Whew. Today I was finally able to spend a day cleaning up, unpacking, and putting things away after my out-of-state camping trip last weekend. I'd brought along three big cast iron pots – a Lodge 5-quart dutch oven, an 8-quart Best Duty potjie (a South African cast iron pot that looks like a medieval cauldron; it's a lot of fun to have this!), and a huge Bayou Classic 16-quart dutch oven (this one is a monster – 15 inches diameter and 8 inches tall). We put these pots through a lot of use on the camping trip, and as a result the big pots had some wear and tear. The potjie pot had been used to make vegan stew with tomatoes, and as a result there was a thin layer of rust on the inside of the pot. The big dutch oven, meanwhile, had some traces of rust because it had never been heavily seasoned; I'd burned off its initial wax coating (used for shipping) and oiled it before taking it camping, but I hadn't given it a thorough seasoning. So today, as I cleaned house, I took the effort to season these big pots in the manner they deserved.
These pots were so big that I could only season them in the oven one at a time. I prepared for this with a trip to the dollar store (Dollar Tree is a frugal cook's best friend!) for cheap washcloths and sponges. To clean the dutch ovens I used apple cider vinegar, and for the seasoning I used reserved bacon grease – grease that I'd collected in a glass container during previous times I'd cooked bacon. The bacon grease was at room temperature, not heated.
The actual effort of seasoning these pots was simple, but it took a lot of time and effort because the pots were so BIG. It was simply a matter of doing the following:
In the kitchen sink, I added vinegar to the bottom of the potjie (about 1/8 cup), added about a tablespoon of kosher salt (for friction), and gave every inch of the pot a thorough scrubbing with steel wool. I scrubbed inside and out, and the result was a coating of ugly black goo, all over the potjie and the inside of the sink. I then rinsed it all out with water from the sink (I didn't use detergent), poured about 1/8 cup of bacon grease into the potjie, and use a dish cloth to rub it all over every inch of the pot – again, both inside and outside. After this, I used several paper towels to wipe off the inside and outside of the pot. A grease coating for seasoning cast iron doesn't have to be dripping or sticky; all it needs is a thin sheen of a coat in order to season properly. I placed the potjie on the bottom rack of my oven, upside down so that any extra grease would not collect on the bottom of the pot. From there, I did the same thing with the iron lid to the potjie pot: pour on about a tablespoon of vinegar, vigorously scrub every inch with steel wool, rinse it off, apply bacon grease with the cloth, towel it off with paper towels, then placed it on the oven rack alongside the potjie pot.
From there, I closed the oven door, heated the oven to 500 degrees F, and let it cook at 500 degrees F for 60 minutes. Note on heating the pots: be sure to have open windows and fans for ventilation, and take down your smoke detector! This produces some heavy smoke, which will set off your smoke alarm if you're not careful. Also, this should be a standard for everyone but I'll say it just to be sure: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE when heating up a big pot to 500 degrees in your oven! This process should be supervised for every moment until the oven has been turned off and the pots cooled down.
After this, I turned the oven off but left the pot in the oven to cool down. After 30 minutes, I used heavy oven mitts to take the pot and lid out of the oven (they were still very hot!) and place them on the stovetop range to cool off some more. After about another 15 minutes, they were still very warm but not burning hot, so I used a separate dishcloth (not the one I'd used with the bacon grease) to apply a thin layer of generic store brand vegetable oil to the pot. I just poured a little oil into the bottom of the pot – I didn't need a lot, maybe only a teaspoon of oil – and used the cloth to wipe every inch of the pot with oil, inside and out. This left the pot shiny and black. From there, I did the same with the lid. Finally, after letting it all cool down, I was able to put the potjie pot in its place, and turn my attention to the huge Bayou Classic dutch oven.
I used the same process on the 16-quart dutch oven that I'd used with the 8-quart potjie pot:
After all this, I thoroughly cleaned the grease out of the sink with dish detergent and dollar store sponges, then threw them out – grease cloths, sponge, and all of the paper towels used to clean the pots. That's why I'd purchased them at the dollar store.
Here are the big pots after seasoning.