Whether you’ve spent a night in the great outdoors or you’ve never experienced camping before, figuring out the best way to cook a great meal while on your trip can be daunting. For those willing to plan ahead and learn a new skill or two, cooking while camping can be rewarding and create some unforgettable memories for those around your campfire. We’ll outline some helpful tips for cooking outdoors, during inclement weather, and throw in a couple tricks to make your camping adventure a success.
How to cook when camping:
- Create list of things to pack
- Prep Everything in Advance.
- Pack Your Cooler Correctly.
- Have a Backup Plan.
- Set Up a Dedicated Kitchen Area
1. Create list of things to pack
The first piece of advice is to plan ahead. It might sound like a simple step, but too often to count we’ve seen fellow campers struggling with burned food, seasonless veggies, and mushy hamburger buns caused by lack of preparation. Because your campsite will most likely sit miles away from the closest grocery store, planning ahead is vital. Sketch an outline for how many meals you’ll be planning for and what those meals entail. Add to your list accessories and kitchen items like heavy-duty aluminum foil for wrapping up food, lighters, stove fuel, and cooking utensils.
As you’re writing out your list of meals, consider meals that use the same ingredients multiple times. This will cut down on your prep time and simplify the whole experience. Hearty greens can be tossed in a breakfast scramble, sauteed with taco meat, or thrown into a meaty stew. Tortillas can wrap around breakfast burritos, be made into an impromptu peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or fried up and enjoyed with salsa.
2. Prep Everything in Advance
Some campsites have picnic tables for use, but some are dispersed sites with no level surface besides the ground. Make sure you research the type of campsite you’ll be visiting. This influences not only the type of food you can make, but also sets limits on the type of cooking accessories that will serve you best.
For example, bringing a wooden cutting board and chef’s knife to a remote, dispersed campsite is probably overkill. With no running water nearby, remember that you’ll have to haul out dirty dishes, dirty cutting boards, and all your trash (Leave No Trace!). On the other hand, if you’re car camping, it’s not a big deal to load up your trunk with the evidence of your culinary creations at the end of the night. In either case, taking the step of pre-chopping all your raw ingredients beforehand saves you trouble and space in your bags.
Same goes with planning out the cookware that you’ll use outdoors. A single skillet can be a frying pan, a pot for boiling water, and a pizza stone all in the same day.
Helpful Tip: Camping stores and even make-up stores carry empty bottles and containers that are perfect for storing small amounts of spices and oils. Travel size shampoo bottles make great containers for oil and pill organizers make great spice compartments. Make sure it’s food-quality safe first!
3. Pack Your Cooler Correctly
Like meal prepping, you’ll benefit from planning ahead in this case. If you store your cooler in an unairconditioned outdoor space or garage, bring it inside your home at least 12 hours before you need to pack in order for it to shed the heat it has been insulating. Wash it down with disinfectant and let air dry before putting any food or ice inside. You never know what sort of creatures have been using your cooler as a bedroom over the last couple months!
Take into account the type of cooler you’ll have access to. Melted ice can easily seep into packaging and make crusty bread soggy or a block of cheese slick with water. You might need to store everything in tupperware or waterproof containers inside the cooler. This also prevents cross-contamination between uncooked meats and other items. Some coolers come with built in trays that sit above the ice for this very reason.
Packing your cooler correctly also entails taking into account the type of containers your prepackaged food is bought in. Cardboard egg and milk cartons will need to be replaced with tupperware canisters or specially made egg holders that you can buy at outdoor sporting goods stores.
Helpful Tip: Pack your cooler last thing in the car the day of your trip. This will keep the cooler and perishables as cold as possible before sitting in a hot car.
4. Plan for Inclement Weather
Being in the great outdoors equals unexpected rain showers or gusty winds. This doesn’t mean you’ll be scooping cold beans out of a can for dinner though. There are several ways to get hot, delicious food on the picnic table despite weather woes.
The number one piece of equipment that will help you out the most during a storm will be a tarp. Secure it with rope or bungee cords so that it covers your stove set up and table. Be cautious that you allow enough ventilation and airflow underneath the tarp so that smoke and gas fumes can escape.
Most reputable camping stoves have a windscreen attachment or built-in to enable your stove to continue burning consistently in gusty breezes and prevent wildfires. These windscreens not only keep your stove lit the entire cooking process, but also aid in prevention of gas leaks. If your stove top burner blows out while you’re busy setting up the tent or tending to the campsite, gas from the canister will continue to escape which wastes fuel, or on the serious end of the spectrum, can cause sickness from gas inhalation. The last thing you’ll want on a camping trip is an evening drive on unfamiliar roads to the local emergency room..
Helpful Tip: If your stove top doesn’t have a built in windscreen, use a large piece of aluminum foil to create a makeshift windscreen. It’s another reason to pack this handy kitchen item!
5. Set Up a Dedicated Kitchen Area
Like prepping your food items in advance and packing your cooler correctly, plan ahead to set up a dedicated kitchen area at your campsite. This will ensure safety for you and your fellow campers as well as make the whole cooking process as streamlined as possible.
If you’re at an established campground, most will have a picnic table and covered awning at each site. Some sites have a fresh water spigot as well, but you’ll need to check the campsite details because this isn’t a guarantee. When you arrive at your campsite, keep half of the picnic table open for your late night card games and an early morning coffee spot, keep the other half as your “kitchen”. Set your stove up adjacent to the table, with your prep area closest to you.
Coolers and tubs that contain your dry goods can come in handy as flat surfaces in a pinch, so place them in your kitchen area as well. By placing your cooking station, prep station, and serving station all in the same vicinity in your campsite, you’ll prevent anyone from accidently tripping over a hot stove or knocking food into an ant pile. This strategy will also allow for easy cleanup after meals, and less headaches when packing up on the last day of your adventure.
Helpful Tip: If you’re unsure about how to properly dispose of your trash, especially in bear country, double check with the park rangers. They are experts at keeping wild animals wild, and your campsite entact in the case that an animal decides to visit in the middle of the night.
Which of your go-to cooking when camping tips did we miss? Email us.