6 Tips for Successful Camp Cooking

Any great camping trip is based around outdoor adventures, but the food you eat while there can make or break the experience. A 6-mile hike through the rocky woods calls for something a lot more satisfying than packaged granola bars and beef jerky, so a little cooking is definitely the way to go. You have to be smart about it, though. A seven-course spread featuring delicate greens and chilled plates has its place, but it’s not in the woods.

Fortunately, we’re here to help. Our tips for outdoor cooking will provide you with all the information you need to whip up easy and delicious meals right from your campsite. Our guide will keep you well fed and ready for action. Get ready for a delectable weekend in the woods.

1. Plan your menu

menu plan

Plan your meals | Source: iStock

Any working couple with kids knows the importance of planning meals in advance, and it’s an equally smart strategy for cooking outside. Unless you bring the entire contents of your kitchen, and you shouldn’t, it’s easy to forget items you need. Make a list of all the dishes and the ingredients you’ll need to cook. Check out Sunset’s camping recipes for tons of delicious ideas to get started.

In addition to making sure you have all the required ingredients, planning your meals ahead of time will tell you exactly the order in which you need to pack your cooler. Design Mom said you should pack your last meal first, then layer the rest of them in order, ending with the one you’ll eat first. This eliminates the need to dig through your coolers to find ingredients, which saves time and ensures you won’t have perishable items sitting out at room temperature for too long. The article also recommended lining the cooler with cardboard to boost the insulation.

2. Do a little bit of preparation in advance

flour, bowl, whisk, baking

Make baking mixes ahead of time | Source: iStock

Once you know what you’re making, start planning what you can do before you set out. Babble recommended freezing meats to keep them cold longer, mixing dry ingredients for pancakes and baked goods, and chopping produce. It’s also a good idea to cook noodles and grains ahead of time as well, because there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to maintain a rolling boil outside.

Condiments tend to take up a lot of space, so portion out items like vinegar and oil so you only bring what you need. It’ll also significantly lighten the load. Things like ketchup, mayo, and mustard are easy to find in smaller sizes at the store. If you really think ahead, you can even order squeeze packets online.

Lastly, not every hot meal has to be prepared on the spot. You can make foil packets of certain recipes ahead of time. Try these breakfast burritos from Betty Crocker or this chicken and potato dish from Allrecipes.com. All you have to do is toss them over the heat, and you’ll be chowing down in no time.

3. Get some gear

camp cooking, sausage, cast-iron skillet

A cast-iron skillet is always a winner | Source: iStock

Packing the essential gear is the next step in the process, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Instead of trying to pack all of your cabinets and drawers into the car, think minimalism. Bon Appétit suggested a stick lighter, a fish spatula, a hatchet, kitchen shears, a long pair of tongs, a picnic knife, a headlamp, and a chef’s knife. One designated cooking knife might not seem like enough, but a chef’s knife is versatile enough for every job you’ll encounter at the campsite.

As for cooking vessels, again, less is more. Love The Outdoors recommended a grate to set over the fire, plenty of aluminum foil, a large pot, and a large pan. Cast iron is your best bet here. These skillets maintain even heat, and they’re a lot more durable than anything else you have in your kitchen. A Dutch oven is also handy for anyone who’s planning on a bit of baking or slow simmering.

Consider bringing a gas grill or camp stove to make things easier. Even if you have plenty of dry wood on hand, it can take a while for the fire to get hot, and no one should have to wake up at 3 a.m. just to get ready for breakfast. Hunting supply stores have tons of options ranging from basic to absurdly deluxe. We suggest going with something simple to take up less space during transport.

4. Keep it clean

Redwood Forest, campsite

Your campsite should be spotless | Source: iStock

We love animals as much as anyone, but not when they’re uninvited guests to dinner. Epicurious recommended keeping food locked away in the car at night or hanging it from a tree where critters can’t get to it. Plan ahead for waste as well. Follow the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ seven rules to make sure you’re covering all the bases. Going to the bathroom in a hole might seem extreme, but the goal is to leave the site exactly as you found it to respect both the wildlife and future campers.

5. Put your pals to work

camping with friends, cooking

Everyone should do their part | Source: iStock

The designated cook shouldn’t have to do all the work. There’s a lot involved with making meals outside, so enlist your family or friends to help out. Rather than risking a battle over who has to do dishes or build the fire everyday, Keeper of the Home said it’s better to assign every person to one specific task ahead of time. You’ll avoid needless arguing, which means the food will be ready that much sooner.

6. Have a backup plan

trail mix, nuts, fruit

Trail mix is a good backup | Source: iStock

Maybe fishing didn’t pan out. Maybe a freak rainstorm smothered your fire. Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, and you have to be prepared. Fishing is a big one, because it can be so hit or miss. Bring along canned tuna and salmon. These packaged goods can sit at room temperature and are ready to eat at a moment’s notice. You can even make tuna noodle casserole by parking a Dutch oven right over the hot fire. Go for the ones with the peel-back lids so you don’t have to worry about bringing a can opener.

In the case of extreme wind or moisture, you may not have the opportunity to cook over a fire or stove. You always want to have a handful of options for no-cook meals in these instances. Consider packing these emergency foods in a separate cooler to keep everything organized. ReserveAmerica shared a bunch of ideas for tasty dishes you can pull off in just a few minutes.

Don’t forget about snacks, either. Most camping trips include a lot of physical activity, so eating three times per day isn’t going to cut it. Supplement your meals with calorie-dense foods that are ready to eat. Cured meats and cheeses are good choices. You can also make an easy trail mix with any combination of nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate-coated candies.