Ask Chef Emily: Rescuing a Le Creuset Dutch Oven

Dear Chef Emily, After years of gentle use, my Le Creuset Dutch oven has an enamel spot worn away that everything now sticks to. Is there a way to fix it? —Jenn S., Park Slope, Brooklyn

If ever there were kitchen tools people fall in love with, it is their Le Creuset cookware. If bought for one’s self, it’s a significant investment. If gifted, the occasion is usually of great significance: a wedding, a new home and the like. Though more recently Le Creuset has been popping up at retailers like Home Goods. So now I get questions about how to maintain a perfect, creamy enamel interior all the time.

Emily Peterson Column Logo dutch ovenWhen you bring an enameled Dutch oven into your life, it comes home new, absolutely perfect. Like a car, you chose a color (to match your backsplash), the promise of Boeuf Bourguignon scents the future, even bread baked to perfection is promised. But, like snacks in the new car, a seal must break and despite your best intentions, coffee will spill in the cup holder and tomato sauce will scorch to the bottom of the perfect pot. As time goes on, your Dutch oven will develop its own patina unique to the two of you, a tint created by hours of stewing, braising, baking, and forgetting, which leads to scorching and sitting overnight when you should have washed out the pot but that bottle of Burgundy was too good not to finish.

So what’s a cook to do? First, embrace the patina. Know that it is yours and yours alone and like sourdough will impart its ineffable being into every dish you make.

Embrace the patina. Know that it is yours and yours alone and like sourdough will impart its ineffable being into every dish you make.

Not good enough? You want your things clean clean? You have a few nontoxic options. Elbow grease and scrubbing with hot, soapy water would be the first step, but I’m guessing you’ve already exhausted that option. I reached out to my friend’s at LC and here’s what the company recommends:

“For baked on food or to periodically polish, we recommend our enamel cleaner. For very difficult dried on or burnt foods: a light sprinkle of Bar Keepers Friend or baking soda with water to make a paste and a light touch with a soft nylon scrubbing sponge.

dutch ovenIf further cleaning is still needed, use Bar Keepers Friend or baking soda with a half to one ince of water and simmer on very low or soak overnight. Do not let the liquid evaporate if on a heat source. The food will soften and release or can be cleaned with a nylon scrub sponge and our cleaner (or a past of water and baking soda or water and Bar Keepers Friend.)”

I’ve used the simmer-with-some-baking-soda trick to great success to resuscitate a set of All-Clad stainless cookware that I picked up at a yard sale, and this method is the go-to recommendation of my friend and Clean Person, Jolie Kerr.

I’ve also been told that an overnight soak with a capful of bleach in an inch or two of water will remove some surface stains, but don’t use bleach immediately after Bar Keepers Friend! Bleach mixed with any acid will give off a highly toxic poisonous gas that’s very dangerous to your neurological systems, so make your choice: bleach or BKF, but not at the same time!

Finally, to get to Jenn’s question: Should the enamel have worn away after years of gentle and loving use, there’s nothing you can do to re-enamel, and it is time to consult your product warranty.

Like any beloved member of the kitchen arsenal, it is hard to pack your prized possession in a box and ship it off only to be replaced by some interloper. But know that once your get past the sting of the reality, it is possible to find love again, or just be mesmerized by the shiny, new color palette as a distraction.

(Disclaimer: This not a paid endorsement of Le Creuset but that I have worked with the company in the past, an am an owner and fan of several pieces of LC cookware.)