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A cast iron skillet might be a strange thing to include in the “camp gear” category because I also use it at home pretty much every single day. But if I were three hours into a truck camping road trip and I realized that I’d somehow forgot my cherished Lodge cast iron pan, I’d turn around, drive three hours back home, and gather the pan up in my arms, whispering to it about how sorry I was, and happily get back on the road. No, buying a new one wouldn’t do in that situation. I want the seasoning that I’ve built up over the years. I want to cook awesome food in the same pan that has already cooked so much awesome food. There are memories there that a new pan just can’t provide.
I have every reason to believe that if I have kids someday, one of them will not only continue to use dad’s favorite pan well into their old age, but will themselves pass it on to their little ones, assuming humans a) still exist and b) also still have the resources to cook food over open flames in another 80 years.
I have no idea how old my favorite pan is. I don’t even remember where it came from. “Borrowed” from an old roommate? Perhaps. Birthday present from an awesome cast iron pan-loving relative long ago? Maybe. Purchased at a rural hardware store in an “Oh crap, we don’t have anything to cook with” moment experienced on a camping trip twenty years ago? Actually, that last one sounds right.
Anyway, there has never, ever been a better cooking instrument for outdoors use than a cast iron skillet. Lightweight stoves you say? Can’t even cook without one, you remind me? Look, if you haven’t erected a weird rock contraption to prop up a cast iron pan over the hot coals of a campfire pit, can you even really call yourself a camper?
Here’s how, by the way if you’ve never done that before:
•Start a campfire
•In the fire ring, but off to the side away from the flames, set up three or four rocks to use as a base for your pan
•Figure out how to get the hot coals between those rocks. I use a long stick. Sometimes another rock. Either way, drag the coals into the little burner area you just set up
•Put pan over coals and cook like people have been doing for tens of thousands of years; well, since the iron age I suppose
After years of proper use (cooking lots of oily, greasy food in it and barely washing it at all) a cast iron pan will out non-stick a poisonous Teflon pan, and, since you don’t use soap, camp cleanup is a breeze. Wipe it out, splash some water in it, wipe that out, you’re done.
Then, when you’re home and using the pan, you’ll feel, even for the tiniest of moments, like you’re still camping. At least I do.
A cast iron dutch oven is next-level camp cookware, useful if you’re in the same spot for a long time and want to cook low and slow over the coals for a whole afternoon. This is truly great when beach/surf camping in the cold, and you want hot stew for dinner.
Obviously, if backpacking, the cast iron pan stays at home (though I’ve certainly witnessed people cart them in lashed to external frame packs, god bless their souls). But car camping? There’s no finer piece of gear invented.