cooking bacon over a campfire

There is just something special about cooking with cast iron. I have one big cast iron skillet at my house that I use for almost everything and I love it. Sure they are big and heavy but if taken care of they will last you forever. Cast iron can be used outside of the home as well, and because it’s so durable you can use it to cook directly over an open fire. That’s what I’ll be talking about in this article.

Is cast iron good for campfire cooking?

Cast iron is great for cooking directly over a campfire. It has many advantages over other types of cookware, and a few disadvantages. The main disadvantage being the weight, it is very heavy. If you are long distance backpacking and doing backcountry camping then you may want to go with something lighter like aluminum.

However, if you are camping with an RV or driving all the way to your campsite in your car then I highly recommend cast iron cookware. An 8 quart cast iron dutch oven is going to weight upwards of 20 lbs and carrying that in a backpack just isn’t an option, but if you can throw it in a trunk or RV, then you can make some amazing one pot meals in one.

Advantages of cast iron for camping

  • it’s durable and long lasting
  • it’s easy to clean
  • it’s inexpensive
  • can cook directly over a campfire

Disadvantages of cast iron for camping

  • it’s very heavy
  • it can rust
  • you have to worry about it being seasoned
  • you aren’t supposed to cook acidic foods

Best cast iron dutch ovens for camping

Lodge 5 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Dual Handles – Preseasoned and ready for cooking out of the box, this 5 quart dutch oven from Lodge weighs 13 pounds and is the perfect size for cooking for 1-2 people. 

Lodge 12 inch 8 Quart Camp Dutch Oven – Like the 5 quart above this one comes preseasoned just like all of Lodge’s cast iron cookware. This one is a bit bigger at 8 quarts but with the same quality and durability of the 5 quart. Expect to be able to feed 4-5 people with this size dutch oven.

Best cast iron skillets for camping

Lodge 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillet with hot handle holder  – If you only own one piece of cast iron cookware, it should be a good skillet. You can cook so many things and this one is inexpensive and should last for years to come if properly taken care of.

AmazonBasics Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet – 15-Inch – Just another option I like. This one is from AmazonBasics, a bit larger than the 12 inch Lodge at 15 inches, and is even costs a little bit less. The quality may not be quite what you would get from Lodge, but the reviews are great on Amazon and I would certainly give it a shot at that price point.

Best cast iron griddles for camping

Lodge Pro-Grid Cast Iron Grill and Griddle Combo – As with other cast iron cookware a griddle/grill will heat slowly and evenly. The large surface is great for cooking for more people. Whether it be steaks, pork chops, pancakes or eggs and bacon, between the griddle and the grill you can cook almost anything.

Lodge Reversible Grill and Griddle Combo – Similar to the griddle combo above, this one is one piece and reversible. Instead of lugging around two pieces you simply flip this one over. Pancakes on one side and steaks on the other!

Cast iron cookware sets for camping

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 5 Piece Bundle – A great 5 piece set for campfire cooking currently on sale for under $100. This set comes with the following cookware:

  • 10.5 Inch Griddle
  • 8 Inch Skillet
  • 10.25 Inch Skillet
  • 5 Quart (10.25 Inch) Dutch Oven
  • Lid that fits the dutch oven and large skillet

AmazonBasics Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Set – You will get literally the same exact pieces with this set, just from AmazonBasics and at a cheaper price than Lodge. I generally like Amazon branded products but for some things it’s best to pay the extra money and get it from the people who’s entire business is focused around that specific type of product. They will likely be higher quality and longer lasting. Just something to keep in mind. 

Having said that, this set is backed by Amazon’s one year limited warranty. If you are on a budget, this set may work fine for you knowing that you can return it if you have problems.

Outdoor Gourmet 5 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set – Just a slightly different variation of the standard 5 piece set. This set comes with the following pieces:

  • 8 inch skillet
  • 10 inch skillet
  • 2 sided grill/griddle combo, so kind of like an extra piece here
  • 5 qt dutch oven
  • Lid that fits the dutch oven and 10 inch skillet

Bruntmor 7 Piece Cast Iron Set with Storage Box – I really like this set. It’s a bit pricier that the other sets but not by much. It comes with a bonus storage box, however don’t buy this just for the box. Several people have commented on it’s low quality. However the cast iron itself is the quality you would expect and there are a couple of extra pieces thrown in. Here is what this set comes with:

  • 12″ Cast Iron Skillet
  • 4.5 qt Dutch Oven with lid
  • 2.5 qt Saucepot  with lid
  • 20″ x 9″ Heavy-duty Reversible Cast Iron Griddle
  • 8.6″ Trivet
  • Dutch Oven Lid Lifter – very handy for removing the lid without melting your hand

How to keep cast iron clean while camping

  • After each use you should rinse under hot water and if necessary, scrub with a scrub brush or chainmail scrubber to get off any excess food.
  • Dry your cast iron cookware thoroughly once cleaned off and apply a thin layer of cooking oil with a paper towel.
  • Allow cast iron to cool and dry completely.
  • That’s it, it’s ready for storage.

