best cookware for campfires?

9:21 p.m. on October 19, 2010 (EDT)
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it seems like most backpacking cookware is designed for stove use only. is there any that can be used for campfires as well?

6:22 a.m. on October 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Most metal cookware will work on campfires, but since it is hard to regulate temperatures, I would avoid Teflon and items with plastic parts since they can scorch or melt.  One issue concerns how you can handle a hot cook pot perched over a hot fire.  A glove or towel addresses this problem, and perhaps wearing something to cover your arm when reaching over the embers.  But these assume the pot has a handle, otherwise you will need something to grip the pot by the lip.  I would not waste money on those pot gripper plier-looking devices they sell in sporting goods stores, because they are not durable.  Instead bring along a pair of channel locks or vice grip pliers.  Another issue is the soot that builds up on the outside of pots, something inevitable with cooking over wood.  You can cover the outside of cookware with soap, it makes removing soot much easier.  Selecting cookware that has a minimal of nooks and crannies inside and out will also simplify cleaning.  A sack used to store sooty items will prevent soiling the rest of your kit during your trip.  You will also have to consider how you intend to suspend the cookware over the fire.  A grate like those used to BBQ meat works well; find one that has legs and you won’t have to worry about engineering such support into your fire pit walls.  The other common alternative is suspending cookware utilizing a tripod.  Keep in mind, however, that a tripod pretty much limits you to one pot, and it must have a bucket style handle.  The other alternative is placing pots directly on the embers, but this solution makes regulating the cook temperature difficult. Lastly you need to address if you intend to carry your kit, or will be horse or car camping.  Cast iron cookware is the traditional choice for cooking over wood fire; it distributes heat evenly over cook surfaces, becomes easier to use as it seasons, and is very rugged.  But you wouldn’t want to hike it up a mountain on your own back.  If backpacking you will pretty much be limited to aluminum cookware.  In any case I would not select titanium; it is not a good heat conductor,

Ed

11:30 a.m. on October 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Wow, Ed has pretty much covered the cooking on a campfire cook pot issue. You said everything I would have! The soap bottom method is what I learned in Boy Scouts 40 years ago.

A reflector oven is also a good way to cook. Find a metal steel or aluminum square cooking oil can and cut it in half diagonally. Then fashion a shelf in the middle with a piece of the left over can. Then position the reflector towards the fire so the shelf is level or course. A pie or cooking container can be placed on the shelf and the reflected heat will cook the food. I have'nt used one in about 30 years but used to bake a cobbler or pie in about the same amount of time as a home oven. Making a reflector that would collapse would be easier to pack. I found this one online below.

Retail Price for the SPROUL BAKER: $91.95

Includes oven, baking pan, trail bag, cookbook and user's manual

Flat stones and rocks that did not come from a river bed also make good alternates to a cooking pot sitting directly in the fire.. Place the flat rock in the fire and after it has reduced to coals place the cook pot on the rock like a flat grill.  If you oilthe rock before hand meats and other practiced items can be cooked o the flat rock grill. One method is to take a large slice of bread, two strips of bacon and an egg or two. Lay the bacon slices in an X pattern on the center of the rock, then place the bread slice in the center after removing part of the middle forming a hole. Break the egg(s) into the hole and cook till done. The bacon keeps the bread and eggs from sticking to the rock. This will also work using a slice of ham.

Ever boi and egg in a paper cup? Take a paper cup and place an egg in it, fill with water and place on a campfire grill. The water will keep the cup from burning and the water will come to a boil. "Will not work with a styrofoam cup"

If you want a good campfire cook pot that is cheap, go to a local restuarant and ask for a #10 can that they recieved soup,chili or vegetables in. Make a bale for it by punching two holes at the top on either side and use a steel wire to make the bale. This pot works as well as a traditional one and its much taller and will hold about a gallon of water. The ribbed sides make it sturdy for many years of use.

No-10-can-Billy-Pot.jpg

For almost nothing it makes an excellent cookpot.

12:07 p.m. on October 20, 2010 (EDT)
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....Flat stones and rocks that did not come from a river bed also make good alternates to a cooking pot sitting directly in the fire..

