Nothing says al fresco dining any better than camp cooking. You’re one with nature for the first time (in probably a long time). You’ve put all your daily worries on hold, and all you want to do is spend time with close kin in the great outdoors.
Yet, many of you readers are probably doing this for the first time. Fortunately for you, the internet and articles like these can guide you to keep you from feeling too lost once you’re out in the woods.
But worry not. This piece should guide you, rookies, on your first camp cooking adventure. You will make a few mistakes here and there, and that’s OK. What matters is how you learn from them.
A Rookie’s Camp Cooking Guide
Camp cooking requires equipment and ingredients, but you can skip packing heavy. Narrow everything down to the bare essentials.
“For me, the truly essential gear would be a stove, pot, water filter and a knife. When I’m on a canoe camping or backpacking trip, these are my truly essential pieces of gear. I can do almost anything with them.”
Feel free to add plates, cups, and utensils. But if you want the bare-bones experience, these are all you need to get through camp cooking.
But you can go a bit heavier if you have the luxury and added convenience of an RV or a truck. Here, you can bust out the portable charcoal grill for some lakeside tomahawks.
Seasoned campers like Cunningham go heavy with their equipment if the situation permits it.
“For camping adventures where I can bring more gear, I like bringing more plates, silverware, frying pans, and even a miniature grill if I can.
“Dutch ovens are incredibly versatile and can be used for almost anything when camping. But they are heavy. Cast iron is also great for cooking over a fire.”
Experts will tell you not to worry about bringing fresh vegetables. Save the frozen ones for your last-resort dinners at home. As long as you have items that won’t go bad quickly, you’re good to go.
“Many veggies last quite a long time without refrigeration. So feel free to pack items like carrots, snap peas, bell peppers, and other fruits and vegetables with long shelf lives,” Outdoor Eats founder Steve Corso said. Corso reiterates that spices and seasoning “provide a lot of flavor for not a lot of space or waste.”
But you’ll need a cooler if you have quickly perishable items like meat and dairy. A good, sturdy ice chest can get the job done. But if you’re going on a more extended trip, electric freezers are the way to go.
Important Camp Cooking Tips
Let’s hear more from the experts. These are sensible tips to remember for your next camp cooking session.
Don’t Forget to Prep Beforehand
Unless you’re testing out the day-old knife and chopping board, do all the prepping at home. You save on space and energy from lugging around a boxful of condiment bottles and bags of aromatics.
“Pre-chop your veggies, and make marinades ahead of time. Portion out condiments into smaller vessels if you don’t need the whole bottle. The less space the food takes up in the cooler, the more room there is for ice,” said Fresh off the Grid’s Megan McDuffie. McDuffie also recommends having a 2 to 1 ratio of food to ice in your cooler.
Handle Heat Accordingly
Handling heat without the help of stove knobs would be challenging, to say the least. But you can have control of temperature levels when campfire cooking. Dumping ash over the embers is one way to go about it. Chef and published author Nico Stanitzok, who also co-wrote The Campfire Cookbook, stands by this method.
“Cover the embers with a shovel of ashes to help diminish some of their intensity,” Chef Nico suggests.
But there’s always the old-school method of putting your hand around four inches over the coals until it reaches a point where you can no longer withstand the heat.
Cookbook author and founder of Green Moxie Nikki Fotheringham offers a more elaborate explanation of how to do it.
“If your hand feels too hot at the 2–3 seconds mark, this is a hot fire. You can cook steak on this perfectly. If it takes 5–7 seconds, this is medium hot. Breads, puddings, and frying veggies are all done at this temperature.”
Learning specific cooking methods using your best judgment is always a plus. These practices aren’t rocket science, but it will take a lot of trial and error to get things right.
Have a Proper Kitchen Setup
A home’s basic kitchen has two essential components: a cooking vessel and a prep surface. Assuming you already have the former, how do you set up the latter? Even if your ingredients are ready, you should have a spot to set them down.
If you’re lucky enough to have a table within the campsite, you’re golden. Just make sure to give the surface a good wipe down, and now have a kitchen counter that’s good to go. But if you don’t? Improvise, as McDuffie advises.
“If the campsite is more primitive, you’ll want to set up your kitchen on a flat, hard-packed surface. And try to avoid setting it up on grass to avoid damaging the vegetation.”
McDuffie also suggests setting up the kitchen further away from your tent or sleeping quarters. While you have the open space to allow smells and fumes to move around, you could attract rodents or, worse, other wild animals in a forest.
Make the Clean-Up Job Easier
As you would in your kitchen, you’ll have to clean up after yourself when camp cooking. And for a hassle-free trip, you’d want to make this job much more manageable.
This section will reiterate the importance of prepping before you leave. Having all the ingredients in your containers cuts out the extra effort of picking up wrappers and bags. And as much as possible, pack light.
“Take drinks, for example. You don’t need to bring along the cardboard box that cans come in,” McDuffie said. “Pack the cans in the cooler and ditch the cardboard box in your home trash or recycling bin.”
Speaking of drinks, you’re better off going with cans. Bottled beers may appeal better to many of you, but they’re bulky and take up too much space when clean-up time comes.
It’s Time to Go Camping, Rookie!
Before reading this, you probably needed to gain knowledge of camp cooking. That likely brought a lot of apprehension and doubts about whether or not an outdoor adventure is for you.
Hopefully, this short piece assures you that you will be OK. Yes, there will be hiccups along the way, but if you apply these tips properly, you should quickly get through them.
Now go ahead and plan your next camp cooking session. Most importantly, have fun. Make new memories with family and friends, something you’ll all look back on for the years to come.