Why You Should Use Cast Iron for Campfire Cooking

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By Bryan Rucker •  11 min read

There is a certain percentage of the population that would probably view cast iron cookware as old or antiquated.  Many people, especially the younger generation, may have never even had the opportunity to cook with cast iron, as many of these pieces of cookware have now been replaced with cookware made of other types of metals and materials.  Despite having been around for centuries, however, there are some cooking scenarios—such as campfire cooking—in which oldest is definitely the best.  In fact, when spending time outdoors, there is simply no other cookware that can even hold a candle to cast iron pots, pans and griddles—cookware that provides plenty of versatility, safety, taste and a wide array of benefits.

In the following article we will outline several reasons why cast iron cookware is best for campfire cooking, including an in-depth description/explanation of each of these advantages.

What Pieces of Cast Iron Work Great for Camping?

When packing for your camping trip, there are a few pieces of cast iron cookware you should always consider bringing, especially if you plan to be camping for several days or weeks.  These pieces include a:

Below we’ll show you some of our favorite options for cooking in cast iron over an open fire.

Best Cast Iron Camping Cookware For The Money (2017 – 2018)

Last update on 2022-09-29 at 21:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Reasons To Use Cast Iron Cookware When Cooking Over a Campfire

Cast iron cookware can be extremely heavy and cumbersome.  Because of this, many people may overlook this type of cookware when it comes to packing for that big camping trip.  This is especially true for those who plan to backpack into their favorite camping destination, as the weight can be very prohibitive indeed.

Despite the heft of most cast iron cookware—its one and only disadvantage—there are scores of benefits associated with using these types of pots and pans when cooking over—or directly in—a campfire.  And come mealtime, most people who neglect to pack at least one piece of this cookware may seriously regret it.

To give you a better idea with regard to the many benefits of cast iron cookware for outdoor cooking, below we have outlined several of those advantages as it applies to this type of cooking situation.

Cast Iron Is Durable

When camping and cooking outdoors, the durability of cast iron cookware cannot be ignored.  There’s a reason why cast iron cookware can often be found in antique shops, thrift stores, swap meets and yard sales, with many of these pieces dating back to the turn of the (20th) century or earlier—it’s because cast iron is nearly indestructible.

Built to last, cast iron cookware is crafted out of a single piece of raw sheet iron. There are no moving parts, as there are with many Teflon and so-called non-stick pots and pans.  This single sheet of molded iron also includes the handle or handles of the cookware.  In comparison, much of the other types of cookware available today have handles—and lids—that include added (screwed-on) fixtures.  Many of these fastened pieces are decorated and/or equipped with plastic or rubber pieces, which make those pots and pans easy to grip when taking them on and off the heat.  And while these features may be helpful or even advantageous in certain household cooking scenarios, they are not recommended for cooking over an open fire, as the fire and heat can rapidly deteriorate and destroy plastic and rubber handles and knobs.

Cast iron cookware is great for cooking over an open fire or directly on the coals.  Even better, these pots, pans and griddles can be dropped, stepped on, set afire or even thrown down a large canyon and still maintain their shape and integrity.  Quite simply, a piece of cast iron cookware can usually outlive the owner of said piece, and provide years of quality maintenance-free cooking.

Cast Iron Cookware Heats Food Evenly

If you were to conduct a poll in which you asked campers about the worst aspect of campfire cooking, chances are that many would point to the fact that much of the food they cook in this manner either gets burned or turns out underdone—or a little bit of both.  Cooking over a campfire using a grill—or cooking directly on the coals—can be a very delicate process—a process that involves a lot of culinary skill, patience and impeccable timing.  High flames can often burn the outside of food, while leaving the inner portion distastefully undercooked.  Embers that have lost their heat can also make it difficult for food to cook evenly, especially when using cookware that heats unevenly.

Due to its heft and chemical makeup, cast iron cookware is great at heating food evenly—when one part of the pan or pot is heated, that heat transferred and distributed to the other part of the cookware.  This ensures that dishes like steaks, hamburgers, fish, etc. will cook evenly in a cast iron skillet, and that foods like stews and sauces will cook thoroughly without burning.  Cast iron griddles, too, will prevent you from burning the outer portion of foods like pancakes and potatoes, before the inner portion has an opportunity to cook through thoroughly.

Cast Iron Cookware Is Cheap and Versatile

One of the best aspects of cast iron cookware—pots, pans, griddles, etc—is their amazing versatility.  In terms of home cooking, cast iron cookware can be used on the stovetop for searing and frying foods; and because of its one-piece design (including the handle) this type of cookware can also be transferred to the oven for baking, roasting and even broiling foods.

In a camp setting, cast iron cookware is the perfect choice for cooking over a grill.  Almost any type of food you can think of, from meats to vegetables, can be seared or fried in a cast iron skillet.  And Dutch ovens made of cast iron, when placed on a grill, are perfect for boiling foods like eggs and potatoes.

