One of the major draws of camping is the opportunity to cook over a campfire. However, not all cookware is created equal; not everything can withstand the heat of the flames. That’s where cast iron cookware comes in.
Here are our top tips for cooking with cast iron over the campfire!
Tips for Cast Iron Campfire Cooking
Fuel for the Fire
When prepping your fire for cast iron cooking, you’ll get the best results by utilizing charcoal.
There are kits out there that allow you to set your cast iron pan over an open flame. While that’s certainly an option, you’ll wind up with uneven heat, which in turn can cause uneven and slow cooking.
Your best option, particularly for cast iron Dutch ovens, is forming a bed of charcoal in your fire pit and nestling your cast iron cookware inside.
You should also put hot charcoal on top if your cast iron cookware has a lid.
Seasoning the Pan
One of the most important methods for keeping your cast iron in optimal condition for campfire cooking is to season the pan.
“Seasoning” cast iron just means coating the pan in a very thin layer of oil after each use and subsequent cleaning.
This method of upkeep will prevent your cast iron cookware from rusting, which is key to maintaining the integrity of the cookware. It’s also crucial for maintaining food safety.
This will also prevent food from clinging to your cast iron, which is definitely a priority when camping. It’s difficult enough to do dishes when you’re out in the wilderness. The last thing you need is stubborn food sticking to your pots and pans!
Timing is Key
Keep in mind that no matter what you do, cast iron campfire cooking will most likely take longer than the same dish would in your oven or on your stovetop at home.
While you should remain vigilant and keep a close eye on the progress of your food, try to stay patient. The saying “a watched pot never boils” is never more true than when you’re attempting campfire cooking.
If you lift the lid off of your cast iron to check on your food too frequently, you’ll continuously allow heat to escape, which will only extend your cooking time.
Cast iron maintains heat well, but the initial heat-up process takes some time. If you don’t want dinner to become a midnight snack, make sure you start cooking early enough in the evening to give yourself a bit of leeway!
You’ll want to at least add one additional piece of equipment to your cast iron assemblage: a lid lifter.
When cooking over a fire, the entire dish will get very hot, including the handle. You will not want to grab this bare-handed.
You could use an oven mitt or pot holder, but reaching into the fire with flammable material on your hand is not our recommended method.
A lid lifter will allow you to reach into the fire and check the progress of your dish without sticking your hand too close to the flames.
For extra safety, it’s also recommended that you invest in a pair of heat-resistant fire gloves. These will allow you to adjust your logs and your charcoal by hand without fumbling with other tools.
Don’t Get Burned!
Cast iron gets very, very hot. Even with the aforementioned equipment, you’ll need to be cautious when handling your cookware!
While most cooking burns end up being minor, there is the potential to suffer second or even third-degree burns from touching hot cast iron.
Even accidentally spilling some of the food you’re cooking can cause severe damage.
Before heading out on your camping trip, research the closest hospitals and memorize the routes in case you lose signal to your GPS. If you’re remote camping, make sure you have a plan in place in case of injury.
Best Dishes to Cook in Cast Iron
If you have a cast iron skillet on hand, you can make a mean breakfast burrito.
All you need for a classic breakfast burrito are eggs, sausage, cheese, and tortillas. However, breakfast burritos are completely customizable. You can add any ingredients you like!
Many people prefer bacon over sausage or like to add hashbrowns to their burritos. It’s even becoming popular to add ingredients like avocado into the mix!
You can also try some beautiful golden-brown pancakes. Once your pan is heated properly, you can toss a lump of butter in and start pouring your batter. Within minutes, you’ll have a stack of fluffy, perfect pancakes ready.
Cast iron is also well-suited to making omelets. Just make sure you’ve properly seasoned the pan–eggs are notorious for sticking to cookware, even if you grease the pan first!
If you’ve never made grilled cheese on cast iron, you are missing out.
You can use either a skillet or a griddle pan for this. It works best if you have a weight to set on top of your sandwich to get an even grill, but if you don’t, it will still turn out delicious.
First, butter your slices of bread. Any type of bread you prefer will do.
