Can you use a normal pan for camping

Normal Pans on Campfire embers

Normal pans, taken from your home kitchen, can be used for camping cooking. Over time, it is going to be much easier to have set of camping cookware that is kept solely for use while camping.

The Joy of Camping Cooking

One of the most miserable, and also the most rewarding camping experiences I can recall occurred in a stunning campground above Georgetown, Colorado. It rained all night, and humidity dripped from the inside of the tent. It was early fall and cold, which is a distinct disadvantage if you have a touch of arthritis.

The firewood was wet, and we shivered while I coaxed a thin flame from it. Finally, it was a hardy fire but we laid our cast iron skillet over it and set bacon to frying. It took a little longer to cook than if we had used our thinner metal pan, but the bacon sizzled and popped and didn’t burn. The eggs that we fried in the bacon grease had just the right brown on them.

Bacon in frying pan over campfire
Sizzling Bacon – Cooked over campfire on grate

We sipped hot chocolate and feasted on the best, and most comforting, camping breakfast we had ever had. Can you use cast iron pans on a campfire ? Friend, cast iron pans just seem to say “camping.”

More on Using Normal Pans For Camping

Use of Normal Pans on Camp Stove

Can you use normal pans on a camping stove? Of course you can. Any pan that can be used on a home range can be used on a camp stove.

Use of Normal Pans on Camp Fire

So, can you use normal pans on a campfire? That is a little tricky. Of course you can use them, but you probably shouldn’t. Campfires cook at higher temperatures than do home ranges, and you can’t regulate the temperature on a campfire the way you can on a home or camp stove. The only way you can change the cooking temperature is to raise the pan above the coals or to remove it altogether.

Neither method is satisfactory for consistent cooking. If you have ever burned pinto beans, really burned them, on your home range, you know about the other issue with using normal pans in a campfire. Burning food in a pan can not only make it a nightmare to clean, it can ruin it.

Cleaning a pan used to cook caramelized banana over a campfire is not for to be taken lightly

Pans Made Especially for Camping

There are steel and aluminum pans that are made for camping. They hold up well and are lighter for packing into a campsite. Camping pan sets usually stack one inside the other like Russian dolls. Then, too, they are often less expensive than cast iron . Whether you use them or not is often a matter of preference.

We like camping comfortably in tents. We don’t do a lot (read – we don’t do any) of hiking to a site, and we like campfire cooking, so we still prefer cast iron pans.

People who use the anodized steel or aluminum pans swear by them. Maybe it is an esoteric issue. You just will never know, until you bake it, how cornbread looks as it rises in a black cast iron skillet over an open fire.

Allure of Cast Iron

You may of noticed, I love cast iron cookware.  it can be cozied right down in the coals or used on a fire grill. Cast iron can be wiped down and stored away without worry about loose handles or warped bottoms.

Cast Iron is Solid

While some steel and aluminum pans come with removable or foldable handles, we prefer the solid feel of cast iron handles. The other thing about removable handles is that we sometimes forget where we put things (like eyeglasses and car keys). I am certain we would eventually find our pan handles next to the other things we have lost.

Cast Iron Holds the Heat

The thing we like best about cast iron, though, is that it holds the heat and, although they have a bit of a reputation for having hot spots, we always found that our cast iron cooks evenly. That makes it great for campfire baking as well as frying or stewing. Nothing beats a peach cobbler made with sliced fresh peaches, topped with biscuits and seasoned with wood smoke as it bubbles away in a cast iron pan over a campfire.

Cast Iron is a Breeze to Clean

Okay, maybe that is going too far. If you scorch food in cast iron, you still have to get it off. The thing about these pans, though, is that they don’t stick or scorch as easily because they are seasoned. After use, you wipe out the cooled pan, then put a thin coating of cooking oil in it and wipe it over the entire surface of the pan. This coating settles into the pan and keeps food from sticking, plus it keeps the pan from rusting.

Using Cast Iron on a Camp Stove

Cast Iron can be used on a camp stove as well. When the flame is turned off, the food will stay warm longer in the iron pans. This is a good thing to remember if your campers eat in shifts.

Using Steel Pans in Camping

Using Stainless Steel Pans on Direct Heat

There are stainless steel and aluminum pans made for camping, but as a rule they can’t be set right into the coals. Campfires can burn at 1,000 degrees Celsius, according to the website Rebuilding Civilization. That is almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That kind of heat can melt aluminum. Both steel and aluminum pans can be anodized, though, which is a process through which the material is oxidized and made stronger.

