling? Dutch oven. Soups, braises or frying? There’s no competition. I find that when cleaning up after most of my Dutch oven projects, I only need a brush with a scraper on top, soap and water to get the job done and baking soda for tougher messes. Either way, there are a few things to consider to make sure you’re cleaning it properly.

Enameled Vs. Cast Iron Dutch Ovens

Let’s start with enameled Dutch ovens. Many Dutch ovens are made with cast iron then coated with enamel, which is the white layer that can be seen on the inside. This is the reason they’re so heavy but also such great retainers of heat. When cleaning this type of Dutch oven, the goal is to preserve this white layer, which can scratch or chip if not cared for correctly. Next is a cast iron Dutch oven that is not coated in enamel. These can be cleaned the same way you clean normal cast iron pans, meaning the goal is to not disrupt the seasoning that you build up. When cleaning anything cast iron, it’s important to remember golden rule: no soap ever.

How to Clean Tough Messes On Enameled Dutch Ovens

After a normal cook, I treat enameled cast irons the same way I do glass plates. If scrubbing with a brush doesn’t get the job done, I add about a half-inch of water, cover the pot and boil for about five minutes, before letting sit until it is time to do dishes. The hope is that the boil will disrupt some of the particles on the bottom of the pot, and the steam will loosen everything on the sides. Once it’s cool enough to handle, I’ll add a bit of soap to the water and scrub. I like brushes versus rough sponges for this because you can be aggressive with less risk of scratching. That rough side of the sponge won’t peel the coating off right away, but over time it will wear down and lose its smooth texture. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take about 1/3 cup of baking soda and add enough water to make a paste. I spread the paste on the residue and wait for it to harden. Once it’s tough, I slowly pour boiling water over it, hoping the residue will stick to the paste rather than the bottom of the pot. You can repeat the baking soda and boiling technique until everything is off the bottom, though it will rarely take this much effort.

How to Clean Tough Messes on Cast Iron Dutch Ovens

For cast iron, you’ll need water, a brush, tongs, vegetable shortening, a rag and maybe some salt, and I highly recommend investing in a cast iron brush if you use your cast iron regularly. The bristles are made from a tougher material than regular dish brushes, so they’ll last longer.

In a perfect world, your pan will just require a quick rinse and wipe-down with a rag to get excess food bits off. However, this is not always the case. If the food is tougher, I like to start by softening it with a little bit of hot water. Similar to above, I add water, cover and let it boil for about five minutes. Next, I brush and scrape with my designated, soap-less cast iron brush. If something is still stuck, I will put a little mound of kosher salt on it and try to use that to scrub with a rag then rinse again.

The next step is almost as essential as the no soap rule — you need to heat the cast iron Dutch oven again to make sure you’ve removed all moisture. Just how soap is the enemy of your seasoning, water is the enemy of metal, and not drying out your cast iron will result in rust. Trust us, you don’t want to skip this step. Next, with a small rag (hold with tongs since the cast iron will still be hot), spread the thinnest possible layer of vegetable shortening evenly across the inside of the cast iron. Place back on high heat and let it cook into the skillet for three to five minutes.

What to Avoid When Washing Dutch Ovens

If you’re tempted to put your Dutch oven in the dishwasher, I beg you not to. It seems obvious for cast iron Dutch ovens since dishwashers use soap, but dishwashers are off limits for enameled Dutch ovens, too. They can take the dishwasher heat, but there is risk that the extended humidity of a dishwasher will wear down the enamel over time and increase the risk of chipping. Additionally, dishwashers can be violent places! Dishes and utensils can move around during the wash cycle, which puts your enamel at risk of getting scratched.

The good news is that the care of these kitchen staples isn’t difficult if you know the right steps to take. Heavy is the Dutch oven that wears the crown, but the cleaning doesn’t have to be a heavy lift.

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