How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet Over a Campfire

can you use a cast iron skillet over a campfire

While I was on a camping trip not that long ago I thought about trying to up my cooking experience while camping as I had been hearing for years people talk about the benefits of using cast iron and how great it was.

As I had been using the same standard mess kit for years similar to this one on Amazon to prepare basic meals around the campfire.

I wondered though can you use a cast iron skillet over a campfire and is it safe?

The great news is yes you can use a cast iron skillet over a campfire.  In fact, cast iron cooking and campfires are a perfect match due to the durability of cast iron and its even heating properties.  

Fast forward to present now that I have made the switch from using a standard mess kit to a cast iron skillet and dutch oven there is no way I’m going back to that old mess kit.

Along the way, though I have learned a few things about using a cast iron skillet over the campfire and how to take care of it that I think you would find helpful so I have shared this information below.

Best Ways to Use a Cast Iron Skillet Over A Campfire

Cast iron is great for cooking over a campfire but there are few things to keep in mind to make sure you have a great experience while using your skillet.

Use Quality Cast Iron

The first thing to know is that not all cast iron is created equal in fact if you go with some cheap knock off cast iron from some no-name brand it can actually ruin your whole cooking experience.

The cast iron skillet that I have been using for a while now and love is the Lodge 10.25 Inch Cast Iron Skillet that you can check out on Amazon by clicking here.  
 Lodge 10.25 Inch Cast Iron Skillet

Lodge is an American institution in the cast iron industry as they have been producing cast iron cookware since 1896 in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. 

So when I was selecting a cast iron skillet to start with it was easy to go with a company that has been producing cast iron cookware for well over a 100 years.

Prepping the Fire

Cast iron is a great conductor of heat which is what makes it so great when cooking over a campfire.  However, to get the most out of your cast iron it’s important to prepare the fire and cooking surface for optimal results.

To begin with, when cooking over an open fire you want to cook over an established fire with a nice bed of hot coals to work with. 

So if you are planning to cook over the fire its best to wait at least 15 to 30 minutes to allow the campfire to become more established.  That way when you begin to cook on it you will have a much more consistent temperature and heat to work with.  

This brings us to our next point when cooking over a campfire,  which is its best to cook over the hot coals rather than the lapping flames of a campfire. 

While it might be tempting to set your cast iron skillet over a roaring fire with flames reaching for the sky for the best results you want to cook your meals using the hot coals from the fire which will be much more consistant.  

cooking with a cast iron skillet over a fire

Have Everything Ready and Close By Before You Start Cooking

Having everything ready before-hand really applies to any type of cooking over a campfire regardless of whether you are using cast iron or not but it’s still worth mentioning here because it’s so important when trying to create an enjoyable experience when cooking over a campfire.

Being prepared when cooking with a cast iron skillet can include many things but when cooking with cast iron the below tips can make a big difference.

  • Have a pair of fire-resistant tongs or spatial nearby to be able to move the food around inside the cast iron skillet to allow for more even cooking.
  • Make sure you also have an oven mitt nearby to be able to remove the cast iron skillet from the fire.  This is because most cast iron skillets or pans also have a cast iron handle.  So if you were to grab the handle with a bare hand it would be very easy to burn yourself.
  • When cooking over an open fire it’s always best to have all the ingredients you will need for your meal prepared ahead of time before you start cooking as it can be hard to do everything at once when trying to cook around a campfire.  Food items to prepare ahead of time before you start cooking might include cutting up veggies and meats or pre-seasoning items when needed.

Use Butter Instead of Oil When Cooking with Cast Iron

In my experience, it is better to cook with butter instead of oil when cooking over a campfire because it reduces the chance of having a flare-up when cooking over the fire.

While you can certainly use oil with cast iron if you choose to.  Make sure that you are being especially careful to not cause a flare-up when cooking with oil. 

Cleaning Your Cast Iron After a Meal

No how-to guide about cooking with a cast iron skillet would be complete without talking about how to clean your cast iron skillet once you’re done cooking.

How to Clean Your Cast Iron Skillet
  • Never use soap to clean your cast iron skillet as it can ruin the seasoning of the cast iron.
  • Once you have finished cooking you want to fill your skillet up about halfway with water and place the skillet over the fire
  • Bringing the water to a boil you want to take a metal spatial and scrape off any large food particles from the pan making sure not to splash water in the fire while doing so.
  • Once you have most of the large food particles broke loose from the skillet bring the skillet out of the fire and use a scrub brush to remove any remaining food from the skillet and dump the water from the skillet
  • You might need to repeat this process more than once for really stuck-on food
  • Once your cast iron skillet is clean you then want to take about a cap full of cooking oil and rub this into the pan while it’s still warm to season the pan to condition the cast iron and to keep the skillet from rusting.  

If you still have questions on the proper way to clean your cast iron skillet check out this helpful video that shows the entire process from beginning to end to clean a cast iron skillet.


What Can you Cook Over a Campfire?

Now that you know how to cook with your cast iron skillet over a campfire and the proper way to care for it.  I thought it would be an appropriate end to this article to talk about some of my favorite foods you can make using a cast iron skillet.

The truth of the matter is there is really nothing you can’t cook over a campfire that you can cook in your kitchen at home.  In fact, the only real limit to what you can cook over the campfire is your imagination.  

For me, there is perhaps nothing better to cook on when cooking meat than cast iron so I love cooking a thick piece of steak, fried chicken, or bacon on my cast iron skillet.

Also in the morning cooking up some golden hash browns and scrambled eggs can really hit the spot.

Lastly don’t forget you can actually cook up some killer deserts on your cast iron skillet including cobbler pie or even a chocolate chip cookie cake.  



Curious about other types of cookware good for cooking over a campfire?  Then check out our article “Best Camping Cookware for Open Fire and Campfires“.

Jason Kidd

Jason is an avid lover of camping, hiking, and well just about anything outdoors. He is both a writer and editor for Outside Pulse and has been camping and hiking for over 20 years.

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