Care & Maintenance

Good Dish Washing in Camp

My older scouts have learned the value of good dish washing in camp. But when scouts first cross over into the troop, it can be a challenge. At home, they probably just load their dirty dishes into an automatic dishwasher so this concept of hand washing dishes may be completely foreign to them.

I can’t count the number of times over the years I have told scouts to wash their dishes in hot soapy water and yet, I still catch them washing their dishes underneath a community spigot with cold water and no soap. Washing dishes in this manner will take longer, wastes a lot of water, creates an unsanitary area around the water spigot, and simply will not get the dishes clean or sanitized, creating health issues for campers down the trail.

I’ve even seen young campers just stack their dirty dishes, pots and pans back into their chuck box. I’m not sure if they just don’t realize they will have to wash them before they can use them again or they believe the chuck box works like their dishwasher at home and will just magically clean them. If we don’t catch it, sometimes the dirty dishes ride back home in their chuck box, which gets unloaded from the trailer and stored in the shed. When the chuck box is opened on the next campout, all manner of molds and germs have grown (see gross image below). We’ve had to throw away things like the wooden spoon below because we’ll never get them clean enough to be used safely. It’s a hard lesson sometimes.

Washing dishes in camp does not have to be hard nor does it need to take a long time. Here are some simple tips for good dish washing that will help you stay healthy and minimize the impact on the environment.

Equipment

  • I have an adjustable table that I can raise to counter height. I use it in my cook shelter as a prep and serving place. If you don’t have a table, you could use the end of a picnic table.
  • A set of three plastic dish pans. Use tubs that are large enough to accommodate what you will need to wash, but are not so big that you have to boil gallons of water to fill them.
  • Large pot with a lid or a large kettle for boiling water.
  • Dishwashing soap (I prefer Dawn for its grease cutting abilities and it’s easy on the environment).
  • Scrub brush, nylon scrubby pad, scrapers, etc.
  • Small bottle of bleach or steramine tablets.
  • Mesh bags and/or collapsible drain rack.
  • Cheesecloth.
  • Heavy duty trash bags.
  • Rope for a clothesline.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Heat Your Water
Before you actually serve the meal, start a kettle or large pot of water on the fire or the stove. By the time you are done eating, the water will probably be boiling.

Set Up Your Wash Station
Clear one of your prep tables or the end of a picnic table and set out your dish pans and drying rack (if you’re using one). This is way more comfortable and preferable than setting your wash tubs on the ground and squatting while you wash your dishes (yes, I’ve seen my scouts do that).

Divide your boiling water between the wash tub (first dish pan) and the rinse tub (second dish pan). Top off each of these pans with just enough cold water to take the sting off. Keep the water as hot as you can stand it. To the wash tub, add a few drops of soap, and mix in. Fill your third dish pan with cold water and add just 2 steramine tablets or a little (and I mean a little) liquid bleach. You only need 1 teaspoon of liquid bleach per gallon of water. I usually start a second batch of water just in case my wash and/or rinse water becomes too dirty and I need fresh water. By the time you want to refresh the water, it will probably be ready.

Prep Your Dishes for Washing
Each camper is responsible for taking their napkin and wiping their dishes clean, getting off as much food residue as possible. With hungry campers and good food, this is usually not a problem. I’ve even watched scouts literally lick their plates clean. For the cook, there is no higher complement than that. Pre-cleaning your dishes as well as your pots and pans will keep your dish water cleaner, longer. Wipe or dust off any soot on your pots and pans.

Triage
Organize your dishes, pots and pans so that you are washing the cleanest dishes first and the dirtiest dishes last. Always save your greasy pots and pans for last. You can always make a fresh hot soapy wash and rinse.

Hot Soapy Wash
Everything gets a good scrubbing in the hot, soapy water. Run your fingers over surfaces to make sure there is nothing stuck on. Pots and pans that are greasy need to be tested before they are rinsed. Rub a finger inside the pot and if there’s still grease, you will need to wash it with soapy water a second time. Drain and/or shake off as much soapy water as possible so as not to contaminate your rinse water.

Hot Water Rinse
After all the soapy water has been drained off the dishes, submerge them in the rinse water. If you can’t completely submerge them, use a cup, bowl or your cupped hand to pour rinse water over the dishes. It is important to rinse off all the soap because soap residue on your dishes can give you diarrhea.