How to season cast iron cookware

After you have cleaned your cast iron using the steps above, allow it to dry again. You will again spread a thin layer a vegetable oil to the cast iron.

Once you have done this, place your skillet face down in an oven preheated to 375 or 400 for about 1 hour. Place a sheet pan or some tin foil on the rack below it to catch any drips. You should then turn the oven off and allow it to cool in the oven. See this article for more details. 

How to store cast iron for camping

Storing your cast iron cookware is pretty simple and straightforward but there are a few things to take into consideration before you do: 

  • make sure you have properly cleaned your cast iron
  • be sure it is well seasoned
  • remove all lids for max airflow – this helps prevent rust

If you are storing in an RV then a cabinet or storage compartment of any type is fine. In a normal kitchen, again a cabinet is fine. Also you can hang cast iron from the wall or ceiling, this helps with airflow as well. Storing them in hot, humid places can increase the chances of rust forming. Some sets may even come with a nifty storage box, like the Bruntmor 7 piece set above.

You can even use carrying cases and bags like this dutch oven carrying case that you can get on Amazon. It has a zipper pouch for the dutch oven itself and a strap for carrying, it’s well worth the price in my opinion. 

What’s the best way to cook over a campfire with cast iron?

A few of your options are mentioned above in the section “other things you may need”, but you need some way to cook over the fire. You obviously cannot hold your skillet or dutch oven the whole time.

As to which is the best way, that is up to you. I prefer to just use a simple grill grate. Many campsites will provide these for you, in which case you are good to go. If they do not though, you can find one on Amazon.

There are some primitive ways you can do this that will work just fine. A few options in that category are:

  • set your dutch oven or skillet directly on the coals
  • arrange some rocks on the fire so that your cast iron cookware has something to sit on
  • make a roasting spit out of 3 sticks – 2 “Y shaped” sticks in the ground on either side of the fire and another going long ways across the fire. You can hang your dutch oven from here.

You can also make this a bit easier on yourself and purchase premade solutions for cooking over a campfire. Sure it would mean more gear to carry around but it could potentially save you time and headaches. As I mentioned, it all depends on where you are camping and your campsite may provide grill grates for you to use with your cast iron cookware and that’s great. I would call the park office or do research on your campsite to find out before you bring yours along. 

Need to brush up on your campfire making skills? Check out this article we wrote on how to make a campfire for cooking

What not to cook in cast iron

Some things you just should not cook in cast iron. Some things are too acidic and that can eat away at the seasoning. Other things are just too difficult to clean out of the pan and can almost ruin it.

Cast iron skillets can take on the flavor of previous foods you have cooked, so keep that in mind. If you have been cooking steaks and bacon in a cast iron skillet for years then you try to cook something sweet like a dessert, it might not taste quite right.

Just another couple of tips here I wanted to add regarding cooking in a cast iron skillet. Always let your pan heat up properly before adding cold food to it, if you don’t if can cause the food to stick to the bottom. Also, once you are done cooking you should remove your leftovers from the pan. Don’t let them get cold as they will stick to the pan. So never just throw tin foil over the skillet and put it in the fridge, move it to a tupperware or storage container.

Here’s a list of some things you should consider not cooking in cast iron cookware:

  • tomato sauce – the acid in the tomato can damage the seasoning, and I’ve been guilty of cooking spaghetti sauce in my cast iron skillet. So as a general rule you should avoid acidic foods.
  • wine braised meats – again, the acidic nature of the wine and vinegar can really eat away at your seasoning and can actually leach small pieces of metal into your food..
  • desserts – this one isn’t a hard no but it can be tricky to clean a cast iron pan completely of a cherry cobbler or something, maybe have one pan designated specifically for desserts.
  • (some) fish – some fish will do just fine on a cast iron skillet, like salmon and tuna but something like a tilapia might end up in a million pieces..
  • eggs and omelettes – again I’m guilty of this. I cook eggs in my cast iron skillet all the time and they do get stuck to the bottom sometimes. They will also have a dark color I’ve noticed which isn’t intended. They always taste good though 🙂
  • stuff that has powerful smells – garlic and lots of peppers are examples. Again, these are not things you absolutely can’t cook in cast iron (I do anyway) but they can leave behind odors that may stick around for awhile. You can re-season your pan with oil and stick it in the oven at 400 degrees, this will rid it of most smells.

For the most part everything else is fair game. If there is anything else you have come across that you prefer not to cook in cast iron, leave it in the comments below so I can add it to the list.

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