Aug 12, 2023
The Best Camping Cookware, According to Chefs
Whether you’re cooking a couple of burgers or feeding a family, these options have you covered. Jump to a Section We independently evaluate all recommended products and services. If you click on links
Whether you’re cooking a couple of burgers or feeding a family, these options have you covered.
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We independently evaluate all recommended products and services. If you click on links we provide, we may receive compensation. Learn more.
Food and Wine / Brian Kopinski
Views, fresh air, and adventuring are all reasons to go camping. But you’ve also got to eat — and s’mores only get you so far. Sure, you could bring your favorite nonstick skillet camping, but cooking outside can be rough on indoor kitchen gear: pots and pans aren’t generally designed to save space or survive bouncing around the trunk and campsite. And while it’s durable, a gleaming enameled French Dutch oven isn’t the kind of cookware we want to schlep through the woods.
Spend some time looking for camping gear of any category, and the options can get overwhelming. But as with regular cookware, some camping cookware tends toward gimmicky. Outdoors, simple cookware is your friend. If something goes wrong, you don’t have the luxury of a cookware-stocked cabinet or a pantry to rely on. Read on to learn what the pros use when cooking outside and we’re confident you’ll find the right version for whatever adventure you’ve got planned.
If you’re feeding a group and have enough time and fuel to heat it, there may not be a better choice than cast iron while camping. It retains heat well and is basically indestructible. The Lodge 8-inch wide, 2-quart Dutch oven is similar to the pot you cook with at home, but with three feet designed to elevate it off of a coal bed. While you might balk at loading the top of a shiny Le Creuset with glowing coals, the flat top here has a lip that corrals wood chunks so you can add heat from the top down. “Lodge is classic for a reason,” says outdoor chef Steve Corso. “They have been making quality, sturdy cookware for generations, and at a very reasonable price.”
Up top, a hefty steel handle can suspend the pot over a larger campfire. At just over 8 pounds, the 2-quart size feeds about three or four people, though it comes in a range of up to 8 quarts for larger groups. “When I have more time, a Dutch oven is the choice for a slow-cooked chicken chili verde or berry cobbler,” Corso says. The Lodge arrives seasoned from the factory and ready to cook, but you’ll want to keep it seasoned inside and out to prevent rust.
Price at the time of publish: $50
When you need the capacity of a pot but not the searing ability or the added weight of steel, a collapsible, food-grade silicone version saves packing space. You’ll just want to protect the walls of the silicone from the direct heat of a flame, so it’s best suited to sit over a camp stove or burner. The lid has a built-in strainer with silicone pads to protect your hands.
The base is a plate of conductive aluminum so the pot heats up about 30 percent faster than steel, which saves time and fuel. Folded down it takes up about half as much space as a traditional 2-liter pot. “The 2 liter will work for small families,” says Megan McDuffie, recipe developer and co-founder of Fresh Off the Grid, a website for camp cooking, about the GSI Escape HS.
Price at the time of publish: $60
Cake at camp? Made in Sweden, this steel-aluminum alloy system heats up faster than cast iron and has a domed lid to trap heat like an oven. The 10-inch diameter pan holds 2 liters, or about as much as an 8-inch square pan to help make brownie recipe conversions easier. The nesting set saves space and packs into its own carry bag, so it’s easy to toss into the trunk.
Bake brownies, cakes, and breads directly in the well-greased bottom, or use silicone molds (an optional accessory) for easier cleanup. “With wildfires becoming more consistent these days, having a campfire isn’t always a given,” Corso says. “The Omnia allows you to bake up some biscuits, brownies, or a casserole on your stove top burner.” At 10-inches wide, the Omnia fits nicely on a standard-size two-burner stove. “We’ve cooked everything from apple cobbler to nachos, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, and frittatas,” says McDuffie.