(You can melt the butter directly in the pan if it’s too cold to spread, but you run the risk of burning it. Burnt butter can end up leaving a coating of acrid flavor on the outside of your sandwich.)
Simply add your cheese (or any other ingredients you like!) and grill away! You’ll end up with a crispy, melty sandwich that’s sure to hit the spot after a morning spent hiking or swimming.
The sky’s the limit for dinners cooked in cast iron. You can easily sear off some steak in your pan over the fire.
You can also cook chicken, pork, or any other meat, but you may want to bring a meat thermometer along to monitor the internal temperature of your meal.
The last thing you need on your camping trip is a case of food poisoning.
You can also use your cast iron Dutch oven to make dishes such as stew or soup. And if you’re looking for more inspiration, we’ve got you covered with these 35 easy Dutch oven recipes.
When people think of cooking over a campfire, they don’t often think about dessert…with the exception of s’mores. But cast iron solves this problem!
One of the best-kept secrets of cast iron cooking is fruit pies made over the fire.
All you need is some yellow cake mix, butter, canned peaches, and a bit of cinnamon sugar!
The Best Cast Iron Cookware
The best piece of cast iron cookware for a campfire is a Dutch oven-style pot.
This particular piece of cookware is best suited to campfire cooking because you can more or less bury it in charcoal and let it stew.
However, if you want to ensure you have every option available to you when camping, the best cast iron cookware set out there is the Bruntmor Camping Cooking set.
This set comes with four pieces of cast iron cookware, each designed for different dishes. Two come with lids.
This set also comes with a lid lifter included, as well as a carrying and storage crate!
Unlike other cast iron cookware sets, this set is specifically designed for cooking over a campfire.
How to Clean Your Cast Iron
Though many people assume you’re not able to use soap and water to clean cast iron, this isn’t the case!
As long as you don’t overdo it on the soap, you can wash your cast iron cookware the same as any other cookware. Make sure you avoid soaps that are designed especially for removing oil.
Once you’ve washed your cast iron, dry it with a towel. It’s best to avoid using paper towels, even though it’s tempting. After all, most people like to keep their towels free of oil and other residue.
However, if you use paper towels on cast iron, the cast iron will scrape lint from the surface of the paper towel. This lint is difficult to remove and can quickly make a mess of your cast iron cookware.
After you’ve washed and dried your cast iron, make sure you re-season it! Any oil is fine to use on your cast iron. Olive oil and shortening are the most highly recommended, but you can even use cooking spray if you want a cheap and easy option!
Where to Store Your Cast Iron
Our recommended kit comes with a box for storage. However, if you need to store your cast iron individually, you can purchase cast iron cookware cases on their own!
These cases will keep your cast iron protected during transit. However, make sure your cookware has cooled entirely before placing it inside.
You can also get cases with space for handles if you need them for your skillets, not just your Dutch oven.
Cast Iron Cooking FAQs
Why use cast iron for campfire cooking?
Cast iron not only holds heat better than other types of cookware; it also resists heat damage. The fire won’t damage the cookware.
Can I use ordinary sponges when cleaning my cast iron?
Cast iron can be scrubbed with ordinary sponges, but you’re better off using a scrubbing brush or a tool called a chainmail scrubber!
A chainmail scrubber is exactly what it sounds like, a scrubbing tool covered in links of metal. Surprisingly, this cleans your cast iron beautifully without leaving scratches behind.
This means you can clean your cast iron without leaving it more vulnerable to rust. In fact, chainmail scrubbers are actually able to help remove rust.
Give Cast Iron Cooking a Try!
If you’ve never cooked over a campfire using cast iron before, you are in for a treat on your next trip. Just make sure you take proper care of your cookware!
For more campfire cooking tips, visit our cooking section now!
- About the Author
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Cassidy Eubanks is a proud Michigander, an avid reader, and a writer for Apple Pie Media. Her bachelor’s in Creative Writing has fueled her love of storytelling in all its forms…including campfire stories!
With many years of both tent camping and RV camping under her belt, the ability to roll her ankle multiple times without actually spraining it while hiking, and a foolproof method for making the perfect s’more, Cassidy loves sharing different tips, tricks, and tools on Beyond the Tent to make your camping trip as simple and stress-free as possible.