WESTERN DUTCH OVEN'S
AND OTHER SOUND ADVICE
In this section we'll ramble on about cast iron care, heat, tools and what not...... We hope you'll find something here that's helpful to you. Check back often for updates and if you need an answer that you can't find here, just shoot us over an email and we'll get an answer for you
I'd imagine that you could ask a hundred cast iron cooks how to season and care for black pots and get a hundred different answers from them. What follows here is what works for me.
When you get ahold of a new pot, it's got a wax coating on it to keep it from rusting until it gets put to use (except for the new 'pre-seasoned' ones). This is the only time I don't mind gettin' some soap around one. Go ahead and scrub it down good in hot soapy water, then rinse it real good. Then rinse it again. Then, rinse it again. After you've got it rinsed (again), dry it real good with a towel or paper towels then put it on some heat and warm it up to somewhere around slightly hot to drive out any moisture that might still be in the iron.
Now this next part can be done in the kitchen but it's probably best done outside where there's plenty of ventilation. You can use a camp stove or a fire or anything else that gets good and hot. Wipe down your pot (and lid) inside and out with grease or lard. I've used oils for this but they tend to get sticky. Then put the pot on the heat upside down to let excess grease drip out. Leave it on the heat until it's done smoking then let it cool down. You can now repeat this step or put the pot right to use.
If your pots don't get used real regular, they'll probably need a little touching up when you do want to take and use 'em. This is a simple thing to do.
Put your pot on some heat and warm it up pretty good, enough so you'd not want to grab on to it. Throw in some lard or grease and let it melt. When it's melted good, wipe it all around the sides and bottom. Keep wiping until it's wiped dry. Keep doing this step until your rag or paper towels come out looking clean. Then you're ready to go.
Sometimes you'll come across a pot that hasn't been cared for in a good long time. Take heart! It can be fixed!
In most cases, you can 'cook it clean'. Turn it upside down and put some heat to it. If it's just sticky and rancid this will clean it out. Then use the re-seasoning steps above to finish the job. Sometimes it helps to scrape it out real good before you start heating to get as much residue off as you can.
I've seen a few real bad cases of neglect and had to resort to a wire brush and a sander. If you use this option, take it all the way back down to bare metal and then start seasoning again. Start by washing it as you would with a new pot.
If there's a subject with more opinions than seasoning pots it would be how to tell how much heat you've got. It's not all that tricky. You can't take what somebody else (like me) said about exactly how many briquettes to put where. This will all vary depending on surrounding temperature, altitude, humidity, what kind of coals or charcoal you're using, what phase the moon is in and numerous other things. What you can do is take what somebody else (like me) said, use it as a guide and then adjust. Take a peek and a sniff now and then if it's cooking too slow, add some heat. On the other hand, if it's cooking too fast, take some heat away. Just watch what's going on in the pot and adjust.
That being said, there are a few 'rules of thumb' that can be used as a place to start from. For instance, there's the 'pot size' method: If you're using a 12" oven, put 12 coals on top and 12 coals on the bottom for roasting at about 325* Some like to take 2 from the bottom and add them to the top. If you're baking, use the same amount of coals, but you want about 2/3 of the heat on top so you'd have 16 on top and 8 on the bottom. For stewing or simmering most or all of your heat will be on the bottom. The most important thing is to watch and adjust.
If I had only one tool for handling hot pots it would be a pair of water pump pliers. You know, Channel locks. I cooked for years without using anything else. They'll grab a bail and hang on for moving hot pots, and they'll grip a lid loop tight so you can dump the coals off without dropping it. Nowadays, there's plenty of clever gadgets that you can use. Lid hooks that will move a pot or lift a lid, but you can't dump coals with one. Mair makes one, sort of a three legged affair, that will grip and hold a lid while you dump it. That and a shovel of some kind is all you really need if your cooking with a fire. A good pair of gloves are nice too.
If you're using charcoal, some other tools are needed, or at least real handy. A cooking table is handy and you can buy or build one to suit your own needs. One that is about a foot and a half by about three feet will serve for most purposes. It should have raised lips all around, or at least on the long sides. A fireplace shovel and long handled tongs for handling hot coals and a chimney or bucket, etc to start coals in. You might want a wisk broom to sweep off the lid after you dump the coals (a muriatic brush works great!). You'll need a bucket for collecting spent coals and ashes.
Then there's all kinds of bells and whistles available, although the necessity of such items is the subject of further discussions. A meat thermometer is useful, and almost a necessity if you're getting into cookoffs. But then there's all sorts of electronic gadgets, timers, remote thermometers and such, even infrared heat guns. Use as many as you'd like, but speaking just for me, I like the KISS principle and stick with the basic stuff. Cooking is an art, not a science, and I believe you'll get better, more consistant results if you approach it with that view.