We love to break out our cast iron at home and at the camp site. Its consistent heat distribution is a godsend when dealing with the complexities of cooking over an open campfire. And everyone loves its ability to retain heat. These properties might be why this old school way of cooking has some major staying power. Did you know the first cast iron was created during the Han dynasty?
History aside I wanted to go over some tips that will help you take your cast iron out into the wild. I'll cover the different types of cast iron as well as the pan styles based on what you'd use them to cook. Since I know there are a lot of questions around heat sources I'll briefly cover that topic. But you can also read our longer post here.
Types of Cast Iron
There are two main types coated and coated. It is easy to determine which one is which based on the color. Your standard un-coated pan will be black. One of the most popular brands is Lodge and there is a new company making some cool light weigh pans that just finished a Kickstarter. Your coated variety comes in a rainbow of colors. We've got Le Creuset and I know some people just love Staub. No matter how much you love it this type of cast iron is not made for the open fire pit.
When you put a pan over a campfire it is exposed to the flame and becomes charred and covered in black soot. That's why many un-coated cast iron companies create carrying cases for their camping style gear. If you want to go cheap you can just use an old tote bag. Thats what we use for our dedicated camping skillet.
I would suggest that you only cook over the open fire with cookware you don't plan on using back in the kitchen because it is a huge pain to get them really clean. And for the minimal cost of an uncoated pan it was worth it to us to have two.
Types of Pans
There are two main types skillets and dutch ovens. You'll also find griddles and sandwich/toastie makers but we'll save talking about those for another time.
Skillets are great for frying up just about anything. If you keep them properly seasoned they are pretty much non-stick. When we use them fireside we typically cook a few different things in the same pan. For breakfast we'll first cook some bacon then we'll fry up some potatoes and or eggs in the leftover grease. Then for dinner we'll fry up some steak or chicken breasts seasoned with a dry rub then use the pan drippings to sauté up some greens. (You'll find one in our Foodie Provision Pack.) This makes it way easier to clean up, which is clutch for camping.
Cast iron dutch ovens are used for two main types of campfire cooking - baking and braising. Neither of these two things is rocket science. However, baking requires a lot more gear and some very specific heating requirements. But we'll talk about that that when we go over heat sources. We typically braise things like chili or slow cooking stews in the dutch oven. As for baking we've made cornbread and a couple types of cake. My personal fave is dump cake - 1 box spice cake mix, 1 can of apple pie filling, 1 can of root beer. Just remember to line the dutch oven with foil. It will make clean-up way easier.
When it comes to fireside cooking you've got two sources. Wood or charcoal briquettes. Wood gives wonderful complex smokey flavors and it is beautiful. Charcoal provides much more consistent heat and is easier to use to line a dutch oven for baking. You can even use this guide to get a particular temp. I am not much of a baker, but I do know that precision is required to get things to bake properly and a wood burning fire offers little to no precision.
If I had to break it down baking = briquettes braising or frying = wood. And don't forget you can use that cast iron over the camp stove tool. I just don't recommend it for single burners as the weight of the pans can lead to tipping.
Hopefully our how to guide on cast iron gets you inspired to get out there and do a little cooking!!!