In scouting, we were taught to coat the outside of our pots with dish soap as a way of minimizing the buildup of black crud on the sides and bottoms of our cook kit gear. It was always a messy task and after a while, that black coating gave those pots a classy, rustic, campfire kitchen look.
The real challenge was in cleaning the insides of those cooking pots. Learning to cook over hot coals meant that some food solids and liquids had a way of fusing themselves to the insides of those pots and pans. It took serious applications of elbow grease, scouring power and even sometimes the blade of a knife to get that pot to pass inspection.
We went through a lot of scouring powder and pads in our troop. Since those days I’ve used several scouring materials, both “store bought” and make-shift in emergencies.
There’s always the scouring pad sponges you can buy. They are easy to stow and bringing a packet along means you should be able to keep all your utensils and pans sparkling clean. If your campfire cooking includes steaming meals in aluminum pouches, save the foil, crumple it up and use it to scrub away the inside and outside of cooking vessels.
There’s always steel wool products such as Brillo™ pads, or those clumps of scrubbing coils. Both are convenient to have in reserve for those really defiant bits of food that are welded to your pans. Regular steel wool without the cleansing agents can also be carried in your survival pack as an emergency fire starter, too (although other materials work better for that).
Of course, Ma Nature is not to be outdone. She has plenty of abrasive options to use to scrub out pots and pans. There have been many times when I’ve just tossed in a clump of sand or small gravel into the pan with some water (soapy or otherwise) and scraped it all around to get off any tag-along food stuff. A simple rinse and perhaps a quick dry over the fire and those pots were plenty clean and healthy enough for the next meal.
We also learned about the “Indian Scrub Brush” in scouting – commonly called horse tails, it grows in moist areas and because it contains silica so the abrasiveness of its stems, crumbled up, can work as a makeshift scouring pad.
I’ll admit I am a bit lax in the degree of cleanliness when it comes to washing dishes in the field. Wiping and/or scraping out all the visible remains and rinsing with boiling water has worked for me these past several decades. And perhaps those visual vestiges of meals that do defy the onslaught of repeated scourings merely enhance those special flavors that only a meal cooked over a campfire can produce.
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