Ed and Gary have pretty much covered it. To explain Gary's comment on using rocks that did not come from a river bed (or lake or pond, for that matter) - Almost all rocks have tiny cracks in them. If you use a rock that has been soaked by sitting in the water in a stream, lake, or other water for an extended time, there will be water in those cracks. When heated in the fire or surrounding the fire, the water can turn to steam, resulting in the rock exploding (I learned this from my Red Ryder Handbook when I was about 7 or 8 years old - 25 cents and a boxtop from some cereal that I have long since forgotten). I also saw it happen some years later as a teenager when one of my buddies who liked to experiment with explosive things like black powder and fulminate of mercury intentionally built a roaring fire and put several large rocks from a stream in it just to see what would happen. Sure enough, some of the rocks cracked with a loud noise and a couple of them actually exploded, sending fragments quite a way into the air and the surrounding area. Luckily no one was hurt (this same buddy later lost his ear and all the fingers off one hand when a home-made pipe bomb exploded in his hand - you could buy the makings of explosives at your neighborhood drug store in those days).

lane3.jpgRed Ryder, dispenser of justice and outdoor wisdom.

9:03 p.m. on October 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Cast iron dutch ovens are great if you are car camping.

12:21 p.m. on October 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Car Camping: It's hard to beat cast iron, be it a dutch oven or a skillet.

Backpacking: Almost any metal pot out there will work with the right precautions. Stainless steel is the "safest" in regards to not damaging your pots. The issue with using pots made of other metals directly on a campfire is the pots can warp because the metal is so thin. This can happen with alluminum, titanium, haulite etc. Stainless steel can also warp but it takes a bit more effort to do so since it is usually much thicker than other pots made of the other metals.

General rule to prevent this to not heat an empty pot. If you remember this the chances are slim that you will warp a pot. It is possible to burn a hole in a pot as well, but this usually only happens when you are negligent and leave a pot on for far too long.

If you are using a pot with any sort of nonstick liner or parts, like teflon or silicon then be extra diligent because they can burn/melt/get damaged quickly with excessive heat. Be wary of any flames licking those areas as well as they can melt quickly at any temps above 500? i think, or somewhere around there.

All that being said, I cook over a fire 95% of the time when I am out. Either on a wood-gas stove, or on a campfire. I use a titanium Snowpeak 700 mug mostly nowadays and it works great for my needs of boiling water, and making soups, coffee etc. I also frequently use one of my MSR Alpine stainless steel 1.5 or 2L pots for actual cooking. The MSR pots have been in more fires than I can count, and I can put them directly on the coals with no ill effects. I use the lid of the MSR pots as a fry pan directly on the coals as well.

The dish soap trick previously mentioned works great if you want to keep your pots soot free. I did that for awhile but finally just accepted soot as a part of backpacking haha, and now I just keep my kitchen setup in a small stuffsack.

So I guess I differ from some of the previous posters. I recommend stainless steel for backpacking, other metals work also, each have their pros and cons,  it really just boils down to personal preference in the end. Then of course there is always the tried and true foil dinners, put whatever you desire almost into a double layer of alum foil, add some water, spices, seal the foil and put it right in the coals, and turn it once and your good to go!

8:53 p.m. on October 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Like TheRambler I also use MSR Alpine stainless steel pots for cooking on a fire on backpacking trips. It's the sturdiest cookware I own and it holds up well cooking over a fire or in coals. I often boil water in my aluminum Snow Peak pots over a fire, and they work fine too.

 

4:28 p.m. on October 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Great thread!

I always wondered why MEC, Primus, Brunton, MSR etc. don't make/market a cook set/piece specifically made for open fire cooking.

There is a market there...get with it.

IMO =)

Interested to know of anything (other than DIY) is made for open fire? Weight????

6:21 p.m. on October 22, 2010 (EDT)
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rdagg,

Primus, Brunton, and MSR are stove manufacturers, so their associated cookware is for stoves, with the heat exchanger posts being tailored to fit their particular stoves. Another reason is that the decline in popularity of cooking on the campfire has reduced the demand for campfire-specific cookware. Somehow related to the fact that fewer and fewer people know how to build and light a fire properly. Besides, you can use any old pot or skillet on a campfire. Gary P's tin can pot (several posts up) has been the best of the campfire cooking utensils for well over a century, as well as being cheap and completely recyclable.

