10 Tips for Camping Cooking


Imagine, if you will the smell of fresh coffee and bacon frying, a flannel-lined sleeping bag, and finding the constellation Orion in the night sky. Whatever your favorite aspect is about camping, a little organization beforehand definitely enhances the experience, so below are some tips about how to fix great meals in your "great outdoors" kitchen.

1. Table or Picnic Table

Some campgrounds have spaces where there are picnic tables on site. But if you aren't camping in a place where they have tables, you may need to improvise. If you are going to be camping someplace fairly flat, these fold-up picnic sets are nice. Otherwise, I make do with a card table. Using the picnic table for both eating and as a kitchen gets crowded. If you have a truck, the tailgate works nicely as a cooking or dishwashing area.

2. Water

This is information you need to know before you head out. Will the campground have drinking water available? If not, you will need to haul it. I like these Aqua-Tainers, which hold seven gallons of water. Before first use, though, wash them out to get rid of some of the plastic-y odor.

3. Table Covers

I like a plastic tablecloth because I can wipe it down, which is nice after chipmunks have been traipsing across your dining room. Once you get that tablecloth down, though, you'll need to keep it there, which is why I use these A-clamps. These babies will keep that tablecloth on the table, even in a storm (been there, done that).

4. Camp Stove

You may have romantic ideas about cooking over a campfire, but except for hot dogs and marshmallows, it's a pain. Instead, invest in a camp stove (also super-handy to have when your power goes out at home). This one has two burners — just right for one pan of trout and another of eggs and fried potatoes.

5. Shelter

Depending upon where you may be camping, there may be a lot of insects, which can get incredibly annoying. We invested in a screened "EZ Up," which made life a lot more pleasant while cooking and eating. It had the added benefit of keeping the squirrels out (and they can be real pests).

6. Ice Chests/Ice

I like my "rolling" ice chest just fine for a day at the park, but for serious camping, you need a large cooler. The wheels on a rolling ice chest don't work on rugged terrain, and you'll need a lot of room. Keeping cold foods cold is serious business.

Here is how we like to pack our ice chest so that things stay cold:

  • First, put plastic ice blocks along the bottom of the ice chest.
  • Pre-freeze meats and poultry.
  • Refrigerate other items before they go in, so that all food is cold to begin with.
  • I like the extra step of putting loose ice over everything, which keeps it really good and cold.

7. Washing Up

I may ask for this washing set-up for my birthday, but until then, I will continue to cope with two plastic washtubs. Remember the dish soap, a sponge, and a dish towel. I refuse to pack "real" plates, instead opting for paper plates and plastic utensils. However, I still use "real" coffee cups, because I think it's so nice to have coffee in a ceramic mug. Before I start breakfast, I get a kettle of water going so that when we are done eating I have hot water for dishwashing at the ready.

8. Thwarting Varmints

Yes, some of those woodsy creatures are cute, but they can be pests, too, or even scary. If you are staying at a state or county campground, I would advise asking the ranger about necessary precautions (and then following them). Many campgrounds have special bear-proof garbage cans, or advise you to use "bear bags." Clean up after eating, and don't leave food laying around. Your ice chest should go back into your car for safety.

9. Food Prep

Make things easy on yourself by doing as much food preparation as possible ahead of time. When I was a kid, my mother had this summer schedule: Plan meals on Tuesday. Shop on Wednesday. Bake on Thursday. Pack up and drive to camping location Friday. We were hard-core campers, and while this may sound like a lot of work, we all chipped in on the chores and loved it.

To further simplify camping cooking: chop vegetables and put into plastic bags, freeze stews, and marinate meats. Wash fruits, hard-boil some eggs, pack the "add water" pancake mix and syrup. "Bar" cookies, like Rice Krispies or chocolate chips made in a pan, hold up better than thinner cookies, which will get smashed. It doesn't hurt to throw in a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, in case it rains and you can't cook. Plan each meal ahead of time and think it through — including what utensils you will need.

You'll also want kitchen basics, such as:

  • Ziploc bags
  • Cutting board
  • Aluminum foil
  • Knives
  • Matches
  • A lighter
  • Newspaper (for campfire)
  • Can opener
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper towels
  • Coffee pot or French press
  • Kettle
  • Pots and pans
  • Lanterns for cooking area
  • Spatulas, spoons, tongs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Rope and bungee cords (always handy)

10. Most Essential

Lastly, you are likely going someplace wooded where you can cut sticks for marshmallows, but if not, don't forget these special marshmallow-toasting implements. They also work for hot dogs!

Happy camping! What are your favorite camping cooking tips?

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Guest's picture

freeze gallon water bottles to use in the cooler. keeps everything cold, doesn't make it soggy, and you have cold water to drink as it melts.