Cooking outdoors can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of camping, but it can also cause a lot of headaches.
Getting it wrong can result in a lot of extra work and hassle, and leave you going to bed hungry.
To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about how to have a great outdoor cookery experience while on a camping trip!
My top camping cooking tips
The key to successful camp cooking is making adequate preparation. Having a clear plan of action can save you lots of time and hassle in the long run.
Here are my top tips to help you prepare.
Tip #1 – Do you need to cook?
Camping can be challenging at the best of times, especially if you’re wild camping or not using a campsite with facilities. So, if you’re going it alone or if you’re only away for a short period of time, you might be able to get away without cooking at all.
Take foods such as cured meats and hard cheese that don’t spoil quickly if not refrigerated. Pick up some fresh bread on your travels, and you have a full meal without having to cook at all.
Other ideas include cereal and protein bars, and fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges.
Not having to cook means you don’t have to take (or carry!) as much equipment and you will have zero to minimal items to clean after.
Tip #2 – Keep it simple
Don’t attempt complicated recipes that require you to have multiple pans on the go all at the same time.
Keep things simple such as a one-pot supper, which is much less likely to fail than a fancy dish, especially if conditions are challenging.
And again, it means that you’re not left with a sky-high pile of dishes to wash afterward.
Tip #3 – Prepare in advance
You can save yourself lots of time by planning your meals and preparing as much of them as you can at home.
You can even cook your meals in advance, place them in a vacuum-sealed bag, (possibly freeze them,) and simply heat them up once you get your campfire or stove going.
Tip #4 – Don’t go overboard with cooking equipment
If you’ve followed my first few tips, then you won’t need to take much cooking equipment.
If you’re cooking over a campfire or stove, then one good quality skillet is all you need to cook pretty much everything from stew to bacon and eggs.
Alternatively, I use a small compacted gas cooker (which I don’t know the name of) and a small pan. Aside from cutlery, this is all I use and it has seen me through many camping trips, some as long as 3-weeks.
Tip #5 – Pack your cooler wisely
If you are taking a cooler to help keep your food chilled, putting a little thought into how you pack it will help your food stay cooler for longer.
Along with frozen ice packs, you can freeze some water bottles and any other pre-prepared food or cuts of meat that you’re not going to need straight away. This will help to keep your other food cold and they will slowly defrost ready for when you need them.
What food to take?
The kind of food you take with you depends on whether you’re backpacking and you want to travel light or you’re staying in a campsite that gives you a base to store your stuff.
Examples of food to take when camping include:
- Tinned foods (This is my chosen option)
- Pouched camping meals
- Long-lasting fruits, such as oranges, apples, and bananas
- Cereal, protein, and snack bars
- Dried pasta and rice
- Pre-prepared meals in vacuum or ziplock bags
- Frozen meat cuts, stored in your cooler
If you’re a keen fisherman and you’re close to a river or lake, you can catch and cook fresh fish. However, be sure to check that fishing is permitted. Some local authorities have a strict catch-and-release policy, while others place a limit on how many fish you can take from their waters each day.
Food storage options
If you’re going backpacking or just making short camping trips, it’s best to take only foods that are non-perishable or that have a long shelf-life.
You’ll need a cooler for perishable foods and to keep your drinks cold. However, if your pitch has electricity, you might want to consider taking a small camping fridge.
Ziplock bags and sealable plastic containers are also essential for keeping things fresh and away from pests and pets!
What to cook on?
There are two main options for camping cooking; a campfire or a gas camping stove. Both are just as effective when used correctly.
Let’s look at each of them individually.
One of the most fun things to do when you go camping is cooking your meals over a campfire.
You can choose to cook over the open flames or over the coals once the fire has reached a suitable temperature. Either option works well. Just remember that you can’t adjust the temperature of an open fire as you can with your hob at home.
Make sure that your food is cooked right the way through and not only on the outside, this is especially important if cooking over the flames as food can look ‘ready’ even though it’s still raw on the inside.
Also, we recommend that you take your own firewood with you. Some campsites won’t allow you to gather firewood, and if the weather is damp, you could struggle to find wood that is dry enough to burn.
How to build a campfire
Before you begin building the campfire, check the guidelines for the campsite you’re on, as they can vary.