Ok, some of those comments are tongue in cheek. But MEC, REI, and other outdoor stores do in fact sell cook gear that is well suited to campfires. As others have posted above, campfires call for heavy-duty cast iron or aluminum cook gear. After all, open fires were the standard cooking heat for homes as well as campers for thousands of years, and cast iron designs were developed just for that situation.

Lodge, for example, makes a wide range of cast iron, ranging from their iconic dutch ovens (4 inches to 18 inches diameter, most "standard" depth, some extra deep), to skillets in various sizes, to griddles, to many other items and accessories (in my personal experience, I put Lodge way above their competitors in quality and suitability for the purpose). Also, as mentioned above, stainless works just fine in a campfire. Other materials also work well if you use a grill over the fire, rather than setting the pots and pans directly on the coals.

Portable stoves, whether the good old Coleman 2-burner white gas stove or a backpacking stove, are a lot easier for most people to cook on, especially the compressed gas type. Plus, you can't gather firewood or cut down trees in many areas. Many, if not most, backpackers practive Leave No Trace, which means generally avoiding building campfires, even campfires were the original (and still by far the best and most satisfying) social networking venue (plus campfire networking avoids identity theft and having your deepest darkest secrets revealed to the entire world - what happens or is talked about around the campfire stays around the campfire).

7:15 p.m. on October 24, 2010 (EDT)
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IMHO an open fire means car camping. Cast Iron is the only way to go. At one point I only did cast. I had over 20 differant pots and pans. Sometimes cooking for 10-15 people. I had a great time doing this. Now that I live in the PNW I do more packing in, light wieght. I still car camp with my lady. Thanks for making me remember the great times, it seams that I better start collecting some cast iron again. It would be fun to have all that stuff hanging next to the fire.BTW I was the best open fire cooker in the state of Iowa. :D

8:07 p.m. on October 24, 2010 (EDT)
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There's something special about cast iron. I prefer brands that are made in America like Lodge. Flea markets and yard sales are good places to find used iron.

12:00 a.m. on October 25, 2010 (EDT)
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... Flea markets and yard sales are good places to find used iron.

A word of caution about getting dutch ovens at flea markets and garage sales - black powder and self-loader enthusiasts often use cast iron pots, especially dutch ovens, to melt the lead to cast the balls, conicals, and sabots. The dutch ovens especially work very well for keeping the lead molten and making it easy to dip the molds in to get the lead. The lead, of course, does get into the pores of the pot. So when looking at used cast iron at flea markets and garage sales, ask a lot of questions about the history of the cookware and carry one of the pocket lead-testing kits with you.

How do I know? Barb and I participate in mountain man historical re-enactments from time to time and get to talk to the folks who are really big into historical accuracy - no store-bought balls, conicals, or sabots for those guys!

2:45 a.m. on October 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I love to cook with Cast Iron, but two of my items have been put in the dish washer (one by the ex wife, and one by a well intentioned wife of a friend).  I have tried to re-season my (lodge) cast iron several times in the oven, without any success.  Would anyone have any recommendatory steps to re-seasoning my cast iron cookware?  I really would like to have those items back in my arsenal.

 

As for camp fire cooking in the backcountry, I prefer hard anodized aluminum, specifically the Coleman Max Solo cook kit.  My Harvard educated buddy says that it could cause cancer but he's paranoid and a horrible cook to boot so I pay little attention.  I only use it in the backcountry, my home cookware is stainless for the most part.  I have some Titanium from Snow Peak, but it doesn't hold the heat very well and it's easy to burn items in the pot that aren't water.  What I do, is level off a little coals on the side of my fire with my U-dig it trowel/mini foxhole tool and set the pot right on it.  The coals provide great heat without a lot of the harmful/dirty soot on the pots and it's really easy to maintain a constant temp.       

3:30 a.m. on October 30, 2010 (EDT)
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When cooking it does'nt really matter what the material is you are cooking in, anything that sits too long on the heat without stirring will begin to burn to the pan. When I cook mostly pasta,, I bring the water to a boil add the pasta, return to a simmer then take the pot off the fire whether stove or campfire, insulate the pot on a non-burnable pad and wrap it in a shirt or something to hold in the heat. Water will retain heat for quite a while loosing only about 50 degree's in 20 minutes depending on air movement and insulation types.

