When done well, few meals taste better or satisfy more than those cooked at camp. Something about cooking the old fashioned way makes the entire experience – from food preparation to savoring your last bite – special. A real drawback, however, is that cooking at camp requires more time, patience, and ingenuity than kitchen cooking. Use the pointers below to help make cooking in the outdoors less daunting, and more fun.
Regardless of what you specifically plan to cook on your next camping trip, there are a few food preparation staples that you shouldn’t forget. First and foremost is a box of matches and some lighter fluid. Most prefer to do their campsite cooking over an open fire, so you’d be out of luck without a way to start one. As for dishes, the true necessities are a medium to large lightweight pot, a pan of similar size, aluminum foil, and a portable grate that can be placed over a fire pit. This combination of cooking equipment can be used to prepare just about anything from bacon and eggs to beans and pasta. Lastly, don’t forget your spatula and tongs – pulling food off a fire bare-handed is far from pleasant.
Over the centuries, outdoor adventurers have come up with a number of ways to cook meals using a campfire. Of course, some are more complicated than others. Most camping trips, for instance, probably won’t require you to make a spit for roasting (unless you’re feeling a little overzealous). Read on as we detail a few of the simplest, most effective camp cooking techniques.
The most basic form of campfire cooking is to use direct heat. There are essentially two ways to accomplish this. The first, an old boy scouts’ trick, is to wrap food items individually in aluminum foil and place them in hot coals. It requires frequent checking, but is very effective for foods that require high heat. The second, method is simply to place a grate over an open fire and grill your food like you would in the backyard. The heat from this source is less direct, so it will likely take a little longer to cook.
For soups, stews, and pastas, you’ll need the aforementioned pots and pans in the supplies list. To cook them, just build the fire, let it die down to hot coals, and place the pot or pan over them. Managing the hot coal amount and concentration is the key to this technique, as heat can become inconsistent pretty quickly. The good news is that once you have that down, camp cooking is just about as easy as using a kitchen stove.
Some More Tips
- Measure ingredients for each meal ahead of time and pack in ziplock bags. Label each bag accordingly.
- Prepare soups, stews or chili etc ahead of time. Freeze and keep in cooler. Reheat for a quick meal.
- Don’t forget the heavy duty aluminum foil. There are many uses for it at camp.
- Be very careful with gas canisters. Keep upright at all times. Keep outside in well ventilated area. Check for leakage by putting soap liquid on all connections. Turn off when not in use.
- Freeze meat before putting in cooler. Keeps other foods cold and will keep longer.
- Cover pots whenever cooking outdoor. Food will get done quicker and you will save on fuel. Also helps keep dirt and insects out of your food.
- For ease of clean up and to protect from smoke and fire damage, put liquid soap on outside of your pots and pans before putting over the fire.
- Block ice will last longer than cubed ice.
- All items in your cooler should be packed in watertight bags or containers.
- To avoid unwanted visits from animals, keep food stored away or hang above ground level.
- Apply oil on camp grill to keep foods from sticking.
- Cans of frozen juice keep other foods cold.
- Use convenience or instant foods for quick meals.
- Use fireproof cooking equipment. Keep handles away from extreme heat and flames.
- To keep matches dry – dip stick matches in wax and when needed, scrape off the tip of the match and light. Also keep matches in a waterproof container.
- Use ziplock bags to store foods like soup, sauces, chili etc. Freeze the bag and put in cooler. It helps keep other foods cold.
- To fix a cooler leak, apply melted paraffin wax inside and outside the leaky area.
- Put a pan of hot water on the fire while you eat so that it’ll be ready for cleanup when you are done.
- To keep soap clean at your campsite, put it in a sock and hang from a tree.
- Pita bread packs better and stays in better shape while camping than regular type breads.
- Bring energy boosting snacks such as GORP trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, beef jerky etc. for in between meals.
- To cook hamburgers more evenly throughout, put a hole in the middle of your hamburger about the size of your finger, during grilling the hole will disappear but the center will be cooked the same as the edges.
- Fill gallon milk jugs or 2 liter soda bottles with water or juice and freeze. They keep the cooler cold and provide a cold beverage.
- To remove odors from your cooler, wipe with a water and baking soda solution.
- Use a separate cooler for drinks so not to open the food cooler too often.
- Replenish your ice often. Keep your food cold at all times to avoid food spoilage and food poisoning.
- To keep marshmallows from sticking together, add a little powdered sugar to the bag. Brand name marshmallows are less likely to stick together.
- When making egg sandwiches using english muffins or bagels, cook your eggs in a canning ring.
- Consider using a crockpot. Prepare and start your dinner in the morning before your activities. It’ll be ready to eat when you get back.
- If you add too much salt to a recipe, add a peeled potato to the dish and finish cooking. The potato will absorb the excess salt.
- On your last day of camp, use your leftover meats and vegetables to make omelets for breakfast. You can use almost any ingredient in omelets. Then you don’t have to take the leftovers home with you.
- Pre-chop ingredients such as onion, peppers etc at home. Pack in ziplock bags. Pre-cook select meats and freeze for quick meal preparation.
- Pack food items in separate ziplock bags. Saves space. Easy to pack. Resealable. Can use for trash container when empty.
- Instead of “stick” or “tub” butter or margarine, try “squeeze” margarine. This squeeze bottle is much easier and cleaner to use when in the woods. It is also great for cooler temperature. If it gets too hard, simply place the bottle in a pot of warm water for a few minutes.
- Cook on or over coals (either wood or charcoal). Coals provide a more steady, even heat without the smoke. Avoid burning your food and avoid undercooked food in the middle.
- To save room when packing your camp kitchen, use your pots as mixing bowls.
- Heavy duty aluminum foil bags take up little room and are great for mixing vegetables and meats together for easy cooking and easy clean-up.
- When barbecuing chicken, grill the chicken without the sauce until it is halfway cooked, then coat with sauce. The sauce won’t burn onto the chicken and your meal will be more flavorful.
- To get your charcoal pieces ready quicker, use a charcoal chimney.
- Disposable water bottles make great dispensers for salad dressings, oils and sauces.
- Add a few ice cubes to aluminum foil dinners or vegetables packets to prevent them from burning and to keep them moist.
- To easily remove burnt on food from your skillet or pan, simply add a drop or two of dish soap and enough water to cover bottom of pan and bring to a boil.
- Use an old large coffee pot to heat up water for cooking, doing the dishes or for hot beverages.
- Use a leather/suede work glove as an oven mitt.
- Check out our summary of various types of home-made Fire Starters.
- f you are truly into outdoor camping, invest in one of those airtight bag/sealing systems. Without air, bacteria doesn’t grow (as fast) and cold foods seem to keep better. Prepare individual servings in airtight bags so you only open what you need. For frozen items, individual servings defrost faster than large portions. Since the bags are reuseable, use them for your litter. They are also lighter than cans. Finally, the bags are thicker than other storage bags and will help cut down, if not eliminate, food odors. – Submitted by C. Berman
- Use two or four large coffee cans filled with water and covered with heavy duty aluminum foil as grill holders. As your meals cook, water heats up for dishes or cleanup. Store in their own plastic bags to keep soot from other items. Fold plastic bags inside for storage along with roll of T.P. and other small camping items such as dishcloth, soap etc. – Submitted by Penny Drozd
- Put a rope through the paper towel tube. Tie ends together. Loop over slat in picnic table or from a low limb – Submitted by Jo Ann Hlavac