How To Season Your Cast Iron Camp Oven

Photo of author
Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

How To Season Your Cast Iron Camp Oven

Need to season your cast iron camp oven? Whether you are preparing a brand new cast iron camp oven for its first use or doing some maintenance on a used camp oven, this article will tell you everything you need to know.

Given that cast iron cooking equipment needs to be maintained over time, it’s important to have a good seasoning process to use for both your new and used cast iron cooking equipment.

There are a lot of differing opinions about how best to season a camp oven, so on topics that you are likely to find some disagreement, I’ve tried to explain my point of view, the other points of view, so you can make an informed decision on what you want to do. 

The good thing about the seasoning process is that you really do any damage. If one attempt is not as effective as you would like, you can reset and tweak your process accordingly.

How To Season Your Cast Iron Camp Oven

6 Basic Steps To Season a Cast Iron Camp Oven

In a nutshell, whether you are seasoning a new or used camp oven, the overall process is the same. The key steps involving in seasoning a camp oven are:

  1. Thorough Clean It
  2. Dry It Really Well 
  3. Apply Oil Lightly To The Inside and Outside
  4. Expose To High Heat For Prolonged Period
  5. Let It Cool Down
  6. Repeat As Necessary Until Desired Seasoning Is Achieved

Through the article, I will go into more detail about each step of the process, how the process differs for new or used cast iron camp ovens, and address other questions people often ask regarding the seasoning of cast iron camp ovens.

From start to finish this process can take close to two hours, so is not something you can do in a rush.

But there is plenty of wait time involved while it is being exposed to heat, so you have a chance to do other things in the meantime. 

Why Do You Need To Season a Cast Iron Camp Oven?

There are two main reasons to season a cast iron camp oven. 

Firstly the seasoning process creates a Teflon-like non-stick surface so you can cook with, and clean your camp oven easily.

Secondly, seasoning prevents rust and keeps your camp oven looking and tasting good.

The Science of Camp Oven Seasoning

If you just want to know what to do and don’t care about the ‘why’, then you can skip to the next section with actionable steps.

But if you are interested, this section will examine the seasoning process in more detail to understand what happens and why it helps.

Cast Iron as a material is a very porous surface full of imperfections. These are hard to see with our eyes, but you can not feel it as you run your fingers along the surface, and you definitely notice it when your food sticks to it!

The seasoning process helps us modify that surface to make it a smooth non-stick surface we can cook on, and massively reduces the chance our food will stick to the bottom or sides.

The seasoning process helps push out any moisture in the metal and open the pores for oiling. When we heat these lightly oiled ovens, the oil is ‘baked’ into these imperfections and creates a layer on top of the metal that is smooth to touch and hard to stick to.

The way that the oil changes form is known as polymerization, but most of us just refer to it as ‘seasoning’.

If you forget the word polymerization, you will be just fine but it can help to understand the basic process and the fact that we are building up a polymer layer of ‘baked’ oil on top of a porous cast iron surface.

It also helps us understand that it makes sense that this surface will slowly deteriorate over time, depending on use, and will need to be boosted up again periodically. 

How To Season A New Cast Iron Camp Oven

When you get a new cast iron camp oven, they tend to come pres-seasoned, and the packaging will probably say you can use it straight away.

Though this might be technically true, I recommend that you still go through the seasoning process at least once before use.

Throughout this section, we will expand on the six steps outlined above with more detail and context.

Cleaning Your New Cast Iron Camp Oven

Before you use your new cast iron camp oven for the first time it is important to give it a good clean. With a scourer or scrubbing brush, and some warm soapy water, scrub it thoroughly inside and outside.

This will clean off any particles, residue, oil, or wax that remain in the manufacturing process and make sure your food doesn’t taste like metal. 

You might read online that you should never use detergent or soap on your camp oven as the food will always taste like detergent in the future, but many legends of the camp oven scene, and myself, have no reservations given camp ovens a scrub with soap, and I have never had a soapy taste remain before.

Dry Your Camp Oven Really Well

Once you have given it a thorough scrub, dry it down thoroughly with a tea towel or paper towel and then expose it to some form of heat to ensure it is completely dry. This could be outside in the sun, inside your hooded BBQ, or even inside your kitchen oven.