I usually cook on a stove. a pocket rocket with a 8 oz fuel blend canister. I can make one 8 oz canister last about a month depending on temperture variations. As I never simmer anything I need to cook. Lettng most foods sit in the previously boiling water with insulation allows it to soak up just as much water as following the usual directions of simmering pasta for 10 minutes or till done. Pasta will if fuel consuption is needed, soak out in cold water if allowed to sit in it for about 30 minutes or in warmer but not boiled water for about 20 minutes. And presoaking/rehydrating most any dried vegetable like beans over night will reduce the cooking time.

I make my own instant rice instaed of buying it at the store that way. Beans can also be precooked and dehydrated at home to make them easier in the field to cook. My favorite is the Black-eyed pea style beans.

I usully take a mixture of pasta, instant rice and broken up ramen noodles in large Ziploc bags. Then when I want a cooked meal I grab a handful of the 3rd of each into boiling water and cook with my above method.

Uusally the only thing I like cooking on a campfire is rabbit, squirrel, grouse and fish which can take longer to fry or simmer. I hunt primatively for all of them using rocks, stones or a throwing stick. I also use simple wooden or stone traps made survivorman style. Sometimes I use coiled copper wire on tree's to catch squirrel's and around burrows for ground squirrel's and Marmot/groundhogs. I camp and hike in wilderness areas more often than National Parks for this reason. I like the quietness of the wilderness areas where machines are not allowed like AYV's, chainsaw's and other motorized vehicles.

Soon I am retiring from living and working in towns and moving back to the country somewhere very remote to live out the rest of my life. I will be 55 in January and by 60 plan to be living totally in the wild with either a homemade dwelling or just live like I have the last 30 years with my mobile tent(s).

 

7:29 p.m. on October 30, 2010 (EDT)
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..I hunt primatively for all of them using rocks, stones or a throwing stick... 

 Gary:

Have you considered resorting top a wrist rocket sling shot? They are cheap, rugged, easy to master, light weight, and more efficient than chucking rocks and sticks.

Ed

11:21 p.m. on October 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I think maybe people have the perception that a campfire is worse on pots & pans than a backpacking stove, I'm not convinced it is.

 

11:40 a.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I think maybe people have the perception that a campfire is worse on pots & pans than a backpacking stove, I'm not convinced it is.

 

 I am with you on this, Trout. I don't think a wood fire is inherently worse on cookware than a stove. If you put an empty pan on a stove that's roaring full tilt it can destroy a good pan just as fast.

 I think the difference is that most people are more familiar with the controlled nature of the heat from a stove, and are not so familiar with how to guage the heat from a wood fire. You have to kinda' "get to know" wood fires to understand how the heat is given off differently, and how it varies in nature during the stages of burn, etc.

12:14 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I have used a wrist rocket before, yes! I used to use one till I discovered I could throw rocks and sticks fairly well, so had less to carry.

6:31 p.m. on November 2, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm okay at skipping rocks, but I don't think I could hit the broad side of a squirrel.

Maybe I should work on that.

12:18 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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I use a throwing stick for squirrels and/or looped wire on tree's. That works the best. The loops are like a spring that has been pulled out and wrapped around a tree. The loops are just big enough for a squirrel to run thru but usually its back quarters gets caught. The more it struggles to get loose the more its caught. Throwing sticks are usually a stick that has a bend in it or a branch with another limb on it. It spins when thrown and its easier to aim than a rock. And, NO, it does not act like a boomerang!

As with anything, practice make perfection. A Baseball pitcher can throw a ball at many MPH to the batter. One can throw a rock at close range to hit an animal quite well. Most animals like rabbits and game birds sit still as most predator animals like wolves,coyote and such hunt  movement. The prey animal sits still and the four legged predator can't find it. 

2008-best-pictures-of-the-year-JH-309.jp

This Blue Grouse Hen sat on a trail I was hiking in the Gros Ventre Mountains one spring. I almost stepped on her as she sat still and had not moved till I got too close. I photographed her as she froze for her life.

7:55 p.m. on December 1, 2010 (EST)
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I think maybe people have the perception that a campfire is worse on pots & pans than a backpacking stove, I'm not convinced it is.

 

 I guess I am one of 'those' people...

9:24 a.m. on December 2, 2010 (EST)
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I think maybe people have the perception that a campfire is worse on pots & pans than a backpacking stove, I'm not convinced it is.