Price at the time of publish: $84
While it occupies the same space as a 4.75-quart pot, this tri-ply stainless steel cookware set packs a big punch with a 4.75-quart pot, a 1.9-quart saucepan, and an 8.5-inch frying pan. “The stainless steel construction means that it functions a lot like the pans that we have in our home kitchen,” McDuffie says. (Think even heat distribution.) “Like any stainless steel pan, it’s best to fully preheat it before adding food or cooking oils to prevent things from sticking.”
The pots and pan nest together along with a few other essential items like a cutting board, trivets that also double as pot holders, and serving utensils. A bungee cord locks everything together during travel. With 11 parts it can be a bit of a Tetris puzzle to pack everything, so Stanley included a cheat sheet engraved into the underside of the lid that shows the order that pieces nest in place.
Price at the time of publish: $143
For those willing to care for the coating, a nonstick pan makes life easier while cooking at camp, especially when it comes to cooking stick-prone eggs and lean proteins. The GSI pan comes in two sizes, 8 and 10 inches wide with a folding handle that makes it a little more compact to store. It would be a good idea to invest in an inexpensive rubber trivet to place inside this pan as you pack it away to protect the nonstick finish as you move it around camp and out of the trunk of your car.
“I can tell that the Gourmet is going to be a better option for the camp kitchen,” says McDuffie. “The key to maintaining these pans and their nonstick surface is to use wood or silicone utensils. We usually break out our nonstick pan in the morning because it makes it so easy to cook and clean up fried eggs, pancakes, and French toast at the campsite.”
Price at time of publish: $51
When backpacking, the weight and size of cookware are top priorities, which is why titanium is a popular choice. This Toaks pot holds close to a liter (900 milliliters) and weighs just four ounces — that’s less than an iPhone. Boil enough water for one person to hydrate a pouch meal or make a sauce on the side over just about any heat source. “Titanium is a very common material for camping cookware because it’s lightweight, durable, and heats up fast,” Corso says. “But it has a tendency to stick, so you need to be careful which recipes you choose to cook.”
Price at the time of publish: $45
You could use the versatility of a two-sided griddle, where one side is ridged and the other is flat, at nearly every meal. This Primus version is cast aluminum, so it heats quickly and keeps the weight down to less than a pound, with a nonstick surface that makes cooking eggs and fish easier. At 7.5 x 6.7 inches, “it’s a little smaller than a four-burger pan, but it's perfect for two at a time, plus the heat is even,” says Adam Dulye, a chef and cookbook author. “You could use it like a French stove top for a gentle simmer by pulling direct heat off of wood or coals,” he says.
Price at the time of publish: $25
If you spend a significant amount of time cooking outdoors, a nesting set is a smart investment. The key is to find a set that walks the line between quality, versatility, and convenience. The Primus set is indoor quality cookware made from 18/8 stainless steel with two pots — 1.8 and 3 liters — that nest on top of the 8-inch frying pan. Each piece has folding handles that stay cool while providing a sure grip. The 3-liter pot can hang over a fire and both vessels have a leather tag that stays cool so you can peek inside by lifting the lid, which has a strainer built in. And the whole system stores in a cotton bag making it easier to just toss in with the rest of your gear.
“The 3-liter pot is the closest thing you can get to a stock pot at the camp,” Dulye says. “For cooking pasta to soup, chili, stew, hot cider, or mulled wine for a large group, that pot lets it rip.” Dulye uses the smaller pot to simmer a sauce while the pan is mostly for searing off proteins. “The part that stands out here is the 3-liter pot because it's big enough to get the job done but small enough that you don't think twice about packing it,” he says.
Price at the time of publish: $120
You almost can’t match the versatility of the Lodge cast iron skillet, especially considering the brand’s nine size options, ranging from 3.5- to 15-inches wide. “A 12-inch Lodge is our primary skillet at home and at camp,” McDuffie says. “You can cook almost anything in it and can use it on a camp stove as well as over the campfire. And once you have built up a good seasoning, they’re fairly nonstick. And with a little bit of TLC, they can last forever.”