If you put it in your BBQ or oven, just do it hot enough and long enough to ensure there is no moisture left in any crevices (especially around the lid handle joins).

One of the main reasons camp ovens are ruined is the rust that occurs due to moisture, so always make sure you dry it well.

Some recommend BBQ/Oven heating as a mandatory step after cleaning and before oiling, but as long as you get it completely dry, and remove all moisture, you will be just fine.

The thinking is that if the cast iron is warmed up then the oil will enter the metal’s pores more effectively, but I’ve not personally noticed much difference. 

Lightly Coat In Oil

Once you have cleaned and dried your new cast iron camp oven, the next step is to oil it. The oil we apply in this step is what becomes baked on in the following step, to create the polymer seasoning.

We’ll discuss the different types of oil you can use to season your camp oven later in the article, and just focus on the technique in this section. 

The trick with oiling your camp oven is not to use too much. You want a thin layer of oil wiped around the inside and all over the outside of the camp oven. Make sure you wipe the oil in all the nooks and crevices.

To prevent putting too much oil on it is best to pour a small amount of oil onto a cloth, or paper towel, which you then wipe over all the surfaces. If you find that you did add too much oil, then use a dryer cloth or fresh paper towel to wipe off any excess. 

It is best to use a lint-free cloth or high-quality paper towel to prevent little particles from being left on the metal surface and being baked in the coating. 

Heat The Camp Oven

Once your camp oven is lightly oiled you need to expose it to a high temperature for a prolonged period of time.

Historically that would have been done over the campfire, and that is definitely something you can do, however with the advent of hooded BBQs and kitchen oven’s this process is much easier now.

I prefer to use the BBQ and the process can cause some smells, and smoke as the oil cooks onto the surface and I prefer that to be outside, rather than inside my house.

But if you choose, or have no choice but to use your oven, have your house ventilated as much as possible (windows and doors open) so all the smells and smoke can easily clear. 

To achieve the required polymerization and lock the oil into the metal surface it needs to be exposed to a high level of heat for approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Recommendations for how hot to heat your BBQ/oven vary between different experts but the heat recommendations range from 200 – 270 degrees celsius.

In part, these recommendations vary based on the type of oil being used and the smoking point of that particular oil (discussed more below).

I personally opt for heating to 250 – 270 degrees celsius, and exposing my camp oven for at least 45 minutes, and have never had an issue.

The main thing you want to avoid is heating your oven to the point that the metal starts glowing red, or getting close to it.

If your cast iron camp oven gets this hot, then you can risk the metal changing shape, but this is quite hard to achieve accidentally.

When you put your camp oven into the BBQ for seasoning, place it upside down, this allows any excess oil or moisture to run straight off. 

Letting Your Camp Oven Cool Down

Following exposure to high heat (fire/BBQ/oven) for at least 45 minutes, turn the heat source off and let the camp oven cool slowly. Do not expose a warm camp oven to cold water, or try any other faster cool-down method as you could crack the oven or deform it in some other way. 

If it is in the BBQ, lift the lid to let the air cool it down naturally. Likewise, if it was in the kitchen oven, open the door and let it cool, you could even remove and place it on the stovetop.

Repeat The Seasoning Process As Required

For a brand new cast iron camp oven, you should only need to season it yourself once, but if after inspection you feel the coating could be smoother, then there is no harm in doing the process again.

To get the longest life out of your seasoning, you re-oil your camp oven before and after each use and keep it in a dry location. 

Seasoning a Used Camp Oven

Camp oven seasoning can deteriorate for a variety of reasons and will need to be redone from time to time. The two biggest things that will impact how often you need to re-season your camp oven are how often you use it, and how well you look after it. 

The main reasons camp oven seasoning deteriorates are excessive use of scouring and detergents when cleaning, corrosion from not drying properly, and cooking a lot of acidic foods for extended periods.

But regardless of the reason for the deterioration, the solution is the same. A good seasoning process. 

If your camp oven is rusty, then you will need to remove the rust first, which we discuss in detail in another article.

But if it is just a bit worn, and in need of seasoning, then you follow the same steps, as described above, when seasoning a new cast iron camp oven.

