Help me learn to camp cook? What do you cook while camping? How?

I’m going camping/hiking next week in the Porcupine Mountains and I’m an amateur. I’ll probably be out there five full days/six nights and I’m trying to figure out my food situation. I could just survive on trail mix and power bars all week but I would like to do some cooking. I’m a pretty good home cook but have no experience cooking in the outdoors. I decided to pass on the propane stove because I’m trying to do this on the super cheap, plus I like the idea of cooking over an open flame.

I’m curious about camping grills like this. Looks like it would be good for using a pan and cooking eggs. I’m wondering if these are tall enough to use over a campfire? Do you have wait until your wood turns to coals to use it?

So tell me about your camping cooking experiences.

You definitely have to wait for the coals. And use the heaviest pans you can wrangle.

There is a whole Dutch oven camp cooking subculture out there, too. I’ve seen a three course meal cooked with Dutch ovens: soup, main dish, dessert.

Well that answers my question on whether to bring my stainless steel or cast iron frying pan, which I forgot to ask.

Are you backpacking or car camping? When backpacking I go with a small stove (white gas or propane cartridge) a single pot, and foods that I can cook via boiling water. I’m not a huge fan of sitting around a fire (and here in the northeast it’s pretty difficult to build a reasonable fire legally without carrying wood a long distance) so I’d rather crank the stove as soon as I make camp and get hot fluids and food in me quickly.

Plus, if you’re carrying it all on your back for several days you’re not going to want half your pack weight to be food. Quick cook rice, pasta, protein in the form of tuna or sausage, and a handful of freeze-dried meals in the mix. My breakfasts are oatmeal with a combination of add ins.

Are you going to schlep all your supplies each day, or are you planning on a campsite that you return to each evening? Put another way: how crucial is weight and bulk going to be?

Cooking over a wood fire is an art, and a royal pain even when you learn the art. Soot is hard to get off cookware, and it is really easy to spill your chow into the fire when improvising pot supports, and packing a stable grill to cook over is heavy and gets soot on other stuff.

Google “pepsi can stove” for a simple alcohol fueled stove you can make from a couple of soda cans and a bit of fiberglass insulation. It may take you 5-6 attempts to get one that works well, but that will still run you under a buck probably. They weigh very little, the fuel is much lighter and less expensive than liquefied gas fuels, and safer than white gasoline. You can use an evian type water bottle to cary the denatured alcohol for fuel, and the lid is a good way to measure it out.

If you really want to cook over wood fire, google “Sierra stove”, orthis

First determine your water situation for the area you will be in. If you need to pack water, you can’t go too far and dried foods save you no weight. Also you will not want to do much if any dishwashing. If Brackish or questionably safe water is available, I like the MiOx pen for killing bugs in drinking water, with iodine tabs as a backup if the battery in the MiOx dies. You can boil water, but that is slow and takes extra fuel.

Lightweight Food you can get way cheaper at grocery store than buying from Sporting good store (Repackage in ziplock freezer bags.):

Dried cereal of all kinds, both hot and cold. Can be bulky, but it is light.
Powdered milk.
Pancake mix or Bisquick.
Raman Noodles. Can be used in place of Spaghetti.
Nuts are pretty dense source of protein and carbs . Beware of too much salt.
Hash browns in those milk carton things.
You will need a big pot, but popcorn is fun. The jiffy-pop foil things are a waste IMO.
Dried coffee, tea, gatoraid. I take ground coffee and single cup Milita filter funnel.

Non-dried foods that are still good for packing:
Canned meat: Mix with raman for quick fill-me-up with little work.
Sardines, kippered herring, Develed ham, tuna, salmon, crab, chicken, spam…lots of choices.
Canned beef stew or chili. Yummy but only if I would have to pack water otherwise.
Flour Tortillas as bread. Try taking regular bread and enjoy your wheat-wads ™ in camp.
Peanut butter, jelly, and butter, packed in the plastic toothpaste tube things they sell in the camping store.
Eggs in the paper box they come in, cut in half, inside a ziplock bag. Empty carton makes good fire starter.
Deli Bacon can be OK without refrigeration for a while, as can most lunch meat. Hard Salami is great.
produce that pack well and do OK with no refridgeration: cabbage, carrots, apples, oranges, jicama. If you are very careful, fresh Avacado is a real treat. Easy to bruise though. Bananas are right out!
Stuff that is too easy to forget:
-Can opener: P-38 or P-51 types weigh nothing. Take two.
-Cheap, thin plastic cutting board. ("counter saver"style) Makes good, clean place to set food stuff even if no cutting is needed.
-Some sort of cooking oil. Butter can work in a pinch, but canola oil is good. Repackage some from your home pantry in small bottle from camping store.
-Salt, pepper, other spices. Dried chopped onion is great, as is garlic powder. Good way to make basics far more palatable.
-Something to turn pancakes with.

One pot that will boil enough water to be useful, but is shallow enough work as fry pan.
Take quite a bit of foil. You can cook/bake stuff in it, or use it as a lid for pot, or as a wind shield for your pepsi-can stove.

Take some glad-ware containers. Pack your dry stuff in them, and you can eat out of them, or use them for cooking or leftovers. After breakfast, you can put boiling water and dry raman in one, wrap it up in a sweater, and have warm raman for lunch without getting your stove out.

If you take some heavy stuff, plan to eat it early in trip, so you don’t carry it the full time. Dinty Moore beef stew is excellent for first night, because I like to get as far as possible the first day, and not stop to cook.

Oh yeah. I’m “car” camping. I have a tent and my car will be nearby. I’ll use that as a base to drive to the different trails. I may backpack next trip, but this was a spur of the moment thing and I don’t have any experience with it. I am also curious about how people feed themselves on multi-day backpacking trips because I’ll get to it eventually.

