Care for your Mess Box –
Camp Kitchen Equipment & Cooking Gear:
Camping should be stress free & fun. Something to look forward to. Good preparation in advance can make the start of your trip a breeze. Store all your camp gear in one common area – stacked, cleaned and ready to roll for the next adventure.
No matter how tired you are after a long trip, do not stick that kitchen storage box away in the garage or basement. You may discover bugs, soiled dishes & the mold from hell months or years later when you go to use it again.
After every camp trip, bring the mess box into your kitchen at home and take time cleaning it and restocking.
Over the next few days clean every dish, pot, pan, skillet. Replace those usable goods: paper plates, towels, plastic forks, etc. A printed list of essentials may help you stay organized, so as not to forget anything.
Besides spices, canned goods, do not store ANY FOOD items in this box, as it will only attrack rodents and bugs while in storage.
This mess box is an excellent place to store a portable water filter and camping fuel canisters. These two important items can be used in an emergency or during a power shut off.
Repack the entire mess box as if it is ‘ready to go’ again & then put it away. It will be a nice treat to easily access your goods the next time you wanna bolt out the door for a spontaneous camping trip.
Repair or replace any broken items. Stock fuel canisters and batteries; Change out burnt lightbulbs.
A mess box also doubles as a survival box, so if you store it in an easy-to-access place in your home or garage, you will be able to get to it during or after an emergency situation.
Dirty, baked on charred mess all over the stove top. HINT: never use oven cleaner on your camp stove top. It will burnish it, dull the finish & it won’t be looking shiny anymore. Baked on goo is only gonna come off with elbow grease & a good scrubber sponge. (Or maybe SimpleGreen cleaner). Even the steel wool soap pads leave weird marks on aluminum metal surfaces. BE CAUTIOUS w/ cleaners on your camp stove.
Make a place for it!Put all your outdoor gear in the same spot in your home; the garage or closet may be the best place, but the kitchen or entry hall could also be a decent site. This way you know where everything is, right? The headache of preparing for a camp trip will be minimal once you get organized. Store all camping related items on your camping shelf.
ALWAYS LEAVE A CAMPSITE CLEANER THAN YOU FOUND IT
Each year more of our public lands are being CLOSED off to “us” because of OUR neglect. Litter, graffiti, ammo trash and off-roading abuse can be good excuses for the rangers to close our precious forests and deserts. Be a good steward of the land and teach others the proper ways to enjoy nature, without destroying what little we have left.
Large refillable 5, 7 or 10 gallon water containers are available with a faucet type fitting. Look for brands that are BPA free, so you can be assured you’re not drinking chemicals that leach from plastic into your precious water.
Store the water container up high, with the lid off & a rag in the opening to prevent mold, a funky smell or bugs crawling inside.
Cast Iron – griddles, skillets and dutch ovens have stood the test of time and hold up longer than any other option. Cast iron cooking is DanaMite’s favorite, especially for cooking right on the campfire. It’s the only “over the fire” cookware that can handle hot coals and direct flames. Foil liner or parchment makes clean up quick.
With all that being said, cast iron is not for backpacking, due to the excess weight. Numerous backpacking cookware setups exists and new inventions are always coming to market. Search for light weight cooking stoves and cookware.
Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimers and dementia, so it’s best not to cook with cheap aluminum pots and pans. Some high tech, non-stick, backpacker brands of cookware may be made of anodized aluminum and will be of higher quality. As long as the the anodized surface isn’t scratched or chipped, it is safe to use.
Non-stick cookware. Clean up is already a pain when camping. Why not make your camp life easy? Teflon. Well, first off. Teflon is now known to be harmful to humans and bad for the environment. Secondly, toxic fumes can be emitted from teflon pans, at high temperatures.
And if all else fails and you’re really in a pinch, you can use the small sauce pan from home. Just don’t tell anyone.
California is often called the “bread basket of the world”, since we grow so many foods for export here. California produces almost all of the country’s almonds, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.
In the list below, we try to break down where certain foods grow well and in which regions.
Fruit Orchards – Central Valley, Sierra Nevada Foothills
Citrus Orchards – SoCal, Central Valley, Sierra Nevada Foothills
Nut Orchards – San Joaquin Valley & North Sacramento Valley
Avocado – North San Diego Co, Central Coast Valleys
Garlic – Central Coast, Gilroy
Artichoke – Central Coast, Castroville
Olives – North Sierra Nevada Foothills
Corn – Central Valley
Melons – Central Valley
Dates – Coachella Valley Desert
Grapes – San Joaquin Valley, North Sacramento Valley
Lettuce – Salinas Valley
Celery – Salinas Valley
Tomatoes – San Joaquin & Sacramento Valleys, Sierra Nevada
Peppers – Imperial Valley, Inland Empire
Rice – North Sacramento Valley
Carrots – Cuyama Valley, San Joaquin Valley
Strawberries – SoCal, Central Coast, Sierra Nevada Mountains
Cattle Ranches – Central Coast, North Central Valley, Sierra Nevada Foothills, Sierra Nevada Mountains
California Wine Country – spans nearly the whole state – from Temecula to Mendocino, vineyards are located all over
Eating while away from home often means expensive dinners out. But eating well, usually means cooking it yourself. If budget travel is key, then you will need at bare minimum – a cooler, otherwise known as an “ice chest” for perishable food.
