How To Clean A Cast Iron Camping Pan or Dutch Oven

If you are a fan of vintage camping and cooking equipment then you may like to take a Dutch oven or some other cast iron pan on your camping trips. If you have done so then you may also be familiar with the benefits of cooking in this material, as well as some of the downsides that also come with cooking in cast iron. Of course, one of the downsides is the weight – this is not the sort of equipment anyone would take on a lightweight camping adventure. Another common complaint amongst new owners of cast iron cooking vessels is that they are difficult to clean.

If you take care of them correctly, cast iron camping pans or Dutch ovens should not be difficult to clean, but it is important to treat them a little differently to other camping cooking pots. The first thing to remember is that you should never, ever store them wet. If they are put away with even a small drop of moisture, they may develop rusty patches, especially before they are well seasoned.

The key to using a cast iron cooking pot is building up a patina, or layer, or polymerised oil inside and out. This layer of seasoning, as it is called, will protect your pan, to a degree, and will also stop food from infusing or sticking to the porous material beneath. Cast iron is a naturally porous material and a layer of polymerised oil will cover it up, protect it, and stop problems with burnt on food. The longer you own your cast iron cooking vessel, as long as you season it and treat it well, the better it will become.

If you have a new cast iron pot, it will likely have come pre-seasoned. Still, for best results it is a good idea to season it yourself before you head out on a camping trip with it. To season it, rub it with oil inside and out and leave it in the oven for an hour at around 170C. A black coating will be built up on the pan, giving it protection.

When cleaning your cast iron, the idea is to remove food and debris from the pan without removing the seasoning. Unless you decide you must start from scratch and re-season your pot, don't use wire wool or anything too abrasive to clean it. A stiff non-metal brush (like the ones you would use for a wok) or rough sponge should suffice to remove burnt on food. Try to scrub off food as soon as possible after cooking to make it easier. Coarse rock salt also works well to scrub off the stubborn burnt on bits in a cast iron pan.

If absolutely necessary you can soften the burnt on food by running it under hot water – though never leave a cast iron pan to soak as this can damage the layer of seasoning. Treat your cast iron vessels well and they can be great for cooking on a retro camping adventure.