Yeah, the key is whether you’re carrying your cooking gear in a backpack or not.

When I did a lot of hiking I had a small single-burner stove. Breakfast would be oatmeal, dried fruit, and tea. Lunch would be an energy bar or crackers and dry salami. Dinner would be dehydrated noodles.

Your chief concerns should be weight and clean-up time. When you’re carrying it all on your back, every ounce matters. And you want to be able to clean your cook pot with cold water and a dab of detergent. Scrubbing pots after the sun goes down is no fun.

When I take the family car camping now, I have a two-burner Coleman stove and bring a cooler. You can be a little looser with this set-up. I typically make bacon and eggs for breakfast, and some sort of pasta for dinner. I still limit myself to stuff I would cook on top of the stove at home. But I’m not so paranoid about minimizing weight and effort.

You DO NOT want to be entirely dependent on wood for cooking. Coals take quite a while until they’re ready to cook on, and then they don’t last very long. Depending on where you’re camping there may be rules about gathering firewood or setting fires. In any case, if its a well-traveled area, previous campers might have already collected all the nearby fuel. And if it rains, getting a wood fire going can be a real challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to cook over wood. We usually plan a night where we grill hot dogs and marshmallows. But it’s not something you should plan on doing for every meal.

Don’t cut down anything living for your fire. Green wood doesn’t burn well, and it destroys the area for people who come after you. And remember to pack out all your garbage.

One other thing – be aware of the dangers of having food around wildlife. Don’t keep any food in your tent. Hang it from a tree a little ways off, or put it in the bear box if the campsite has one, or keep it locked in the car. You don’t want raccoons (or something larger) trying to get into your tent because they can smell ham … .

Ahh, you are car camping. Much easier. Knock yourself out with canned goods, hot dogs, bottled OJ, fresh milk, etc. Don’t put anything in the cooler you don’t want soaked in water. (make sure your cheese in sealed well in a ziplock bag, in other words.)

Still, washing dishes in camp is a pain. Eat off paper plates when possible. Also take some paper bowls for stew or cereal. Since you are car camping, take a couple of cheap plastic wash basins for doing dishes and for personal grooming as well. They are also handy for organizing you pantry when loading up the car. You might find some rubbermaid or similar containers that will have lids, and still be good for “sinks”.

A bottle of Salsa is a easy way to add life to simple cooking.

On a budget: You can buy a little pot-lifter gadget at the camping store so you can use big empty tin cans for boiling water and such. you will still want a “real” fry pan though. The pepsi can or wood fueled stoves are cheap and no reason you can’t use them for car camping.

Don’t forget to take toilet paper!

Here’s the stove I use for car camping.

I have an older model of this for hiking.

You can find stoves that are lighter and higher tech, but I’ve found these to be real workhorses. They’re easy to get started, not too finicky, and can stand up to a lot of abuse.

Anything you can cook in water. Pasta, rice, LENTILS! Cook some lentils with spices, yum. Do you get rice in packets there, with flavourings etc. and you just dump it in water and simmer? That’s good.

Mostly, you pack stuff that has as little water in it as possible, and rehydrate it when cooking. You can also try eating off the land. If you’re hiking somewhere that you can fish, for example, a light rod and reel are going to weigh less than a few cans of tuna.

At a recent car camping trip I made:
Risotto (rice, broth, onions, celery)
One Pot Lasagna (noodles, spagehetti sauce, onions, celery) - cook then add ricotta cheese
Egg / Potato dish - fry up hash browns - when near done add eggs and stir
Chedder Potato Soup (Bear Creek mix)

I was with a vegetarian or I would add sausage to eveything but the oatmeal.

I have a older model of thisstove. Folderdup it fits in my cooking pot (not including fuel bottle)

The good news is, eveything eaten during camping tastes extra good.

I don’t mind dishwashing - gives me something to do between eating and starting the campfire.


Another thought to add to the above suggestions: if you are planning on backpacking on another trip, it might be wise to use this trip as practice (with appropriate backup). Learning to do dutch oven cooking is entirely different “camp cooking” than cooking over a small white gas camp stove.

I’ve got a 20 year old MSR WhisperLite that work that I take on trips still, even if we’re just car camping.

Like a lot of folks above, mostly it involves boiling water to hydrate stuff. It’s really not hard.

Find or take water.

So true. The luxury of hot food when you’re out in the middle of nowhere is amazing. Sausages in a bit of bread with no sauce (and normally I have to have at least mustard) is pure deliciousness. Or one of my favourites is to wrap potatoes in foil and dump them in the coals to bake. If possible add bean chilli or something equally awesome.

Bushy’s damper: mix flour, water and a teaspoon of salt into a dough. Take a handful, and wrap it around a stick (sorta sausage-like) to hand-cook it over the flame, or shove into the coals; or flatten the lot of it out a bit and bury the loaf in the coals. (If you’re scared of ash, wrap it in foil first like a wuss.) When you tap it and it sounds hollow it’s done. Butter it, and have it with honey if you like - either way, you’ll know what heaven is.

Golden syrup is better than honey. mmmmm

Cocky’s Joy? Definitely!! But I’m not sure it’s widely available in the US…

You can find Lyle’s in just about any major supermarket.

Back to the OP: that grill is tall enough to use over coals, which is what you want anyway.

Take more water than you think you’ll need. Kevbo has a nice list above for stuff.

We have, for the last 29 years, done a full Thanksgiving dinner in the field over campfires and Coleman stoves. The works: turkey, potatoes, veggies, rolls, pies, wines…we don’t skimp. Once you get used to working with different heat sources it gets easy.