The Gear You Need to Eat Well While Camping
When you’re camping, delicious food isn’t always a priority—and it doesn't need to be, especially if you’re carrying everything on your back or cramming all the tents for a family reunion in the back of a station wagon. We typically draw on our stockpile of reliable recipes, cooking vegetable skewers and hot dogs on sticks over the fire (and waiting an hour for the water to boil in the morning). But does outdoor adventure always mean instant coffee and canned chili?
Author Linda Ly—the writer-photographer behind slow-food and outdoors blog Garden Betty—wants to change the way we think about eating while roughing it. In The New Camp Cookbook, out now from Voyageur Press, she provides recipes and tips for cooking delicious, thoughtful meals in the great outdoors. This is for the car-camping set: families and groups of friends who set up around a fire, by a lake, under the trees and spend time enjoying the fresh air—who want to feed a crowd, and feed it well.
Part of the challenge, of course, is having the right equipment. It might feel like an expensive and unnecessary project to buy a bunch of gear you’ll only use a few times a year—but don’t worry. Ly says you probably own most of the things you need for camp cooking, even if you you don’t use them. Old pots, pans, knives and dishware can have a “second life” in your camping arsenal. And when it comes to legacy items like dutch ovens and cast iron skillets, antiques shops and flea markets are treasure troves of cheap pre-seasoned and well-loved equipment.
Here’s Ly’s definitive checklist for setting up a crackerjack camp kitchen:
The following excerpt from The New Camp Cookbook by Linda Ly has been reprinted with permission from Voyageur Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group.
Cooler. "If you frequently camp with a group, it’s handy to have two coolers—a large one for food and a medium one for drinks, or one for raw meats and one for prepared foods. On longer trips, it may help to have a separate cooler just for ice, so you can refill your food cooler as needed." [Check out our guide to The Best Coolers.]
Plastic storage bin. "You’ll need one large enough to contain all of your cooking gear, or a couple of bins to separate pots and pans from smaller items. Look for heavy-duty models that can take a beating in camp." [Here are a few to get you started.]
Camp stove and fuel. "Car camping stoves are similar to your stove at home, and the best ones have powerful burners (upward of 30,000 BTU), auto-ignition, and wind resistance. For the most flexibility, choose a two-burner model that allows you to fit a skillet and a stockpot side by side. Most camp stoves are powered by small propane fuel canisters (sold separately), and you should pack at least two canisters, depending on the size of your group and the amount of cooking you plan to do. A good rule of thumb is to bring one more canister than you think you’ll need." [Check out these ultra-portable mini-stoves.]
Fire-starting supplies. "If fires are allowed where you’ll be camping, you’ll need a few basic supplies for building (and extinguishing) a fire: a lighter or matches, a hatchet (if you’ll be cutting kindling), and a bucket or other vessel for water (your dishwashing tub can double as a fire bucket)."
Dishwashing equipment. "You can set up a full dishwashing station with collapsible sinks or plastic tubs for soaking and rinsing, or you can keep it simple with a large bucket if it suits your needs. Add some biodegradable dish soap, a sponge and/or scrubber, a couple of kitchen towels for drying, and a scraper for cleaning cast iron." [Make sure you grab this tool for cleaning cast iron.]
General kitchen supplies. "Never leave home without paper towels, hand sanitizer, heavy-duty drawstring trash bags, heavy-duty aluminum foil, binder clips (for closing chip bags and hanging damp dish rags on a line), and resealable plastic bags (the gallon size is the most useful for storing leftovers, marinades, and small pieces of trash while you’re hiking)."
Skillet. "A 12-inch skillet is a workhorse in camp. You’ll be using it every day, so choose a durable stainless steel or nonstick heavy-bottom pan with a tight-fitting lid for ease of cooking and cleaning. Some camping-specific models even come with folding handles to simplify storage. If you don’t mind the weight, a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is the only pan you’ll ever need in camp, since it can be used on a stove as well as on a grill." [Here's a popular cast-iron version.]
Cooking pots. "For most cooking needs in camp, a 2-quart saucepan and a 4-quart stockpot will serve you well. Some saucepans come with pour spouts and measuring lines etched inside the pans, which make them useful as kettles if you’re a tea and coffee drinker." [Here are some recommendations from our editors.]
Dutch oven and accessories. "If you plan to try some of the dutch oven recipes in this book, you’ll need a cast-iron camp dutch oven—one with feet and a flanged lid. The 6-quart (12-inch) model is the most versatile size for everything from baked goods to soups and stews." [Our team says this one "ticks all of our boxes."]
Dishware. "Assemble a set of non-breakable plates, bowls, and mugs, along with flatware. If you grill a lot of steaks, a set of steak knives may prove valuable in camp."
Mixing bowls. "It’s good to have at least two large bowls that can handle pancake batter, salads, guacamole, and other group-friendly fixings. To minimize bulk, look for bowls that collapse or nest inside each other." [People love these ones.]
Cutting boards. "It’s handy to have two cutting boards so you can keep raw meats away from fresh produce. Go with something sturdy and large, and possibly one with a drip groove to help contain liquids from grilled steak or juicy tomatoes. If you’re short on space, pack a few flexible cutting mats instead." [Check out our tips for wooden cutting boards.]
Knives. "Pack a chef’s knife, along with a paring knife or serrated knife, depending on your cooking needs. Wrap them in a thick dish towel secured with a rubber band to protect them in transit. If you don’t want to bring your good knife from home, invest in one for camp that you won’t worry about losing. Ceramic knives, in particular, are perfect for camping. They’re sharp (and retain their sharpness far longer than traditional steel blades), ultra lightweight, and a good value, with most of them priced under $20. Many also come with sheaths to protect the blades." [We've got a guide to The Best Chef's Knives too, although only take one camping if you've got two of them.]
Tools and utensils. "At minimum, you should have a large sturdy spoon, spatula, tongs, scissors or kitchen shears, metal skewers, measuring cups and spoons, a cheese grater (which can double as a citrus zester), vegetable peeler (which can double as a cheese slicer), can opener, bottle opener, and wine opener." [Here's our go-to spatula.]
Headlamp. "This hands-free lamp is handy in countless situations in camp, including cooking and dishwashing at night, and focuses light where you need it. (Be sure to bring extra batteries!)"
The New Camp Cookbook: Gourmet Grub for Campers, Road Trippers, and Adventurers by Linda Ly, $17 on amazon.