Both dutch ovens and pie irons are most often thought to be made of cast iron. There are many good reasons, however, to choose a dutch oven or pie iron made of aluminum. People are often surprised to find that dutch ovens can be found in sheet of aluminum. Even more surprising is people who use aluminum dutch ovens claim that the difference in quality cooking and ease of use compared to cast iron is very minimal. Let’s look at some of the differences between cast iron and aluminum pie irons.
1 – WEIGHT: Cast iron is very heavy and after a long duration of holding a pie iron handle, you can get pretty tired. Aluminum is sometimes 1/3 the weight, perfect for backpacking or packing long distances.
2 – HEATING: Cast iron heats slowly and evenly and can retain heat for some time. Aluminum heats much more quickly, but can have hot spots. Aluminum will also lose heat much more quickly.
3 – MELTING: Cast iron doesn’t melt very easily. You would have to heat it up past 2100o F. Aluminum on the other hand can melt at 1200o F. A fire might actually get hot enough to melt or warp aluminum.
4 – CLEANING: Cast iron takes more time and effort. You cannot use soap as it might case it to rust and will have a terrible effect on the taste of your food. Aluminum is typically coated with a non-stick surface and is quick and easy to clean.
One major difference is a cast iron pie iron must be seasoned. This takes some preparation time and upkeep. Here are some of the steps that must be taken to properly season a pie iron of dutch oven:
1 – A new pie iron or dutch oven is likely to be coated with wax or oil to keep it from rusting. This coating must be removed by using warm water, soap and a scrubber. This is the only time that soap should be used. If soap is used after the seasoning process has been completed, a distasteful soap taste will be present in your meals.
2 – Make sure your pie iron or dutch oven is completely dry. This can be done with paper towels. It is advised that the cast iron oven be placed in a conventional oven at 200 oF or a barbeque at low heat for 15 minutes to get rid of all of the moisture.
3 – Now, using paper towels, coat the oven with vegetable oil or shortening. Be liberal. Wipe off extra oil or shortening with a paper towel.
4 – Line the bottom of your pre-heated oven (350 oF) with foil to catch the heated shortening or oil.
5 – Place the dutch oven and lid face down in the oven. In the case of a pie iron, often the handle is wood and cannot be placed in a conventional oven. An alternative would be an outdoor barbeque. Same set-up as above with the exception of having the wooden handles extend out of the barbeque so that they don’t burn. Let the ovens cure for one hour.
6 – Remove with oven mitts and wipe excess oil/shortening.
7 – Repeat the process adding another layer of oil or shortening.
8 – Turn oven or barbeque off leaving the dutch oven or pie iron to cool.
A properly seasoned iron will look slightly shiny and is ready to cook in. This effort for seasoning is only required once. After time the layer of seasoning will turn black and harden. This is normal. Should the iron go rusty, then the rust should be cleaned off and the iron reseasoned.
Due to the fact that an aluminum dutch oven or pie iron does not require seasoning or special cleaning, it is often a good choice. Cast iron is very heavy and aluminum is much easier to pack and move around. For someone considering packing irons in a pack or over long distances, the choice of aluminum can be a very easy one.