Why Cast Iron Cooking on Campfires is a GOOD thing! *Myth Buster*

There’s nothing like waking up on a brisk morning with the smell of bacon frying in a cast iron skillet over a campfire. Well, yes there is…eating it! For many years, cast iron has gotten a bad rap for being toxic and unhealthy. However, I’m here to bust that myth and show you why cooking on cast iron is far from those ficticious lies! Here’s why campers actually prefer cast iron cookware for all of their campfire cooking. 

Whether it’s stewing or slow cooking on a campfire’s hot bed of coals, frying on the stove or grill top or baking hot breads in the oven, cast iron cookware is the chosen cooking tool amongst outdoor enthusiasts. It never goes out of style, lasts forever and well, food just tastes so much better cooked on cast iron pots and pans!

Why Cast Iron Cooking on Campfires is a GOOD thing!

Always On Liberty - Cast Iron Cookware

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It’s been in existence for thousands of years

Cast iron cookware dates back to the Iron Age. The Iron Age was a period in human history that started between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C. During the Iron Age, people across much of Europe, Asia and parts of Africa began making weapons, tools, and even skillets and pots and pans from iron and steel. So, cast iron is a proven material to effectively cook in.

How is cast iron made?

Casting Iron

Cast iron cookware is made by melting iron and a mixture containing 2%-4% percent carbon and traceable amounts of silicon, manganese and impurities such as sulfur and phosphorus. Then the molten combination is poured into molds containing powdered clay, water and sand. Once cooled, the skillet or pot is released from the mold. After which, they are filed and smoothed down to prepare for cooking use.

Cast iron is inexpensive

You’ll find that actually cast iron cookware is relatively inexpensive compared to the cooking sets today. Considering cast iron skillets, dutch ovens and smaller pots will last a lifetime or even a few lifetimes, it’s no wonder they’ve become one of the most handed-down items pass down to younger generations. And because of that, there’s no need to go out and buy new cookware.

Versatility and multi-purpose pieces

Skillet Corn Bread

I didn’t realize how many different uses cast iron skillets have until I actually got one; especially a larger pan. You can fry anything from any type of meat from steaks, burgers, chicken and sausage to ground meats. And yes, we all know that’s the only way to cook bacon! Speaking of bacon, use that bacon grease to fry your eggs!

It’s also easy to stir fry vegetables and make delicious soups and sauces. But, did you know you can even bake cakes, brownies, biscuits and breads in cast iron? Oh, let’s not stop there! You can even make amazing cobblers and pies as well!

There are so many different uses for even one piece. You can fry bacon in the same skillet as baking cornbread in. A two-sided griddle can make pancakes one side or sear ribeyes on the grill side. And with that dutch oven you can do everything in from sautéing to stewing!

Use on hot coals or over open flame

Dutch Oven over Campfire Coals

Since cast iron skillets and pots are made from one of the most sturdiest metal alloys, they’re virtually indestructible. Hence, why you can use them over open flames, campfires and even high heat ovens.

According to Michelle from Oven Spot, “cast iron should remain stable up to 1500°F, the iron’s structure changes as it gets hotter with a melting point of 2200°F. In terms of seasoned cast-iron cookware, its temperature can reach up to 700° Fahrenheit. While enameled cast-iron cookware can reach a maximum temperature of 400-450°F or 200-230°C.”

So, as you see, because cast iron skillets can endure such high heat, there’s no need to worry about warping, cracking, or breaking. Cast iron is literally indestructible!

Distributes heat more efficiently

Cast iron has the ability to distribute heat evenly and retain heat longer. Unlike stainless steel cookware and aluminum pots and pans, because of the density of cast iron, your skillet and dutch oven will deliver quick and steady heat to whatever you’re cooking in your skillet. It is recommended that you allow your skillet to get hot first before putting meat in to it.

Even when your campfire flames and coals may fluctuate, your iron skillet and pots will retain heat efficiently to allow even cooking.

Browns and sears meats perfectly

Seared Meat

If you’ve never experienced cooking in a cast iron skillet, you’re truly missing out. One of my favorites is the way it browns quickly. I can brown ground meats quickly in my dutch oven for sloppy joes, goulash, spaghetti sauces and soups in very little time!

And my favorite frying pan sears meat to utter perfection! Since we love our steaks medium rare, they cook evenly with a good caramelized outer sear. 

Non-stick

Now, as mentioned above, you may experience some unpleasantries of cooking (and cleaning) of sticky foods. That said, if you properly clean and season your cast iron properly and consistently, your skillet and dutch oven won’t allow your food to stick.

But also, a couple tips I learned by cooking on cast iron is first, allow your pan to heat up before adding meats for browning or searing. And second, allow your meat to cook thoroughly on one side before flipping. The reason why some may experience their steaks or burgers sticking is they flip them too early. It’s very similar to cooking on a grill or griddle.

Check out our Top 10 PORTABLE GRILLS for RVs & Camping

No toxic chemical releases

Unlike a lot of cookware on the market today, there’s much less to worry about when it comes to your pots and pans releasing toxic chemicals when heating or cooking. As mentioned earlier, cast iron is an alloy of iron and carbon with only tiny traces of other elements.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency wrote an excellent article that explains in their article Are you cooking with these? Cookware considerations the differences and health concerns of cookware on the market. And Healthline discusses deep health concerns in their article Can Teflon Cookware Increase Your Risk of Cancer?

