Good as Old!

by Nathaniel Huntley

Rehab and care of an old rusty cast iron Dutch Oven.

Winter time on the homestead is a time for projects small and large that we would never get to in other seasons. A fire in the fire place, the oven on an all-day bake, and a pot of beans on the stove gives our furnace a rest on a cold day. Today’s project is an old cast iron Dutch Oven left to us by my wife’s grandmother via my mother-in-law. It’s in pretty rough shape but won’t be too hard to render serviceable again.



These things are pretty bullet proof. I’ll knock the rust off, re-season, and care for it properly. My son’s kids can fight over it when I’m gone.


This thing needs some help so let’s get started!

First thing I do is pre-heat my oven to 350. I have convection so I turn that fan on. Then I get warm soapy water into the inside of the Dutch oven and scrub with a steel wool. The goal is to strip all the old seasoning and the rust off this thing and get closer to the original iron. Rinse well.


That’s getting closer. If I let that water dry in the air it will just promote rust so into the oven for twenty minutes then back out to cool down.


A lot people want to use oven cleaners at this stage. I don’t want my kitchen to smell like a chemical factory that made tank cleaners in World War II. I’m concerned about using those chemicals at all, but especially on food prep surfaces.  



Instead, I use 1 part grapeseed oil (any high smoke point oil will be fine), 4 parts kosher salt, a clean rag, and 5-gallon pail of elbow grease. I remove all the rust, seasoning and any left-over bits to get down to the iron.


Do this for every surface. Rinse well, then back in the oven to dry. While its in there go ahead and whack that oven to 450. You can carefully remove and let the cast iron cool after ten minutes or so.

Now take a very small amount of your chosen oil and a clean paper towel. Barely cover every surface with a thin layer of oil, wiping up any excess or pooling. This goes back into your oven upside down for 10 minutes. Put a pan underneath to avoid smoking out your oven.

Take it out. Let it cool completely and repeat this process two more times. Then turn the oven off.


Don’t worry too much at this stage about inconsistent seasoning. It’s just cosmetic and will quickly even out with more layers. This is actually one of the reasons modern manufacturers have gone to the rough surface instead of the smooth, like texture on your walls, it hides these imperfections.

The outsides and the lid on the iron now have a good base layer and are ok to start using, but we want a little better surface on the food contact areas. Take a small amount of your oil and a paper towel and just cover the surface with oil, again wiping off any excess. Now heat it on your stove at high heat until it starts to smoke. Let it cool completely and again wipe off any excess.  Repeat this until it starts to look black and shiny.



At first you shouldn’t cook something acidic (tomato bases) or sticky (eggs) in your newly refurbished iron. Dishes that use a lot oil or other fats are great. After every use just get some water in it, heat it on the stove to loosen any crumbs and wipe nice and clean. You can use a sharp metal spatula and boil the water on the really tough stuff, but you will need to season it really well after. I season after each use regardless. Just heat it real quick to dry it, and apply a tiny amount of oil and coat to re-season. Turn the heat off when smoke appears. Don't forget to oil outsides and lid! Rust is still the enemy and a thin layer of oil heated well will keep it away. This small amount of care will make a well used pan beautiful and bullet proof.


Soon your pan will be ready for an acidic egg dish like Shakshuka (recipe coming soon)!


Science and health note*

By bringing the oil to its smoke point you are leaving a thin, slick layer of carbon behind through a process called polymerization. Repeating this process to build up the layers will make your pan easy to clean and non-stick, without using PTFE (Teflon and related products) or other volatile metals. This allows you to bring your cookware up to very high heats, safely. Ever wonder why your Teflon pan comes with a warning about high temperatures and using metal spoons? It’s because this volatile metal is only a thin coating on the pan. This allows it to be heated and/or scraped off into your food. Overheated PTFE has been shown to cause flu-like symptoms in those breathing in the toxic fumes and is a suspected carcinogen due to one of its component chemicals (PFOA) causing a variety of health issues including tumors in lab animals (for the EPA fact sheet follow this link

I’ll stick with my non-stick cast-iron Dutch Oven, thank you. It’s good as old!