There are few summer getaways as gratifying as a couple of days of camping, especially if you can manage to turn off your phone for the weekend. But if your last camping cooking experience left you longing for something other than toasted marshmallows and some charred meat, you’re not alone. Pulling off the perfect campsite meal takes a little planning, but the trick is to come equipped with a few basic pieces of equipment and ingredients for good-but-simple-to-make meals you’d happily eat at home. We asked Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet – the duo behind the camping cooking blog Fresh Off the Grid – to share their tips on everything you need to whip up really good grub in the wilderness.
First of all, ignore all the fancy camping equipment adverts try to make you buy. “A lot of people get very excited about the kitschy camp stuff that’s out there,” says van Vliet. “There are a lot of single-use camp-cooking gadgets that you probably don’t need and space is something you really need to consider.” Instead, stick with stripped-down versions of the most essential items in your home kitchen.
A cast-iron skillet
If you take just one from your kitchen, make sure it is this super-skillet. “It’s one of the most versatile pieces of equipment. You can bake, you can fry, you can use it on a stove or directly over a campfire and they’re pretty economical,” says McDuffie. The couple makes everything from hash browns and pancakes to steaks and bread in it. And while you can bring a spatula or tongs along, using a regular old fork or knife to stir and flip stuff in the skillet is just fine. “You never can really knick it up,” says van Vliet.
A casserole dish
Make sure this is in your bag if you’re planning on camping for longer than a few days and want more meal options. It’s deeper and comes with a lid so it’s great for cooking crowd-sized dishes like stews and chili. “The fewer dishes you use the better,” says McDuffie. “We do a lot of one-pot stuff because no one wants to be doing a lot of dishes when you’re camping.”
A chef’s knife and a cutting board
“A really good sharp knife is the most underrated piece of equipment you can bring camping. It will really make a big difference,” says McDuffie. Though you can get away with chopping things ahead of time at home, waiting to cut them up until you’re at your site ensures that the veg lasts longer and you have more flexibility with how much or little you want to use.
A gas camp stove
The idea of gathering wood and starting a roaring campfire might be enticing (and you’ll probably still want to get one going on cool nights), but when it comes to actually cooking, a stove is easy to use and often more reliable. “It’s a great starting point since cooking on a grill over a campfire can be intimidating,” says McDuffie. “A camp stove functions more or less like your stove at home.”
Do everyone a favour and don’t get to the campsite with plans to cook something you’ve never made before. “There’s nothing worse than messing up a meal when you’re camping because you have to eat it,” says McDuffie. “You can’t order a pizza, and hungry and unhappy isn’t how you want to end the day.” The couple’s own meals are mostly vegetarian and they don’t travel with a cool box. (“It takes up a lot of room and we hate ice management,” van Vliet explains.) If you do want to make a meat-based meal (think steaks in the skillet or bratwurst over the campfire), tackle it the first night so you don’t have to worry about keeping the meat cold all weekend.
That’s the equipment covered. Now let’s move on to the food.
Besides simply frying them in a pan (always a fine option), McDuffie and van Vliet do poached egg bakes with tomatoes and peppers, along with egg-and-potato hashes. If you know you’ll be bringing eggs on every camping trip, you might also want to grab an protective egg carrier – because broken eggs are never fun.
Some olive oil or coconut oil is easy to transport and doesn’t risk melting like butter.
They’re super-versatile and can stay at room temperature, tortillas are a staple for an infinite amount of meals from breakfast burritos to an almighty taco stuffed with literally whatever you’ve got.
Harder cheeses will last just fine with little or no refrigeration and can give a protein boost to just about anything you’re cooking. It’s also the perfect thing to keep in your backpack to combine with a little salami and an apple for lunch while you’re on an afternoon hike.
Courgettes, squashes, carrots, peppers, corn, kale, onions, garlic, and potatoes are sturdy, can stand up to long car journeys, and will stay decent when left unrefrigerated. They can all be easily used in just about every meal. McDuffie chops them up for breakfast skillets in the morning, saves the rest for quesadillas for dinner, or skewers them on kebabs.
“Nothing elevates a meal from mediocre to extraordinary than the right type of spices,” says van Vliet. Having one little jar on hand can go a long way for seasoning meat, mixing into eggs, flavouring stews, or spicing up veg. The couple’s essentials are an Italian blend, a fajita seasoning and a tandoori curry blend.
Tinned beans and vegetables
In addition to beans for chilis, tacos and stews, stock up on tinned tomatoes and artichoke hearts that can be paired with all of the above. If you bring a few too many tins, nothing will go to waste.
Pasta dishes can actually be much more interesting than a jarred-tomato-sauce-and-spaghetti dinner without getting too complicated. McDuffie suggests filling your casserole dish with just enough water to cover and boil your pasta (so you don’t have to drain it at the end) and then tossing in some cheese a few minutes in. “The whole thing gets smoky and saucy,” she says, “and then you can throw some veg in and everything is in just one pot.” Genius.