Sanitizing Soak
In the third dish pan, submerge dishes in the sanitizing solution for a full minute to sanitize them. From here they are loaded into mesh bags and hung on a clothesline or arranged in a drying rack to air dry.

Air Dry
Air drying is best. It is very effective and you are not using roll after roll of paper towels. You can also dry dishes using dish towels, but once the dish towels become soaked, it is difficult to get anything dry with them. You can hang them on a clothesline, but unless you have sun light and/or a good breeze, it can take a while to dry them. In addition, they need to be dry by the end of the day so they can be taken down and placed in one of your totes; otherwise, they will pick up condensation over night and be damp in the morning. If you are using dish towels to dry your dinner dishes, odds are the towels will not be dry before you go to bed. The two best methods for air drying are hanging dishes in mesh bags or arranging them in a drying rack.

Rinse Dishpans and Dispose of Gray Water
Now that all the dishes are clean and work surfaces have been wiped down, take a piece of cheesecloth and strain your wash water into a gray water sump. This is usually located at the community spigot. The food particles caught in the cheesecloth can be thrown into the trash. Using your rinse water, rinse out the wash tub. Finally, pour your sanitizing water from the third dish pan into the rinse pan and let it stand for a minute, then pour it into the wash dish pan and let it stand for a minute before pouring into the sump. If a sump is not available, you will need to carry your dish pans at least 75 steps from any streams, lakes, campsites, or trails. Fling the water with a long sweeping throw to spread it over a large area. Choose a sunny area, if possible, so it will evaporate quickly, causing minimal impact.

Dispose/Secure Your Trash
After dinner or after the evening cracker barrel, secure and walk your trash to the camp trash dumpster. You want to avoid leaving it in your campsite overnight because it will attract critters and they will easily tear open the bag and scatter trash as they rummage through it looking for food.

Summary
Start water to boil.
Set up dish washing station.
Pre-clean your dishes.
Wash cleanest to dirtiest.
Hot soapy wash.
Hot clean rinse.
Cold sanitizing soak.
Air dry in mesh bags or a rack.
Dispose of gray water.
Secure trash.

If you follow these steps, washing dishes should go quickly and easily, and they will be safe to use for your next meal.

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Chillin’ with Your Cooler

1008p160-large-cooler-lWhen we’re camping, our cooler is our refrigerator, but unlike our refrigerator at home, our cooler has a limited ability to cool and keep foods cold. And, we’re not doing it any favors by constantly opening it or leaving it sitting in the blazing hot sun. And, the last thing we want is to be two days into our trip and have warm drinks and spoiled food.

These tips will help you help your cooler to do its job and make your trip a bit more worry-free and enjoyable, not to mention, healthy.

Pre-Trip Check
Regularly inspect your coolers for cracks, broken seals, broken latches or anything that might compromise their cooling ability.

Pre-Chill the Cooler
The night before you leave, drop a bag of ice in your cooler. This will drop the internal temperature of your cooler and help keep things cold. Also, make sure all the items that need refrigeration have chilled at least overnight in the refrigerator before you load them into the cooler. Also, freeze anything you won’t need right away. These items will act as ice and will most likely be thawed by the time you need them.

Avoid the Danger Zone
Don’t overload your cooler with food. Leave room for enough ice to do the job. For proper food handling, you want the temperature of your cooler and the food in it to stay at or below 40°F.

The More the Merrier
If you can, having more than one cooler is ideal. We designate one just for drinks that will be opened more often. We have one or more designated just for food that will stay closed most of the time. If we’re bringing a lot of items that need to stay cold, we’ll divide the food among multiple coolers by meal. This way, the Sunday morning breakfast cooler doesn’t get opened until Sunday morning. Doing this will help ensure the important stuff, food, stays cool and doesn’t spoil.

First in, Last Out
Try to pack things in such a way so that the food you use the soonest is on top. This will help keep you from spending more time with the cooler lid open digging around for what you need. We’ve also been known to label each cooler with its contents so, again, you’re not cooler diving looking for that one ingredient.

Block vs. Cubed
Block ice, though bulkier, melts slower. Cubed ice will cool items faster, but they melt faster. A mix of both is ideal to keep up your ice retention.

To Drain or Not to Drain
There is no question here. Do not drain the cold water. It will help the ice retention of your remaining ice because it will be close to the same temp as your ice.

