How to Easily Clean a Cast Iron Skillet While Camping

The cast iron skillet is my go-to way of cooking when camping! A cast iron pan is durable, can go from the camp stove to the campfire, and is something that will easily last a lifetime and beyond with proper care. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to clean a cast iron skillet easily at camp.

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There are a lot of reasons to love cooking with cast iron while camping.

Unfortunately, many people have no idea how to clean and care for their cast iron skillet, and as a result, they don’t end up using it very often. But not anymore!

Washing your cast iron pan while camping is actually very easy and quick. In this blog post, I’m going to show you exactly how to do it. Let’s get started!

Cleaning Cast Iron Basics

Cast Iron Seasoning

  • A cast iron pan must be seasoned properly before it can be used.
  • The seasoning on your cast iron pan is the dark layer of carbonized oil that covers the raw iron.
  • It helps protect your pan from rust and also gives your pan a non-stick quality.
  • The seasoning on your pan will build up as you use it and cook with oil and butter. It just keeps getting better and better with use.
  • When we’re cleaning, we want to make sure we preserve this wonderful seasoning layer.

Cast Iron Dont’s

In order to preserve the seasoning, you never want to:

  • use harsh cleaning soaps or chemicals
  • use sharp or abrasive metal cleaning utensils (like steel wool)
  • soak your skillet in water

Supplies You’ll Need:

Here are the cleaning supplies you’ll need instead:

  • pot scraper – this pot scraper tool is awesome for getting those stuck-on food bits off your cast iron with or without water
  • sponge – I like to use the Scrub Daddy sponge while camping. It’s anti-microbial and designed to be firmer in cold water and softer in warm water. It also has a small loop that makes it easy to hang it up to dry when I’m done cleaning.
  • clean lint-free towel – used to dry the cast iron right after cleaning
  • camp soap (optional) biodegradable camp soap
  • seasoning spray used to preserve the seasoning and prevent rust

Avoiding Rust

  • You want to avoid rust on your cast iron pan. That’s why you never want to soak it in water.
  • If you have aluminum or stainless steel pans at home, you might soak them in the sink for a while if there’s some stubborn stuck-on food. You don’t want to do that with your cast iron skillet at home or at camp.

Thermal Shock

  • Rapidly cooling your pan can lead to thermal shock which can create warps or cracks in your cast iron.
  • After cooking and before you start cleaning, you want to let your pan cool naturally.

Prefer to watch?

The video below walks you through all the steps of how to clean your cast iron pan while camping:

How to Clean Cast Iron While Camping

Method 1: Simple “Cleaning”

  • Most of the time, for cleaning my cast iron pan, I simply use the pot scraper to get any remaining food bits off and throw them in the garbage.
  • Then I will take a piece of paper towel and wipe off any excess oil. That’s it!
  • This method works really well after cooking simple things like pancakes or quesadillas.

Method 2: Cleaning with Water

What if you cooked something that’s sticky, super greasy, or harder and stuck on the pan? Simply wiping with a paper towel isn’t going to cut it.

Here’s the step-by-step cast iron cleaning method:

  1. Let the pan cool to a safe temperature to handle.
  2. Use the pot scraper to scrap the food bits, sticky sauce, or cooled fat out of the pan and into the trash.
  3. Next, If needed, add some water to the pan. At this point, you can add a little mild biodegradable soap to the pan if desired. Go through another round of scraping with the water, or use a sponge. Discard the water.
  4. Repeat the scraping and water process until the pan is clean. Usually, I only need to do one round, but if your pan is really dirty, you might have to do it another time.
  5. Give the pan a final rinse with clean water. Then, immediately wipe it completely dry with a lint-free towel.
  6. Lastly, I rub it completely with seasoning spray or mild cooking oil. Use a piece of paper towel to spread the oil and wipe away any excess.

Method 3: The Salt Method (no water)

Lastly, if I don’t have an easy way to clean with water while camping, then I will use salt and paper towels in a pinch.

  • Again, I start by removing all the stuck-on food bits and grease as best I can with the pan scraper.
  • Next, I sprinkle some coarse salt into the pan and use a paper towel to rub the pan and get any stubborn food and grease off, then I put the salt in the trash.

That is it for cleaning!

shrimp and veggie stir fry in cast iron pan

Once you have a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, it’s very easy to clean and care for. If you have any questions, just comment below!

FURTHER READING: What about your other camp dishes? Check out my complete guide on how to clean dishes while camping!

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