Cooking At Camp
By now I’m sure you found out that Pizza Hut won’t deliver to your campsite, so that means you need to cook your meals (if they do deliver to your campsite, then you aren’t far enough away from civilization).
Not only that, but you need something to serve them on and to eat them with. Basically, you need a small kitchen set for your camping. Just like with other areas, here too you will be going as cheaply as possible.
You’re camping, not eating at a five-star restaurant, so you need to be prepared for things to get dinged up. They only need to function good, not to look good; if you have mis-matched pieces who really cares if the food tastes good. Let’s look at your kitchen setup in groups.
There are a couple of ways to handle the utensils, both cooking and eating. You could opt for the plastic variety, which has the advantage of not requiring cleaning if you don’t want to; you can dispose of them in the trash.
Either way, eventually they will run out and you will need to get more, so be aware of the recurring cost of doing the plastic utensils. Alternatively, you could do the metal variety like what you have at home. The best place to find these would be at garage sales or thrift stores.
Don’t worry about them being matched, again this isn’t about impressing people but about functionality. You will need to wash these and store them away, but at least you’ll always have them and not have to worry about remembering to buy them every time you go camping.
Cups and Plates
Like the utensils we just discussed, cups and plates can be of the more permanent variety or of the trashable variety. You have the same advantages/ disadvantages here as you do with the utensils. Yes, do garage sales and thrift stores for the permanent plates and cups. Some sort of dish washing soap will be a good addition to your checklist for your next trip.
Pots and Pans
Here’s where you might be thinking you’d either spend a lot of money or get a lot of different items. In both cases you would be wrong. Just like I suggested getting your metal utensils, plates and cups at garage sales and thrift stores, I’ll tell you to do the same thing with your pots and pans. Cheap is the name of the game; if you have extra pots and pans in your home kitchen that you don’t mind getting extra dirty and beat up, even better to allocate them for your camping vacations.
You really only probably need a few pots or pans. When thinking about what you might need, try to think of the meals that you make at home. What do you use to cook them? Now, what pots and pans can you have that will take the place of having multiple sizes of them? Ideally, you probably would end up with one pan for frying, one large pot for some larger foods, and one smaller pot for smaller needs. If possible, they should all have lids, and the fry pan and large pot would use the same lid (probably unlikely that you’d need a lid for both of them at the same time).
You’ve now minimized your cook set to the bare minimum to cook with. Unless you already cook with cast iron, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any of those pieces to have in your camp cook set. If you can, I highly recommend even getting a small cast iron fry pan. Cast iron is very forgiving in terms of storage, use, and abuse. Otherwise, you’ll probably have steel alternatives, or perhaps aluminum.
All of these are okay, but cast iron will be significantly heavier. One other note to keep in mind for your pots and pans: consider how you will be cooking most of the time. If you are mostly using a camp stove, then you can approach them as you would if you were using them at home.
However, if you plan to do cooking over the fire, then you’ll need to be mindful that the bottoms of the pots and pans will get black from the fire. Often cast iron cookware is preferred for cooking over the fire, but steel also works well. I tend to shy away from aluminum because they transfer heat too quickly and you can easily burn food. Their lighter weight is definitely not offset by this limitation, not to mention the possibility of your pans warping from use over high heat.
Remember back in the Novice/Newbie section I had a camp cookstove in the list of items to bring? I mentioned that you could have either a propane or white gas version. This still applies, along with using the campfire itself, but I wanted to get a little deeper into this aspect here. Let’s tackle using the campfire first.
Most people who go camping end up having a fire at some point, often in the early morning and evening hours. This ends up working nicely for cooking food, as you’ll probably be hungry around these same times.
You’ve got a few options for cooking over the fire, and some of these will depend on what food you are making. Options include a roasting fork, a tripod, a pie iron, and the movable grill attached to the fire ring (if one is there). Roasting forks often are referred to as marshmallow forks, since roasting marshmallows is a favorite past time of campers.
