11 Camping Kitchen Ideas
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Everything tastes better cooked over a campfire.
You choose how complicated camp cooking is. Cooking over a campfire is one of the best reasons for you to even go camping, but you can make a tasty nutritious meal without cooking anything. Which is important, because you can’t always make a campfire. Either because of burn bans or lack of time. But it is possible to make any meal you want on a camping trip with the right gear and preparation.
Your Not Limited To Hot Dogs And Beans
Too often, campers believe you are limited in your cooking options.
And if you are backpacking, you are going to be more limited than a car camper. Considering that over 40 million Americans camp every year but according to the Outdoor Participation Report, only about 10 million Americans backpack.
So we’re going to focus on car camping.
However, many car campers stick to simple meals such as hot dogs, beans, and canned tuna.
A popular “advanced” option among car camping is “hobo meals.” Everyone has their own personal twist, but they all follow a general pattern. Which involves cubed meat and vegetables with seasonings. Then wrapped up in aluminum foil and cooked in your campfire.
We have a version on our website.
There is nothing wrong with these meals. If your focus is on fishing or hiking and you just want simple meals, there’s a reason why they have become staples.
But there’s no limit to what you can make.
Check out my favorite camping cook show - Cowboy Kent Rollins:
Keep Bear Safe
You’re cooking outside. There are many complications when we cook outside.
You have unpredictable weather. A sunny day can turn into a downpour in an instant. You will never understand how anyone learned to cook with the wind.
And as you will learn, we need to bring multiple coolers to keep our meat fresh.
But most importantly, we have to practice proper bear safety if cooking in bear country. And it’s good general advice because if you make your food safe from bears, it will also be safe from other animals.
The other animals such as mice, rats, and raccoons might not be fearsome as a bear. But they will take your food. And can bring their own set of issues.
Raccoons are cute as cartoons and Geico commercials. They come with sharp teeth and claws. And possibly rabies.
What is worst, when wildlife becomes used to humans. The saddest thing I ever encountered was when I stayed at an Airbnb in Colorado for a work function.
There was this beautiful red fox that hung around the house. I begged for the group not to feed it. But they were like “clearly others have fed it and it’s so cute.” I lost my battle trying to explain to them that this would not end well for that fox.
Eventually, it would most likely have to be put down. Because at some point, that fox was not going to get fed. Or some kid was going to try and play with it. And a person would get bit.
This is why you should not eat in your tent. And this includes all of your toiletries.
Instead make sure to keep your food, seasonings, and toiletries all stored in a bear container or sack.
Even locking them in your car is not good enough. Bears can tear your car apart.
Bring Multiple Coolers
One of the most important tasks will be to keep the beer cold while camping.
And if you’re not a drinker, many campers like to bring hot dogs, bacon, and steaks along to cook over a campfire. You might also have other items that you want to keep cold when enjoying the outdoors.
While many front-country campsites do have electricity, you probably don’t want to bring a mini-fridge on a camping trip.
Instead, you will want to bring coolers with you.
They make coolers specifically for campers now. These modern coolers are not your disposable styrofoam cooler you get at the gas station on the way to the lake for a beach day.
Rather, they are heavy-duty with additional insulation that are designed to keep the contents cold for several days.
You should bring at least 2 separate coolers. One will be to store the meat. And the other will be used to store drinks. The drinks cooler is going to be open more frequently. And the more a cooler is open, the warmer its contents will get.
Thus if you can keep the meat cooler closed until you need to open it for meals, the colder it will stay.
Some people also like to bring a specific cooler to store food for lunches containing sandwich fixings. And keep steak and bacon in a cooler just for them.
There are several tactics you can apply to keep the coolers as cold as possible.
First, as we have suggested, keep the coolers closed as much as possible.
Second, don’t use ice to keep the contents cold. Instead, freeze bottles of water and use those as your ice. This is less messy and as the ice bottles melt, you can drink the water.
Third, you can freeze sponges. They take up less room and will be less messy than ice.
Fourth, keep the coolers in the shade. And you can use tarps and emergency blankets with the shiny side facing up to help keep the cooler cool.
Fifth, place a thermometer in the cooler to make sure the cooler is keeping the food at a safe temperature.
There’s another handy use for your camping coolers as well. If you lose power, you can use your camping skills to keep the food from spoiling by moving refrigerated items to the coolers. Ziploc, Tupperware, And Aluminum Foil
The holy trinity of camping cooking.
Use Ziploc bags and Tupperware (or similar items) to transport your ingredients including spices.
The benefit of using these items for campfire cooking is that they take up less space. And you can re-use them for waste and camp cleanup.
