Campfire Cooking, Part II: How to Clean Cast Iron Without Using an Iron Fist

Food & Drink

If you missed Part I of our series on Campfire Cooking, check it out here.The path to flavored perfection

Whether it was Johnny Appleseed’s preferred hat, or Paul Bunyan’s choice skillet, cast iron has been searing, stewing and braising strong for ages. Two thousand years since its glorious birth, this staple has held its own against bacon, beef and bratwurst.

Knowing that the world depends on us for envy-inducing cooking gifts for men, we couldn’t escape the heat that cast iron brings to the party. So when we introduced our Dutch Oven Kit, we were ready for the delicious lashback. From hash browns to cornbread, ribs to apple pies, the adaptability of this cookware is unsurpassed. Heck, we even cooked up a spicy, sticky jambalaya using our Dutch Oven.

Dealing with the crispy remains
The thing is, just like Babe the Blue Ox, this glorious cooking tool needs a good cleaning after a day of hard work. Just ask Mr. Bunyan. Though it’s capable and handy enough for daily use, you’ll find some of your favorite dishes may leave a little residue. And as much as we’d all sell one of our limbs for crispy bacon particles, we need to respect that every dish needs a clean slate to be cooked right. After all, peach cobbler is delicious; but I prefer mine without leftover shrimp from the Jambalaya. So here are a few tricks and tips to get your cast iron clean as a whistle. And feel free to whistle while you clean.

Casting away the unclean

The one thing about cast iron dutch oven care, is that you don’t want the pan to lose its seasoning. “Seasoning” is a word you’ll hear a lot around cast iron cooking, and it basically means the built up layer of oil that sears into the pan over time. It doesn’t exactly add a specific flavor or taste to dishes, but it helps protect the pan. The heating and reapplication of oil creates a film-like layer over the surface, which helps food to not stick. Pretty cool, right? We think so, too. And what makes it special is that the more it’s used, the more non-stick it becomes.

Now, even though it does become more and more non-stick over time, we have to remember this isn’t a pan with technologically savvy coating that makes a fried egg slide onto a plate easily. Cast iron has character. That charm is built up slowly, and the pan will need to be cleaned after use—unless the crumbly peach Jambalaya cobbler sounds like something you’d like to try.

Cleaning Method #1: Let’s play nice
The most simple way to clean cast iron is just regular ol’ water. That’s right, just the run-of-the-mill cleaning agent that’s been used since earth began. Now, if you don’t have access to a shallow river bed, which was the common choice of the Vikings, just throw the pan under some warm running water. Using a sponge or dishrag, wipe away any food remains. Don’t soak the pan, as that could cause it to rust. But this should do the trick for light cleaning.

Cleaning Method #2: Don’t get too rough
As much as we’d all love to have the cleaning be that easy, there are times when the caramelized onions come at a price. If your dish left pieces of fish guts stuck to the bottom of your treasured cast iron Dutch oven or skillet, you might need something more heavy duty to remove the residue. By using a mixture of warm water and coarse sea salt—a thick, abrasive paste can be conjured up to combat the grime.

Cleaning Method #3: This means war
If a coarse paste doesn’t do the trick, a steel wool or scrubbing pad can be used to scrub. Don’t use too much pressure though, as over-scrubbing can cause the pan to lose its non-stick layer. In fact, just be smart and make use of the chainmail scrubber we included in the Dutch Oven Kit.

Keeping that seasoning well seasoned
After using these simple tricks, your cast iron cookery should be good as new. Don’t think the process is done just yet though. After cleaning, it’s really important to oil the pan to keep that seasoning intact. The easiest way to do this is to preheat your oven to 325°F, lightly apply some cast iron conditioner or bacon grease (for the faithful pork lovers) and bake for an hour. We’d suggest putting the pan upside down in the oven and throwing down a sheet of aluminum foil beneath to catch the drippings.

In cast iron conclusion
So here we are, the pan is back to clean and someone’s ready to craft another stellar dish. Of all the tools a master chef can have at his disposal, none is more versatile than the almighty cast iron. It not only sears meats to perfection, but it’ll also sear a memory that you cared enough to give him the metal cookery he deserves. From camping to backyard shindigs, our Dutch Oven Kit will provide just the right amount of manliness to keep him on his toes, and in the meantime, keep you fed, happy and the reigning champ of gift giving.