But you can cook more than just marshmallows. Anything that you can stick the fork through, you can cook with it. Hotdogs, brats, corndogs, meatballs, chicken breasts, and other foods can be cooked using a roasting fork. What is also nice is that these forks are cheap to buy, and easy to transport because they don’t take up much room. Let’s move on to an item related to the roasting fork, and that’s the pie iron or sandwich maker.
These devices come in either round or square shape, and essentially they are a clamshell attached to 2 sticks.
Just like the roasting fork, you can cook a lot of different foods, but for the pie iron, you are putting the ingredients between 2 slices of buttered bread. In a way, you are making your own personal food pocket. Here again, the cost isn’t much, and they also don’t take up a lot of room for transport. The next item is the tripod.
This setup has 3 legs that form a pyramid over the fire, with a wire grill suspended in the middle by a chain that can be moved up and down to vary the distance between the fire and the food on the grill.
This is a bit more elaborate to set up but offers a nice way to grill larger amounts of food over a fire. You can purchase one of these in a store, but many people make their own as the engineering of them isn’t terribly difficult. If you have a larger family or frequently go camping with friends, this is a good item to have.
You can also use the tripod with cast iron pots, or dutch ovens, by swapping out the wire grill and suspending the pot by the chain. This allows many additional foods and recipes to be made over the fire with ease and allows you to heat up water for washing dishes, hot chocolate, etc. Last is the metal grill that is attached to the fire ring.
This will not always be present at your campsite, but if it is it’s worth considering. Many state and county parks have these installed now, and private campgrounds are also offering them.
They will usually only cover a portion of the fire ring, allowing you to continue to access the fire to add more wood. Here you can use your pots and pans for cooking meals and heating up water. Okay, so the above covered the majority of options of cooking over the fire. Now I want to talk about camp stoves.
These are a nice option to have, and most come in 2 flavors: propane and white gas. There are pros and cons to each, and you don’t have to have one for camping, but they definitely are nice when the weather turns sour, the firewood is wet, and you’re hungry for something warm. First, let’s talk about the stoves themselves. These come in a variety of sizes, ranging from a small single burner up to three burners for the camp stove.
There are hundreds of designs, but I’m focusing on the portable stove that has a hinged lid with side wings to help cut down on wind (two and three burner stoves) and the single round burner.
These are not cheap investments, but as I mentioned they can really make tent camping a much more enjoyable experience. At this stage in your camping career, I would recommend borrowing a stove rather than purchasing one.
This will give you the opportunity to see how it fits in with your camping style, and you may have the opportunity to borrow several different kinds of stoves, which provides you valuable input on which kind is most appropriate for your needs.
In all cases, your fuel source will either be propane (which comes in little one pound bottles at various retailers, or you can get larger propane cylinders for longer usage) or white gas. White gas is the common name that people use to refer to fuel that is highly refined.
Typically you’ll find gallon containers of these in the outdoors section of big box retailers, usually made by Coleman or another
well-known brand, as well as sporting goods stores. Propane is a gas that is stored under pressure (hence the metal cylinders) while white gas is a clear liquid similar to what you put in your vehicle’s gas tank.
As I mentioned, either option is fine and work well. I personally prefer to use the white gas option. I think part of it is because that’s what I was raised with as a kid, and part of it is because my devices are a bit more robust and can use multiple fuel sources
The stoves provide a nice alternative to cooking over the fire, or as a supplement to your camping needs (cooking over the fire while heating up water for washing things later, etc.).
As you can see, there is a lot to think about when it comes to cooking and outfitting yourself with the tools required. In at least some of these cases, borrowing is preferred at this stage because it would take a while to get back out what you invest in things. Some of this is personal preference, like the use of plastic or metal utensils. But overall, I still encourage you to spend as little money as possible on things.
You’ve only gone a few times so far, and you don’t yet know if this is something that you’ll be making a regular hobby out of or not. It’s okay if you don’t, but then you’ll be happy you didn’t spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on things that you rarely, if ever, use. Soon enough you’ll be able to confidently say that spending the money on various things is worth it because you’ll get the use out of it.