There’s so much to love about camping--the hikes, the views, the nature, the recreation. But let’s be honest here--what’s a good camping trip without some good grub by the fire? Whether you’re looking to make some seriously gourmet, fireside meals or you just need a few simple ideas to get you through your next weekend excursion, there’s plenty to keep in mind for your next car camping adventure. Here’s everything you need to know before you gear up and hit the road.
Pack Your Pantry Basics-- In order to set yourself up for car camping success, go ahead and toss salt, pepper, oil, and your favorite vinegar in your trunk. If there are certain spices that you can’t part with, you can throw those in, as well, but as long as you have the bare minimum, you can turn just about anything into a tasty, well rounded meal. Spice mixes like taco packets are also a cheap and easy way to add a little bit of zest to whatever it is that you’re cooking.
Pick Your Pan-- Because you’re camping out of a car, you have a little bit more leeway when it comes to the weight and size of your pans. I like to bring a sturdy, 10-inch cast iron skillet and cook just about everything in it. Whether you’re using it over an open fire or a camp stove, a good cast iron can heat quickly and evenly, and it’s simple enough to rinse out after using and air dry before the next use.
Bring a Cutting Board and a Knife-- You will make your life a whole lot easier if you don’t have to use a dull, plastic knife over a paper plate to chop your food. Slide any old cutting board into your trunk and a kitchen knife. You should definitely leave your fancy, Japanese chef’s knife at home, but you also want to bring something that has a sharp enough blade that you won’t be miserable prepping your food. Make sure it’s blade is protected when you pack it because you can risk dulling the blade or hurting yourself if it’s not.
Tin Foil is Essential--Never ever set off for a camping trip without a trusty roll of tin foil. You can use it directly over the fire to cook proteins in a simple pouch, you can use it to wrap around a potato to bake it, and it’s helpful for wrapping up leftovers.
Pack a Cooler--A good cooler is a car camper’s best friend. Without one, you’re likely looking at a trip to the grocery store and a new bag of ice everyday. If you’re really taking things seriously, you can reserve your larger cooler for food items and delegate a smaller cooler for refreshments (21 cans, to be exact)! Remember, refreshments are just as, if not more important as the meal.
Pick a Dish You Know and Love-- Camping is not the time to try out a dish you’ve never made before--save experimenting for the comfort of your own home kitchen. Keep your meals as streamlined and pared down as you can. That said, just because you’re out in the wilderness doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice amazing food. Simple dinners like sandwiches, tacos, stir fries, and pasta are the way to do it. You can even spread a ball of store bought pizza dough in your cast iron and make a skillet ‘za. Simple, thin cuts of protein, like flank steak, chicken breasts, burgers, or sausage, are an easy way to bulk up any meal. Think of meals that you can make for dinner and then use up leftovers for breakfast the next day, like sweet potato tacos for dinner that can be transformed into a sweet potato hash with eggs and bacon the next morning. The more creative you can get, the better! When you’re at the grocery store, arrive with a plan and a list. No one wants to be the one to tell the group that you didn’t buy avocados for taco night. After you shop, make sure to put the items that need to be refrigerated directly into your cooler.
Invest in Reusable Utensils and Dinnerware-- Let’s be real. One-time-use plates, cups, bowls, and utensils are a thing of the past. We might be out in nature, but we’re not complete savages, so make sure that you have a few compact mess kits for you and your camping pals to enjoy your meal with. This Retro Sunrise 6-Piece Kit offers a plate, bowl, cup, spork, and tether, so you have everything you need to devour your meal.
Bring Towels and a Dish Sink-- Just like at home, you’re going to have to tidy up the dirty dishes at some point. Bringing a few old rags, dish soap, a sponge, and any sort of bucket or vessel that can act as a dish sink will make cleaning up much quicker. You may not get your pots and pans as clean as you’re able to at home, but hey, what’s a good camping trip without getting a little dirty?
Embrace the Unexpected--Listen, sometimes things just don’t go the way you may have planned. Remember, you’re not a contestant on Top Chef and you shouldn’t be stressing over what’s for dinner when you’re on vacation. If you forgot an ingredient or something got a little too dark over the fire--it’s okay. The sun is still going to rise the next morning, and someone’s going to need to whip up breakfast then, anyway. Happy camping!
These camp cooking tips were brought to chef extraordinaire Sara Tane. Thank you Sara!