Poses health benefits

Healthy Skillet Brussel Sprouts

So, I totally didn’t know this until becoming an adult using my own camping pots and pans. Did you know cooking in cast iron can slightly boost your iron absorption into your body?

According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (July 1986) article, researchers who tested 20 different foods found the majority tested (90%) contained significantly more iron when cooked in iron utensils than when cooked in non-iron utensils.

Acidity, moisture content, and cooking time of food significantly affected the iron content of food cooked in iron utensils. Perhaps because of differing amounts of previous use, cooking in different iron skillets resulted in some variation in the iron content of food.

And considering that cast iron is naturally non-stick, there’s no need to use non-stick pans. Cast iron is a healthier cooking alternative because it also consumes less cooking fat.

What you shouldn’t cook in your cast iron cookware?

Taste of Home wrote an article 4 Things You Should Never Cook in Cast Iron which I found interesting (and some debatable). They recommended not cooking odiferous foods such as garlic, peppers, some fish, smelly cheeses which tend to leave an aromatic residue. You may want to avoid cooking sticky foods like cheeses and eggs. And acidic foods like tomatoes are known to strip your griddle or pan of it’s seasoning and cause more-than-normal amounts of iron to leach into your food.

But hey, it’s your cookware, so if you want to try them, go for it. Just clean and season your cast iron properly. We’ll discuss that later in this article.

Cleaning your cast iron cookware

Cleaning Cast Iron Skillet

Cleaning your cast iron skillet and dutch oven isn’t exactly rocket science. In fact, it’s not even close. In fact, You’re actually going to scrub it like they did in the Medieval era. For those baked on sugar chars, leave it on your campfire coals to burn off the crusty buildup.  Then, using chainmail and clean water (and you thought that stuff was just used as armor in jousting).

If your skillet or griddle has raised grill lines, you’ll want to scrape off the excess with a grill pan scraper. Sometimes you may need a specialized wire brush made for cast iron grill pans. And for smooth bottoms, use a regular pan scraper.

Whatever you do when cleaning your cast iron though is to NEVER USE SOAP or DETERGENT of any kind in any of your cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, or pots and pans. Otherwise, the next time you cook in it as your food will stick and make a mess. And then, you’ll have to start all over again with the prescribed cleaning and seasoning.

Even if your cookware has a little rust on it (or a lot?), don’t fret thinking it’s unserviceable. So, never throw your cast iron camping pans away just because they look a little over-used or sat in a box in your basement for a decade or two. Your skillet and/or dutch oven can be brought back to life with a simple cleaning and re-seasoning.

Seasoning your cast iron cookware

Seasoning Cast Iron Skillet

When you get your new cast iron skillet, pot or dutch oven, you’ll need to clean it with plain water and season it. After washing it, you’ll need to dry it completely. Then, coat your dutch oven, skillet, pot or pan (and lid) lightly with oil, and bake it in the oven at 450-500°F for one hour. Lodge recommends using vegetable oil, melted shortening, or canola oil, or seasoning spray.

A good cast iron seasoning tip is put a high-heat baking sheet or oven liner underneath it to catch any drips. Allow it to cool down before storing. You can use these same cleaning and seasoning methods to your campfire pie iron too!

Read More:  Pie Iron Recipes for Camping and BBQs

Final thoughts on why cast iron is the chosen favorite camping cookware

Campfire eggs sausage and potatoes

As you’ve read, now you can see why cast iron is a favorite amongst campers. While they may be heavier than traditional kitchen pots and pans, you won’ have to worry about these iron clad cooking vessels aging. Cast iron will last forever and can be passed down for future generations. But the best reason for having these in your camping kit is they make darn good camping food!

Check out our favorite Lodge cast iron cookware sets:

5 Piece  Cookware Set

Lodge 5 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set

4 Piece Cookware Set 

Lodge 4 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set

Combo Cooker

Lodge Cast Iron Combo Cooker

Check out our catalog of our favorite cast iron cookware pieces:

Dutch Oven with Iron Cover

Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Deep Campfire Dutch Oven with Cover

Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven

Reversible Grill/Griddle

Lodge Cast Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle

Cabin Combo 3.2 Quart​ 

Lodge Cast Iron Cabin Combo Cooker 3.2 Quart​

Grill Basket 12″

Lodge Cast Iron Grill Basket 12 Inch

Square Grill Pan 12-Inch

Lodge 12 Inch Square Cast Iron Grill Pan

12″ Skillet

Lodge 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillet

3 Skillet Bundle

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 3 Skillet Bundle

Wedge Pan

Lodge Cast Iron Wedge Pan

Must have cast iron cooking accessories:

Silicone Hot Cast Iron Skillet Handle Holder

Silicone Hot Handle Holder

Durable Grill Pan Scrapers 2-Pack 

Lodge Grill Pan Scrapers

Stainless Steel Chainmail Scrub Pad

Lodge Durable Stainless Steel Chainmail Scrubber

Other camping  recipes and campfire cooking tips you should check out

10 Campfire Safety Tips

10 Quick and Easy Fall Camping Recipes

How to Make Perfect S’mores on Your Camping Trip

15 Best Pie Iron Recipes to Make on Your Next Camping Trip

Ultimate Campfire Cooking Gear and Grilling Tools

Outdoor Camping Gear for Small RVs and Campers

Always On Liberty - Cast Iron Cookware-2

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