A heat source for cooking food is another item to consider; unless you plan to eat sandwiches, wraps, bars and snacks all weekend. Juice fast anyone?
If you want to do any amount of physical activity outside, then you may want a decent meal or two to nourish your tired body afterwards. This is where the ‘free heat source’ (campfire) comes in handy.
This page covers an overview of eating and cooking outdoors, more suited to tent campers or car campers traveling. No camp cooking recipes; sorry, the web is full of them.
Campfires require only free firewood (for heat) and the groceries (to cook), so they are the cheapest choice for meals; Free campfire permits are needed, along with water buckets and a shovel, and of course, campfire restrictions should always be followed.
Coleman camp stoves or smaller units are ideal for car campers, tent campers and van-lifers. Butane or propane fuel can get expensive if this is your only cooking method, so take that into consideration.
Motorhome campers have it easy – with full kitchens and appliances, but propane fuel could be costly depending on how many meals you prepare. Propane fridges are most common. RV refrigerators are often one of the first things to fail, so keep that in mind when purchasing an older camper on wheels.
Everything – and the kitchen sink. RVs, camper trailers and some camper vans have it made for cooking. They literally have a mini kitchen to do most of their food prep and cooking (indoors, away from wind, dust, bugs). Or they can easily bounce back and forth between the campfire grilling and the indoor kitchen.
Cabin rentals w/ wood burning stoves, some specially designed for cooking are a rare find on vacation. These beauties are unique, antique and some still fully functional as a cooking appliance. It’s a slower longer process to cook, but it is entertaining and rewarding. Wood-burning stoves use small hardwood pieces, known as ‘stove wood’. Bring some, or ask about it when reserving the cabin.
Otherwise, car campers and picnickers must rely on make-shift kitchen setups:
first, flat ground helps immensely.
second, a heat source may be needed, so plan ahead.
developed parks and campgrounds usually provide picnic tables. pavement, cement flat areas for people to congregate and dine.
boulder coves near rock outcroppings usually make good picnic spots and camp kitchens
at bare minimum, a ground cloth or tarp for meal prep is best
tarps can also come in handy, when raining. bring rope.
camp stoves, BBQ grill or campfire ground tarp, table or tailgate
define kitchen area, light up work area & clean prep surfaces; wash basin areas get sloppy, so keep it off the table top
@ camp – Step 2
cover table top and seating surfaces; carry extra blankets for bench seats, and bedding. Camp stove needs FLAT surfaces to be most effective – the end of the picnic table, a flat boulder, a truck tailgate, a stove stand, or a portable camp table.
@ camp – Step 3
clean out the campfire pit; only idiots dispose of their trash in the fire ring. always leave the camp site, cleaner than you found it. bring extra black trash bags; respect the land and teach others. do not to litter.
Wild Winds of California
When nights are chilly and dining by the campfire is preferred, line a folding camp chair with a thick blanket. This will keep the cold wind off your back.
If the wind is harsh (20+ mph), you can park your vehicle to block most of the wind toward the campfire and/or camp kitchen.
Do not burn ANY FLAMES or FIRE when weather conditions are severe. HOT, DRY, WINDY = red flag warnings; all fire permits and burn permits are suspended.
Know current fire restrictions before you light up!
NON-FOOD ITEMS vs. FOOD
When packing your kitchen box in advance, do not load food items that have a scent – NO SPICES, no tea bags, nor hot chocolate mix. No coffee, no snacks and small smelly items. Bears, raccoons and wildlife would love to find your food (even if you only stepped away from the camp for 2 minutes). Crafty types will even attempt opening the cooler or getting inside the hatchback.
Store all food related / scented products inside the ice chest or the easy to manage, grocery bag – aka the FOOD BAG.
This Food Bag concept and style of storage is best for packing up at night after meals. The EASY and fastest way to get to bed early and avoid sorting food items in the dark. When the dishes are done, laying out drying, all grocery bags and food related items go in the car or in the steel bear box (provided at camp ground).
Remember these scented items also includes – toothpaste, cough drops, deodorant, creams, candy, medications. We’ve seen a tube of Ben-Gay chewed open by critters. Yuk. Save the animals from eating your foot cream. Store your creams and meds in a zip pouch with the food bag. Problem solved.
