Making Camp Waffles

27 June 02017 (4 weeks ago)5 minutes of your time

I’ll admit that I have uttered the words to a few people that I didn’t think I NEEDED any more cast iron.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to buy anymore. Rather, I think I have reached a point where I have a complete set. I’m not missing anything obvious to imply that I’ve got all my cooking bases covered as far as meal preparation goes. A small variety of skillets and pans. A couple deep dishes. A flat grill. A dutch oven. I’m not actively looking for any additional pieces to complete my hypothetical so-called “set” of pans.

But, that said, if I find something interesting…

…like, say, a cast iron waffle iron…

…I might definitely be tempted to add it to my collection…

…which might have… already… happened.

We have this epic five day camping backpacking camping adventure planned for an undisclosed date later this summer. Mountain trails, lightweight gear, dehydrated food, water purifiers, and rugged boots: that type of trip.

We used to do more of that… pre-parenthood. With Claire creeping up on double digits, we’re tenuously giving it another whirl this summer again after a ten-year hiatus.

Thus, we’ve been haunting camping outfitter stores, the kinds of places that sell lightweight gear, dehydrated food, water purifiers, rugged boots, and cast iron waffle grills.

There seems to be roughly three quality levels when it comes to cast iron: the high end, finely polished, kickstarter exclusives or enameled stuff which costs hundreds of dollars is on the top end. I don’t own any of this. (Not yet, anyhow.) Then there is the middle ware, the stuff that comprises the bulk of my collection, which is quality, durable cast iron that comes rough from the forge, pre-seasoned and basically ready-to-use but ripe for some TLC if you’re into that. This is firmly in the middle of the price and quality range. On the bottom end are the camp quality pieces. These are usually forged overseas, or generally rough, a few burrs or cut marks still visible, rarely ready-to-use without a few hours effort, but at a level of toss-it-in-the-fire-to-burn-off-the-marshmallow level of cast iron. You find this at outdoors stores, cheap at the big box hunting supply place, that kind of thing. I’m not afraid of a owning a few of these — and I do — but I wouldn’t make them primary parts of my set.

The new waffle iron is firmly in the camping category.

So, rather than buy the all-important backpacking gear we went to shop for, I left with an “I’m not taking this up a mountain” cast iron waffle iron.

It’s more of a weekend camping-at-the-lake piece.

It didn’t come seasoned. It came waxed (to prevent rusting) and with a rough (but confusing if this was, say, your introduction to cast iron seasoning) explanation of how to achieve peak waffle with this apparatus.

I got it home, washed it, burned off the layer of paraffin (resulting in billowing smoke in my kitchen), seasoned it in a first hot-oven round (resulting in billowing smoke in my kitchen), and then cooked a batch of waffles (resulting in a a million waffle fragments scraped from a not-quite-seasoned-enough waffle iron). That same night I cleaned it up again from the waffle detritus and then I seasoned it one last time in a hot-oven (yes, resulting in more billowing smoke in my kitchen).

The cast iron which had a soft, silver pewter color when I bought it, was now somewhere between a burnt copper hue and a gunmetal grey sheen.

I was warming up the barbecue for burgers last night and, realizing that I was going to need to run a few more trials with the waffle prep. I could imagine how many frustrated campers haul this thing out the woods, prop it over a campfire for the first time fresh from the store labels and wax still dripping from the piece, and then proceed to try and cook breakfast on an unseasoned pair of waffle plates. As an unofficial cast iron evangelist, I can tell you that they would be sorely disappointed. Cast iron can be an amazing cooking tool, but raw it is virtually useless. The seasoning process is a smokey, slow, nurturing effort where oil is carbonized to the steel leaving a surface that is charred black and as non-stick as any buttered Teflon.

I was warming up the barbecue for burgers last night and mixed up a quick batch of waffles. I filled the waffle grates with oil, swooshed it around, then flipped them face down to try another impromptu seasoning. Smoke filled the backyard. Flames touched the skies. The irons were so hot the industrial strength oven mitts gave me just barely a few seconds of handling time to flip and ready them for batter.

But… waffle success.

We actually made a half dozen barbecued waffles in the backyard, and my new irons are scarred black with a perfect seasoning ready for the wilderness… or at least a campsite by a lake a in a few weeks.


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