The Sun is the Enemy
When in the shade, ice retention is almost twice as long as when your cooler is in the sun. Try to keep your cooler shaded or, when traveling, pack blankets or sleeping bags around and over the cooler to keep it insulated. When setting up your camp kitchen, know how the sun will track during the day and find or create a shaded spot to store your coolers.

Helping your cooler do its job better will make for a healthier and happier camping experience. Now, get outside and cook something! And, have some fun!

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Ramping Up for Camping!

Tent-Camping-600pxAre you ready to go camping? Now is a good time to head to the basement or garage or where ever you store your camping equipment, and take inventory.

Take a good look at what you have, what you need, and what you want for your adventures. Check things like work tables, utensils, pots and pans, mess kits, shelters. Is it all in good shape or does something need to be repaired or replaced? Is it time for a new set of tent stakes? Now’s the time to replenish those non-perishable supplies.

Examine Fabrics

While you’re checking your tents and sleeping bags for broken zippers, split seams, etc., remember to check your cook shelter, dish towels, wash cloths, and oven mitts. Check for rodent damage. Mice just love fabrics for cozy winter nests. It’s not a pleasant discovery but it’s better to find out now than when you’re ready to leave for that long awaited camping trip.

Check Equipment

Fire up your camp stove, lanterns, BBQ, etc. to be sure that insects haven’t decided to make a home in the tubes or burners over the winter. Check your propane and charcoal supplies. Inspect all your cast iron. If you didn’t use it over the winter, did it winter okay? Is the seasoning still good?

This is also a good time to check all your flashlights, lanterns, etc. to be sure they’re in good working order and that you have a good supply of mantles, replacement batteries, etc. Have you ever arrived at a campsite after dark only to discover that your lantern batteries are dead? I also like to make sure I have a good supply of citronella candles to keep bugs out of my camp kitchen.

Plan Ahead

Take a look at your calendar. Are there any trips that you’re taking where you might need some special equipment? A backpacking trip? Bike trip? Fishing trip? Plan and shop ahead. Take your time and make pre-season planning an enjoyable part of your camping experience.

Now let’s get outside!

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Keep Calm and Carry Your Cast Iron

oven_in_bagged_IMG_0736Carry bags are a great way to store and transport your cast iron Dutch ovens. They are padded, keep the lid from separating from the bottom, and have handy straps for carrying. In addition, they keep the oven clean and free of dust and dirt. They make loading the car much easier and, while I drive, I don’t have to listen to them clanking around in the back and worrying if they are okay or, worse yet, opening the back and having a lid or a whole oven fall out and hit the ground or the pavement. Hitting the pavement would most likely break it. Been there, done that!

When storing your ovens in carry bags, place the lid in first. This makes a nice, flat, stable bottom. I place a clean, dry wash cloth on top of the lid and then the bottom of the oven sits on that. The wash cloth protects the surface of the lid.

Lid_in_Bag_IMG_0721

Recently, I ran to our local hardware store and picked up some fender washers and a length of ball-chain and little connectors. (I have no idea what it’s really called, but take a look at the picture below and you’ll see what I mean.)

Washers_IMG_0724

When I’m cooking in large groups where there are multiple ovens, I want to be able to quickly determine which ovens are mine. I cut the ball chain into small lengths, threaded on a fender washer and attached one to the oven bottom and one to the lid.

Washer_on_Lid_IMG_0726

I chose fender washers because they are wide and, if I want to, I can take an engraving tool and engrave onto the fender washer. This way, I can make it even more obvious which ovens are mine or I can designate which lid goes with which bottom. Dutch ovens are “cast” iron, which means they were made using a mold and the lids are intended to be tight fitting so you really shouldn’t mix and match your lids.

Tagged_and_Bagged_IMG_0734

So, here they are all tagged and bagged and ready for transport!

When purchasing bags for your Dutch ovens, be sure to check the measurements of the bag against the measurements of your Dutch oven as they can differ slightly from brand to brand.

 

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Caring for Kitchen Sponges

sponge_stackThe scrubby sponge is a work horse in the camp kitchen from scrubbing dishes and pots and pans to absorbing liquids and wiping up messes. Along the way it can also absorb harmful food borne pathogens.

Though you can’t eliminate 100% of germs lurking in a sponge, there are several ways to dramatically reduce the risk of cross-contamination—which can lead to food poisoning.

