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How to Keep Pots From Turning Black

Cooking over fire

How do you keep pots from your mess kit from turning black when using them over a fire?

— Seared Sandi in Hamburg, N.Y.

A: Don’t cook over a fire! Just kidding — sort of. Actually, cooking over a camp stove is the best way to avoid blackened pots. Plus it’s more efficient and better for the environment.

That said, we asked Mike Glavin of GSI Outdoors Inc., which makes some of the best camp pots, for tips on keeping your pots clean when cooking over campfires: “Rub bar soap on the pots before use, and try to keep your pots on a coal-bed, away from open flames. They will still get sooty, but the soap helps keep the soot from sticking — allowing for easier cleanup.”

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37 Comments on How to Keep Pots From Turning Black

  1. Mix Ash with water (till you get cement brick viscosity) and apply it to the utensil’s outer coating, which you want to prevent from blackening.
    Ancient Indian household technique.

  2. In the BWCA we used a liquid dish soap on the outside of our pots and pans when cooking over wood. Which we did for every meal that required cooking. I don’t think we even had a stove with us since I never saw it. The liquid dish soap worked really well and cleans all the soot off very easily. Plus with a liquid soap vs a bar soap you get much more even coverage.

  3. Why not use one layer of aluminum foil on the outter part of the pot.
    Once you’re done with cooking,pull the foil off and all clean.

  4. Used tube shaving cream. It was thick and easy to apply to the outside of the pan and the soot would wash right off. Never use soap on the cooking surface of cast iron.

  5. I’ve been told to wrap my aluminum cookware with a toesack and soak with kerosene to remove really thick gunk. Will that work. The pot is really nasty, but it is a nice pot so don’t want to throw it away. The dish soap method to prevent this sounds like a good think. Thanks for your answer.

  6. Willy_Wonka // May 20, 2016 at 11:45 pm // Reply

    Great info everyone.
    Please remember no soap on cast iron pots or pans. This will remove the nonstick properties.
    Use salt on a dry cast iron to scrub clean.

    Knowledge is Power.

    • Put coarse salt on pot and scrub with half of a potato. Sounds wierd, but it’s worked for me. It will even remove rust from an old cast iron, so look for them at sales, people often don’t know they can be brought back to life.

  7. My wife didn’t like my black cookware and wanted it thrown away. I refused to discard my cast iron. πŸ™‚

    • It’s okay to use modern soaps on cast iron. In the older days, soap used to contain lye, and that can negatively affect the seasoning. Most dish soaps today are gentile enough to use on cast iron.

  8. You could always apply toothpaste at the underside of the pots too! It’s convenient cause you’ll definitely need to bring toothpaste along. Besides, it makes scrubbing easier when you have a ball of foil to scrub off the blacken parts!

    • Folks I just did a good job of cleaning my Bush Buddy water pot , by rubbing it with comet !! It did the trick !really nice ! Good luck and thanks !

  9. Here’s a backwoods trick; let it get black. Simply soap and water off the loose stuff. The darker it gets, the more evenly it heats. Also, the darker it gets, the more outdoor expert you look. The “tenderfoot / greenhorn” has shiny everything (shoes, pack, tools, etc). I keep my black bottomed cookware in a pull string pouch.

  10. Anonymous // May 26, 2014 at 3:33 pm // Reply

    what gets it off if you havent done the soap trick?

    • White vinegar. Soak blackened pots in a sink of hot soapy water with a cup of white vinegar overnight and the black stuff will wash right off the next morning.

    • bleach works real good

      • Do not leave cast iron in vinegar for more than 6-8 hours. The vinegar will pit the surface if left too long. Reseason well after a good scrub. We absolutely love our stainless steel chain mail cast iron cleaner.

    • Anonymous // May 7, 2019 at 12:22 pm // Reply

      πŸ€” Elbow grease πŸ˜‰

  11. Soap your good pots: Dawn works best, Camp Suds works so-so. To avoid all of this, I have our boys use food-service cans with bail wire handles. That way once the campout is over, simply toss the can; no washing.

  12. what I need to know is what to do if a coating of liquid dish soap did not work well & tha pan is borrowed. we would like to return as it came to us & so that is not possible. have used soap & water, baking soda, SOS pads, green scrubbers &

    Scotchbrite erasing pads. any ideas?

    • eagle7-25-10 // December 10, 2010 at 3:37 pm // Reply

      my troop does coat the bottom and the sides of our pots with dishsoap before cooking to prevent the pot itself from turning black. it does char the soap, but it is a lot easier to remove the soap from the pot rather than the char from the pot itself

  13. When hubby & I were first dating he went to the BWCA and brought back the blackened pots for me to clean (gee thanks hon) and the soap trick did wonders! Only they didn’t put it up the sides far enough and there was still some scorching, but the soap did wonders. They used liquid soap and put on a good thick coat.

    Its just too bad that cast iron is so heavy .. there’s nothing quite like cast iron cooking! But if you have to pack it to your campsite, it gets too heavy too quickly

  14. young scouter // March 1, 2008 at 9:24 pm // Reply

    i agree with prez down there leave them be

  15. Anakin – the black soot from a campfire tends to stick on whatever it touches. If you coat the outside of your pot with soap (we always used liquid soap when I was a kid) the campfire soot will stick to the soap. The pot will still look a mess, but when it comes to clean-up time the soap washes right off the pot and the soot goes away with the soap.

  16. why does soap help

  17. Baddog in Brandon,SD // January 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm // Reply

    Soap anyware except for cleaning is a mess and eventually gets into the food! My solution is to cover the grill the pots and pans go on with foil. The heat will go thru it the soot will pass around. Remember, foil is your friend. Use it often. We line the inside of our dutch ovens with it when baking and clean up is a breeze! Also, do not throw it away! Foil is 100% recyclable, add it to your soda cans and other aluminum to be recycled and earn funds for that next camp out! Oh, don’t forget to feed the Dog!

  18. Let your pots blacken. It makes them heat more efficiently, especially if they are shiny uncoated aluminum or steel. Darker colors absorb more heat, try wearing a black t-shirt, and then switch to a white one on a hot day. You can feel the difference. Thats why they make solar panels black, so they take in more energy from the sun. The soot might get on your stuff inside your pack, but to solve that problem just put them in a trash bag.

  19. PROFESSER PESTER // November 29, 2007 at 7:09 pm // Reply

    Try using dish degergent as twotall2 said also

    try army mess kits as well my friend has one they don’t blackin as easily

  20. Running in the back country // October 15, 2007 at 4:34 pm // Reply

    Liquid or bar soap will work, however you must stress to the Scouts to soap only the OUTSIDE of the pot!

  21. I have never used that!

  22. Liquid Dish soap works as well,that’s what I’ve been taught and teach,Straight out of the bottle rubbing it all over just the outside of pots/pans BEFORE EACH use.

  23. awsomescout // August 20, 2007 at 4:25 pm // Reply

    i dosent really matter if the bottom of the kit is black it wont hurt it…and i think army mess kits are the best

  24. buy an army mess kit

  25. agent doolin, C.I.A. // August 4, 2007 at 5:20 am // Reply

    perfect for backpacking

  26. My father bought me 2 metal mess kits and they bend easily. Then we went to the store and bought me a thick metal mess kit. Now my new mess kit shouldn’t bend at all.

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