This year, Robby and I finally took a vacation…sort of. I’m not sure it really counts as a vacation if you take your two-year-old with you. Let’s just call it a “change in scenery,” shall we?
Anyway, we needed to get out of the house after being isolated for so long due to the pandemic, and I needed to smell the ocean, badly. Now, there are lots of options for beach rentals here in Florida, but they cost…a lot. A few years ago, Robby introduced me to cabin rentals at state parks. While some cabins may actually be log cabins, the ones in the panhandle are usually concrete duplexes or mobile homes. The benefit is that you get plenty of square feet, your own kitchen and bathroom, and the feel of camping without having to sleep on the ground or purchase your own camper trailer (which Robby hopes is in our near future).
Now that we have a two-year-old, these cabins are even more ideal because they give us some privacy (so no one complains when Gordon has a tantrum), and they allow us to cook what we want when we want (’cause who wants to take a toddler to a restaurant three meals a day?).
This year, we stayed at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. It used to be a retirement community, so it has a really quaint layout of mobile homes with plenty of room to ride bikes. In the past, we’ve stayed in duplex at Grayton Beach, which was also really nice. Depending on the season, these go for about $100-150 a night. Totally doable.
Now, here’s the trick with cabin camping: you have to know what to bring. Usually, these places will provide clean linen and towels, dish soap and kitchen towels, an oven mitt, and a few kitchen necessities like a measuring cup, a bowl, a cookie sheet, and a frying pan—a cheap, chemical nonstick frying pan. And this is why you’ll want to pack your trusty cast-iron pan.
Here are ten tips for cast-iron cooking, cabin style:
1 – Cast-iron cookware can be used on the stove, in the oven, and on the grill. These campsites all come with a small charcoal grill, perfect for burgers and steaks. However, you can also put your veggies or fish in your pan and place it right on the grill. This year, Robby made burgers outside and I made a batch of skillet French fries in the oven—a welcome treat after a hot day in the sun.
2 – If you’re eyeing that bonfire outside, you should know that yes, you can cook in a skillet over an open fire. However, cast iron can warp in high heat, so don’t place it right on the fire. Instead, rake some coals to the side, and put it on them. Campfire cooking is a real art, so watch your food closely and treat it as a fun learning experience.
3 – You can use the same cast-iron pan to cook breakfast in the morning, burgers for lunch, and tuna steaks for supper. Bring some mild dish detergent and oil so you can clean out any residue and perform a light seasoning to keep your pan ready for the next round. (See Modern Cast Iron to lean more about my light seasoning technique.)
4 – Cast iron gets super hot. Don’t rely on the cloth mitt that comes with the cabin. Bring your own silicone or leather oven mitt.
5 – Bring your metal spatulas. Since the cabin will most likely have chemical nonstick pans, they’ll only provide cheap plastic spatulas that will melt on cast iron.
6 – Bring oil and butter to cook with. If you like to use a different oil to season your pan, bring that, too.
7 – Plan your meals in advance. If you know you want to cook something that requires a lid, be sure to bring one. If you know you’ll need to cook two items at the same time and will need two pans, then bring a second one.
8 – If you have a lightweight pan (like this Blacklock pan from Lodge), you may want to bring it just to cut down on weight. We completely loaded down our car this year with supplies for Gordon, so I appreciated having a lighter-weight pan to carry in and out of the car.
9 – Cabin stoves always have cheap electric ranges—the kind with coils that can get wobbly over time. Cast iron is heavy, so your pan may tilt to the side. (In the picture to the right, you’ll see my first attempt at making fried eggs. I ended up making scrambled eggs instead!) Before you turn on the range, determine which coil is the most level and use it. This is another reason to bring a lightweight pan if you have one.
10 – Electric stoves cycle through temperatures, which can make them very hot one minute and rather cool the next. Start off on low heat and slowly work your way up to to medium before adding oil or food. This will help you gauge how the range works and avoid over heating your pan and burning your food.
So, what’s for dinner? You’re going to be starving after sitting on the beach all day, but you’re not going to want to spend all evening in the kitchen. So keep it simple! When you’ve had your fill of burgers and hot dogs, consider pasta dishes, sausage and peppers, and fish filets served with rice. Here are some recipes from my blog to get you started:
If you want to vacation with the family on a budget, then check out the cabin rentals at your local state park. Just remember to bring your favorite cast-iron pan—and its accessories—so you can save money while eating well.
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