The dense Lodge will require a bit of fuel to get hot, but it will retain it for a while, which is great for self-serve buffet-style meals. For context, a 12 inch pan can fit about six eggs for a breakfast for three, though larger ones may not fit on a standard-size camp stove. A lid can be helpful but can add weight to an already heavy pan so opt for a roll of aluminum foil in a pinch to help trap heat.
Price at the time of publish: $30
If you plan on cooking outdoors frequently, it makes sense to invest in higher-quality gear, from a mess kit to a camping stove. For nearly every category of camp cookware there are value and splurge picks, but the cost isn’t always indicative of quality — a bulletproof Lodge pan will last forever and it costs about the same as a morning coffee run for a family of four. If you only cook once a year outdoors for a small group of people, value picks are a smart initial investment that you can upgrade over time as you take to camping more or feed larger groups. But if you cook with frequency, having reliable gear you know will work lessens the chance of a mishap in the outback. A lot of camp cookware can also pull double duty on a charcoal or gas grill in the backyard between camp sessions.
There is cookware aimed at just about every style of camping. Those who go backpacking and carry their kitchen in their packs prize lightweight burners and pots, while those who are car camping can splurge on heavier items. The cookware, however, has to work. If something breaks, it can be difficult to come up with a plan B in the woods. Aside from some pieces of camp cookware that are similar in size to their indoor versions, such as a Dutch oven, most campsite cookware is designed to save space. Pots can collapse on themselves, pans often have handles that fold in, and larger sets nest together. Material matters, too, as aluminum and titanium weigh less than stainless steel and cast iron and require less fuel, both of which are important considerations for backpackers.
Be it at camp or while loading or unloading from the car, your cookware will, inevitably, be mishandled more than indoor pots and pans. Where space and weight allow, cast iron is a safe bet because it will last for years, though it can take a while to come to temperature on weaker stoves. Aside from titanium and silicone pots, the materials used in outdoor cookware are very similar to what you find inside, and there is a tradeoff: a silicone pot that packs down to only a few inches thick is easier to store than a stainless steel version, but it’s susceptible to punctures and tears.
Some, but not all, campsites offer running water to wash up, so cleaning can be an issue. As always, designs with fewer nooks and crannies that can fill with grease or food debris are a smart choice, as is nonstick cookware that cleans with a damp rag, though that coating can be fragile. Pick cookware with as few moving parts as possible.
Yes. From heavy cast iron and carbon steel to stainless and aluminum, just about any pan you have in your kitchen will work on a suitcase-style camping stove. But you’ll want to consider size. Most camp stoves are designed to work with pots and pans on the smaller to medium side, so you might have compatibility issues placing some 12-inch skillets simultaneously. You’ll also want to consider fuel, as most indoor cookware tends to be heavier steel and that will require more gas to come up to temperature and that can burn through smaller camping stoves quickly.
Aside from a heat source and a means to light it, a camp kitchen requires most of what you’d use indoors. While it’s smart to prep at home ahead of time, you should always bring a knife — ideally some form of folding chef’s knife — and a cutting board. Metal tongs work for most pans, though you’ll want nylon versions for nonstick. Buffet-style meals means you can cut down on the number of bowls you need since everyone can portion their food directly from the cooking vessel. Plan on bringing at least one big bowl or collapsible silicone tub to help with cleaning or transferring to the wash station. Soap, a scrub pad, and a dish towel to dry it all rounds out the kit.
Sal Vaglica is a gear tester and food writer with nearly 15 years of experience working with and covering outdoor cooking equipment. For this story, he interviewed experts who have extensive experience cooking outdoors, including chef Steve Corso, founder of Outdoor Eats; Megan McDuffie, recipe developer and co-founder of Fresh Off the Grid; chef Adam Dulye.Price at the time of publish: $50DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $60DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $84DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $143DimensionsWeightPrice at time of publish: $51DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $45DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $25DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $120DimensionsWeightPrice at the time of publish: $30DimensionsWeight