ESSENTIAL #3: Food
Everyone knows one of the highlights of camping is enjoying a great meal in a natural setting. Cooking on an open flame gives meals a rustic touch and reminds us of simpler times. But just because you’re cooking in the wild doesn’t mean you have to settle for simple dishes. Learn how to camp like a champ by elevating your camp cuisine.
Plan a killer camping menu
- Utilize shelf stable options when you can to save on valuable cooler space. You can use canned items and still win top chef at the campground.
- Modify recipes, when possible, to allow for one pot preparation. No one likes clean up duty.
- Be mindful of prep times for each meal. It’s wise to have meals that have a few quick steps for nights where fun trumped cooking and you find yourself back at camp later than expected.
- Look for recipes that have actually been made in a camp setting. Campfire recipes have already been adapted to the rustic conditions that camp chefs have to work with.
Select the proper cookware
- Learn to use, care for, and love cast iron. It’s durable, versatile, and provides the perfect cooking surface for camping.
- Multi-tools aren’t just for the backpackers in the crowd. Look for cooking utensils that can meet a variety of uses.
- Think about your consumption for things like spices. Don’t pack more than you will need.
- Forget your non-stick pans. When used over a campfire, those types of pans can release toxic chemicals.
- Everything gets hot near the campfire, so be sure to have protective gloves to move pots and pans around.
- Use a dutch oven lid lifter to make one pot meals easier to manage.
- Invest in a badass stove like the Camp Chef Pro 90. Look for something that gives you control over the flame and heat as well as the flexibility to use a variety of skillets, dutch ovens, griddles, and pots.
Prep meals at home
- You can make meal time easier in camp by prepping ingredients at home. Chop, dice, measure, and mix what you can in the comfort of your home kitchen.
- Prepping at home allows you to pack and transport just what you need for each meal. Make notes after each trip to adjust your recipes so that the next trip will be spot on.
- Break meals down into several servings. In camp, you can cook all servings or just what you need if the number of people you are feeding changes.
Cook with coals
- Start your fire on one side of the firepit and add wood on the open side. This will gradually move the fire from one side of the firepit to the other revealing a perfect bed of coals to cook on.
- Ballpark the temperature. Place the dutch oven in the coals and then hold your hand over it at the level of the sides. Count backwards by 50 starting at 550 (550, 500, 450) until you have to remove your hand. That will give you an approximate temperature produced by your coals.
Keep it cold with block ice
- Block ice melts much slower than cubes. For weekend camping trips, load your cooler with one block of ice, your food and drinks, and fill the remaining space with cube ice.
- Don’t drain the water until it no longer keeps the food cold. Even though some of the ice has melted, the water will help to keep the temp of the cooler lower.
Make clean up a breeze
- Use one storage bin for washables – the plates, utensils, and cups that need to be washed. Doing this at home is easy and all items can be repacked once they are clean.
- Keep a few garbage bags in your camping kit for use at the campsite. Most campgrounds have dumpsters onsite and all of your garbage can be discarded when you check out at the end of the trip.
- Make a game out of clean up. Give the kids the task of finding any debris at the campsite that doesn’t belong. Kids love scavenger hunts!
Camping tips for elevating your camp cuisine:
- Create a storage plan. Use storage containers that hold all of your camping gear. Putting specific pieces of gear in the same container each time makes it easy to break down camp and even easier to find what you need while you are there. Label the containers or use various colors to differentiate them.
- Consider meals that use common ingredients so that you can minimize the number of ingredients that you have to bring. For example, last night’s left over baked potatoes make killer home fries today.
- Organize your camp kitchen before you begin cooking. Professional chefs refer to this as “mise en place” which simply means putting in place. Your camp meals will come together more smoothly if you stage the utensils, cookware, and ingredients before you begin cooking.
To be continued…