Shameful. That’s the word.
This is my beloved Dutch oven—final resting place of many a piece of venison, ducks, and Mexican casseroles cooked on many a campfire. But after frying up three squirrels a few weeks ago, I took up blasphemous behavior. I let this cast-iron pot sit too long before cleaning, then I cleaned it poorly, and then I ignored my baby. It wound up with a rusted patina in place of the well-seasoned, non-stick sheen I’d worked years to foster.
This pot should be taken from me—physically removed and placed in a foster home for abused cast-iron cookware awaiting an environment in which love and care are ever present.
Instead, I am going to restore it, and therewith, restore a bit of my own blackened soul.
The first order of business is to clean off loose bits of old seasoning, burned-on food scraps, and the despicable rust and general funk. I turned the oven on to 300 degrees. Then I gave the black pot a good scrubbing with soap and water. All the while, I reminded myself that soapy water should never again touch this pot.
Next, I gave it a good rinse, then placed in the oven for a 10-minute drying session.
Time to get serious. I removed the pot from the oven and cranked up the heat to 450 degrees. I poured a quarter-cup of liquid oil (I used Canola, which is what I had, but olive, vegetable, peanut, or others will work) and a cup of coarse kosher salt into the middle of the pan. Using a clean cotton rag, I worked the Dutch oven over, adding more oil and salt as needed. I scrubbed inside and outside, and was meticulous around the known rusty spots. I may have cooed quiet apologies during this time, much as a mother would to a child who’d fallen off a tricycle.
I rinsed off the pot and give it a stage-two scrubbing, this one using a solution of a cup of white vinegar to a quart of water. Rust, crud, and loose seasoning is gone, showing bare metal where the new seasoning will be applied. Another rinse, then I placed it in the 450-degree oven for 10 minutes to dry thoroughly.
Next I took the pot out of the oven and let it cool enough to handle. I turned the oven down to 300 degrees. While it was cooling somewhat, I worked a thin layer of Crisco all over the oven, inside and out, lids, handles, everything. Back in the oven it went, upside down, for an hour, during which it smelled like I was running a blast furnace in the house. This is a small price to pay for the alchemy taking place.
I removed the pot and let it cool. Look! So much better already. I wiped away excess grease that pooled in the bottom—then gave it another round: More Crisco and another hour-long spa treatment in the oven.
Almost done. I removed the Dutch oven from the modern oven, and lookee there. Good as new—or even better, good as old. This method creates a fine seasoning base to work with, and work it you must. The more you use a freshly seasoned black pot, the longer the seasoning will last, and the better it will perform. To get started, I fried a pound of bacon in the black pot.
I felt better already.
I reintroduced my Dutch oven to polite society with a whopper pot of venison carbonnade, made from the haunch of my son’s first deer. I used Jonathon Miles’s recipe from the Wild Chef, to which I added a green pepper and diced parsnips. Why? Because it just felt like a special day.