Camp cooking is a fun and rewarding experience--there are few things quite like the smell of breakfast over an open flame to charge your batteries for a morning hike! While it can be easy to get by on hot dogs and s'mores, taking the time to cook up something more substantial (and healthier) can make your trip that much more special. With a little bit of preparation, you can do all sorts of deliciousness over a camp fire-- from savory breakfast bacon to roasting marshmallows for dessert. So pack your gear, set up camp and get ready to chow down!
- Essential cookware
- Food storage
- Food safety and clean-up
- What you need for a weekend
Essential Cookware: Are you going to be cooking over an open flame, using a propane stove, or both? Check the campground rules, and if there are no fire restrictions, we recommend both. You can invest in endless gadgets, or keep it simple and invest in cookware that can be used in a variety of options. To get started: 2 cast iron pans (1 medium, 1 large), large pot, kettle, oven mitts, cutting board, large stirring/serving spoons, paring knife, chef knife, silicone spatula, and a flipper. If you are cooking over an open flame, investing in quality, long-handled cookware is a must. A good can opener is absolutely essential. Mountain pie irons and long sticks for hotdogs and marshmallows are must-haves. Finally, don't forget your eating utensils, plates, bowls, coffee mugs and cups!
Food Storage: Quality coolers are essential. Your cooler will have ice, so weight can be a factor. It's sometimes better to opt for more a few that are smaller in size than a single large one. Beyond this, Ziploc bags are always handy, and a few plastic food storage containers with secure lids are great to keep in your camping supplies. We recommend plastic totes to store all other food--they stack easy and keep everything water tight. Remember that many state and national park campgrounds have strict food storage rules (especially for bears) so be sure to follow these to the letter. Don't feed the bears, racoons or chipmunks! It may seem like you are helping them, but it's not good or safe for them or you to do so.
Food Safety & Clean-up: The old adage of keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot really applies here. "Cold" foods need to be stored at less than 40 degrees. For your cooler(s), block ice lasts the longest. If you can't find block ice, you can try making your own, provided you have the freezer space. Bagged ice is fine, just make sure to drain and replenish regularly. Keep your cooler in the shade, and open infrequently. For hot foods, especially protein, make sure you cook to specific internal temperatures: chicken to 165 degrees internally, beef to 145 degrees. Running water for washing can be a challenge, but hand sanitizer serves the same purpose. For clean-up, a little planning goes a long way. Never wash your dishes in the bathhouse sink--virtually all campgrounds have rules against this. You'll want to have 2 large plastic or metal bowls--one for washing and one for rinsing, along with dish detergent, a scrub pad and towel or two. Don't forget to bag all waste and dispose of immediately, as even small crumbs can attract wildlife.
Weekend Supplies: Now that we've covered essential cooking gear, food storage and safety and clean-up, it's time to plan the menu. Take some time to write out a full meal plan. Can't do without your morning toast and planning PB&J sandwiches for lunch? How many loaves of bread will you need, especially if you have a family of five? Do you love potato salad with your hotdogs? This is something you'll want to make ahead. Do you enjoy a salad with dinner? Then don't forget to pack your favorite dressing. As far as condiments go, the sky is the limit, but since they can take up space, we recommend keeping them to the essentials (but we always take a plastic bottle of olive oil and non-stick spray for mountain pies). You'll want to have plenty of packable snacks too--granola, fruit and nuts are excellent choices. Finally, don't forget beverages--coffee or tea along with plenty of water/sports drinks or lemonade for hydration.
Camp cooking is a great way to get back to basics and enjoy good, healthy food while spending time in nature. It’s also a fun way for families and friends to spend time together preparing meals and enjoying the outdoors. We hope you’ve found these tips helpful as you gear up for your next camping trip!