- Choose a safe place for your campfire. Some campsites have a designated fire pit area for you to use. However, if there isn’t one for your pitch, make sure that the fire pit isn’t too close to your tent and isn’t underneath overhanging branches. Ideally, you should have at least 10 feet of clearance from trees.
- Start by clearing an area of bare earth for the fire pit. Make sure there’s nothing flammable close to the fire pit, such as dry leaves, grass, or other woodland debris.
- Make a large dent in the ground. The center of the fire pit should be the lowest point to allow for good fire control and to catch the ashes afterward.
- Collect some medium-sized rocks and place them around the dent to establish a boundary and contain the fire.
- Have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher on hand in case the fire gets out of control.
- Place a layer of dry tinder in the center of the fire pit.
- Stack your kindling wood in a tepee shape on top of the tinder. Once the structure is solid, add your firewood against the tepee to strengthen it. Be sure to leave vents between the wood in the wind’s direction so that the fire gets good airflow.
- Use a match or gas lighter to ignite the tinder.
- Once the wood starts to burn, you can add more as required.
Extinguishing the campfire
Never leave the fire burning unattended. If the fire is still alight when you’ve finished cooking and are ready to retire for the night, gradually sprinkle water onto the fire.
As the fire dies down, use a long stick to stir the ashes, ensuring that all the embers are extinguished. Once the ashes are cold, you know the fire is completely out.
How to cook on a campfire
Cooking over a campfire is pretty straightforward, although there are a couple of important things to remember:
- Don’t forget to stir the food as it cooks so that it doesn’t stick to the pan and burn.
- Make sure that your food is cooked all the way through and not just on the outside.
Useful cooking equiptment for a campfire
A grill grate is a very useful and versatile piece of kit for cooking over a campfire. You can use the grate to grill veggies and meat, and it doubles as a stand for pots for frying, boiling water, or slow cooking.
Choose cast iron cookware for campfire cooking, as the metal holds the heat better and distributes it more evenly. You can buy cast iron camp cookware sets that include a skillet, pot, and a dutch oven.
You’ll also need a long-handled spoon for serving and stirring and a set of stainless steel tongs. Grill gloves are handy to avoid burns, and a wire grill brush is also useful for keeping things clean. If you’re planning on cooking meat, take a digital meat thermometer with you.
Aluminum foil is helpful for lining cookware, and you can also use it to wrap veggies, potatoes, and fruit to cook on the coals. In a pinch, you can even create serving bowls from the foil.
2. Camping stoves
If you’re staying at a campsite where fires aren’t permitted, you’ll need a portable camping stove to cook on.
Stoves are generally less hassle to use than a campfire and can be a godsend if the weather turns wet. The most popular stoves are powered by propane or white gas. You can also get kerosene fuel and super-light butane burner appliances that are small enough to be carried in your backpack.
Camping stoves are potentially highly flammable, not to mention explosive. If you’re planning on using a camping stove, never use the stove in your tent, in any other enclosed area, or close to a campfire.
Only use your stove in the open air and well away from any other heat source.
Cooking on a camping stove is pretty self-explanatory and works similar to the usual gas stoves you find at home.
Other things to note
Here are a few important things to note about cooking while camping.
- Leave the campsite exactly as you found it.
- Take all your rubbish home with you or dispose of it in the designated bins at the campsite.
- Don’t leave leftover food around your tent or campfire where it might attract vermin and animals, such as foxes and dogs. That includes cleaning off any bits of meat that are stuck to your grill before you retire for the night!
- Don’t use more pots, pans, and utensils than you need. The more stuff you use, the more you have to wash and clean, which can be a real hassle if your campsite doesn’t have the facilities to accommodate that.
Outdoor cooking is an integral part of your camping experience but it can also make or break your trip.
Keep things simple and only take what you need to make transporting your kit and cleaning up afterward as hassle-free as possible. Prepare your food as much as you can before you travel, and take plenty of non-perishable foods that won’t spoil in warm weather.
Before you head off for your holiday, check if campfires are permitted at your campsite and pack some firewood and kindling. It’s also a good idea to take a camping stove with you in case the weather is inclement, and you can’t light a fire.
When cooking while camping, always have safety in mind and leave your pitch exactly as you found it.
P.S. If you have any other camping cooking questions, or if I’ve missed anything out, please let me know in the comments box below ??
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