The Ultimate Guide to Camp Cooking

Camp cooking isn't always easy, especially when you have to worry about keeping things cool, limited space for storage, and having to brave the elements. However, you can rest assure that no meal will ever taste as good as the one you prepare from scratch over a campfire.

While backcountry camping involves a whole other set of challenges, many of our national parks; and even state parks, offer tons of front country and roadside campsites with vehicle access, picnic tables, and fire pits. These sites are great for car camping and make it much easier for cooking at your campsite. With some thought and preparation, like packing these camp cooking equipment essentials, you'll be ready to learn how to cook a campfire breakfast hash in no time.

COOKWARE

Because you won't have access to a traditional kitchen, you'll have to decide what are the absolute must camp cooking essentials needed to make your outdoor getaway a success. Unless you plan to cook a meal that's worthy of three Michelin stars, this is what a typical camp cookware checklist should look like:

  • One large frying pan or skillet (preferably cast-iron)
  • Two pots (one small and one large) with lids
  • One spatula, one large serving spoon, and a set of tongs
  • Kitchen knife and cutting board
  • Coffee pot
  • Tinfoil

While it's not exactly essential, another great camp cooking tool is a Dutch oven. You can make just about anything in one of these, from breads to stews and desserts. Most national park campsites include a fire pit with a built-in grill top. You should always check ahead of time to see if you'll need to bring your own grilling surface.

TABLEWARE

Table setting at your campsite might be the simplest, yet most pivotal part about camp cooking. After all... without it, it makes things a lot more difficult. Some may prefer to use paper plates and disposable silverware for camping, while others may choose a more eco-friendly option of using reusable dishwater. Whatever you choose, make sure to pack enough for each person to have their own set:

  • Plate and bowl
  • Cup or mug (try to avoid glass)
  • Knife, fork, and spoon

STORAGE

Keeping your food fresh and safe from hungry critters is one of the biggest camping challenges. Unless you're camping in a modern RV with a fridge and icebox, you're going to need to bring a cooler or two as part of your camp cooking equipment. For most camping trips, one large cooler for food and another smaller one for drinks should have you covered. Keep them both well stocked with ice and pack a few sturdy zipper bags for storing leftovers.

Be sure to research what the food storage options are at your campsite. Some campgrounds will have food storage lockers, while others will encourage you to keep your supplies in the safety of the car – so just be sure to keep in mind the park regulations and the local wildlife. If you're camping in bear country, always upgrade to tough, bear-resistant containers for food. Some national parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Sequoia, have campsites with bear-resistant food lockers, also known as "bear boxes."

FOOD AND DRINK

Now that we've covered the basics, this is where the fun starts! What you choose for camp cuisine depends entirely on personal preference and how much food you're willing to pack. Just remember not to overdo it, especially with perishable items like meat and dairy. Expect to shave a day or two off any expiration date when you keep food in a cooler.

Plan your menu in advance so you can make sure there's enough food to keep everybody happy for the duration of your trip. Choose healthy, high-energy food to keep you fueled for all the fun stuff you'll be doing; like hiking, climbing and kayaking.

Clean drinking water is the one absolute essential. One gallon of water per person, per day is a good general rule. Check ahead of time to see if your chosen campground has potable water. Even if it does, always bring at least a day's worth of water for emergencies.

Nothing brings family and friends together like camping in one of our national parks, except maybe sitting down to a great meal. With all the right tools, you can easily do both.

ADDITIONAL TIPS

  • Measure ingredients for each meal ahead of time and pack in ziplock bags. Label each bag accordingly.
  • Freeze meat before putting in cooler. Keeps other foods cold and will keep longer.
  • Cover pots whenever cooking outdoor. Food will get done quicker and you will save on fuel. Also helps keep dirt and insects out of your food.
  • To save room when packing your camp kitchen, use your pots as mixing bowls.
  • Block ice will last longer than cubed ice.