To lower the risk of cross-contamination, you should clean and sanitize your sponge daily. At home, you can pop a damp sponge into the microwave for one minute or run it through a dishwasher with a drying cycle.

In camp, we wash our dishes using a 3 tub system. Hot water wash, hot water rinse, cold water and bleach rinse (about a capful of bleach per gallon of water). When we’re all finished washing dishes, I clean the sponge and rinse it in the bleach water.

While cleaning your sponge daily helps reduce the risk of food poisoning, you should consider replacing your kitchen sponge regularly. If your sponge starts to smell at any point—toss it out immediately. I always keep a couple of spares in my chuck box.

Speaking of storage, it’s important to not only wring out your sponge completely after each use and wash off any loose food or debris, but you should also store it in a dry location. Letting your sponge lay wet in your wash tub takes longer for it to dry and allows harmful bacteria to multiply quickly as well as increases the opportunity for bacteria growth. Also, avoid leaving any damp sponges in an enclosed area such as your chuck box. In camp, I clip my sponge to my clothesline so it can drip/air dry when I’m not using it.

Using your sponge to clean up juices from ground beef or poultry can increase your chances of spreading harmful food borne pathogens. Instead, use a paper towel or disinfectant wipes to clean up spills and other bacteria-loaded messes.

And, don’t neglect your dishcloths. While less porous than sponges, dishcloths should still be laundered frequently as they can harbor enough harmful bacteria to make you sick. Remember to wash in hot water and dry them on high heat in the dryer and consider having separate dishcloths for different purposes (e.g. hand washing and dish drying). After every camping trip, we pull out all our sponges, washcloths, and dishcloths and launder them before returning them to our chuck box.

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How to Care for Your Wood Cutting Boards

bamboo-cutting-boardIn the previous post, “Dangerous Equipment Lurking in Your Camp Kitchen—Cutting Boards,” I talked about how wood, specifically bamboo, cutting boards are best because of their strength and natural antibacterial properties. They are also easy on your knives and won’t dull them like glass, stone, marble or porcelain. See my blog post, “Now that’s a Knife,” for more information on the use and care of knives.

Caring for your wood cutting boards is pretty simple, and I like keeping it simple.

Wash boards after each use in warm, soapy water. If you have chunks of food stuck on the surface, use a knife or kitchen scraper to remove most of it before washing. Do not leave boards to soak! Do not wash wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher. They will absorb water, and this could trash your cutting board. Dry thoroughly before storing. I prefer air drying in the dish rack.

To remove odors, rub down with half a lemon or spritz with some vinegar. This will also help sanitize the board.

Wood cutting boards should be regularly seasoned with a good quality cutting board oil. You can find them in most hardware stores. Mineral oil is typically used, since it does not go rancid. Do not use vegetable oil or olive oil. To season, start with a clean, dry cutting board. Coat entire surface with a layer of oil and rub it in. Set the oiled board in a warm, dry area for 12 to 24 hours to fully absorb the oil. Buff to remove any oil that may not have been absorbed. Repeat as needed any time your board starts looking dull.

Keep your knives sharp. Dull knives mean that you have to press harder to cut, which will mark up your board.

And that’s really all there is to keeping your wood or bamboo cutting boards in good condition.

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Dangerous Equipment Lurking in Your Camp Kitchen—Cutting Boards

plastic-cutting-boards-600There are many hidden health dangers lurking in your camp kitchen—from the germy sponges to the moldy forgotten foods to the bacteria-laced cutting boards in your chuckbox.

Cutting boards can be a highly contentious topic. Although there is some debate on which types of cutting boards are better and more hygienic, plastic cutting boards are not the safest option, which is contrary to what a lot of people think.

After all the slicing and dicing work done on a plastic cutting board, you will inevitably see little cuts and nicks across the surface. Those plastic cracks and crevices just happen to be the perfect home for dangerous bacteria to live in.

Most folks think that with plastic, you can just wipe the bacteria right off, but actually things like E.coli and salmonella are going to stick to the plastic more so than wood or bamboo.

Another drawback is the plastic BPA factor. The bits of plastic that come from those small knife scratches have to go somewhere—and that somewhere is in the food you’re chopping.

If you’re a die-hard plastic cutting board fan or have a bunch that you’re just not ready to part with, you can clean your plastic cutting boards by running them through the dishwasher. Stains can be removed by soaking them in a solution of 1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water for about an hour followed by a good scrubbing with soap and water. Scratches can be removed and/or smoothed out with a steel-wool scrubbing pad.

