Putting together your camping kit is an exercise in compromises. You want the most comfort and functionality, but only have limited cargo capacity to transport the gear to your camp site. There can be other practical considerations too, like how one piece of gear interacts with other gear, or how robust the gear is.
This is certainly the case for camping cookware. I want to be able to cook the largest possible range of food with the minimum of cookware. I have a two burner Coleman dual fuel stove. My camping cookware has to pack into my plastic kitchen box for transportation. And the gear has to be robust and functional in a camping environment – no crystal glasses here!
My cookware is limited by the size I can fit on top of the Coleman Powerhouse 414 dual fuel stove – in this case, two 10 inch pots or pans. I figure that a 20 cm pot and a 28 cm frypan would give me the largest range of cooking options. One is under 10 inches, the other over, so between them they fit well enough on the Coleman stove cook top.
I chose a stainless steel saucepan/pot because it would be robust and easily cleaned. I wanted a steel lid as well – no glass or pyrex lids to break at the camp site! Basically any unbreakable saucepan suitable for use on a gas cooktop would suit my purposes – no need to buy from a specialist camping store. I purchased a 20 cm Cuisinart Classic Stainless Saucepan from Kitchenware Direct online.
My choice for a frypan was more difficult. There are many options to consider: stainless steel, non-stick coated, cast iron, carbon steel, and the list goes on.
I wanted a pan with non-stick qualities. That ruled out stainless steel. I also wanted something robust – that rules out non-stick coated (too easily scratched or damaged) and cast iron (can be brittle and is very heavy). For my needs, the only pan suitable was a carbon steel (or black steel) pan. No, they can not be put through a dishwasher, but we do not carry one camping anyway. Yes, they require seasoning every so often, but that is no big deal if you initially do it at home — my seasoning technique is described here.
The benefits of a carbon steel pan are:
- lighter than an equivalent cast iron pan
- will not break from thermal shock – that is, can douse them in cold water – a cast iron pan would crack
- tough non-stick qualities from seasoning – much tougher than artificial non-stick coatings
- able to withstand high heat of camp fires and gas stove
- easy clean-up
- excellent even heat conduction.
Again, there is no need to purchase from a specialist camping store, although there are several carbon steel fry pans available in the camping market (try Hillbilly Camping Gear and Primus Campfire spun steel cookware for starters). I purchased a de Buyer Carbone Plus carbon steel 28 cm fry pan from Kitchenware Direct online — apparently the de Buyer pans are some of the world’s best carbon steel pans, and yet are not expensive. I have seasoned it and been using it in my kitchen at home. It is great, and so much better than all the other fry pans we have owned in the past, including non-stick coated, cast iron and stainless steel.
I can not understand why we used to take a coated non-stick fry pan camping, and why it took so long for me to discover carbon steel fry pans. The choice seems so obvious now.