Many people have asked if it was a good idea to use carbon steel pans while camping or hiking to a campsite.
I decided to do some research and write an article on this topic because I had some of the same questions. By no stretch of the imagination am I a professional camper or hiker. As a disclaimer, the information that’s provided here is from a person just like you who happens to have the same questions about carbon steel cookware and camping/hiking.
Before I begin, if you are interested in campers, I suggest that you visit my friend, Jim, over at Camper Report. He has a ton of useful information on campers. It will be well worth your visit to his site.
Here are some issues that you might look at if you are considering taking your carbon steel pans camping.
1) Is the weight of your cookware critical?
2) How many people will you be cooking for?
3) How do you plan to clean your pan?
4) Is your pan well seasoned?
5) What Kind of Stove or Fire Can be Used Wih My Carbon Steel Pan?
6) What kind of foods will you be cooking while camping?
7) What kind of cooking utensils can be used in my carbon steel pans?
8) What are the best cooking oils to take while camping?
Every year I go to the Experimental Aircraft Association Air Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. For over 20 years I have camped out at that event. I usually stay 7 days and invite all my flying friends over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner under my cooking tent. In the past, I used to bring those cheap camping pans, you know, the ones with the folding handles. Years ago I threw those pans away and switched over to carbon steel pans by Vollrath and Matfer Bourgeat. The reason I chose the Vollrath and Matfer Bourgeat brands because they were:
• The correct size. Both Vollrath and Matfer Bourgeat had the sizes of pans I needed to cook with on my propane stove.
• Neither Vollrath or pans by Matfer Bourgeat have raised rivets on the inside of the pan make cleaning a breeze.
Let’s look into why the list above is so crucial when you are considering taking your carbon steel pans camping.
Is The Weight of Your Cookware Critical?
• Will you be using a camper to get to your campsite?
• Will you be hiking to your campsite?
• How will you carry your cooking supplies to your campsite?
If you will be using camper to get to your campsite then you should have no problems in storing and using your carbon steel pans. When you use a camper you usually do not have to lug any cooking utensils or pans in a backpack. Storing them is easy, you just put them away in your camper storage compartments.
If you are hiking to your campsite, then it might be a good idea not to use carbon steel cookware because of the weight. Although, I have talked to people that take their cast iron pans with them when camping so it boils down to a personal choice. If you are backpacking and the weight of the pan is not big deal then you are set to go.
If you are hiking or camping by yourself you will most likely not need a 12-inch skillet. A smaller carbon steel pan or skillet might be a better choice. If you own several different brands of carbon steel pans, consider weighing each one and taking only the lightest one with you. However, if you are backpacking and climbing Mt. Everest then that is another issue where every ounce carried will be critical.
Now that you have determined the type of carbon steel pan to take and the size, how are you going to get them to the campsite if you are hiking? A big box will not work because it is too bulky and if it is made out of cardboard it will be destroyed if it rains. I have run into the same problem when I have gone hiking and had to carry or lug in all the supplies. I found the best solution is to pack as much as possible in a really tough backpack. This allows my hands to be free to carry other items like a small portable stove or other items. I really liked the backpack idea because the backpack kept any rain off my carbon steel cookware. As you know, rust from rain and carbon steel do not mix. Besides, I found it handy to also pack other things in the backpack like cooking utensils, salt, pepper and, paper towels.
I tried using many types of backpacks. Some were cheap ones from the big box stores. I found that they fell apart after a few uses and most of them did not have ample room to store all that I wanted to take with me. Not only that, the straps that you put over your shoulders were those cheap ones and after a while, they dug into the top of my shoulders making my hiking a miserable experience.
After trying many different backpacks I finally chose one that did everything I wanted it to do. The backpack that I wound up just loving is the Deuter Futura 24 Hiking Backpack. After some research I found the best prices to be at Amazon.
What I like about this backpack is that it has an integrated detachable waterproof rain cover. This will help to protect your carbon steel pans and other supplies. There are plentiful of exterior pockets for water bottles and easy-access items.
Compression straps abound for regulating pack volume. You have height, width, and load adjustment straps at chest and shoulders. If you carry hiking a pole there are loops for that. This bag is hydration system compatible and it has a Limited lifetime warranty.
This bag comes in a variety of colors. A special Active Fit pivoting S-shaped shoulder harness adjusts to each wearer with a soft edge and 3D mesh lining. This bag even has lumbar pads which are designed to contour to the shape of your hips. Even your wife or significant other will love to carry supplies in this bag. She will probably fight you for it!
You will just love this backpack. Another thing that you will just love about this bag is that it can be taken on airplanes and easily store in those overhead compartments. I don’t have to say anymore….check it out at Amazon.