A cast iron griddle placed on a campfire grill offers a whole new level of versatility.  This piece of cookware is ideal for making items like pancakes, bacon, eggs and French toast, among other foodstuffs.

As beneficial as cast iron cookware is when cooking over a grill, one of the best features of these types of pots and pans, particularly large Dutch ovens, is their ability to withstand direct heat.  This enables campers to place these pieces of cookware directly atop slow burning coals—without a grill of any kind.  This setup, which closely replicates the genuine pioneer style of making grub, is perfect for making dishes like stews and soups, as it supplies an even amount of heat distribution without damaging the pot or pan.

In addition to being quite versatile, cast iron cookware is also very affordable.  In most cases, for example, you can pick up a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven for about $20-$30 brand new—even cheaper if you hunt around at antique and thrift stores.  Compare that to the price of Teflon and Stainless Steel cookware, which can often go for $100 or more per piece, and the decision to use cast iron looks even smarter.

Cast Iron Cookware Is Non-Stick

Is there anything that can ruin a campfire meal as much as foods that stick to the pan?  This can be extremely frustrating—and ultimately very costly.  Fortunately, this is a never a worry with cast iron cookware.

Cast iron pots, pans and other pieces of cookware that have been properly seasoned are renowned for their non-stick nature.  This type of cookware is superb for cooking foods that would normally stick to stainless steel pots and pans—foods that include eggs, meat, cheese, pancakes, French toast fried potatoes and more.  Moreover, large cast iron pots that have been placed directly over slow burning coals are less apt to burn on the bottom, making them ideal for cooking foods like stews, chili, sauces and casseroles.  This is because the heat is distributed evenly and because the bottom of the pot has been properly seasoned.

With cast iron cookware you can eliminate the need for oils and non-stick sprays, but only when this cookware has been seasoned.  To season cast iron cookware, simply rub on a thin layer of vegetable oil, animal fat, or even Crisco using a paper towel.  Then, bake the empty pot or pan in the oven for about 30-45 minutes at a temperature of 350 degrees.  Seasoning should be done about once a month to preserve the coating, even more frequently if you use the cookware often.

Cast Iron Cookware Offers Health Benefits

Iron is a crucial part of our diet.  And when cooking over a campfire with cast iron cookware, some of the iron that these pots and pans contain is actually leached into the food you cook—making that food even healthier and better for you.  According to some estimates, cooking with cast iron cookware exclusively can almost double the amount of dietary iron you take in every day.  This is especially beneficial to people with anemia and other iron deficiencies, whose bodies do not produce enough of the important substance.

Iron helps fight sluggishness and gives us more energy—a plus when camping.  It is also critical to a properly functioning immune system.  By switching to cast iron when cooking over a campfire, it is just like taking an iron supplement with every single meal.

Cast Iron Is Non-Toxic

Cast iron pots and pots are completely non-toxic, meaning they pose no danger to you or the environment when used for campfire cooking.  This is not the case with Teflon cookware.  When heated to high temperatures, non-stick, Teflon pots and pans actually release toxic chemicals into the air.  Known as Perfluorinated Compounds, or PFCs, these toxins can pose a danger to your health and to the health of others when exposed to them over a period of time.  Even worse, Teflon pots and pans that are scratched in any way or flaking, may actually release those same toxic compounds into your food, exponentially increasing the number of toxins to which you are exposed.

The thought of using cookware that actually poisons the environment is a no-no in any case, but when enjoying the purity and fresh air of the great outdoors, this fact is especially taboo.  Fortunately, cast iron releases no toxic chemicals of any kind and is always safe to use at any heat.

Cast Iron Cookware Does Not Have to Be Washed

After enjoying a family-cooked meal amidst all the Mother Nature-supplied beauty of your favorite campsite, the last thing you probably want to do is stop and wash dishes.  The good news is, with cast iron pots and pans you will never have to worry about that again.  Cast iron cookware does not have to be washed.  In fact, using soap on cast iron cookware tends to strip the seasoning off of the pot or pan, leaving it vulnerable to oxidation or rust.

When you finish using your cast iron cookware, simply scrape any food out of the bottom of the pot or pan, rinse with warm water, and lay it out to dry.

What Else Do I Need to Bring For Campfire Cooking?

When cooking over a campfire, in addition to bringing your favorite pieces of cast iron cookware, you should also consider bringing the following items:

Many pieces of cast iron cookware also come complete with handy carrying bags for easy storage and portability.  These convenient totes are typically available at all camping, sporting goods and home improvement stores.

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  • Cast iron cover features self-basting tips

Last update on 2022-09-29 at 16:32 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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top image credit: rmakedonsky/Deposit Photos

Bryan Rucker

Brian Rucker has spent his entire life participating in essentially all things wildlife. His concern grew astronomically during the previous tensions between the United States and other nations. He also has grown a substantial interest in survival and sustainability due to the current shape of the world over the years. He believes that preparation triumphs all things.