 

 I guess I am one of 'those' people...

Ok, why do you think a wood fueled flame is worse on a pot than a petrochemical fueled flame?

 Ed

5:52 p.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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Well whomeworry, if you have a well made campfire burning dry hard wood, you can easily melt aluminum at 660 C! I understand that a stove also burns very hot (hotter in some cases) but the pot isn't surrounded by the heat like it would be in a campfire.  I still believe that it would be harder on your pots.  I suppose the bottom line is you don't really have the control over an open fire as you would a stove and it could possibly lead into problems. 

Like Trouthunter said, "...I'm not convinced of this."  Well, I`m also on the fence about it.  That is all!

That's just my $.02 worth dude =)

Reedr 

5:30 a.m. on December 12, 2010 (EST)
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Well whomeworry, if you have a well made campfire burning dry hard wood, you can easily melt aluminum at 660 C! I understand that a stove also burns very hot (hotter in some cases) but the pot isn't surrounded by the heat like it would be in a campfire.  I still believe that it would be harder on your pots.  I suppose the bottom line is you don't really have the control over an open fire as you would a stove and it could possibly lead into problems. 

Like Trouthunter said, "...I'm not convinced of this."  Well, I`m also on the fence about it.  That is all!

That's just my $.02 worth dude =)

Reedr 

Well if someone is stoking a fire worthy of driving a steam engine, just for cooking, I guess it would be hard on equipment.  But not nearly as hard as that chief's cooking would be on everyones' guts!  In any case I am a fan of Indian fires, versus cowboy fires, no need for that much heat.

Ed 

11:17 a.m. on December 12, 2010 (EST)
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Interesting points.

I used to build the traditional campfire and try to cook on them through all the fire and smoke. I thought that was simply the backwoods way.

Today I build as small a fire as I can that will generate a good coal bed and rake that slightly off to the side and cook on the coals. I love grilled fish & vegetables and that method works well for me, it's also the way I use cookware on a fire for the most part.

I guess my feeling on campfires not being any worse on cookware than stoves is within the context of using the cookware properly. You know, always using the pot or pan with liquids / oil in it, and within a heat range adequate for cooking, not forging steel.

You can put a Styrofoam cup in a fire and as long as it is full of water it will not melt, even in direct contact with flames, put it in the fire empty and poof. I guess the same is true of aluminum pots, you could easily destroy pots by putting them in a fire or on a stove if they are empty.

I have used a pot, made from a Heineken beer can, in a small twig fire several times to quickly boil water and it did not damage the pot. But I'm sure most of us have seen what a campfire left behind by others will do to empty beer cans, they will melt in a hot fire.

 

9:40 p.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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A friend of mine once in Boy Scouts had heard that you can heat a can of beans directly over the fire. The only thing he did not consider was that he should open the can first. So anyway, he sat this huge can of DeKamps Pork and Beans on the fire grate above the campfire. I walked up about a minute after he did this, by which time it was too late to move the can safely. I went to get a stick or something to hit knock the can off with. But just as I turned and walked about 10 feet away, the can hissed and BOOM exploded sending hot pork and beans over everything and the can landed about 20 feet away, almost ripped in half. Luckily no one was standing closeby as it would have been like a pork and bean grenade.

This happened at scout camp and I think every troop all around must have heard it and it was talked and laughed about for most of the rest of the camp week. That was somewhere in California in 1968.

8:41 p.m. on December 19, 2010 (EST)
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Great thread and good story GaryPalmer.

Did you know up here in Canada The Canadian Military uses cans of pork and beans as regular issue grenades?  We can make wicked snowballs for protection but sometimes our hands get to cold to make snow balls...LOL

On a more serious note:

I watch Survivorman on OLN with Les Stroud (he is a Canadian and a world renowned Survival Expert)...for those of you that may not have heard of him before.  Anywho, he very carefully boiled water in a regular disposable water bottle over an open fire.  It did melt the plastic a little but did the trick.  He hadn't had water for over two days so he didnt care about whatever chemicals had leached into the water during boiling/melting.  

9:43 p.m. on December 19, 2010 (EST)
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rdagg - Many of us here on Trailspace love watching Les Stroud. I did see the episode where he boiled water in the plastic bottle.

Gary - Very funny story!

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