How to Cook While Camping

How to Cook While Camping

After a long day of exploring, the last thing you want when you get back to your camp site is a bad meal, and cooking while camping can be daunting. But there is plenty of equipment and gadgets that make it easy, fast, and fun to make gourmet meals in the wilderness! Cooking great meals while camping shouldn’t be stressful, and it doesn’t have to be limited to hot dogs and canned beans.

What You Need

The Essentials While there are many methods for cooking meals outdoors, there are two essential items that you’ll need no matter what.

Heat Source: Your heat source is the most important part when it comes to cooking your food. While camping, your heat source can be either your campfire or a camping stove. I prefer campfire cooking because of the smoky flavor it adds to the food, but it is difficult to regulate the temperature. Compact charcoal grills like this 14" Stainless Steel Portable Charcoal Grill are a great option if you don't want to bring propane. A gas camping stove, such as a stainless steel outdoor portable 2-Burner grill makes cooking outdoors just as easy as cooking at your house.

Cooler: A cooler is your refrigerator at your campsite. If you are planning to cook ground beef, chicken, or other meats, bring prepared salads, or use perishable condiments such as sour cream, ketchup, mustard, or BBQ sauce, this is an essential item to keep your food at a safe temperature until it is time to cook and eat. Plus, you don’t want your chocolate bar for s’mores to melt! I always use dry ice on long camping trips because a block will keep your food cold for an entire week.

Cooking Methods

All of the other equipment you need to make delicious, easy camping meals will be dependent on your cooking method. Using the two heat sources mentioned above, there are numerous ways to actually cook your food!

Boiling Water:  This is one of the most basic, easy methods of cooking while camping, especially in the backcountry. All you need is water from any nearby lake or stream, one of the two heat sources mentioned above, and a cook pot. With this setup, you can easily and quickly boil water to make a cup of coffee or tea, instant oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, pasta, or rice. If you use water from a nearby water source, boil the water for a full minute to kill any bacteria before using it to cook or drink.

Grilling: This is my favorite method for cooking while camping! All you need is a grill grate, such as Portable BBQ Grill Mesh Rack, and any cooking utensils you would normally use. Set your grill grate directly over your campfire or coals and you’ve opened the door to having the ability to cook anything you would cook on your grill at home! Burgers, steaks, marinated chicken, veggie kabobs, corn on the cob, and even potato "fries" are some of my go-to grilled camp meals. You will be able to taste the campfire in every bite! Do the prep work—such as chopping vegetables for skewers or tacos, shaping burger patties, putting chicken breasts or steaks in marinade, and draining and rinsing black beans at home—and then pack the prepared food in your cooler, grill-ready. This makes for easy clean-up and efficient cooking.

Camp Stove: If you have a camp stove, the options for cooking at your campsite are endless! Pan-sear meat and fish, stir-fry veggies, scramble eggs with bacon or sausage, whip up some pancakes, or simmer a pot of chili, stew, or soup—all you need is a stove, some cookware, and your usual cooking utensils. Consider getting a camp cookware set. Just like with grilling, do the prep work at home before you get to your campsite. My cooler is typically packed with Tupperware and Ziploc bags full of chopped veggies, seasoned meats, various sauces, shredded mozzarella, and pancake batter.  A Skillet or Dutch oven pot are other great options for cooking a variety of meals. Cast iron is safe to use over an open flame, so all you need is a heat source and cooking utensils. Cast iron is ideal for cooking directly on your campfire, either on top of a grill grate or directly on the coals, and it is known to heat extremely evenly, making it easy to sear meats or cook meals that take up the entire cooking surface. Cast-iron cookware is heavy, so while it’s a great, versatile option for car camping, it’s not good for backpacking. If you are cooking with cast iron, be sure to pack an oven mitt—typically the handle is also cast iron, and thanks to the even heating of the material, the handle gets hot!

Foil Packets: Cooking with foil packets is possibly the easiest camp cooking method. All you need is aluminum foil and a heat source! Foil-packet meals can be side dishes, such as cheesy potatoes and roasted veggies, or full meals, such as roasted salmon with veggies or Italian-style sausage with peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes!

On a Stick: Cooking food on a stick over the open fire is the most classic method of cooking while camping! For many people, sitting around a campfire and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows brings a sense of nostalgia. While this cooking method is more limited, it is easy, requires minimal equipment, and is delicious. Hot dogs, sausages, and marshmallows are the classic roast-on-a-stick foods, but get creative! Bacon, fruits such as bananas, pineapples, and peaches, and biscuit dough or even pizza dough are just a few other options. And while finding a stick in the woods will usually work just fine, roasting sticks are a great addition to your camp kitchen.

Regardless of what cooking method you use, once your food is ready, it is time to sit back, relax, and enjoy your meal. Some campsites have a picnic table, which makes mealtime comfortable and enjoyable. But the more remote, primitive campsites will not have this luxury. In order to comfortably enjoy your food, bring a camping chair to set up around the campfire so you can sit back and relax while you enjoy your meal!

Be Prepared: While cooking outdoors can be easy and fun, not having access to a grocery store or your kitchen can cause roadblocks. To ensure successful camping meals, planning is key.

1. Plan out each meal in advance, including what you are cooking and how you are cooking it.

2. Make a grocery list of all of the ingredients you will need.

3. Do the more time-consuming, labor-intensive prep work at home.

4. Pack the prepped ingredients in your cooler, along with all of the other ingredients you need.

5. Pack your car (or backpack) with the appropriate camp cooking gear.

6. Hit the road to your campsite! Lastly, always have a heat source backup plan. If you are planning to use the campfire and grill grate for all of your cooking, pack a small, lightweight backpacking stove and frying pan, just in case.

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