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Your Ultimate Camp Kitchen Guide: From Gear Lists to Food Ideas

Your Ultimate Camp Kitchen Guide: From Gear Lists to Food Ideas

Words Holly Hays

No need to rough it when you’re preparing meals on an outdoor adventure. Check out the tips, gear, recipes and organizing ideas you’ll need to cook in style.

If cooking while camping calls up images of crusty pots and cans of beans, we’re here to welcome you to a whole new world. Feeding your crew in the great outdoors can be a gourmet affair—it just takes some planning. Use our guide to help strategize meals, organize your gear and pack safely, so you can pull off a chef-grade camp kitchen and delicious menus everyone will love. When the eating is done, make dish duty a no-brainer with a few easy hacks. Start here.

camping tools

Cooking While Camping Gear List

No one wants to get deep into the forest only to discover cooking essentials were left at home. Check these camp kitchen basics off your list before you leave the house:

  • Camping stove and fuel. A must for everything from boiling water to cooking eggs.
  • Lighters/matches. Can’t start a fire without a spark!
  • Cooking pots and skillet. Aim for one small pot, one large one and one skillet (cast iron or carbon steel).
  • Cutting board. Make slicing, chopping and serving easy.
  • Sealable containers. Keep leftovers from leaking in the cooler.
  • Cooler. Meet your campsite refrigerator.
  • Dish towels. These do double duty as hot pan holders.
  • French press. Maintain your coffee standards even in the wilderness.
  • Dishware. Stock up on bowls, plates, unbreakable mugs and cups.
  • Aluminum foil. Wrap food for roasting in the coals.
  • Paper towels. Helpful for cleaning and can double as napkins.
  • Trash/recycling bags
  • Utensils and cooking tools. Corkscrew, can opener (includes bottle opener), cooking knives in safe sheaths, grill tools, forks, knives and spoons, scissors, mixing and serving spoons, skewers and/or marshmallow forks, tongs and turners.

How to Set Up a Camp Kitchen

Organization is everything. At least a week before your trip, check over your camping gear to make sure it’s in good working order. Wipe down coolers, clean your camp stove, make sure you have enough fuel and gather your kitchen tools and containers for food. Spices can go in small, airtight containers; squeeze bottles are great for condiments, oils and salad dressings.

When you arrive at your campsite, look for a flat surface to set up your kitchen. One end of a picnic table is perfect as it has room for your stove, cooler and eating space. Ideally, your camp kitchen will be near shade so your cooler won’t have to work too hard (in a pinch, slide it under the table).

egg and sausage on carbon steel pan

How to Pack and Store Food Safely While Camping

Efficient space use is everything when it comes to cooking while camping. These tips can help you get your trip off on the right foot.

  • Plan: Along with staples, gourmet accents can elevate your camping experience: freshly ground coffee, condiments, honey, hot cocoa, hot sauce, maple syrup, infused oil for salad dressing and spices all raise your game.
  • Prep: Prepare whatever you can at home to save yourself time and trouble in camp, including making sauces, soups, chili, baked goods like these Gooey S’mores Cookies, chopping produce and grinding coffee. At least 24 hours before your trip, freeze ice packs. You can also freeze foods and water you won’t need the first day; they’ll keep other items cold as they defrost.
  • Store: Keep cheese, butter and produce in waterproof, sealed containers to avoid sogginess. Extra points for containers that stack and save space. At your campground, look for bear-proof lockers to safely store food and toiletries. Alternately, place sealed food in bins or coolers well away from your tent or in your car.
  • Pack: To fill the cooler, start with a cold layer on the bottom. Perishable items go next (meat, dairy), then a layer of ice. Continue layering other foods (eggs, less-fragile fruits and veggies, hummus and other dips, condiments) with ice in between.

Easy Camping Recipes

Peruse these food ideas when planning your meals for delicious inspiration.

One-Pan Wonders: That skillet on your gear list comes in handy for making open-fire chicken enchiladas, easy campfire cornbread (a perfect chili partner) and a campfire cinnamon s’mores skillet.

Sweet and Savory Snacks: Fresh air makes everyone hungry. Feed the crowd with healthy homemade goodies like nut butter power balls (make them before you go). Store in the cooler in sealed containers. Make your own trail mix by mixing equal parts of your favorite nuts with dried fruit and other add-ins like chocolate chips or coconut flakes. Or try this tropical trail mix recipe.

Let’s Do Lunch: Try a vegetarian option like this hummus-and-veggie wrap or—another make-ahead idea—cheesy frittata squares.

Happy Hour: Prep beverages before you go and store in jars in the cooler. Perk up iced tea with fresh herbs or citrus juice, like this orange and mint version. Or mix up a large batch of cocktails.

french press filled with coffee

How to Make Coffee While Camping

Your morning brew can be just as magical when you’re camping.

You’ll need: a shatter-resistant French press, coarsely ground coffee, any coffee add-ins (sweetener, cream, etc.)

To make:

  • Add desired amount of grounds to the French press. A good rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons of coffee to 1 cup of water.
  • Boil water and pour into the carafe. Stir grounds.
  • Replace lid and let steep for four to five minutes.
  • Slowly press plunger down to filter out grounds. Pour.
  • Dispose of grounds in trash; don’t dump them on the ground as they’re harsh on the environment.

Cooking: Camp Stove or Campfire?

There are pros and cons of both methods of cooking while camping, but here are a few things to think about:

  • Not all campgrounds allow open fires. A camp stove covers you either way.
  • It can take longer to roast or grill food over the campfire because the temperatures are less predictable. Campfires involve more effort to build and maintain.
  • Roasting and grilling over an open fire can yield more flavorful food. Mix things up with these unexpected grilling recipes.
  • Camp stove cooking is fast and reliable, but campfire cooking can be simple as well. Think hot dogs or marshmallows on sticks or roasting potatoes or foil packets in the coals.

How to Wash Dishes While Camping

Done with dinner? Tackle that pile of dirty pots, pans and plates with ease.

You’ll need: One to two plastic bins or collapsible sinks, a scraper, an abrasive brush or sponge, biodegradable dish soap and warm water (heated on camp stove or fire).

To clean:

  1. Wipe dishes as clean as possible of food/oils/sauces with a paper towel or scraper.
  2. Pour a half-inch of warm water into the bin (the scrub brush comes with a convenient scoop for transporting water); add a drizzle of soap.
  3. Wash dishes in the sink, starting with the cleanest ones, moving to dirtiest.
  4. Dunk dishes in clean water to rinse (use a second sink or pour clean water over them).
  5. Strain out and throw away food debris from sink water. Pour out water either in designated area or dispersed over the ground far away from bodies of water.
  6. Dry dishes with a towel or spread out in the sun.

Ready to hit the trails? Make your hike kid-friendly with these tips.

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