How Many People Will You be Cooking For?
It is important to know how many people you will be cooking for. When I am at the Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I make sure I have a large carbon steel pan to cook for up to 5 people. If I were to have a small pan then that would not work. I happen to like the Vollrath 58930 12.5 inch carbon steel pan shown here. Check Amazon for the availability. I not only like this pan because of its size but also because it has no rivets, making the cleanup process fast and easy.
How do You Plan to Clean Your Pan?
If you use Vollrath or Matfer Bourgeat pans, you will find that the inside of those pans are smooth where the rivets attach the handle. This is a big deal when cleaning up because when I camp I don’t want to spend hours trying to get my cookware clean. Speaking of cleaning. When you take your carbon steel pan camping, make sure you pack a few items to make a little simpler.
• Bring paper towels to wipe out your pan
• Bring oil of some kind like coconut oil. I like coconut oil because you do not have to refrigerate it. Above 74 degrees or so it turns liquid and below that it turns back into a solid.
• Take some Kosher salt along so that if your food does stick to the bottom you can use your paper towels, water, and salt to clean your pan. Make sure you do not use soap to clean your pan because it might remove some of the seasonings. If you do use soap you might have to re-season your pan but that is not big deal. Watch one of my videos on re-seasoning carbon steel pans here.
Is Your Pan Well Seasoned?
Before you even think about taking your carbon steel pan to a campsite, it is critical that you season your pan before you go.
I would recommend the oil, salt, and potato skin method of seasoning your new pan. Doing this will to make your carbon steel pan or skillet non-stick. Make sure that once your pan is seasoned that you cook on it a few times to see how non-stick your pan really is. If you can cook eggs on it and nothing sticks to the bottom, you are ready to go.
To watch some videos on seasoning or even re-seasoning your carbon steel pan or skillet take a look at my videos here. If you have a carbon steel pan and already has been seasoned but for some reason, it still sticks when cooking eggs then view the video mentioned above or take a look at this video.
One or two of my pans were previously seasoned by me by using only the Flaxseed method whereby several coats of Flaxseed oil are applied along with heating the pan.
This method did not work out for me too well and I had to strip the seasoning off and start all over from the beginning. The seasoning peeled off and food stuck to the bottom of the pan….not good!
The two videos above will describe how to strip the old seasoning off and re-season a new or used pan.
Remember that the more you use your pan, the better the non-stick seasoning will work. The color of your carbon steel pan will darken with use. This normal. As your pan ages, it will cook better with each use and you will begin to have a symbiotic relationship with your pan! (Now that is a new word to look up :))
What Kind of Stove or Fire Can be Used With My Carbon Steel Pan?
Here are some of your choices for using your carbon steel cookware to cook on:
• Open Wood Fire
• A Stove Inside Your Camper
• An Induction Cook-Top if You Have Access to 120 Volts
• A Coleman Dual Fuel Stove
• Propane Stoves
• A Rocket Stove
• Open Wood Fire
If you are using an open wood fire to use when cooking with your carbon steel pan you will have problems. I would not recommend using an open wood fire to use your carbon steel pan on because you cannot control the amount of heat to the pan. If you try to fry eggs, scrambled or over easy, they will cook too quickly because you need very little heat on the pan to cook these. It is almost impossible to control the amount of heat to the bottom of the pan. This option is not a good one.
• A Stove Inside Your Camper
If you cook inside of your camper then you would most likely use your propane stove or electric stove if you have a generator or outside supplied electric power. If you do not access outside electric power then I would recommend a generator to run your camper electric stove. I would recommend the Honda EU2200i 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator offered by Amazon. Take a look at Amazon’s reviews. I love this generator. It is efficient and very quiet. When I camp at the air show there is nothing worse than having a camper next to you that runs a noisy generator 24 hours a day. This Honda generator is very quiet.
• An Induction Cook-Top if You Have Access to 120 Volts
Another possibility for cooking is to use a counter-top induction cooker. These cookers were great with carbon steel pans or skillets. The nice thing about induction cookers is that besides all of the safety features they can be easily transported from your camper to your home. So when it’s winter and 20 degrees below zero and your camper is somewhere buried under the snow, you can still use your induction cooker if you remembered to bring it inside of your home before the snow fell.
