Who said cooking should only happen in the confines of your kitchen? If you’re like me and you love to go camping, then cooking a tasty meal for yourself, family, and friends can be one of the most rewarding things to do out in the wild. And if you forage for mushrooms, truffles, berries, and wild garlic, you can find some of the freshest and most amazing ingredients in the open.
Foraging for ingredients is only part of the fun. You also need reliable and sturdy camping cookware to help you cook them up into delicious and aromatic meals. And if you ask me, there’s no camping cookware as essential as the skillet. Let me tell you why…
You can use a camp stove or build a fire. You can cut ingredients with a knife or tear them up into small chunks by hand. No matter how you prefer to do things when you cook outside, a good skillet will provide you with a solid cooking surface for your food.
In this blog post, I’m going to share my experience looking for the best skillet for camping (+ my tried and tested recommendation for the best skillet for camping).
Keep on reading if I’ve got you interested.
The Best Skillet for Camping
To make the most of your camp stove or fire when cooking out in the wild, you need the right skillet. Technically, you could use any pan on an open flame. But some materials will simply do better than others.
Don’t Use Teflon or Ceramic Skillets
For starters, don’t use a teflon pan for camping. You shouldn’t heat teflon cookware above 500°F (260°C). At high heat, teflon emits toxic fumes. The temperature coming from a charcoal fire or gas-fired camp stove can go as high as 1,200°F (650°C).
Don’t use a pan with a non-metal handle for camping. Most handles, no matter what material they’re made from, are durable up to a temperature of approximately 300°F (145°C). This rules out most ceramic pans, which are made for cooking at home and not out in the open anyway.
What is the best skillet for cooking up a meal while camping, then?
The Best for Camping: Cast Iron Skillet
To be able to cook on an open flame out in the wild, no matter if that flame comes from the camp stove or a campfire, you want to look for a skillet that has these three characteristics:
- It’s non-stick since you don’t have access to running water and you’ll probably want to cook more than one meal.
- It holds on to heat well as it gets cold at nights and you don’t want that to interfere with your cooking.
- It conducts heat evenly since your source of heat, especially when cooking over an open fire, is not going to be evenly distributed.
The best skillet for camping is a 10.25-inch cast iron skillet. A cast iron skillet can be used on the camp stove, as well as over the campfire. You can place it directly on hot coals or embers to cook food at very high heat, without doing any damage to it. It weighs about 5 pounds (2.25 kg) and has enough cooking surface to make food for a crowd.
A couple or so years ago, I decided to make the move from a cast aluminium pan for a cast iron pan for a number of reasons. After much research and time spent reading reviews on Amazon and other sites, I decided to go with the Lodge 10.25-inch cast iron skillet.
If you’re looking for a cast iron skillet for camping, consider the Lodge 10.25-inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (at Amazon). This has also been my “trusty workhorse” for outdoor cooking in the past two or three years.
Tips for Cooking Over a Campfire
There’s nothing like cooking over a campfire when you’re out in the wild. Most people think of marshmallows and hot dogs when they think of campfire food. But, with a trusty cast iron skillet handy, you can cook just about anything over a campfire.
The warmth of the fire, the sound of crickets, and the view to the mountains and lakes as you make your favorite food. If you like cooking outside, it’s a recreational experience that gets you closer with nature like no other.
How to Build a Campfire
Build your campfire in a safe place like a fire pit or stone ring. Placing stores on a ring or using a fire pit helps you keep the fire from spreading. If you have the option, build the fire on sand or gravel instead of soil (as it’s more harmful to the soil).
Just in case the fire gets out of control, have a bucket of water and a shovel handy. You can pour the water directly on the fire and use the shovel to put dirt on it (which will cut its oxygen supply short and help extinguish it).
Never cut live branches or trees from the forest. As they are alive, they contain a lot of moisture. So you’ll end up with a fire that smokes a lot and burns too little. You want three kinds of dry and dead wood collected from the ground:
- Tinder, like small twigs and leaves, to start the fire.
- Sticks smaller than 1-2 inches to get your fire burning.
- Larger pieces of wood to fuel the fire and keep a high heat.
Make a fire pit with the shovel. Surround it with rocks to control the fire. Pile a few handfuls of tinder at the center of your fire pit. As if you’re building a tent, lay the kindling on top of the tinder.
Ignite the tender and give your “tent” some time to start burning. As the fire grows, add more and more tinder to give it fuel. Every now and then, blow at the base of the fire.
Add some more kindling along with a couple of larger pieces of wood.
The large pieces of wood are like fuel to your fire that keeps it burning and that maintains the high heat.
How to Cook Over a Campfire
Start the Fire an Hour Ahead
Build the fire and ignite it at least an hour before it’s time to cook. You don’t want to cook on top of a fire that’s just been lit. The heat is uneven and not high enough. The fire needs to get good and hot before you put the grill on it.
Give your fire time to burn. If you’ve followed the instructions for building a fire above, you’ll know when it’s the right time to get cooking. This is when the large logs have started to burn without tall flames and are slowing turning into embers.
Don’t Use Cookware Made of (or With) Plastic
This is probably already more than clear to you, but I’m going to put my Captain Obvious cape on and say it nevertheless…
Don’t use plastic cookware or skillets with non-metal handles to cook over a campfire. They will melt, sustain damage beyond repair, and make your half-cooked meal completely inedible.
Prep as Much as You Can From Home
It’s easier to slice and dice vegetables in your home kitchen where you have access to a chef’s knife, a good cutting board, and running water to keep your knife and your hands clean.
If you’re camping for longer, prepping vegetables for days ahead is not really an option. Buy plastic disposable gloves and use them when prepping food before cooking it at the campfire. They’ll help to keep your hands clean and use up significantly less water.
Get a Fire Pit Grill Grate to Cook On
Get a grill grate. It’s by far the most efficient and controlled way to cook over any open fire (it practically turns a fire pit into a barbecue grill). It creates a safe and steady surface for you to cook on, without worrying about your skillet falling to one side.
I use the 24×16-inch Texsport Heavy Duty Over Fire Grill (at Amazon) because it’s big enough to fit a 10.25-inc cast iron skillet and a steak or two next to it, easy to carry around since it’s foldable, and is rugged and durable.
This one small piece of camping gear has saved me hours from thinking where to build my campfire and how to build a stone wall in a way that allows me to cook on it.
Make Foil-Packet Meals in the Fire
Sides cooked in tin foil packets are amazing… They cook fast on the heat from the fire and taste great because the foil keeps the moisture and aroma of the ingredients wrapped inside.
If you’re looking for ideas, consider baked veggies seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I like to wrap sliced potatoes, carrots, and onions in tin foil, season them with salt and spices, and let them cook on the grill grate until nice and tender.