The only change would be in the cleaning section. Given your camp oven is already well used, you are not cleaning it to get off the manufacturing residue, but just making sure there is no built-up area of burnt food, etc from previous cook-ups. 

If you do have some food that is stuck on, fill the camp oven with water and bring it to a boil and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Following this tip the water out and the sticky spots should scrub off easily. But if the spots just won’t come off then you might need something a bit more serious.

You can use anything you want to try and get rid of tough spots (wire brush etc) but just be aware that the more serious scraping you do, the more seasoning will be required at the other end of the process to build the seasoning back up.

Go through the same steps and check your seasoning at the end and see if you think it is smooth enough, if not go through the process again until you have a nice glossy non-stick coating.    

What Oil Should I Use To Season My Cast Iron Camp Oven?

There are many different opinions out there on the best oil to use to season your cast iron camp oven, but the reality is that any vegetable oil will do a good job.

Unsaturated oils are preferred because they have a chemical structure that is more reactive and converts to a nice seasoned finish a bit more effectively but any will do.

Many experienced camp oven experts use a nice quality olive oil, given they use that in their cooking, and their gear works well for decades.

Flaxseed Oil is very popular and often discussed in forums and groups, as it is a drying oil, and hardens when exposed to air. It does definitely work amazingly well, but it is pricey for a nice organic Flaxseed Oil, so you may need to use something more common out of necessity. I use simple vegetable oil and get great results. 

Some discussions refer to the ‘smoking point’ of different oils. The theory is that oils with lower smoking points (e.g. Olive Oil) don’t create the best seasoning as they have cured at a lower temperature.

While Flaxseed Oils and others don’t smoke until a higher temperature which theoretically creates a better quality of seasoning. Oils with a high smoking point do have the best effect, but you will be well served by a good quality olive oil as well. 

Grapeseed oil is also a great substitute for Flaxseed Oil when seasoning your cast iron camp oven, but again it’s not the cheapest or most common oil to have in your pantry or cooking supplies.

Many people ask whether butter can be used to season a camp oven, but unfortunately, butter is not an ideal substance to use. Given the nature of the product, it tends to go off, so it can make your can over rancid.

It’s also common for people to ask whether other animal fats or lard can be used to season a camp oven, but these are also not appropriate given they go off after a period of time and lead to a foul smell which you have to scrub off intensely to remove.

Historically butter and animal fat were used commonly to season cast iron camp ovens, and if your oven is being used frequently, you might get away with it, but if your oven is going to be idle for any period of time, the risk is too great that the butter or fat will go off and make your camp oven unusable.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What oil can I use to season my cast iron camp oven?

Any vegetable oil will be fine, including Olive Oil. Especially oils with a high smoking point (e.g., Flaxseed Oil), as they create an exceptional seasoning effect. 

Do I need to season a brand new camp oven?

Though they can technically be used straight out of the box, it is good to clean them thoroughly to get rid of any manufacturing residue, and potential metal taste followed by one round of seasoning before use. 

My camp oven is sticky after I seasoned it, what happened?

If your cast iron camp oven is still sticky after being seasoned it is probably due to too much oil being used and not being wiped off. Wipe it thoroughly and season again to fix it.

What does pre-seasoned camp oven mean?

If your camp oven is pre-seasoned, it means the manufacturer has treated the camp oven already, but it is always good to season again yourself after a thorough washing. 

Can I clean my cast iron camp oven with detergent?

Yes. Many people advise against it, stating that detergent will get into the pores of the metal and make your food taste bad, but in reality, you can confidently scrub your cast iron camp oven with soapy water without fear of poor taste, as long as you give it a good wash done with hot water and dry it after. 

If you are really worried you can avoid submerging them in hot soapy water, but there is nothing wrong with a wipe down from a soapy cloth. As long as you rinse and dry properly afterward. 

How long does it take to season a camp oven?

A standard process of cleaning, drying, oiling, heating, and cooling again will take between 1-2 hours to do well. 

Do I need to season my camp oven trivet?

Yes, trivets can be seasoned using the same process as you would for a camp oven. It will have the same benefits in creating a non-stick surface and keeping them rust-proof.