 

bamboo-cutting-boardSafe alternative: Bamboo and Wood

While any wood board is still better than plastic, the best wooden cutting boards are made from bamboo. Bamboo is 16% harder than maple wood, which is the most common wood used for most cutting boards, and it is 1/3 lighter in weight than oak, yet in some instances as strong as steel.

Bamboo and hard wood have natural antibacterial properties. Although the knife cuts on these boards still provide a place for bacteria to hide, once the bacteria goes down into the crevice they die off slowly.

Totally Bamboo is a highly recommended brand for bamboo boards. The company uses premium grade all natural bamboo and non-toxic formaldehyde free food grade glue to ensure the utmost safety to their consumers. And, for the seriously germ-o-phobic, they carry a line of dishwasher safe cutting boards so, if you’re concerned about bacteria, just run it through the dishwasher once in a while.

An extra bonus with bamboo: It is a 100% renewable resource. Whereas trees have to be re-planted and have a much longer maturation time, bamboo simply grows back and can be re-harvested every 4 ½ years making it a great choice for the eco-conscious as well.

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10 Signs of Nonstick Pan Abuse

nonstick-pansIf your nonstick pans could speak, would they thank you for the tender loving care you give them?

Or would they say “Hey! Not so aggressive with the utensils!”

This is a follow up to the previous blog post, “Dangers Lurking in Your Camp Kitchen–Nonstick Pans.”

As I said in the previous post, “Nonstick pans are popular cooking tools in our home kitchens as well as in our camp kitchens; they are easy to use and clean, and they don’t require a lot of oil to grease the surface,” but they are a high maintenance piece of equipment. They require a lot of TLC. Following are 10 signs that you’re not giving them the TLC they require, which can lead to unsafe and, potentially, toxic cooking.

1. Flaking

If the nonstick coating is flaking off into little bits, or you can see silver through the black nonstick coating, it’s time to replace it. This is the biggest sign of pan abuse. There are mixed reports on whether the flaking bits are safe to consume or if they are harmful. But I say: Why chance it?

When deep scratches occur, the nonstick coating starts to flake and peel.

A possible reason for the coating to flake could be high heat. Never use high heat on your nonstick cookware. Nonstick pans work best with low or medium heat. They are not meant for frying or boiling water. Do not put them under the broiler.

Your nonstick pan might also be flaking because it has been deeply scratched and it will continue to peel.

2. Small scratches in the nonstick surface

Some folks believe that using nylon and wooden utensils can cause these minor surface markings. (More on that in #5 below.)

Another suspect of minor scratches is cooking meat with bones in it (i.e. T-bone steaks or pork chops) and then moving the meat around in the pan. The bones can cause these minor scratches. That can’t always be helped, but it’s something you should be aware of.

The point is: minor scratches are signs of surface wear and could develop into large scratches, which could lead to flaking (refer to #1 above).

3. Your nonstick pans have greasy residue in them even after you’ve cleaned them

Don’t use non-stick cooking sprays. They leave a residue on the pan and eventually the pan will start to stick. Lightly coat your nonstick pan with oil (olive, canola, vegetable, etc) or use butter.

4. The bottom of the pan is warped

Warped pans can happen for a few reasons:

  • Harsh temperature changes can warp your pan.
  • Don’t put hot pans in the sink with cold water.
  • Don’t heat up your pans too quickly. If you want medium heat, put temperature on low for a few minutes, and then turn it up to medium so the pan can rise to the desired temperature slowly.
  • Inexpensive pans can be made cheaply. I’ve had a few pans that were warped upon purchase. Use quality cookware.

Over time, your pan might become slightly warped because of the temperature changes. But they shouldn’t be warped so much that they are rocking back and forth on your cook top.

5. Not using proper utensils

Most home cooks know this: Never use metal utensils on your nonstick pans. No forks, knives, metal spatulas, whisks. You name it. The slightest bump on the bottom of the pan with metal will leave a scratch. The pan manufacturers advise to only use nylon and wooden utensils. But I have noticed that these nylon and wooden utensils can leave those tiny surface scratches (noted in #2 above) and over time, cause your pan to lose its nonstick coating.

Some people I spoke to swear by silicone. It can handle high heat and it won’t scratch your pans, even if you press hard or aggressively.

