7 Essential Cast Iron Cooking Tips for Campers (plus recipes)

Every camper should have a good cast-iron skillet! A cast iron skillet is my most used piece of camp cooking gear. In this post, I’m sharing my top cast iron cooking tips and easy skillet recipes for your next camping trip!

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7 Cast Iron Cooking Tips for Campers Pinterest Pin

There’s a lot of information out there about cast iron skillets and their many rules. It can seem like they’re more work than they’re worth. But that’s not true!

This is everything you need to know about cast iron cooking for campers…

Why a cast iron pan is perfect for camping:

  1. Versatility – Cast iron skillets offer versatility for cooking over the campfire AND the camp stove. You can use one piece of gear in multiple ways. I love that! There’s no need to pack a separate pan just for the campfire.
  2. Durability – Cast iron pans are very durable. These items can last lifetimes, and families can pass them down for generations. The pan I use is about 100 years old!
  3. Easy to Care For – Once you season the pan well (more on this below), cast iron pans are easy to clean and maintain.
  4. Heat Retention – Cast iron holds onto heat well, meaning once it gets hot, it stays hot. That’s great for camp cooking when the heat source can be uneven, such as when cooking over a campfire.
7 Cast Iron Cooking Tips CAMPERS SHOULD KNOW (plus what to cook with your pan)

7 Cast Iron Cooking Tips for Campers

Now that you’re ready to cook cast iron camping meals in your skillet, these are my top tips to get the most out of your pan on your next camping trip:

Tip #1: Make sure you have a good seasoning on your cast iron pan.

The seasoning on your pan is the dark layer of carbonized oil that protects your pan from rust. It also gives your pan a nonstick quality.

A good seasoning will make or break your pan. If food is constantly sticking to your pan, I would bet that the seasoning is not strong.

When you have a good seasoning on your pan and you let it preheat (tip #3 below), food shouldn’t stick to your pan often.

The more you use your pan, especially when cooking with fats, the better the seasoning will get over time.

Most manufacturers sell their pans seasoned. But, you can season them yourself if needed. Here’s a great video to get you started!

I use an antique pan. If you buy an antique pan with damage or rust, you’ll probably need to strip it down to the raw iron and start from scratch with the seasoning.

You also can buy a new pan that comes pre-seasoned and simply add more seasoning layers to that.

cast iron skillet camping dinner over the camp stove

Tip #2: Preheat your pan slowly.

Taking at least a few minutes to preheat your pan with nothing in it will make it easier to use. I think it improves the nonstick quality of the pan.

If I’m cooking over a campfire at camp, then I let the pan preheat over a low flame or coals for a few minutes.

If I’m using my propane stove, then I place the empty pan over a low heat for a few minutes. Then I turn the heat up, if needed, depending on what I’m cooking.

Again, don’t put any oil in your pan while it’s preheating. Just the empty pan.

Note: If the pan starts to smoke a lot while you’re preheating it, then the heat is too high.

cooking pancakes in a cast iron skillet at camp

Tip #3: Make sure to protect your hands and arms from the heat.

This is obvious. But, it’s worth repeating. I burned my hand badly on cast iron. It was definitely not fun.

When cooking with cast iron, use protection for your hands and arms. The pan will get hot and stay hot even after you remove it from the heat!

I use my pan all the time at home and at camp. One time at home, I was baking brownies in my cast iron skillet at 400°F. I took them out of the oven and put the pan on the stovetop to cool.

Seconds later, I lost focus and went to move the pan. I grabbed the 400°F cast iron handle. Ouch!

Forgetting the pan is hot and accidentally grabbing the handle is easy to do. That’s why it’s important that you have pot holders, towels, and/or heat-resistant gloves at camp to protect yourself.

Now I always put a folded towel over the handle when it’s on the counter. That way, I don’t accidentally grab it.

When the pan is over the fire, it’s easy to remember that it’s hot. But, it’s often when you remove the pan from the heat and set it aside that you can forget.

Make sure everyone in your group knows that the pan is hot and keep it out of reach from small children.

cooking peppers and onions in a cast iron skillet while camping

Tip #4: Make sure you have proper cooking utensils that can withstand the heat.

When cooking over a fire, you need to be sure that your utensils can handle the heat!

For example, a plastic spatula is not going to work.

I also do not use silicone. I prefer wooden cooking utensils or even stainless steel.

When I show myself using a metal spatula in my YouTube videos, I receive comments saying that you shouldn’t use metal on your cast iron pan.

I think that’s a bit of a myth…

I’m not saying you should go in there with sharp metal forks or knifes and start aggressively scraping at your pan. But, if you have a metal spatula that you use to flip a pancake, it won’t ruin your pan.

Yes, metal on your cast iron can scrape off the seasoning. But, if you have a strong seasoning and you’re not aggressively scraping the pan, it’ll be fine.

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Camp Cooking Starter Kit

Printable camping recipes, a gear checklist, and a camping meal planner so you can go camping with confidence (and good food!)

Tip #5: Let your cast iron skillet cool naturally.

When you’re done cooking, let the skillet cool naturally.

Don’t try to cool the pan by dunking it in cold water or something like that.

Rapidly cooling your pan can cause cracks and warps in the cast iron.

Instead, simply set it aside and let it cool on its own. Then you can clean it.

And speaking of cleaning…

cleaning a cast iron skillet

Tip #6: Keep cast iron cleaning simple.

In general, cleaning your cast iron skillet is very simple.

In fact, I hardly clean my pan unless there’s something really sticky or strongly flavored on the pan.

The best no-water method for quick cleaning at camp is to sprinkle a little salt into the pan. Then, use a paper towel to move the salt around and clear out any food bits or excess fat.

This is what I do most often.

If you need to, you can use water and a plastic pot scraper to help loosen food bits. I find this helpful if I’ve cooked something sticky or strongly flavored, such as salmon or bacon.

Don’t use abrasive brushes and sharp metal to clean the pan. They’ll likely scrape off your seasoning, which we don’t want.

Once clean, I dry the pan. Then, I coat it in a bit of oil and wrap it in a small towel for storage to and from camp. Easy!

Lastly, I recommend that you clean it soon after its cooled down if you cook something that’s more acidic. You don’t want that sitting in the pan for days. It can weaken your seasoning. Let the pan cool naturally, and then give it a clean.

Tip #7: Use your cast iron skillet at home, too!

The more you use your pan, the better it will get!

It can take time to get used to how cast iron skillets hold onto heat. But, the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become cooking on it.

When you take it camping, it’ll be a lot easier to use it over the fire and stove if you have some experience at home first!

shrimp and veggie stir fry in a cast iron skillet

Cast Iron Skillet Recipes for Camping:

I have tons of resources for cast iron camping recipes on this blog and my YouTube channel! Below you’ll find popular camping recipes using a cast-iron skillet.

As you can see, there’s so much you can make with just one pan!

Breakfast:

Main Meal:

Dessert:

Have any other cast iron skillet questions? Ask me in the comments below!

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