Prep @ home before the trip:
Freeze large juice bottles for cooler ice. BLOCK ice last much longer than small ice cubes. Freeze smaller water bottles for smaller coolers. Prevent bottle bursting, (water expands when ice swells) by pouring an inch off the top and screwing cap down loosely.
If you absolutely must have ice cubes for your drinks, take a smaller zip-lock bag. If it melts fast, buy another one in route.
Pre-chop vegetables; package fruit chunks. Think of hike-able meals, proteins, fast snacks and fruit. Fresh veggies w/ the meat grilling @ the deluxe campfire dinner.
Select a sturdy reusable bag with wide bottom. This can be your designated FOOD bag. Groceries, spices, coffee and teas, anything with a scent. Garlic, apples, raisins, oatmeal pouches.
The FOOD BAG (see orange notes above) is also a great place to store small items when traveling and camping. Items like lighters, matches, pocket knives, candles, pen and paper, headlamps, batteries, bandana, napkins, half roll o TP.
Solo travelers may even want to pack a ‘place setting’ (plate, bowl, utensils) inside the food bag for on the go meals and easy access.
Pack & pre-cook:
precooking certain foods
(that would normally take lots of time and fuel, or mess)
rice, pasta noodles, steel cut oatmeal, homemade chili, cakes, bread, sausages, bacon
2 coolers may be needed. depending on the situation, eating habits and amount of travelers
One large ice chest for storage, located in the back w/ a blanket on top to block it from the direct sunlight.
Smaller, portable ice chest up front, near the driving compartment for easy access to snacks, trail mix, sandwiches, beverages. Picnics will be easy with a small cooler. Freezing plastic water bottles days ahead, for block ice without the soggy mess.
JUST HEAT UP
If you want to do more exploring and less cooking, then plan your meals dining out (at home, online), well in advance. Fast food drive-thrus should always be avoided. Budget at least $10 per meal and expect to pay more in smaller towns. Pack lots of snack bars, beverages and easy to fix meals. Sandwiches are great for day time, cuz you’ll be out sightseeing. Night time you can have a camp fire to cook on, or break out the camp stove or grill.
Left overs are super quick to heat and serve. Pancakes, bacon, quiche, casseroles, enchiladas, stir fried rice, pre-chop salads. Save the salad dressing and top salad just before eating. Other easy prep meals include: scrambled eggs, hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, soups, tacos, or if all else fails, the dreaded MRE. Pre-packaged backpackers meals in foil pouches have come a long way, but are often expensive and always look so unappealing, like mush.
We’ve seen the city-boy bachelors show up to camp (after midnight) w/ a cooler packed full of beer and Subway sandwiches. Chips and nuts were their only side dishes. Needless to say, but the second day they we’re done w/ their food and wanting ours. BBQ ribs?
EASY COOK MEALS
one burner stove
one steel pot / one pan
2 burner camp stove w/ fuel
skillet & lid
medium size pots and pans
utensils camp lantern
dutch oven cooking
campfire grill tripod
foil & ziplock bags
fireproof oven mit / gloves
extra long tongs
Start the campfire before sunset, so it has time to burn down the wood to make adequate coals.
Cook over glowing hot coals rather than the flames of burning wood. Use flat rocks and/or metal grills for positioning cast iron cookware.
Wait until the campfire becomes hot coals to do the cooking. Rearrange the glowing coals and rocks for optimal cooking spots.
You’ll need plenty of small wood – to keep feeding the fire and pushing the coals in place. Direct flames on cookware means black soot and often burnt chicken. Flames are okay for some food – like roasting wieners or shish kabobs, but generally it is the coals that offer the most even heat source.
Dutch oven (pictured above) is often the first cast iron campers purchase. Positioned over the campfire, it becomes a mini oven for heating up left over food dishes. You can heat them w/ a camp stove as well. Start with a smaller size and buy larger ones as needed.
Cast iron skillets are very handy for cooking up meat or fish dishes. Re-heating left overs, cooking eggs, pancakes and bacon. Books abound on dutch oven cooking show baking breads, desserts, making chili, and lots of recipes.
Aluminum foil and a roll of paper towels will come in handy. Ziplock bags help with leftovers. Metal spatula and tongs are ideal when cooking over campfires. Choose a can opener w/ a bottle opener built into it. Bring a corkscrew if you are packing a bottle of wine.
Washing up all dishes and pots immediately after a meal is best practice; Before bedtime is mandatory. No food or beverage smells should be found overnight around camp. Tie and pack garbage away (inside a vehicle), or dispose of in trash cans – before retiring for the night.
Remember: No toothpaste or snacks allowed inside the tent. Keep a clean camp to prevent unwanted visitors (wild animals).