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What Is A Pie Iron?

Two Rome pie irons in campfire

We van camp a lot and a pie iron is one fundamental item we take on every trip. Pie irons take up very little room and are perfect for camp cooking.

So what is a pie iron? A pie iron is a simple cooking utensil designed to cook directly over a campfire. It has two cupped metal cooking plates hinged to fit together. A long metal rod is attached to each plate with a wooden handle so that you can hold it over the fire without burning your hands.

We just got back from a recent camping trip where we used pie irons to cook some great meals. I wanted to write this post for those of you who are unfamiliar with pie irons so you can consider them for your next camping trip.

What could be more satisfying than using one of nature’s basic elements to cook some good food? Almost everything tastes better when cooked over an open fire.

Still not sure what a pie iron is?

If you’re scratching your head, wondering what the heck a pie iron is let me explain in a little more detail. First, maybe you know them by a different name.

  • Jaffle iron
  • Sandwich toaster
  • Toastie iron
  • Pudgie pie iron

As you can see they are known by various names, but they all refer to a popular campfire cooking utensil used to cook a variety of food items.

The pie iron is comprised of two separate pieces, a top and bottom, each piece has a cupped metal cooking compartment with a long metal rod and a heat absorbing wooden handle.

There is a hinge on the cupped metal end that pivots allowing the pie iron to be opened and to separate into two pieces.

When closed the long metal rods allow you to hold the pie iron over the hot coals of a campfire and cook the enclosed food item. When used properly there is little risk of burning your hands.

Pie irons come in a number of different designs; square and round as well as some specialty irons like the waffle iron, bread baker and hot dog cooker.

Also available are rectangular double pie irons that allow the cooking of two sandwiches at a time and when open and separated each half can be used as a mini skillet.

What’s better a square or round pie iron? It’s just a personal preference, the square design is the best selling model simply because it has a large cooking cavity perfect for sandwiches. People like the round design because it locks in flavor by crimping the bread and forming a seal around the edge.

Pie irons are available in both cast iron & aluminum and according to one manufacturer’s website each type has it pros and cons.

  • Aluminum pie irons are lightweight and easy to hold over the campfire, but aluminum can warp or even melt if placed too near the coals for an extended amount of time.
  • Cast iron pie irons are rugged and durable and you can place them directly in the coals; however cast iron is heavier than aluminum which makes them tiring to hold.
Infographic of pie iron pros and cons

Which metal is the best choice for you depends on a number of factors. Look at the pros and cons and decide from there. We purchased the cast iron partly for its durability, but mostly because we like to cook in cast iron. You can read more about cast iron pie irons on our recommended gear page.

How do I season a pie iron?

If you plan on buying the aluminum pie iron or an aluminum pie iron with a non-stick coating, no seasoning is necessary. Before you use it for the first time wash it thoroughly a couple times with soap and hot water.

A cast iron pie iron, like a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven needs to be seasoned before you use it.

After removing the pie iron from the packaging you’ll find a thin film of paraffin wax, this is applied by the manufacturer to prevent rusting during shipping. You can remove the wax by scrubbing it with soap and warm water or by heating the metal cooking plates over a charcoal grill or campfire.

I held mine over the campfire for approximately 10 minutes to melt and burn off the wax coating. Then while it was still warm, I washed it in warm soapy water using a soft bristled vegetable brush to clean and remove any remaining residue.

After washing, I dried the pie iron and applied a thin coat of solid shortening (vegetable oil also works well). Then I held it back over the campfire until it began to smoke, flipping to get a even coating.

When cool enough I wiped it clean and repeated the process a total of four times to get a good coating. Just like any cast iron pan the more you use it the more seasoned it will get.

Square pie irons are seasoned the round pie iron is not

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How do I care for a pie iron?

Once the pie iron is seasoned you shouldn’t need to repeat the process again, but you do need to do some simple preventive maintenance to keep it in good working condition.

After each use be sure to clean the pie iron with hot water and a sponge or soft bristle brush, do not use soap as it may remove the non-stick finish that was built up during the seasoning process.

Once cleaned, dry it completely with a towel and apply a light coat of vegetable oil to prevent rusting between uses. A well maintained cast iron pie iron will last for many years.

If for some reason your pie iron begins to rust use steel wool to remove the rust, wash it in warm, soapy water then follow the seasoning procedure listed above. Your pie iron will be as good as new.

How do I use a pie iron?

Pie irons are a favorite way to cook whether you’re roughin’ it in the great outdoors or just relaxing in the backyard.

It couldn’t be any easier, open the pie iron and spray the inside of each plate with cooking spray. Butter one side of two slices of bread. Then lay one slice butter side down in the bottom half of the pie iron and press down to form an indentation.

Now add your favorite ingredients, then place the second piece of bread on top with butter side up, close the two halves and lock it closed, and then hold it over a bed of hot coals, after a few minutes flip it over to cook the other side.

Pie iron laying on burning campfire wood

The hardest part of the whole process is figuring out when your food is done. Every campfire is different and your food will cook a little different each time. You probably won’t get it perfect the first time, however with a little practice you’ll quickly get the knack for how long it takes.

You don’t want your meal burnt and over done, so open the pie iron and check to see how the outside layer is browning. If it’s not brown enough, close it back up and continue to cook until you get a golden brown outer layer and a bubbling hot center.

When everything is cooked to perfection, simply unhook the latch and drop your meal onto a plate, if it doesn’t pop out use a metal fork or knife to loosen it. Food cooked in a pie iron is extremely hot, so allow it to cool a bit before eating. I know I’ve burned the roof of my mouth more than once, enough said on that!

What can I cook in a pie iron?

You can cook a variety of things in a pie iron, there are countless combinations that you can create from sweet to savory and you’re only limited by your imagination and culinary creativity.

Every meal breakfast through dinner and dessert can be prepared in a pie iron. Almost anything you can stuff into it and still close the lid you can cook. Some of our favorite items are toasted sandwiches, cinnamon rolls and fruit filled dessert pies.

However, you certainly are not limited to always cooking between two pieces of bread. Experiment a little and try using English muffins, hash browns, tortillas, pizza dough, puff pastry as well as crescent rolls.

Related Questions

Can I use my pie iron on the barbecue? Yes, you can. However, there are specifically designed pie irons for use over a barbecue grill, camp or gas stove. They are manufactured with the same high quality cooking plates; the only difference is they have shorter handles.

How can I make cooking with pie irons easier when camping? When you go camping you want to be able to fix your meals as fast and easy as possible. Prepping everything that you can before you leave home will make that easier. Cut all vegetables and fruit to size, shred cheese and pre-cook meat ahead of time, place in separate containers to take along on your camping trip.

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The western part of the country draws me with its mountains, deserts, and red rock vistas. Still, there are numerous other wonders I'm ready to explore., from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.