Why Everyone Should Have a Pie Iron

Make hot and toasty treats in minutes no matter where you are with this super handy campsite essential.

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May 24, 2021
By: Carlos Olaechea

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Cooking by the campfire

pie iron jam

Cooking by the campfire

Photo by: Erika Hatfield / Getty Images

Erika Hatfield / Getty Images

There is a certain allure to a grilled cheese sandwich. That combination of crispy, toasted bread and oozing melted cheese is arguably more than the sum of its parts. Tearing into one of these treats is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate as you witness the glistening cheese pull from in between slices of gilded bread. The same could be said about any toasted, grilled or fried sandwich. Even an otherwise boring cold sandwich can become luscious when you expose it to a little heat. However, it may not always be convenient or even possible to make a grilled cheese sandwich, at least not in the conventional way.

Camping or cooking outdoors is a perfect example. Toasty sandwich connoisseurs know that it normally takes a little prep and some equipment — a pan and a stove, for starters — to make one of these delicacies, and it’s not always feasible to lug those things around, even if they are portable. However, there has long been a solution to this dilemma that seasoned campers have treasured as part of their kits for decades: a pie iron.

What Is A Pie Iron?

A pie iron is a cooking implement that consists of two concave metal plates connected by a hinge and attached to a long handle. If you look at one, it kind of resembles a waffle iron, but smaller and lacking the “tail” of an electric cord. They are intended to use while camping over an open flame, like a typical campfire. As such, the most traditional models are made out of cast iron, which is sturdy and can stand up to the high temperatures of a campfire. The long handle, which is usually outfitted with a wood or plastic grip, keeps your hands and the rest of your body at a safe distance from the flames so you can comfortably cook your food without cooking yourself in the process. Some models are made out of aluminum, which is not as heavy as cast iron. However, aluminum also lacks cast iron’s sturdiness and resilience against heat, meaning that these models can easily warp and get damaged. With careful handling, though, even an aluminum pie iron can last you a long time and a lot of sandwiches.

pie iron breakfast

Photo by: DelmasLehman / Getty Images

DelmasLehman / Getty Images

But Why Is It Called a Pie Iron?

You may be confused about why an instrument that’s ideal for making toasted sandwiches is called a pie iron. Well, there’s an additional feature to this tool that can answer that question. You see, the concave plates on a typical pie iron envelop the entire sandwich in metal, meaning that it gets cooked on all sides, almost like toasting it in an oven. As well, the edges of the cast iron plates crimp the edges of the sandwich, sealing in all the fillings. In effect, you’re left with a sandwich that resembles a hand pie or empanada.

But pie irons can also help you easily make pies, too, and not just sandwiches that look like pies. If you replace the bread with dough, you can bake a little personal pie almost anywhere you want. You can even cook a whole meal on a campfire using a pie iron — a calzone for your main course and berry pie for your dessert. You can even make a sumptuous French toast breakfast with this handy tool, like this

How to Use a Pie Iron

Pie irons are not only easy to use but quite enjoyable, too. The cast-iron models will slowly build a non-stick patina just like cast-iron skillets. However, you’re going to need to grease your pie iron first in order to build that slick coating on the inside, and a little butter or oil always helps your sandwiches or pies brown nicely. Coat the entire inside parts of your pie iron with an assertive amount of oil, butter, plant butter, lard or any other type of cooking fat. Then add your pre-assembled sandwich and close the pie iron shut. Many models include a locking mechanism to keep the pie iron shut until it’s done cooking. This is particularly handy if you’re handing it over to a small child who may lose their grip on it, making their sandwich tumble into the fire and most likely ending in tears. If your pie iron doesn’t lock, make sure to clamp down firmly on the handles to prevent the iron from opening while cooking.

Now just hold the pie iron over a campfire for about three to four minutes and flip to cook for another three to four minutes. If you are using a cast-iron model, you can place the pie iron right on the embers and turn it after a couple of minutes. This approach may damage aluminum models, however. After a couple of minutes, you can open your pie iron to check on the progress of your sandwich or whatever else you’re cooking. This won’t harm the food at all. Pie irons are very forgiving. Once your sandwich looks like a proper toasted sandwich, it’s ready to eat. Just be very careful handling the pie iron and make sure to grab it by the wood or plastic grips to avoid burns. Other types of foods, particularly pies made with raw dough, may take some additional time.

Pie Irons Aren’t Just for Camping

A pie iron isn’t just a one-trick pony. As previously mentioned, you can make a pretty wide variety of foods with this nifty tool from a simple grilled cheese to sumptuous fruit pies and even a stuffed pizza. You can even bake biscuit dough or cinnamon rolls in them with some practice. However, you don’t need to wait to explore the great outdoors to make good use of your pie iron. Pie irons also work incredibly well on both gas and charcoal grills. Whether you want to make some melty, cheesy sandwiches in your backyard or patio or treat your cookout guests to hot pie a la mode, a pie iron is a great tool to include in your grilling setup. On cool nights when your friends are family are gathered around a fire pit, you can whip out your pie iron to make tasty snacks without getting up from the warmth of your chair.

You can also use your pie iron inside the home. If you have a fireplace, you can toast sandwiches or make pies and other baked goods right in your living room. This is a great activity to do with kids. Models with shorter handles can also be used on the stovetop, especially if you have a gas range. However, even electric stoves work well with pie irons. Even on a rainy day you can have the experience of campfire cooking with a pie iron by your side.

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