Great Camping Pots and Pans

Most camp sites revolve around the kitchen and the delights and disasters conjured from the smoking fire and the boiling pot. Whether it's a freshly caught fish or a plate of breakfast eggs, food tends to be central to the whole camping experience.

Most people that camp on a regular basis have a box of pans and implements tucked away in the shed that gets dragged out the night before departure. Often this box contains all of the kitchen ‘hand me downs’ - the rejects and the failures, and anything else the household cook deems unsuitable for inclusion in kitchen.

The Brief
quiche and kebabs by the fire

We used to have just such a box but when we decided to take the outdoor lifestyle to the next level we had to streamline and lose some baggage. We travel and work around Australia for about six months of the year, only stopping long term when a place or the work look really interesting. We try and visit remote destinations and get off the beaten track as much as possible and we do it from the back of a Landcruiser Troop Carrier. While the ‘troopy’ is a big four wheel drive and it is highly compartmented and organized, room is at a premium and everything we carry is scrutinized for size, weight and practicality.

Being passionate cooks meant a few sad moments as favourite pans and implements were relegated to storage as more practical items were included in the vehicle.

Base Metal

In a domestic kitchen our choice of cooking surface for pots and pans is Stainless Steel. There is an art to cooking on Stainless and once the basic principles are understood and the process mastered it offers advantages no other surface is capable of. Second choice would be Enamel Coated Cast Iron, not raw cast iron, but the high quality and expensive gear from France. Third choice is ‘Teflon Coated Aluminium’. We rule out raw Aluminium as a contender because of reputed health issues.

Raw Cast Iron has long been the favoured pot for the bush and we have no idea why. I suspect it is a hangover from days of old when nothing else was available or when tradition dictated style. It’s difficult to imagine a swagman wanting to walk 30 miles a day lugging a 20 pound pot. Raw Cast Iron weighs a ton, rusts and needs maintenance to keep it serviceable. It needs huge amounts of oil to stop food sticking and worst of all – it tastes like rusty iron. Cook any acid based stew, something with lots of wine or tomatoes, and taste it. No thanks.

Aluminium and Teflon
camping pot

But we are talking about pans for camping and in the bush we use our third preference, Teflon Coated Aluminium. When Teflon coating first came out it was pronounced as the new champion, the wonder coating for cookware. Guarantees for Teflon Pans lasted for a lifetime. While its true new Teflon needs very little oil to cook with and needs mini mum effort to clean, it is rarely used in a commercial environment. Chefs need pans that get smoking hot and Teflon will not tolerate extreme temperature. Eventually the coating separates from the base metal. No one wants pieces of Teflon with their $50 fish. These days it is rare to find a lifetime guarantee for Teflon and if you do it will be even harder to get the manufacturer to honour it when you take it back peeling and flaking. New Teflon Pan literature warns heavily about overheating.

However, Teflon Coated Aluminium for camping is perfect. Aluminium is light and weight is everything to us. A thick aluminium base means the pan heats evenly and the food cooks with some consistency.

Aluminium is a terrific thermal conductor. This means it uses less fuel to get hot and stay hot. It also means when you finally finish cooking it doesn’t remain red hot for hours.

Keeping it Clean

A Teflon coating is a huge bonus when it comes to doing the dishes. If the surface is in good condition and water is in short supply it is possible to wipe out a Teflon pan with a damp cloth. There have been times when water was a real issue and the choice of having a drink always takes precedence over washing dishes.

Because space is a luxury we keep silicone baking mats in the bottom of our pots to reduce scratching from all the other gear we pack into them as we travel. New technology has improved the resistance of Teflon to scratching however a little prevention never hurts.

When we chose camping cookware to take on the road with us we researched quality before we threw any money at our choice. Experience has taught us that quality of metal is imperative when buying stainless but a certain scepticism should be employed when purchasing Teflon. We have owned extremely expensive, big name Teflon cookware and have had it last and perform no longer than budget gear. That is not to say all cheap Teflon is equal to a high-end range, simply, that like any product group some manufacturers have massive marketing and manufacturing overheads that have to be passed on the consumer.

Cost

We currently have discovered a line of pans that perform brilliantly and cost about $40 per pan. We needed a decent frypan with a lid and a Dutch oven. The theory being that a frypan is indispensible and that it is possible to cook anything in a Dutch oven, including breads, curries, roasts, casseroles, pasta, rice and virtually anything that can be cooked on a stovetop or in an oven! We purchased the same size frypan as the Dutch oven enabling us to use the lid on either product.

Any Colour as long as it's Black

We purchased pots with a black exterior. This means we are happy to swing our utensils from the gas onto a campfire and not have to worry about unsightly burnt metal. Metal lids rather than glass mean not worrying about them surviving the car trip to the campsite.

If it is time to clean out the box of reject pans in the shed and you are considering buying new gear to spruce up your camping collection a little research can save some frustration when its most required – The time you should be relaxing and enjoying yourself.

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