Elevate your camp cooking.
“The outdoors is a far more atmospheric dining area than any restaurant can provide,” says Ray Mears, author of Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Outdoors. Especially, he says, if you have the proper tools and ingredients.
Preparing Your Camp Kitchen
When it comes to cooking supplies, says Mears, “Keep it simple, and bring only what you need.”
A proper cooking set includes prep bowls, a frying pan, a cutting board, kitchen tools and utensils (including a mixing spoon, spatula, selection of lightweight chef’s knives, and a peeler), a portable fire extinguisher, and Mears’s most trusty piece of equipment: an iron pot or Dutch oven. “Whether you’re cooking over an open fire or utilizing a communal campground kitchen, an iron pot is essential,” he says. “It holds heat extremely well, so you can use less heat when cooking. It’s also versatile. You can cook stews, bread, even pies.” Another option is a camp grill, which sits over the fire and allows you to cook food on top. A Mears specialty: chicken, red pepper, and mushroom skewers tossed in a yakitori glaze.
Store these supplies together in one box, and keep a separate one (Mears calls it the “larder box”) to stock small quantities of necessities such as high-quality olive oil, salt and pepper, hot sauce, and coffee and/or tea. A third box can hold pasta, beans, and other foods that don’t have to be refrigerated.
Cold items such as meats, vegetables, cheeses, and butter should be packed away in a portable cooler. A mix of regular ice and longer-lasting dry ice is best for keeping foods cold.
Frying, boiling, grilling, and roasting—it can all be done over an open fire. A gas-powered camping stove works well, too. Just remember to always have propane handy.
Smart Tip: Chill the cooler by filling it with ice and leaving it out at room temperature the night before, says Mears.
What to Eat
Keep breakfasts and lunches simple, says Mears—some cereal and juiced mandarins in the morning, charcuterie-style cold meats and cheeses in the afternoon. That way, you save your energy for the main meal in the evening. For this, Mears recommends one-pot dishes, such as fresh soups and curries, meals that you can easily enhance or change up by adding veggies, aromatic spices, meats, or fish.
For a meal that includes little campfire prep and few dishes, try a foil packet. You can prepare these at home by slicing up chicken or meat, along with vegetables like carrots, onions, and potatoes, and marinating in a resealable plastic bag with herbs, spices, and vinegar. At camp, transfer the contents into a foil packet and start grilling.
Smart Tip: Wherever you’re camping, pick up a few local ingredients at a nearby market to enjoy as part of your meal—chiles in the Southwest or artichokes along California’s Central Coast. “Anything that celebrates the landscape you’re traveling through in a culinary sense,” says Mears.
Use dish soap and a dedicated bowl, strain out any food remnants, and dump any leftover water at least 200 feet from any water sources and your campsite or any others around you, or in a designated campground sink.
Leave no trace.
The most important rule of camping is to leave no trace. Carry out trash and food scraps, or dispose of them in designated bins. Store food in your vehicle or a dedicated bear box when not in use to protect wildlife and keep animals from disturbing camp. Don’t forget to drown your campfire with water, making sure it’s cool to the touch, before leaving. The wilderness will thank you.