If you’ve never used a silicone utensil and would like to purchase one, you may wonder how you can tell if it’s silicone or nylon. Nylon is a harder plastic. Silicone has a rubbery feel to it and is more flexible.

6. You put your nonstick pans in the dishwasher

Even though some nonstick pans are stamped with a “dishwasher safe” marking, they really shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher. The conditions are just too harsh and you’ll be buying new pans a lot sooner than if you hand wash it.

7. You use the scratchy side of the sponge

Never use scratchy pads to clean your nonstick pans. Even the scratchy pads that say “non-scratch” are not good for your nonstick pans. Use the soft side of the sponge.

8. You use your nonstick pans to cook your famous fried chicken

Cooking techniques like frying require high heat for an extended time and you should never use high heat on your nonstick pans. Never use them to boil water. When a recipe calls for high heat, use medium to medium-high heat instead and live with the longer cook time or choose a non nonstick pan. This is why I don’t feel nonstick pans are suitable for camping because controlling the heat can be challenging.

9. You stack ‘em

How you store your pans is just as important as how you cook with them. The bottom of one pan can scratch another’s interior. If possible, store them on a hanging rack. If you nest your pans because you have limited storage space, you should be placing something in between your pans, such as a piece of cloth, which could be an old dish towel, pot holder, soft placemat, etc.

10. Food is sticking to your pan

This could happen for a combination of many of the reasons mentioned above: using cooking sprays, scratches over time appearing in the surface, or using high heat. If food is sticking to your pans, it’s time to replace it.

By addressing these issues, you should be able to extend the life of your nonstick pans.

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Now, That’s a Knife!

best-kitchen-knivesWhen it comes to kitchen tools, having a go-to set of knives is important for any home or camp chef and can take much of the work out of cooking, making meal preparation easier and more efficient.

Most knives fall into one of three categories:

Straight edge for cleanly cutting meat, veggies, and fruit.

Serrated edge, which has a toothed blade, for cutting though crusts, soft items, or cooked meats without crushing the structure.

Hollow edge blades have scalloped sides, known as a Granton edge or dimples, which not only add style, but helps to release thin slices and sticky food after slicing. That food release ability makes this kind of knife ideal for a wide range of cutting tasks.

The Most Useful Blade

A Chef’s Knife (also called a Cook’s Knife) is probably the one knife I could not live without. It is one of the most useful and accessible tools that if used properly will yield professional results with minimal effort. A Chef’s Knife is balanced and versatile. It has an ultra-thin but hefty blade and chops and dices soft and tough foods but not bone.

A Santoku is sort of a cross between a Chef’s Knife and a Cleaver in its shape. It has a straight blade often with a hollow edge and is excellent for slicing and dicing. Providing a more linear cutting edge, the Santoku has limited “rocking” travel (in comparison to a German/Western-style Chef’s knife). Because of its hollow edge, a Santoku would work well for cutting hard cheeses by applying more pressure and an easy release.

knife_chef

Other Useful Blades

Serrated Utility or Bread Knife is great for cutting through crusty breads, soft fruits and cooked roasts.

knife_bread

Straight Edge Peeling or Paring Knife is excellent for peeling and garnishing with fruits and veggies and is perfect for precise slicing.

knife_paring

Carving knives have longer blades for cutting poultry, ham and roasts.

knife_carving

Cleavers have strong hatchet-like blades for cutting through bone. The knife’s broad side can also be used for crushing in food preparation (such as garlic).

knife_cleaver

If you are an avid hunter and usually catch your dinner, no doubt you have more than one boning knife in your camp kitchen knife collection—and probably a personal favorite.

knife_boning

Care, Storage, and Treatment of Knives

Always work with a sharp knife. A sharp blade reduces the amount of work and pressure required to use the knife, thus increasing control while reducing the amount of slipping. Regularly use honing steel on your knives and sharpen with a sharpening stone or knife sharpener only as needed. Honing steels are used by placing the near edge of the blade against the base of the steel, then sliding the blade away from yourself along the steel while moving it down – the blade moves diagonally, while the steel remains stationary. This should be done with the blade held at an angle to the steel, usually about 20°, and repeating on the opposite side at the same angle. This is repeated five to ten times.

Never, ever try to catch a falling knife. Step back and let it fall.

