Camping Cookware: Chef Advice on Stainless steel Cookware

camping without a refrigerator

Stainless steel camping cookware is durable, cleans easily and won’t react with acidic foods. They tend to scorch food due to hot spots, can cost more and are not the lightest of options for camping. Stainless Steel is great for camping as long as you know its limitations. 

As a chef who loves to get out into the outdoors, I have to say I love my cooking kit. Having a cook set for camping that I can rely on is very important. Here I will share my knowledge from my experience using Stainless Steel cookware for camping.

Warning, this article contains lots of great advise with a little humor mixed in for good measure.

What is stainless Steel?

From the research I carried out online, I have found that stainless Steel is an Iron and Chromium Alloy.  Along with Iron and Chromium, stainless Steel can also comprise other additives such as Nickel, Carbon, and Copper, just to name a few.

Some of the reasons for adding these extra additives are to increase corrosion resistance, improve strength and increase temperature resistance.

Stainless steel camping cookware may contain some or all of these additives. It does depend on the quality of the product and its intended use. The more ingredients added into making this stainless steel cookware, the higher the cost, weight and quality.

Is stainless steel good for camping
Stainless Steel Nesting Cook-set

Is Stainless Steel Good for Camping?

Stainless steel camping cookware is a great option for camping if you like shiny things and are not bothered too much about weight. They are also very durable, so this is something to consider when buying stainless steel camping cookware.

The drawback for me regarding stainless steel camping cookware is that the lower quality and even some mid-range models love to burn food. 

Stainless Steel isn’t the best at conducting heat, and they tend to develop hot spots that can quickly scorch the pan and the food.

To improve the heat resistance of stainless steel camping cookware, you would need pots and pans with a heavy bottom base. A base with copper is fantastic for conducting heat and reduces the risk of developing hot spots. The problem with this is it adds weight and price to your camping cookware.

I’ve used stainless steel pots and pans while camping and also in a professional kitchen. The results have always been the same a cheap stainless steel pot, or pan will scorch food on the bottom and often up the side.

Heavier stainless steel pots and pans are fantastic in the kitchen at home or for professional use. Still, they are not something you want to have in your backpack weigh you down.

If all you are using your stainless steel pot or pan is to boil water, then you never have to worry about hot spots. Stainless Steel will be the perfect option for those looking to boil water for tea or coffee or to pour into a boil in the bag type meal.

The benefits of Stainless Steel Camp Cookware

In the article, I have talked a little about some of the drawbacks of using stainless Steel above. I think sharing some information about the benefits of using stainless steel camping cookware is important. 

These are what I believe are the benefits of using stainless steel cookware for camping:

  • Easy to clean, even when they scorch.
  • They are durable and will last you years.
  • They won’t react with acidic foods like tomato sauce or vinegar-based dishes.
  • Lightweight if you don’t choose a heavy base.
  • Very easy to find and buy in stores.
  • They keep a shine for a long time when cleaned properly.
Is stainless steel good for camping
Stainless Steel is great as a water bottle

Can you use stainless Steel over a campfire?

You can easily use stainless steel camping cookware over an open fire. You just have to take certain precautions and know their limitations.

Stainless Steel conducts heat very fast, primarily because it scorches food so fast. If you are using a stainless steel pot with a stainless steel handle, then the handle will get very hot over an open fire. 

The best stainless steel pots to use are ones with a removable handle, i.e. a pot grip or pot hanger. I always recommend handling your stainless steel pots with heat-resistant gloves for safety. The last thing you need is to get a nasty burn while camping.

Remember that with stainless Steel, you will always have to deal with the problem of hot spots. Controlling your heat source is a great way of reducing the chances of scalding your pot and food.

When using stainless steel cookware over an open fire, try to control the pot’s distance from the heat. Preferably you want to be cooking over hot coals instead of a big flame. Big flames create soot on your pots, and the heat is inconsistent.

Cook over or next to hot coals will give you a better heat source for cooking your food. If you don’t have a way of hanging your pot over the coals, try placing the stainless steel pot next to the coals or use a wire rack.

Often it is safe and easier to have them next to the coals so you don’t have to put your hands too close to the flames. I’ve been burning my hands for years working in restaurant kitchens, so heat normally isn’t an issue, but I always suggest people cook smart.

Alternatives to Stainless Steel Camp Cookware

Alternatives to Stainless steel camp cookware; we have a few to choose from.

