Cooking Meals while Camping
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 must rely on make-shift kitchen setups:
- first, flat ground helps immensely.
- developed parks and campgrounds usually offer pavement, cement and flat areas for people to congregate and dine.
- boulder coves near rock outcroppings usually make good picnic spots/camps
camp stoves, BQQ 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
Prep @ home before the trip:
freeze large juice bottles for cooler ice / block ice last much longer than small ice cubes. If you must have ice cubes for your drinks, take a smaller bag. If it melts too fast, buy another one in route.
pre-chop vegetables; package fruit chunks
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
dutch oven cooking
foil & ziplock bags
fireproof oven mit / gloves
extra long tongs
Campfire Cooking Advice:
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.
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).
Do not Wash Dishes
in the Creek or LAKE
Use the metal bear boxes, when provided. These may be required for proper food storage in bear country.
Bears are after your food (not you).