How to clean a cast iron skillet while camping

When out camping, I love to bring my cast iron skillet with me. It’s heavy, which is absolutely the biggest downside with bringing it with me. However, it’s probably the best and most versatile way to cook food while out at the camp site or by the lake. So, more often then not, the cast iron skillet finds it’s way into my pile of camping equipment to bring.

It’s not until after I first used it while camping that I realized I was going to have to figure out a way around the standard cleaning methods.

Cleaning a cast iron skillet it complicated, even when home

There are plenty of great sites online, like this one, that give great tips on how you should be able to clean a skillet at home. In short, you need to:

  • Cool it down
  • Use a brush to rub everything off
  • Rub oil onto the skillet
  • Drop some salt onto the skillet

It’s pretty easy to do at home, but can get to be a pain in the butt while out and you don’t have a handy cleaning brush and supply of oil with you.

Do you need to clean a skillet while camping?

The short answer is yes: there are two very good reasons why you need to clean your skillet.

The first is that a dirty skillet while have food residue and smell on it. For that reason, it’s a really easy way to attract animal visitors to your campsite. In the “best”, but most annoying circumstance, that means raccoons. In the worst case, that means bears.  You want to make sure your skillet is clean so it doesn’t have any of those smells.

The second reason is based on the type of food people eat while camping. Almost everyone makes some type of meat while they are camping. Bacon, in particular, tends to always be eaten at camp sites. While this is delicious, and exactly what I make and eat at camp sites myself, it can cause a huge mess. Bacon grease in particular can congeal on your skillet and make it extremely difficult to cook on that skillet the next day.

For both of these reasons, the smartest thing to do is to clean your skillet after every use to ensure you don’t deal with animals or meat grease the next day.

So how do I clean my skillet while camping?

As mentioned earlier, most people don’t pack a cleaning brush or extra oil with them while camping. For that reason, you may need to get a little creative to clean it. This strategy below is what I do.

First, make your meal and eat your food as you normally would. However, make sure to keep the skillet hot while you are doing so. The skillet doesn’t need to be on a lit stove, or on the fire, but should be kept close enough to a heat source that it’s still warm.

This is incredibly important because it will keep the grease from congealing on the skillet!

Once you are done with your meal, it’s time to fill it with water.

If you are by a lake, then I’d recommend picking up the skillet, carrying it to the lake, and scooping up lake water with the skillet. Be careful here and make sure to wrap something around your hand as the skillet will be very hot. Try to fill the skillet to the brim with water.

If you aren’t by a lake, then carefully pour water into the skillet, again up to the brim. Be careful here as you’ll get a lot of steam escape here. The steam will be quite hot here.

For both scenarios, it is not important for the water to be cleaned and purified. The reason why is you are about to boil that water.

Put the skillet, now full with water, back onto the heated stove or the fire.

Your goal now is to keep the skillet on the heat until the water has reached a boil. Once boiling, you want the skillet to stay on the heat and let the water boil for at least another 20 minutes. You should notice the water level decline dramatically as the water burns off.

After you’ve noticed this water level drop, carefully check the skillet. Most, if not all, noticeable clumps of food should be gone. If you still have some, leave the skillet boiling for a bit longer.

Once the noticeable water clumps are gone, it’s time to bring the skillet off the heat. Carefully remove the skillet and pour off the boiling water. Place the skillet in a secure, but out of the way, location.

With this skillet now dry, and it out of the way, you should be completely clean and ready for the next meal. Just make sure to dry off the skillet complete so that it doesn’t rust.

Why does boiling the water off clean the skillet?

The short answer, in my experience, is that the combination of the heat and the oxygenation of the water seen during the boil is enough to clear most food particles.

The only time you might not see boiling water clean off the entirety of the skillet is in case you accidentally burned some of the food. In that case, you might need to boil water for longer.

Do I need to oil the skillet?

Good skillet care says you should oil the skillet after every use. However, very few of us (Myself included) have the foresight to bring oil with us for a weekend camping trip.

For that reason, I think it’s almost-always okay to wait to oil the skillet until you return home if it is only a weekend long camping trip.

However, if you plan to be gone for more than a few days, then it is worth planning ahead to bring a small vial of oil with you in order to oil up your skillet between uses. That way, you can be sure that the skillet will absorb the natural protection it’s looking for.

See you at the campsite!