Let’s look into why carbon steel cooks so well on an induction cooker. First, your carbon steel is made of 1% carbon and 98-99% iron. This makes it perfect for induction cooking. The radiation, or should I say the electromagnetic field, is well defined on the cooking surface of the induction cooker. What this does is that this well defined electromagnetic field under your carbon steel pan or skillet distributes the heat very evenly under the pan. Unlike propane or natural gas which does not distribute the heat evenly under the entire bottom side of your pan from the center to the outer edges. This even distribution of heat under the entire surface of your carbon steel pan is about as perfect as you can get. Try it and you will see just how good it is to use an induction cooker. Hum! I never know if I should use “cooker”, “stove”, “cooker stove top” when referring to an induction cooker (nonsensical trivia)!
If you have an induction cooker and want to use that, or you would like to see what is available as far as purchasing an induction cooker then take a look at two of my favorite choices by Amazon. Remember that when you go to the links provided please read the reviews by Amazon as they will help you make an informed decision. My first recommendation is a single surface induction cooker ..Duxtop LCD 1800-Watt Portable Induction Cooktop Countertop Burner 9600LS.
Instead of a single induction surface cooker, I would like to recommend a dual surface induction cooker because they really come in handy if you are cooking inside your home or inside your camper. For a few more dollars you will get another cooking surface. It seems like we are always running out of burners whether it be on our stove or counter-top. I know that in my kitchen a double surface induction cooker has saved the day. For a double surface induction cooker, I recommend the NutriChef Portable Dual 120 Volt Electric Induction Cooker Cooktop-Digital Ceramic Countertop Double Burner with Kids Safety Lock. Check out this Induction Cooker at Amazon. Make sure you read the reviews as they will help you with your buying decision.
• A Coleman Dual Fuel Stove
I have used Coleman liquid fuel stoves and they are great. Instead of using propane you use Coleman’s own brand of liquid fuel. One fill up will last about the equivalent of 4.5 small propane bottles if you are using a propane stove. I like these stoves because they have a windshield which will keep the flame from blowing out. Take a look at this Coleman Guide Series Powerhouse Dual Fuel Stove at Amazon. This could be just the stove you needed.
Another very nice feature of this stove is that you can use unleaded gasoline to fuel your stove. This is really handy if you go to the store and find out that you cannot find any Coleman liquid fuel. All you need is a gas station and you are ready to put your chefs’ hat on again. With the Coleman stove, you have to prime the stove with air so that you pressurize the fuel tank. Sometimes this can drive you crazy, only to find out that the jets that supply the air to the system are plugged. The bottom line though is that if you read the instructions and take your time you will have very few problems. They are great stoves.
• Propane Stoves
Propane stoves are another choice to cook on with your carbon steel pans. The nice thing about cooking on a propane stove is that most of them have windshields much like the Coleman stove above. They burn propane which is a very clean fuel and easily obtained. These stoves are a little easier to start than a Coleman stove. I know, I have had both. Just turn the gas on, light the burners and start cooking. You can adjust the heat levels which makes it easy to control the heat when using your carbon steel pans or skillets.
I have used my propane stove now for over 15 years with no problem. They are very easy to use and fold up for packing and traveling. I really like this Stansport 21250 Propane Stove Top model. This stove has a windshield to keep the flame from blowing out and it delivers 25, 000 BTUs per burner. All you need is propane, carbon steel pans and you are set to go. Check out the features and reviews on Amazon.
• A Rocket Stove
The EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove is an amazing product.
In general, Rocket stoves generate a lot of heat with very little fuel. The fuel they use consists of small pieces of wood and twigs. The nice thing about these stoves is that they do not use much fuel and they burn for hours. Some Rocket stoves have venting systems to regulate the amount of heat that is produced by burning the fuel. This is perfect for using carbon steel pans because you, in most cases, need small amounts of heat to cook certain foods like eggs. The important feature of any Rocket stove is the ability to control the amount of heat output.
If you are back-packing this may not be the best stove to use your carbon steel pans on. They will not fit easily into your backpack. If you are in a camper and want to use this stove outside in the open air then this stove would be a great addition to your cooking needs. I really like this stove. I have seen, when camping, people dragging an extra trailer behind them just for burning wood at their campsite. This will never be necessary with this Rocket Stove.
An additional benefit is that you can use charcoal to fuel this stove. Watch the following video right from the manufacturer to get more information about this stove.
Wok Burners for Camping
If you are really serious about stir-frying with a wok and want to take your wok on your camping trip, I recommend you investigate wok burners. Check Amazon for availability. These types of burners are made for woks and they get very hot! To the right is the PowerFlamer Outdoor Long Leg High-Pressure Propane Manual Ignition Wok Burner.
This burner will generate more than enough heat to use you round-bottomed wok. It is great for camping, picnics, or large gatherings. It is not intended to use indoors.
