There is something about eating dinner outside and watching the sunset that makes food just taste so much better. After a long day of hiking, fishing, rafting or just playing around the campground, there is nothing like cooking a meal by the campfire.
Camping has its traditional meals, such as hot dogs, hamburgers and s’mores. But roughing it in the great outdoors does not mean leaving all the creativity of the kitchen behind. With thoughtful preparation and storage of ingredients, almost any desired meal can be cooked in a campground. These tips can provide the recipe for successful camping cooking.
Use zip-close freezer bags
Freezer bags might not be the first thing that comes to mind for cooking meals, but they are an invaluable tool for preparing meals and protecting ingredients from spoilage.
Austin Dreher, assistant manager of Frisco’s Butterhorn Bakery, encourages campers to use zip-close bags to keep ingredients safely stored in coolers.
“If you bring meat and cheese, put it in the same Ziploc bag, and put it in the cooler right on top of the ice,” said Dreher, who spent two months camping this spring. “We never experienced any problems with spoilage of meat or cheese.”
Zip-close bags can be placed on top of the ice to keep perishable foods cold but not frozen. The zip-close feature ensures that ingredients are not flooded and spoiled by melting ice.
“You can put all the food you have in the bags to keep it safe from water seeping in,” Dreher said.
Zip-close bags also conserve space in the cooler. By removing all excess air from a bag, ingredients can be efficiently stored and organized.
“You can bring things like arugula, and put it in a zip-close bag, it can be literally vacuum tight and shrink down to nothing if you take all the air out, which really saves space,” Dreher added.
Prepare ingredients ahead of time
Another key to successful camp cooking is prepping ingredients in advance. The more preparation that is completed at home, the less time, work and utensils are necessary at the campground.
For camping meals like fajitas, almost all the ingredients can be prepped prior to camping. Chicken breasts can be stored in marinade for the drive, and vegetables can be chopped up and ready for the grill.
Dreher explained that it is surprising the amount of ingredients that can be prepared prior to hitting the road.
“One of the things you want to make sure you do is scramble your eggs ahead of time. Eggs won’t spoil on top of the ice in your cooler,” Dreher said. “Eggs don’t even need to be in a cooler. As long as your car does not get too hot, they won’t go bad.”
Pack a camping stove
While there is something romantic about cooking meals over a campfire, sometimes a camping stove is a far more practical tool that makes cooking meals faster, cleaner and easier.
Camping stoves are small and can be folded up to maximize space. When unpacked, however, a stove can increase the range of meals that can be cooked outdoors.
“I really recommend a camping stove,” Dreher said. “We tried to do just fire cooking morning and night, and it just got hard.”
Fire cooking often takes much longer than cooking with a stove because the temperature cannot be easily adjusted. Meat might be inconsistently cooked over the flames. It is also challenging to fry things, such as veggies, eggs or bacon over an open fire.
“A camping stove made it so much easier, especially for breakfast, when you just want to cook eggs, when you want bacon or a burrito,” Dreher said.
A camping stove also can be used to cook meat with greater precision. From steaks to hamburgers, a stove can help elevate camping meals to the next level.
“We cooked a lot of strip steaks on our trip,” Dreher said. “We also used really thin burger patties to save space, and they were super good.”
While a camping stove can be helpful for cooking meats well, Dreher still encourages the use of thinner cuts.
“Try to steer away from meats that are too juicy, because that can create a real mess on a camping stove.”
Keep lunches simple
While camping breakfasts and dinners have opportunity for culinary creativity, keeping lunches simple takes some of the pressure off cooking.
When people go camping, most do not want to be at the campsite all day. Keeping lunches simple allows people to fish, hike, raft and explore without having to spend hours cooking and cleaning around the campsite. As lunchtime is the hottest time of the day, having cold lunches prevents people from having to spend time around a campfire or stove in the heat.
Simple lunches, such as sandwiches, wraps or premade salad bowls allow people to fully maximize their time in the outdoors.
“Bring bread, peanut butter and jelly for really easy, quick meals,” Dreher said.
If people are sticking around the campground for the day, one easy-to-cook meal is quesadillas. With simple ingredients and short cooking times, quesadillas can act as an ideal cooked lunch with minimal cleanup.
Rely on flexible and common ingredients
Camp cooking largely depends on thoughtfully planning each meal. Some ingredients, such as vegetables, are good to stock up on — they can be integrated into almost every meal.
“Veggies are a lifesaver,” Dreher said. “We ate asparagus every day. It is easy. It is so good with olive oil, salt and pepper. I would definitely recommend bringing lots of veggies: broccoli, carrots, asparagus, zucchini. Really good, and you can eat that any time of the day.”
Other versatile ingredients, such as tortillas, can be helpful for multiple meals. Tortillas can be used for fajitas one night and breakfast tacos, wraps or quesadillas another day.
Eggs are another must-have ingredient. They can be scrambled or fried, used to make pancake batter or turned into dinner omelets.
Versatile ingredients ensure that minimal food goes to waste and helps campers pack efficiently to conserve limited space in a car, tent or camper van.
Be creative and have fun!
Camping is a way to escape from everyday life and have a relaxing time in nature. Meals can be as simple or elaborate as a family wants as long as they are having an enjoyable experience. Every family’s camping meals will differ, and they will form camping recipes and traditions of their own. Specific tools and tips can help make camping as easy as possible, but the best way to ensure successful camp cooking is by thinking ahead and being as prepped as possible before escaping to the outdoors.