We all love our enameled Dutch ovens!
They decorate our home kitchens with their bright colors when not in use, braise meats perfectly in the oven, and simmer the most delicious chilis on the stove.
But do we really know how to care for them?
Sure, they don’t require seasoning, and the vitreous enamel protects the cast-iron body from rusting and leaching… but the enamel can easily chip or crack when misused.
As usual, let’s start with the long story short. Here’s what we will be talking about in today’s post:
To care for your an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, don’t preheat it empty, avoid cooking with it on overly high heat, swap the metal for silicone or wooden utensils, and clean it by hand, with soapy water instead of in the dishwasher.
Keep on reading if you want to find out more—and don’t forget to share any of your own in the comments!
#1. Always add oil to your enameled cast iron Dutch oven before preheating it.
Most Dutch ovens are oven-safe up to 400°F. But if you preheat yours empty—on the stove or in the oven—it can easily get heated past that temperature, which may permanently chip or crack their enamel.
We use cooking oils and fats not only because some of them, like butter, rice bran oil, or extra virgin olive oil, smell and taste good, but because they absorb some of the heat and distribute it evenly throughout our cooking vessels.
#2. Go easy on the heat.
Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are made of a cast-iron core coated with vitreous porcelain enamel. As most of you probably already know, cast iron is a poor conductor of heat.
This is why cast iron cookware pieces take longer to heat up compared to their aluminum, copper, and steel counterparts, but once they do, they do so evenly and can hold on to that heat for prolonged periods of time.
To cook with them, you don’t really need that much heat. So it’s rare that you’ll go above medium heat (apart from the times when you’re searing steak to get a crispy browning on it before you finish it off in the oven), and you’ll seldom cook on high heat.
As a general rule of thumb, high heat is detrimental to enamel coatings. So one of the best things that you can do to care for your Dutch oven is to mind the heat dial when you’re cooking with it. Instead of going crazy with the heat, allow your Dutch oven the time it needs to heat up.
#3. Don’t use metal utensils.
As much as cookware companies like to claim otherwise, enamel coatings are pretty fragile. They can easily chip when other objects come into impact with them, especially if those objects are made of metal.
I remember how I hit my upper front tooth this one time as I was bringing the fork to my mouth, and I almost chipped it! The same thing can happen to the enamel on your cast iron Dutch oven when you use metal spatulas, cooking spoons, or pasta tongs to scrape, scoop, and lift foods in them.
Use silicone or wooden utensils in your Dutch oven if you want to maximize its life. Silicone utensils are best for delicate foods, like eggs and fish, because they’re flexible and can easily slide right under them. Naturally stiff and rigid, wooden utensils are best for scraping and lifting foods.
#4. Protect your enameled Dutch oven from thermal shocks.
A thermal shock is the stark and sudden change in temperature when you take a cooking vessel off the heat or out of the oven and place it on a cold stone countertop or when you pour cold water in it while it’s still hot.
Just like ceramic casseroles and porcelain teapots, you should protect your Dutch oven from thermal shocks at all costs. The cast-iron core can take it, but the vitreous enamel coating may easily chip and crack beyond repair.
If you don’t have one already, consider buying a silicone trivet mat, which can safeguard both your stone countertop and your Dutch oven.
These mats dissipate heat but do transfer some of it to the surface you’ve placed them on. Don’t put overly hot cookware pieces on them when using them on a wooden board or table, or the wood may damage.
#5. Don’t use the lids in the oven.
The lids on most Dutch ovens can’t be heated to the same temperatures as their bodies because they feature bakelite, plastic, or silicone handles.
There is no rule of thumb here; it depends entirely on the make and model. To determine whether that’s the case for yours, the best thing to do is to refer to the owner’s manual (or, if you’ve lost it, call the manufacturer on the phone to ask).
Lids are intended for the stovetop anyway, as they help you keep the moisture in when simmering sauces, soups, and stews. Your Dutch oven should be wearing its hat only when you don’t want the liquid in it to evaporate and thicken.
#6. Clean by hand, with soapy water.
I know, I know… manufacturers like to claim that enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are dishwasher-safe. That may even be the reason why you ended up buying one in the first place!
While it’s true that enameled cast iron Dutch ovens can go in the dishwasher, you should clean yours by hand. The clinking and clunking of dinnerware and utensils during the dishwasher cycle can chip the enamel—and the chemical harshness of the detergent won’t help, either.
The good news is that this type of cookware is relatively easy to clean. All you need is a scrub sponge, soapy water, and a little elbow grease. Never use abrasive cleaners like steel wool, or the enamel may damage badly.
Still, if you end up feeling lazy like I occasionally do, you can clean your Dutch oven in an empty dishwasher now and then. That way, there’s nothing to float around and about (and potentially impact it).
#7. Sanitize and remove stains with a solution of bleach and water.
Sometimes, soapy water just isn’t enough—especially when you baked something, and stubborn burnt-on stains vacationed themselves on the matt-white interior of your cookware.
To sanitize a Dutch oven and remove all the stains on it, Cook’s Illustrated recommends filling it with a solution of one part bleach and three parts water and letting it stay overnight.
“After standing overnight, a lightly stained pot was just as good as new,” wrote the editorial team of the popular magazine, “but a heavily stained one required an additional night of soaking before it, too, was looking natty.”
#8. Handle carefully when storing it and taking it out.
One of the easiest ways to chip your enameled cast iron Dutch oven is to accidentally bang it against something else—typically, another piece of cookware—in your cabinets.
This can happen both when you’re storing it and taking it out, and it usually does because you’re in a bad mood or in a hurry. The remedy? As like to say, mindful cooking.
My kitchen is my safe space. And, as such, I use it to tune out from the outside world’s noise and focus on the down-to-earth grounding experience that cooking is in the first place.
So the next time you feel stressed out or under pressure when you get cooking, slow down. This is your thing, in your kitchen, so don’t let anyone else ruin it for you. Believe me; you’ll avoid many costly mistakes that come from distracted clumsiness this way.
#9. Don’t let it soak in water or the iron along the rim can rust
The rims around the edge and those on the lids on most enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are uncoated, and they’ll catch rust when exposed to moisture for prolonged periods of time. This is why you should never let an enameled cast iron Dutch oven soak in water.
To go even further, YouTuber Pajama Mama’s Kitchen advocates that you should season your Dutch oven along the edge. She recommends spreading a thin layer of cooking oil by running your finger along the edges, then doing the same with your lid and baking them upside-down in the oven, just like you’d do when seasoning bare cast iron.