Huge, poorly constructed, campfire
Campfires can burn hot. Find out how to build the perfect campfire for cooking.

Most die-hard campers still recommend elevating steel or aluminum pans above coals. They can be used on camp stoves without much worry.

Using Steel or Aluminum on a Camp Stove

Here again, we are talking about anodized metals. Since most camp stoves do not plug in, nor will you find outlets in the wild, they heat with propane or butane. There is little difference between the maximum heat these fuels put out, and virtually no difference in the heat they produce and a campfire. The difference comes in the ability to control that heat. Regular cooking pans would probably suffice on a camp stove, but if you don’t always use a camp stove, it would be wasteful to invest in two sets of cookware.

Stick-Free Coatings

We suggest using pans that do not have a stick-free coating. Yes, they make cleanup easier, and you don’t have to use as much oil. The problem with coatings, though, is that they scratch easily. Besides, they make the pans less durable, and they can’t be used over high heat.

Food will stick in stainless steel pans. That is fine if you like us, like to eat the brown edges of mac and cheese and the outside of campfire brownies. Otherwise, you add more oil. Stainless pans take longer to heat as well. They can be used directly over coals, but that added heat will make cleanup more difficult. Stainless pans can take stronger detergents and scrapers, though, so the drawback is mainly cleanup time.

What is the Best Cookware for Camping?

Overall Favorite

A review from Adventure Digest picked the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Base Camper Cook Set made of anodized aluminum. The glowing review is based on cooking performance, portability ( which may be important to whoever has to pack it in), and usefulness in many kinds of camping.

Cast Iron Set

Our preference, not surprisingly given our love of cast iron cookware, is the Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned 7 Piece Heavy Duty Cast Iron Dutch Oven Camping Cooking Set with Vintage Carrying Storage Box.

Bruntmor 7-Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set

Both the Pinnacle, Aluminum and the Bruntmor Cast Iron sets are quite expensive. Both, particularly the Bruntmore, are investments. They will last for years

We know you can buy budget gear, but we have tried to pass on a love for tents and campfires to our kids, and we want to pass on the pans as well.

Camping Cookware Set

What should a set of camping cookware contain? Well, we like to have a couple of sizes of skillets, a Dutch oven ( for stews and that great peach cobbler we mentioned), lids for each, a griddle for our famous teddy-bear-shaped pancakes and French toast and a grill grate.

An Adjustable Grate Makes Campfire Cooking Much Easier

That grate is a bit of luxury, perhaps. Still, in our opinion, pan-fried steaks or fish cry out for grilled corn-on-the-cob. How do you grill on a campfire?

Succulent Steak in a pan over a campfire
Succulent Steak

You just set the grate over the fire and use it like you would any other grill, except that you have to watch the fire a little more because campfires are not adjustable. The grilled corn is an example. We just pull back the husks, throw in some butter and wrap those babies back up. It takes about half an hour, and it is so worth the effort.

If campfire cooking is not your thing, there are propane grills and camping stoves that let you cook the same way you would on your patio at home. The flame is adjustable, so it is easier to use. You can even get camping kitchens that make your cooking experience even easier. Still, there is something about that wood-smoked smell that we love.

The Eureka Ignite Plus Stove is CampingSage’s Top Rated Camping Stove

We love the out-of-doors. There is a freedom to camping, especially in these days of sheltering at home and social distancing, that appeals to us.

Our kids have experienced waking up in a cold, wet tent, and anticipating a warm campfire breakfast. They know the fun of a pizza grilled over an open fire, and the incredible aroma of a wood-kissed simmering peach cobbler.

They know that camp cooking is not just hot dogs and s’mores.

Roasted marshmallow over campfire - one of the great joys of childhood
Roasted marshmallow over campfire – one of the great joys of childhood

Is cast iron good for camping? You bet, and our kids will value the cast iron pans we are passing down to them along with a love, a genuine love, for tent camping and campfire cooking.


Keith Longmire

Keith Longmire

I’m the guy that loves camping, insists on family camping trips, and the editor and owner of Campingsage.com

I love camping and the outdoors. Through this site I hope to help you enjoy it too.

About CampingSage

CampingSage is all about comfortable family camping in tents.  It is written by campers, for campers.

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