Selecting the perfect cookware

Selecting the perfect cookware

We all need to eat, right? Whether you're preparing your food in a campground or in the back country, there is a need for pots and pans. With so many options out there, how do you decide if you want a stainless steel versus hard-anodized aluminum set? What material cooks the best, and which camping cookware sets have the amenities that will most accommodate your needs?  What is best for your outdoor kitchen?

Consider your cooking setup

Are you looking for camping cookware that will accommodate a group of four or more, two people, or just you? Will you primarily be cooking at a campsite with your vehicle nearby or far into the back country?

Backpacking setups

Backpacking (or back country) setups are quite different from what we would take along to a campsite if we were travelling in a vehicle. Weight is a huge factor to consider backpacking cookware, and you may care less about whether it cooks an egg evenly as most meals are centered around boiling water. Here, stoves are also quite different than what we typically use if travelling in vehicle.

Your backpacking stove needs to be lightweight, easily portable, resists the wind, and can be lit with kinder.  The backpacking stove you choose to purchase will affect the type of backpacking cookware set you choose.

Types of Materials

Camping cookware comes in a variety of materials to meet the needs of everyone. Each material has its key benefits and pitfalls, but understanding them will help you pick what fits best for your camping kitchen.

Aluminum - Cookware made from aluminum is typically affordable, but less durable than stainless steel.
Pros: Affordable while remaining lightweight, conducts heat well, and can quicken cooking time.
Cons: Raw aluminum can react with acid and alkaline foods; thus, changing their flavor. It will also dent and warp easily.  But if they are anodized they will be harder and not as reactive to certain foods.
Best Uses: Simmering foods.

Hard-Anodized Aluminum - Pros: "Hard-anodizing" is thicker coated than regular anodizing). This material is more durable than raw or regular anodized aluminum.
Cons: It's often combined with a non-stick coating which requires more maintenance.  It is more expensive than aluminum.
Best Uses: Cooking good meals with fresh ingredients.
Hard-anodized aluminum is the best when it comes to an all-around top choice for camping usage. It conducts heat evenly, is lightweight, and easy to clean, especially when coated with a non-stick finish. It's durable and resists abrasions.  It is a better choice for cooking meals with fresh ingredients, or temperature-sensitive foods like eggs because it disperses heat evenly across the cookware's surface,. It is also an efficient heat conductor, which helps to save fuel and allows for fast-packing.  

Titanium - Pros: Extremely lightweight. The thin wall construction allows pots/pans to heat quickly.
Cons: Creates hot spots because of poor heat conductivity. It is expensive compared to other available options.
Best Uses: Fast and easy for meals mostly involve boiling water.
Titanium is 45% lighter than steel and stronger than aluminum. It is the lightest cookware material you can buy without giving up strength. It's also corrosion-resistant and durable. Due to the thin walls used in titanium pots, it is ideal for boiling water.  You must beware of hot spots. Although titanium is light, the biggest downside is the expense of the material. Titanium sets are favored by fast and light users, who are concerned with eliminating weight wherever possible.

Stainless Steel - Pros: Durable material and scratch resistant.
Cons: Uneven cooking is prone to hot spots and is heavier than other cookware.
Best Uses: If you are hard on your cookware, this is for you.
Stainless steel camping cookware is between aluminum and titanium in terms of performance and suitability. It does not conduct heat well and will go through more fuel.  But remember - stainless steel is heavy yet it is by far the toughest and most scratch-resistant. This makes it  great option for back country travelers who  are in guided scenarios, where cooks prepare a lot of meals.

Cast Iron - Pros: Lasts a lifetime, cooks evenly, naturally non-stick, great for cooking or baking over stove or campfire.
Cons: Heavy and requires attention to seasoning so as to retain it's non-stick surface.
Best Uses: Not for back packing!
A cast iron skillet and dutch oven are great additions to your set, but because of the heaviness, is not a good material to carry. 

Non-Stick Coatings - Pros: Requires less cooking oil while preparing meals and makes for easy cleanup.
Cons: Scratches easily, breaks down quickly once scratched and this leads to ingesting the coating (not good!).   Camping cookware with a non-stick coating is simple cleanup, which also means less oil for cooking. 

Choose your pieces
You'll want an assortment of pots, skillets, lids, utensils, plates, bowls, and cups or mugs. Of course, your camping kitchen will depend largely on your activities, the stove you're using and number of mouths you're feeding.  A set of cookware that contains more pieces might not be the smartest choice if you use only a few.  Maybe select a couple of pots that can share the same size lid and sets that will pack inside one another.  When backpacking, you can usually use a single pot for two people since meals are more simple and smaller.

Cookware efficiency is also dependent on its color, pot diameter and height. Darker pots, especially with dark bottoms, tend to be more fuel efficient. As older cookware blackens from use, it becomes more efficient than new, shiny cookware. Wider diameter pots are more efficient than tall skinny ones, because more surface area is exposed to the flame. The most ideal pot, or skillet, in terms of heat efficiency is one that fits as close to the diameter of the burner you are using as possible.