How to Take Care of Clay Cooking Pots for an Exquisite Cooking Experience

Since the early days of civilization, mankind has used clay to create statues, tiles, and cookware. Today, it’s still used to slow-cook stews, roasts, and meats around the world thanks to its unique ability to seal in heat and moisture. Yet, taking care of clay and terracotta cookware takes a little more discipline than you’d give to a standard metal pot.

Cooking with clay pots takes a little more know-how than you might be used to if you’ve primarily used metal cookware. Clay must be seasoned, cleaned, and heated properly to keep it from cracking or becoming moldy. Failing to properly care for your clay cooking pots can taint the flavor of your food, expose your family to food-borne diseases, and ruin your pots.

If you’ve not been caring for your clay and terracotta cookware, continue reading to learn everything you need to know about treating, seasoning, cleaning, and storing your pots. We’ll explore a variety of clay pots from around the world, discuss safety concerns, and explain how to preserve your cooking equipment.

What is Terracotta Cookware?

Terracotta is a type of earthenware famous for its iconic reddish-brown hue, commonly used to create pots, tiles, and ceramic statues. Its color comes from its iron content which, when heated to high temperatures, produces an orangish earth tone. Terracotta varies in color from pale brown to vivid reds and oranges. During firing, the clay loses water content and hardens into a sturdy yet porous ceramic.

Since the dawn of humanity, civilizations across the globe have used terracotta to produce cooking pots, with some items dating back tens of thousands of years. From Ancient China and Sumer to the Romans, Mesoamericans, and Moroccans, you can find a variety of clay and terracotta cooking vessels renowned for their heat-sealing, moisture-locking qualities. In fact, the very word terracotta comes from Italian, meaning ‘baked earth’.

Crystalia Clay Pot for Cooking, Handmade Terracotta Cookware
Crystalia Clay Pot for Cooking, Handmade Terracotta Cookware


What Kind of Clay is Used for Terracotta?

Often, when we speak of earthenware, we are specifically talking about terracotta. Terracotta earthenware is made from terracotta clay. It is a unique type of clay-rich with iron deposits, compared to other types of clay-like raku and low-fire white clay. These other types of clay are reserved for finer ceramics, such as porcelain and bone china.

Why is Terracotta Used in the Kitchen?

Whereas metal pots are better for quick dinners, terracotta and clay pots are perfect for slow-cooked meals requiring longer baking times, simmering, or stewing. This is thanks to terracotta’s unique ability to absorb higher amounts of heat without transferring it directly into your food. You can cook at higher temperatures without burning your dinner, allowing meats, baked goods, and stews to slowly rise to the perfect temperature.

Yet, terracotta pots are more than just a useful piece of cookware. They’re also incredibly aesthetic. Most clay pots are molded into beautiful designs, allowing you to present meals directly from the oven. Simply lay a trivet down, transition your earthenware to the table, and make a show of lifting the lid from your Chinese clay pot, Moroccan tagine, or Japanese donabe.

Advantages of Using Clay Cooking Pots

Clay pots have stuck around for thousands of years and for good reason. Cooking with clay and terracotta pots offers a lot of advantages. Check out these five reasons why you can benefit from using clay cookware:

1) Clay pots have a reputation for being healthier and greener than metal pots. Since clay pots trap heat and moisture, all of the nutrients from your food remain within the pot. Some cooks even believe their pots help add calcium, iron, and other minerals from the clay to their food.
2) Heat and moisture trapped within a clay pot circulate better than in a standard metal or Pyrex baking dish, helping to thoroughly cook and tenderize your stews and meats.
3) Even after removing them from the oven, terracotta pots retain heat, meaning you can serve dinner without worrying that the food will go cold or soggy during a dinner party.  
4) The more you use unglazed terracotta pots, the more oil they absorb, helping to season the material, making it more non-stick, and increasing the performance quality.
5) Clay and terracotta pots bring an earthen warmth to any kitchen, helping to create a retro, rustic feeling.

Once you’ve masted cooking in clay pots, you will appreciate their high-quality and ability to transform any dish into a special occasion.

Click here to buy our high-quality terracotta clay pot.

Disadvantages of Using Clay Cooking Pots

Although clay pots offer a lot of benefits, it’s important that you understand a few of their downsides as well. Keep the following points in mind as you start cooking with clay and terracotta materials.

1) Mass-produced clay pots often come from China, where the quality control checks are less stringent. Inferior products are often made from a blend of minerals, including iron oxides, heavy metals, and other toxic compounds. Cooking in a poorly crafted clay pot can leach heavy metals into your food. Avoid these problems by buying pots from high-quality, reputable vendors.
2) Clay cooking pots are harder to clean than metal. Clay is naturally porous and requires some oil to stay hydrated. Cleaning clay with soap will break down the necessary oils, leaving it dry and brittle. Additionally, soap can seep into the pores, causing your next meal to taste like soap.
3) Clay is more delicate than metal. Not only will your pots break if you accidentally drop them but they are also more sensitive to sudden temperature changes. Terracotta and clay pots are fired at extremely high temperatures, but if you suddenly transition a pot from a cold area to a very hot area, it could explode. 
4) Because clay is porous, your pots will slowly start to absorb the flavors of other foods if you don’t clean them properly.
5) Clay pots absorb a ton of heat. When you take your earthen cookware from the oven, be extremely careful not to burn yourself. Clay stays hot for a long time, too, so don’t be surprised if you come back 15 minutes later and your clay pots are still burning hot. Keep this in mind if you have small children.