The aluminum foil allows you to prepare meals that can be placed directly on the campfire coals.
Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware can last generations. When cared for properly, it’s non-stick, practically indestructible and you will need to list in your will for the next generation.
More importantly for campfire cooking, it adds great flavor. This is because when we cook with cast iron, you end up coating it grease or oil. This is called seasoning.
Seasoning is important because it protects the cast iron from rusting.
The more we cook with our cast iron cookware, the more it will end up seasoned. You can tell if it’s well-seasoned or not by how shiny it is. The shinier it is, the more seasoned and better flavor. One of the best ways to keep your cast iron seasoned well is to cook lots and lots of bacon in it.
Here’s another tip for using bacon while camping. Use the left-over grease to pop-up popcorn.
If you have purchased new cast iron cookware and need to season it first. Here are simple steps to season it before taking it camping:
- Hand wash it well with soap and water.
- Rinse it clean and let it air dry
- Use lard or shortening to coat the cookware including the lid very well
- Preheat your oven to 350 F and use a baking pan to catch drips
- Put your cast iron cookware into the oven, upside down and bake for 1 hour
- Let it cool
- Make sure to keep it in a cool, dry place in the house that allows for good air circulation
- Never, ever, ever wash your cast iron in the dishwasher.
Campfire cooking allows us to try new things like cooking with a dutch oven. If you have a dutch oven we’re not just stuck to hot dogs or boiled ramen. With a little bit of knowledge, why you can make gourmet meals with your dutch oven.
The best dutch ovens will be made from cast iron. And as we discussed in the section on cast iron, make sure to season it properly.
What makes a dutch oven so useful while camping is that it is so versatile. We can cook with it hung over a flame on a tripod. Or you can place it on a bed of coals. And even place hot coals on the lid to create the oven.
This allows you to make almost any meal you can think of while camping. Including desserts like cobblers.
Seasonings And Oil
While the great outdoors and a campfire do make food taste better, you should still make to sure to bring your seasonings and oil.
You should bring along what you like to use at home. You can save space and get a single container that has multiple seasonings in separate sections.
But here would some to consider:
- Italian Seasonings
- Garlic Salt
- BBQ Seasonings
- Mexican Seasonings
- Your favorite steak rub
- Your favorite herbs - bring extra sage, because burning sage will help repel mosquitos
- A high-temperature cooking oil such as canola.
As you are starting to pick up, just because you’re on a camping holiday, doesn’t mean that you have to cook like a caveman. And instead, with some basic preparation, you can cook similar to home.
Though possibly with more raccoons hanging around waiting to steal your leftovers.
Here are what to think about including in your camping kit:
- Kitchen knife – though your camping knife can work, but you will most likely want your full-tang camping knife
- Kitchen scissors – I think we don’t talk enough about bringing scissors. I always remember watching a hiker talking about how he used scissors more than a blade on his backpack trips.
- Tongs – Make them long ones because of the heat and flames.
- Spatulas – Also make them longer and more heat resistant because you might be cooking over a campfire.
- Manual can opener – You are going to have canned food. And it’s easier and safer to open them using a can opener than trying to use your knife.
- Cutting board – Just like home, having a cutting board will make it easier, safer and cleaner to chop things on a cutting board. Make sure to follow the same hygiene rules as home.
"Chuck Wagon" Setup
A chuck wagon is like taking your kitchen on the road. They are more famous from cowboy movies. A chuck wagon always followed the herd to feed the cowboys.
The benefit of bringing a chuck wagon with you on your camping trip, is to make it easier to cook meals. And while we’re calling this a “chuck wagon” we don’t mean an extra vehicle.
Rather it would be more like a portable pantry. And this is for people who really love outdoor cooking. In particular, for making things from scratch and for a lot of people.
You can purchase a premade chuck wagon. Though you should search for a portable pantry. Unless you indeed want to bring a covered wagon with you :).
However, if you want to build your own, these are relatively simple to build. And could be a great rainy weekend project. All they are is a box :). And then make them a little bit fancier by adding doors to them.
A chuck wagon isn’t required for camping. But it definitely will take your cooking to the next level on your next camping trip.
You are not always going to want to always make a campfire. Plus in many locations, there will be a burn band during the summer. And of course, in certain areas, there isn’t much firewood.
An example of when you don’t want to make a campfire. When you first wake-up on a cold and rainy morning on the day you are packing up to go home.
On those days, you just want to heat up some water for coffee and maybe make some oatmeal.
This is why it’s always good to bring along a camping stove. If it’s just yourself, a small stove will be sufficient. But if you have multiple people, bring along a larger stove.