Use the correct cutting surface. Only cut on flat wood or plastic surfaces (usually cutting boards) to prevent blade damage. Never chop on glass, stone, marble or porcelain.

Hand wash your knives. After washing, dry the knife by wiping back to front with the blade facing away from your body. This helps avoid soap or other residue accumulating at the base of the blade where it meets the handle, and makes for healthier food prep and eating.

Store your knives safely and properly. Never store knives loosely inside a box or drawer or where children can reach them.

Knives are one of those kitchen tools where you want to spend the money and get the best you can afford. Having quality knives will make any food preparation easier and faster, and more enjoyable.

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Restoring Cast Iron

If you purchase a brand new piece of cast iron, it will either come pre-seasoned or it will come in clean, pristine condition ready to be seasoned by you.

If you have been blessed with a family member’s cast iron or have been lucky enough to find a piece of vintage cast iron in an antique store or garage sale, chances are it will look less than pristine if not down-right butt-ugly nasty. It may have decades-worth of build up from improper care and be so covered in rust that it is nearly completely orange.

Have no fear, with a little tender loving care, you can have this kitchen workhorse back in beautiful black condition and ready for fried chicken in no time at all.

Restoring cast iron is a 3-step process and I offer two different cleaning methods for you to choose from. The ingredients you will need are patience and time (this may take a few days) and some elbow grease (this may take some scrubbing).

Cast-Iron-Pan-Buildup

Step #1: Cleaning the Cast Iron

Oven Baking Method

Laying a piece of foil on the rack below or in the bottom of your oven, you want to set your oven to the “clean” mode and place your pan upside down on a middle rack.  Note: You may want to plan this part of the cleaning while you are out of the house. It does create some smoke and fumes that you might not want to be in the house for. Just remember — who knows how many years of grime we are removing? If you stay in the house, make sure the area is well ventilated.

Cast-Iron-Clean-Cycle

After this cycle has completed and everything has cooled down, you can remove the pan from the oven. It will probably look gray and even rustier than before but any of the build-up or extra coating should have come off of the pan.

Oven Cleaner Method

In a well-ventilated area, lay down some cardboard and place the pan on the cardboard. Suit up like an astronaut or a hazmat specialist (long rubber gloves, nose and mouth mask, and goggles for the eyes). The fumes will be strong and you don’t want the oven spray to come in contact with any skin. Once you’re suitably covered and protected such that your own dog does not recognize you, spray all sides of the pan thoroughly.

After thoroughly spraying the pan with oven cleaner, place it into a large, thick plastic bag, and close the bag tightly. Set it near a heater to help things along, but too close that it melts the plastic bag or is a fire hazard. Wait about 24 hours, then glove up and take a look. After rinsing and scrubbing, you may decide you need a second treatment so suit up and repeat the whole process.

When you’re finished, the pan should be clean but it may look pretty rusty. On to the next step!

Step #2: Removing Rust

Place the pan in a tub and cover with equal amounts of water and white vinegar, then add a couple squirts of mild dishwashing liquid. You can leave the pan in this solution for 1-3 hours—the rustier it is, the longer you can leave it, just keep an eye on it. I recommend checking the pan at least every hour and change the solution if it looks too rusty. You really need to babysit this step because while the water and vinegar solution removes rust it can destroy the iron. When no more rust is bubbling up from the pan you should be done.

Vinegar-Bath-Cast-Iron-Pan

Be warned: When you take the pan out of the solution it will instantly start rusting because the iron is utterly unprotected. A very thin film of rust is unavoidable—we’ll take care of it in the next step. Don’t leave the pan in the vinegar indefinitely waiting for it to come out perfectly gray. It never will.

Step #3: Neutralizing the Vinegar and Prepping for Seasoning

Remove the pan from the water/vinegar bath and immediately rinse it well with water and baking soda (base) to make sure the vinegar (acid) is completely neutralized. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. The pan is rusting as I type. Once it is thoroughly rinsed and the vinegar has been neutralized, wipe it down with paper towels or cotton cloths and dry it completely. Your pan should be free from rust, grime and general build up at this stage. If not, continue to scrub with paper towels or fine steel wool until buildup and rust have smoothed out.

Rinsing-Cast-Iron-Skillet

Place the pan in a 200°F degree oven to make sure it is bone dry. It’s now ready for your first coat of seasoning.

Categories: Care & Maintenance, Dutch Oven | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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