- Stainless Braided Hose, Spider Mesh Guard
- Long Leg Ground Wok Burner with Integrated Burner Plate, Manual Ignition
- ACME Type 1 QCC Connector for USA 20lb Propane Tank
- Adjustable Wok Adapter for Flexible Cooking Position
- Continuous Power Adjustment from 0 to 160KBTU/Hr
What Kind of Foods Will be Cooked While Camping?
The kind of food you are considering cooking will determine the size, weight, and type of carbon steel pan you will be taking with you for your camping experience. Another important factor as to the selection of carbon steel pans or skillets to take is the type of fires you will use to cook on. Review the section above so that you get a good handle on the best kind of cooking fire or method to heat your carbon steel cookware.
If you will be cooking eggs or pancakes then it might be a good idea you use a cooking surface that you can easily adjust the heat to a low position. Being able to adjust the heat down to a low position will make your cooking experience a lot more enjoyable.
If you plan on frying steaks, chops, chicken, turkey and other types of meat then a well-seasoned carbon steel pan of the correct size will be desired along with a heat source that can be adjusted from low to high.
Cooking potatoes and other vegetables will require a low to medium heat source, perhaps like a propane or Coleman stove if you are cooking outside.
If you plan only cooking stir-fry then I suggest you take along your carbon steel wok. I like this Sur La Table Professional Carbon Steel Wok 21-9969 wok (check Amazon for availability) because it has a flat bottom and two wooden handles that really come in handy when you try to move the wok around the burners. The flat bottom on this wok can be used on an induction cooker.
With woks, you can use very high temperatures. A Rocket stove would be perfect for that cooking application. See my article above for a information about Rocket stoves.
If you will be cooking inside a camper, these rules will generally do not apply to you because most campers’ cooking surfaces are adjustable. If you want to use a Wok, then I suggest you use a flat bottom one as I described above. This is really important because a lot of camper stoves have a glass or ceramic tops. Ceramic or glass tops scratch easily if the pan or wok moves around the top of the burner.
If a scratched burner surface occurs now you have the job of cleaning not only the pan but the ceramic surface also. This will take away from your camping experience. This is the one negative I know of when cooking inside a camper on a ceramic or glass surface.
If you have a gas burner in your camper it will make your life a lot easier. You will not have to put up with those ceramic or glass tops.
What Kind of Cooking Utensils Can I Use in my Carbon Steel Pans?
The nice thing about using carbon steel pans or skillets is that you can use any kind of utensils in your carbon cookware. You will never scratch the bottom of your pan and scrape the coating off like you can with those Teflon or other surface coated pans. The nice thing about carbon steel cookware is that you can use stainless, carbon steel, or silicon spatulas or spoons. If you want to use stainless utensils then I suggest a finding a set that you will be able to flip eggs or turn the meat.
If you want to use silicon utensils I recommend these. I like silicone over stainless because they conform to the sides of the pan when you are using them to scramble eggs. It is also easier to scrape the bottom of the pan when your cooking is over. I personally like this set of silicone utensils because the scraper in this set is very small and perfect for mixing your eggs in a pan to scramble them.
What are the Best Cooking Oils to Take While Camping?
There are many kinds of oils that can be used when you use carbons steel cookware. I have to admit that I use a lot of butter in my cooking. I mostly use butter when I am cooking eggs scrambled or otherwise. When camping I always take a cooler filled with one or two pounds of butter for my eggs and vegetables.
The important thing to remember to bring is an oil of some kind that does have a high smoke point. By the high smoke point, I mean that those oils can withstand great amounts of heat before they start to smoke. If the heat is high enough any oil can smoke and flame out. If your carbon steel pan starts to flame out then do not put water on it. Put baking soda or flour on it to extinguish the flame. It will also be a good idea to remove the pan from the burner but be careful it will be hot.
Here are some smoke points of common oils:
• ghee – 485°F
• Flaxseed Oil – 225°F
• Grapeseed Oil- 420°F
• Peanut Oil – 450°F
• Coconut Oil – 350°F
• Coconut Refined Oil – 450°F
• Canola Oil – 400°F
• Avocado Oil – 570°F
• Peanut Oil – 450°F
My favorite oil is refined coconut oil. As you can see above it has a smoke point of 450°F. When below 76° F. it is solid. When the oil is above 76°F it turns into a liquid form. I like this oil because I don’t have to refrigerate it and it adds a special flavor to most foods, especially eggs. Because I don’t have to refrigerate it makes a great choice for camping.
Other choices of oils are flaxseed, grapeseed, almond, avocado, and ghee. Before camping, it might be a good idea to try each of these oils so no surprises await you at your campsite.