Backcountry cooking can be an wonderful experience. Nothing beats kicking back with a hot meal to watch the sunset in a pristine alpine basin after a big day out. But when it comes to backcountry cookware, I've found most products on the market to be seriously lacking in either durability or functionality. And I'm not masochistic enough to lug around cast iron when backpacking.
Enter the Fry-Bake Expedition Pan. This pan is made of aluminum, so it's light, but it goes through a process called "hard anodization" to give it a much more rigid and durable structure than standard aluminum cookware. It feels similar in hardness to stainless steel or cast iron, but is much lighter. The pan is an absolute joy both to carry around and to cook with—a combination I haven't found in any other piece of cookware.
Instead of a built-in handle (which are oftentimes either incredibly flimsy or unduly bulky on backcountry pans), the Fry-Bake relies on a pair of pliers to use as a handle. You can get the purpose-built PotGripz Pliers from Fry-Bake, or just use a pair from the hardware store. Either way, you're guaranteed that your pan's handle is never going to break. Nor will it cause for cumbersome packing. The pliers will nest inside the pan (or any other void space in your pack) with plenty of room to spare. If you wanted to go lighter you could go with a hot-pad, oven mitt, or leather glove instead of pliers, but I like to have a handle for sautéing. Plus, you'll have an extra tool on hand for equipment repairs.
The Fry-Bake Expedition Lid (sold separately or as a set with the pan) is made of standard, non-anodized aluminum. I suspect this choice is to keep costs down, since the lid needn't be as durable as the pan. But the lid is rugged enough to put coals or build a mini fire on top of it—a technique approved by Fry-Bake to generate ambient heat for baking, as you would with a Dutch oven. I've used this technique to successfully bake cinnamon rolls, pizza, and butter biscuits in the backcountry. Bon appétit!
The Fry-Bake lid comes in two options: "standard" or "NOLS-style." You can read about the difference on the Fry-Bake website. I opted for the "NOLS-style" because durability is paramount to me, and I'll already be carrying pliers to use as a handle for the pan itself, which double as a handle for the NOLS-style lid.
By the way, NOLS uses the Expedition Fry-Bake on all of its trips, which is quite a testament to the pan's durability.
The Fry-Bake is very easy to clean and care for. It takes a serious singe for food to stick to its surface, and even so, a quick deglaze will easily take care of it. I made a whole mess of caramel rolls in mine, and the sticky burnt sugar came right off by simply adding some water to the pan and firing it up on the stove for a minute. It's designed to be used with metal cooking utensils, so if you really burn something onto it, you can scrape it off without worrying about scratching the hard-anodized surface.
The Expedition model is the largest-sized pan offered by Fry-Bake, with the Alpine and Deep Alpine models offered as smaller alternatives. I'm happy with the Expedition because its greater size makes for impressive versatility. Grilled burritos, rice pilaf, pasta bake... you name it, this pan can cook it.
So why aren't any big-name outdoor brands making versatile and indestructible pans like the Fry-Bake? Beats me; Fry-Bake has the market cornered in my book.
Available at frybake.com; $84 (pan only), $113 (set with lid).