Is Terracotta Safe for Cooking?

After considering these 5 disadvantages, you may wonder if terracotta is safe for cooking. The short answer is yes, as long as you clean it properly and buy from a reputable vendor. The risks of cooking with terracotta are pretty limited but can be summed up as the following:

➔ Risk of contamination – Industrial manufacturers often use poorly sourced clay deposits, which can be full of iron oxides, heavy metals, and other toxic compounds. However, as long as you buy your clay and terracotta cooking pots from a reliable vendor, your cookware should be free of lead, iron oxides, and other heavy metals.
➔ Risk of mold – Failing to properly clean a terracotta or clay pot can allow mold spores to grow within the pores of the clay. This can contaminate your food and lead to foodborne illness if not quickly addressed.
➔ Risk of burns – The only other risk to using clay pots is that terracotta can absorb massive amounts of heat. Be sure to use a thick pair of oven mitts before removing a clay pot from the oven and don’t touch it until it’s fully cooled off.

With some basic common sense and an appreciation for quality, you will have no problems using terracotta cookware.

Click here to buy our high-quality terracotta clay pot. 

Taking Care of Clay Cooking Pots

terracotta clay

Properly caring for your clay cooking pots will stop mold from growing within their pores and help the material last longer. Yet, you will have to follow a few steps to take care of your cooking equipment:

1) After purchasing a new clay or terracotta pot, let it soak for at least one night. Letting the pot and lid sit in your kitchen sink overnight will loosen residual clay dust, which you can scrub away using a brush in the morning. If your pot is unglazed, you can use a stiff-bristled brush but, if glazed, avoid using stiff bristles to prevent scratching away the glaze.
2) Even after the first use, you should continue to soak unglazed pots for at least 10 to 15 minutes before using them. Be sure to wipe the bottom and sides of the pot before placing them in the oven.
3)If you notice small cracks forming, season your pot again using the same method mentioned above.

Following these steps will preserve your pot and keep it from cracking or breaking during use. You can also season clay cookware using a light coat of oil to keep the material hydrated.

Click here to buy our high-quality terracotta clay bowls.

How to Clean Clay Cooking Pots

As mentioned above, you must properly clean clay cooking pots to prevent mold from growing within them. However, you cannot use a simple soap and rag to clean clay. Soap will dry out the material, leading to cracks and breaks. Instead, follow these tips to properly clean your clay cooking pots:

➔ Wait for your clay pot to completely cool before cleaning it. Once cooled, soak the pot with water and clean it with a brush. You can add baking soda to break down grease, however, avoid using a detergent or soap to keep the clay hydrated and clean of soap scud. DO NOT PUT CLAY POTS IN THE DISHWASHER.
➔ If your pot begins to smell moldy or spoiled, make a solution of 3 tbsp baking soda for every 1 quart of water. Soak the pot overnight and rinse away the baking soda solution in the morning.
➔ If your pot has lingering food smells, fill it with water and make green tea. Let the tea simmer for at least 10 minutes then throw the tea away.
➔ To clean caked-on grease and grime, pour a tablespoon of fine-grained kosher salt into the pot with a tablespoon of cooking oil. Using a paper towel, rub the salt and oil mixture around the pot to scrape away any residue. Rinse the pot and dry it using another paper towel.
➔ Sunning is another quick and hands-off way to kill mold in a clay pot. Simply place your pots outdoors on a warm, sunny day and let your pot sunbathe for the entire afternoon. Bring your pots back inside once the sun has set and rinse them with warm water.

Additionally, distilled white vinegar is an effective way to clean terracotta but be careful not to leave it on the clay for too long. Your pots will start absorbing the acidic bite of vinegar if you let the vinegar soak into the clay’s pores. Simply wipe the insides with vinegar and immediately rinse the vinegar away using warm water. Let your pots dry and inspect for signs of mold.

Click here to buy our high-quality terracotta clay pot.

Terracotta clay has been used to make pots and cookware for thousands of years. It’s one of the oldest materials known to mankind and for good reason. Cooking with terracotta pots help seal in moisture, heat, and nutrients but after you’ve finished cooking, be sure to clean your cookware properly. Use warm water, a cloth, and avoid using detergents to prevent cracking and flavor contamination.

Crystalia Clay Pot for Cooking, Handmade Terracotta Cookware
Crystalia Clay Pot for Cooking, Handmade Terracotta Cookware


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