First, when picking your camping cookware, you need to decide what is best for your budget and needs.

As a professional chef, I need to control my heat and have a cookset which gives me plenty of options and is sturdy for outdoor use. I don’t want camping cookware that is too heavy, but I also don’t want my camping pots or pans to burn or scald my food.

Hard-anodised Camping Cookware

My choice in a camping cookset is to use aluminium pots and pan that has a coating of hard anodised Steel. Using aluminium ( or aluminum for my American friends) cookware dramatically reduces my weight. When it has a hard anodised coating, this makes it durable and scratch resistant. I find the heat conductivity of hard anodised pans to be fantastic. You get fewer hot spots, and the chances of burning or scalding are greatly diminished.

If you want to read about my camping cook-set read my aritlce on my Trangia Review or where I compare the Trangia 25 vs the Trangia 27. I think you will find it interesting and you can see what I prefer to use.

Is stainless steel good for camping
My Choice in Camping Cookware

Non-Stick Camping Cookware

You can get camping cookware with a non-stick version that allows heat to transfer better, and your food won’t burn as much or stick to the pan. My problem with using non-stick pots and pans for camping is they scratch like crazy.

I know you can use your pots and pans for cooking and reduce the risk of scratching by using non-metal utensils, but what about storage and transporting them?

Most cooksets are made to nest into each other so you can fit them in your pack. Non-stick pans, although they work great, tend to scratch when you put other metal items inside them.

Of course, you can put tissue or clothes inside each pot or pan, which will help to some degree. I don’t want to deal with the issue, and I prefer cleaning up my pots and pans, slotting them into each other, then sticking them away and not having to worry.

For camping pots, I don’t really see the need for them to be non-stick, but if you did want to get something non-stick, then a small frying pan that you could nest with your kit might be ok. 

Just remember to protect it from scratching during storage.

Titanium Camping Cookware

Titanium is good for one thing: reducing the weight of what you carry and the weight you carry by reducing the weight of pots and pans and the weight of your wallet.

Titanium camping cookware has its place for camping, reducing weight and having something extremely strong. 

The pots and pans made of Titanium are very light and can take the harshest treatments out in the wild. They also look fantastic and are great for those who love their kit.

titanium camping cookset
Titanium Camping cooks-set

Titanium tends to have the same issue as stainless Steel in cooking in that they don’t conduct heat well. They, too, will scorch and burn your food, but they will do it in Titanium style.

If you want to buy something Titanium so you can tell everyone you use Titanium, get yourself a mug. Titanium camping mugs will last you a lifetime. You don’t have to worry about scorching or burning food, and they will reduce the weight you carry just a tiny bit.

Full Titanium pots and pans are great for people with a lot of money and very little sense (hello there my American friends).

Cast Iron Camping Cookware.

Unless you are camping out of a car or motorhome or have a horse-drawn wagon, I will leave your cast Iron camping cookware at home.

Cast Iron is fantastic for durability, heat conductivity and adding massive amounts of flavour to your meats. I love cat Iron cookware, just not in my backpack.

Cast Iron has its place. Cast Iron is amazing if you are not walking a great distance to set up camp but have some mode of transport instead.

You can use cast iron like an oven by covering it with hot coals. It retains heat for a long time, allowing for long slow cooking over an open fire. With cast Iron, you get the best char on meat when searing it because it won’t drop in temperature as rapidly as other metals. It’s amazing to use, but it weighs a lot.

This is not something you will be carrying with you hanging off your backpack like some hobbit running off over the hill on an adventure.

Cast Iron camping cookware is for families over a campfire with your car very nearby. It just weighs too much to be carrying around to justify using it. Plus, if you try using a cast Iron pan or pot with a camping stove, you are more than likely to run out of gas before you get the cast Iron up to the temperature to cook your food.

Final recommendation on Stainless Steel Camping Cookware.

 Stainless steel camping cookware is great for hiking and camping all year around. You can cook almost anything you want using stainless steel cookware; you just have to learn how your pots and pans cook. Learn where your hotspots are and control your temperature; you will have no problem cooking camping meals.

If you are just boiling water for camping, then stainless Steel is the perfect choice for camping. 

When choosing your camping cookware, you must tailor it to your needs and budget. I hope this article has given you a better understanding of stainless cookware and you can decide to build a cookset you will love and enjoy, 

After all, haven’t we all taken up camping and hiking just for the kit!

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