Cooking sustains us, but it also connects us
We have to eat. It’s not just a survival thing, but an enjoyment thing as well. If we go too long without food, our body lets us know. Headaches and lack of energy make it hard to enjoy the reasons we went camping in the first place.
While we can all make do with trail rations and other food that isn’t the greatest, all you need to make an amazing meal are ingredients, the campfire, and some pots and pans. But not all pots and pans are cut out for the heat a campfire will throw at them. For a truly delicious meal over the campfire, you have to do a little research and pick the right cookware that fits your needs and skill.
Pros and cons of cast iron
Cast iron is a favorite of ours. Besides the benefit of adding a bit of iron to your cooking and no added chemicals from the non-stick surface breaking down, you get crisp, even cooking throughout the dish.
Nothing adds a better crisp than cast iron, and food can be cooked for longer periods without the fear of it burning. It may take a bit of understanding to cook well in cast iron, but once you learn the basics of temperature and care, you’re set. Cast iron works amazingly well over an open fire, and the right Dutch oven can cook beautiful desserts by placing coals on top of it as well as underneath.
The downside of cast iron is the weight. While it’s heavy enough to bludgeon animals, it’s a bit too hefty to carry a lot of it for extended periods. If you’re camping right outside your RV or vehicle, that shouldn’t be an issue because you can transport it easier. Another thing to consider with cast iron is humidity. If your pans are stored wet or are exposed to damp conditions, rusting will be a problem.
Pros and cons of aluminum
If you’re looking for something lighter to take hiking with you, then aluminum is the way to go. It’s nowhere near as heavy as cast iron, and if you don’t enjoy cooking as much, it speeds up the cooking time.
Speeding up the cooking time does not mean you have to worry about uneven heat. Aluminum works well at distributing heat. It also cleans up easier than cast iron, which may be a blessing when you’re camping.
If you go with light aluminum, you’ll have to be careful cooking acidic foods as the acid can eat into the pan. If you go with heavier “hard-adonizing” aluminum, you have the downfall of non-stick coating which often doesn’t work well with fire. Campfires get much too hot for Teflon to withstand, so you’d be looking at chemicals seeping into your food.
Pros and cons of stainless steel
If you’re rough with your gear and don’t want to worry about damaging pans, stainless steel is the way to go. It can take a lot of abuse, and you can even use steel wool when you’re cleaning it.
Sadly, that’s about as good as it gets for stainless steel with campfires. They’re not great at even cooking, and you may notice some parts of your meal are scorched where other parts are barely cooked.
They’re also heavy to transport, so some of the abuse they take may just happen because of the added weight and fatigue of lugging them around. You can get stainless steel with copper in the middle of the layers, which is great for distribution of heat, but what you add for better cooking also adds to the weight you’re carrying. As with the cast iron, if you’re camping just outside your RV or vehicle, transporting it isn’t much of an issue, but if you’re hiking, watch out!
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