Does your camping menu consist only of toaster pastries and a cooler stuffed with drive through combo meals? Or does your campsite cuisine require cast iron cookware, a secret recipe for Dutch Oven cobbler and selecting new camping grills and accessories for camp cooking that can be found on www.outdora.com?
Before you can plan your camping trip menu you need to determine what type of camp cook you are. That helps determine what equipment you’ll need. Here are a few, slightly humor-filled, examples of different types of camp chefs. You may fit into one, or somewhere in between, these descriptions. Each description also includes a tip and equipment suggestion. Keep in mind; this is not something that requires you to check off on different skill levels as if you were getting a karate black belt or culinary degree. Practice and experience helps. Every time you camp out, your ability to serve up a great plate of chow will increase.
The Convenience Store Camp Cook
Get ready for toaster pastries and daily runs to the nearest fast food restaurant. The Convenience Store Camp Cook is what campground store managers rely on. Yes, there is a market for three dollar candy or granola bars, stall boxes of dry cereal and canned food left over from the Korean War. Hungry and unprepared campers will pay top dollar for canned franks and beans along with some bug spray when the nearest store is a long drive away.
What’s great about this type of camp cook is that it’s a perfectly fine way to go if you are in a rush, are packing light or simply have not built up your stash of cool camping stuff. You can build on this base!
TIP: First – Make sure you have the basics such as a way to properly store any prepackaged dry foods such as cereal, granola bars, bread and such after you open the container. Zip close bags are wonderful as is a container with a lid that is dedicated to only clean, dry foods that do not have to be stored at a set temperature. This container is now your pantry. Second – Have a way to properly store any items that need to be kept cold such as milk or lunch meat. Separate coolers should be used to store food and ice for consumption in order to avoid cross contamination.
COOL CAMPING ITEM: I love this backpack, take a look at the Homestead Picnic Backpack for Four which can be found on Outdora. It is perfect for day hiking and would be a nice addition to any short camp-out. It combines a cooler, a back pack, several utensils and even a corkscrew. The bonus: it’s also a camp chair.
The Kinda Camp Cook
This type of camp cook has raised the level of cuisine several notches, is building their inventory of camp ground cooking utensils, accessories and has started to combine home cooking methods with skills needed at the campsite. The Kinda Camp Cook has started menu planning and realizing how important coolers that are dedicated to keeping things cold are. Somewhere along the line, the idea of bringing extra garbage bags, handy wipes and bug spray seemed to be good ideas. This person is well on the way to being a Camp Master Cook!
The campground store manager knows that this camp cook won’t be making as many emergency purchases as in their previous visits but is confident that the register will ring a few times because of forgotten items.
TIP: Pre-planning is wonderful! A great way for a campground cook at this skill level is to use one of the secrets of Camp Master Cooks. You can pre-plan, pre-cook and pre-prep. Are you making pancakes a day or two before the camping trip? Make extras, toss them in a storage bag or container and freeze them until you crawl out of your tent one morning at the campsite. You’ve eliminated the need for extra milk or water, eggs etc or whatever you make your pancakes from. The same thought can be applied to stews, chili, main dishes and even dicing veggies. Storage containers are a wonderful thing.
COOL CAMPING ITEM: Now that you’ve eliminated some of the time it takes to prepare, cook and clean up after your camping meal you can spend more time with the family around the campfire telling stories. That means you need to cook some smores! Look at the Smore Holder found on Outdora. It also holds hotdogs, is stainless steel and offers long handles.
The Camp Master Cook
Congrats, you’ve made it to being a Camp Master Cook! You now combine the skill levels of both the Convenience Store Camp Cook and the Kinda Camp Cook with the ability to whip up several fantastic meals from scratch while at the campsite. Did you leave something at the house? A pot or a pan maybe? Is it too wet for a fire? Don’t worry because the Camp Master Cook is well prepared with several stoves, warmers, cooking utensils, pots, pans, strainers and more. This is the guy you want to camp next to because chances are they have extra everything in case you forget something. If you’ve not reached this level and are too embarrassed to admit you left your spatula at home, you can always say the bears ate it.
The Camp Master Cook combines the pre-cooked menu with several scratch recipes in order to dazzle guests. They have a well stocked selection of basic, and not so basic, spices. They have freeze dried food as well as meats stored on ice in one cooler and fresh veggies stored in a separate cooler. Chances are they have extra storage for water and possibly a wine chiller. A great thing about the Camp Cook is that they make even mundane camp cooking seem impressive.
TIP: At this skill level it’s fun to start looking at recipes that combine great food with historic outdoor and trail cooking. I suggest going cast iron for more than just normal dishes such as stews, soups and chili. One of the best cobblers I’ve ever eaten came straight from a cast iron Dutch Oven which was slow cooked over a campfire
COOL CAMPING ITEM: Cast iron cooking items like the Iroda O-Grill can be found on Outdora.com as well as a wide selection of burners, stoves and grills. One item that is perfect for the Camp Master Cook is the Tahoe Picnic Duffle Bag for Four. This set includes just about everything needed for sitting down and enjoying your next camping meal.
FINAL NOTE: In all seriousness, there are a few things that everyone needs to consider when camping and cooking. First and foremost is to find out what heat sources your selected campground allows. The regulations may change due to the seasons, a dry spell or laws. Secondly, I cannot stress the importance of keeping things as clean as possible and keeping cold foods cold, hot foods hot and raw foods away from everything while being properly stored at the correct temperature. Also, a sharp knife, a good pair of tongs, oven mits, matches, handy wipes, bug spray, band aids, toilet paper, proper footwear and extra batteries go a long way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kent Whitaker, known as The Deck Chef, is a cookbook and culinary writer. His books are available nationally and include Smoke in the Mountains – The Art of Appalachian Barbecue, Checkered Flag Cooking – Tailgating Stock Car Racing and the state by state Hometown Cookbook series which he co-authors with Sheila Simmons. To date the series includes the Tennessee Hometown Cookbook, The Georgia Hometown Cookbook, The Mississippi Hometown Cookbook, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina.
Kent is the winner of the Emeril Live Barbecue Contest on Food Network and Gold Medal recipient from the American Authors Association in the culinary and cookbook genre. You can contact Kent via email – thedeckchef[at]hotmail[dot]com or visit him online at www.thedeckchef.com.