Tips for Cooking With Fire and Cast Iron

Nov 9, 2023

What makes gathering around the fire with friends or family even better? Cooking your favorite foods over the flame and sharing a delicious home-cooked meal.

When you’re cooking with a live flame, it’s tricky to have control over temperature. However, you still have control over plenty of other elements to cook up a great spread. The tips below will help you master cooking with fire and cast iron, whether making steak and veggies for dinner or prepping breakfast at your favorite campsite.

Cook With a Base of Coals

For optimal heat while cooking with cast iron, you want to start with a bed of coals in your firepit. Build a fire in your fire pit and allow 4 to 6 medium logs to burn down. This will create a base to radiate heat to warm up your cast iron griddle, grill, or wok. Once that base of coals has been established, you can still continue to add small logs to keep a flame going. However, it’s important to keep flame height in mind. A flame that’s higher than a few inches will typically be too hot for cooking.

Preheating is Key

Cast iron needs to be preheated just like you would preheat a pan on your indoor kitchen’s stovetop. Just as your fire is burning down to coals, securely place the cooktop hub on the firepit and place the cast iron on top. Allow the cast iron to heat up for 5 to 10 minutes before you begin cooking. If you want to check the precise temperature before you throw food on the fire, use an infrared thermometer.

Use Fire Gloves

If you’re cooking with fire, things are definitely heating up. Typically, you’ll have a nice fire going before you place the cooktop hub and griddle, grill, or wok on your fire pit to start preheating. Heat-resistant gloves will help to protect your hands while getting things set up or adding more fuel to the fire.

Be Aware of Heat Zones

Because the bed of hot coals will be at the center of your firepit, the center of your cast iron griddle will be a bit hotter for cooking compared to the outer surrounding. This can be used to your advantage. If you’re cooking multiple items, cook foods such as vegetables first. That way, once they’re cooked, you can utilize the edges of the griddle to keep them warm without overcooking. Then, the center is free to finish items such as meats, making for a hot surface for searing steaks, flipping burgers, or cooking chicken.

Cooking With Butter Versus Oil

While a well-seasoned cast iron pan may be non-stick, sometimes, you might be cooking something that requires butter or oil. If so, it’s key to think about smoke point to find the best fit. If you use something with a lower smoke point, and it heats up too hot, the fat starts to break down. This will introduce bitter, burnt flavors in your food.

Butter has a low smoke point of just over 300 degrees, so using it at a lower heat is best. Canola oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil all have much higher smoke points.

Don’t Fear the Char

Part of the beauty of cast iron cooking is the flavor it imparts on food, and that’s all thanks to a bit of charring. When cooking inside in our home kitchens, we typically don’t cook with high enough heat to create this reaction. However, outside on the open flame, it’s almost impossible to avoid. Charring happens when foods are cooked to a point just past caramelization, but they’re not burnt. Especially if you’re new to cooking over a live flame with cast iron, don’t fear the char marks you’ll see on your food. It adds a wonderful layer of complexity to a dish.

What Can I Cook on Cast Iron

The possibilities are endless, whether you’re cooking on a cast iron griddle, grill, or in a wok. Because of the way cast iron retains heat, it’s ideal for searing meats such as steaks or cooking burgers, strips of bacon, or whole sausages. Vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, and zucchini cook beautifully on cast iron. And of course, breakfast staples such as pancakes and French toast, toast, eggs, hash browns, and sausage patties are always great additions to the cast iron cooking menu.