With the right gear, meals at a campground can rival those cooked at home. In this article, we’ll walk you through what you need, what you may want, and why it’ll make the process easier so you can get to enjoying your meal faster.

Essential Gear for Camping Kitchen Setup

Screen Shelter & Canopy

Wind and rain will make any camping situation harder than it needs to be. Armed with a screen shelter and a canopy, you’ll be able to defend against the wind and keep your cookware dry. The Eureka NoBugZone 3-in-1 highlights the advantage perfectly. Don’t let inclement weather keep you from making that tasty meal!

Exercise caution: Cooking in an enclosed space can increase carbon monoxide danger. Make sure you use an open-air canopy or mesh material to allow cookware fumes to escape. Never position your burner next to tents or shelter material because it may be flammable.

Portable Stove & Grill Options

How far are you hiking, and how decadent do you want your meals to be? That’s what stove and grill options come down to. Thru-hikers will want the lightest options since they’re hiking every day. Weekend adventurers can take a little more weight, but nothing over a few pounds. Car campers should focus on what the stove can do since they won’t be shouldering their gear. 

If it’s not going on your shoulders, weight is less of an issue. In this case, two-burner stoves, such as the GSI Pinnacle, setup convenience, and power emerge as bigger factors. In all cases, you’ll need to pair your stove with cookware, compatible fuel and food. To dive into some stellar options, check out our article on the best camping stoves.  

Cookware (Pots, Pans, Utensils)

Traditional pots, pans, and utensils can be large and unwieldy. Getting a camping cookware set will reduce weight and space issues while providing an efficient method to cook your meal. Ultralight sets will help keep you on the go during multi-day adventures.

If you’re car camping, options abound! One of the best family options is the Stanley Adventure Even-Heat Camp Pro Cook Set, which comes with a bevy of pots and pans. In all scenarios, match your adventure to your gear. The more intense the adventure, the less weight you’ll want to carry.

Coolers & Ice Packs

Warm weather camping is better with a cooler. It’s also important to keep uncooked food, like meats, cold, or they may spoil. Backpackers may not need them, but for family camping and car camping, coolers are fantastic. If you’re bringing a cooler with you, the most important factors are size, capacity and durability.

Options like the Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler are rugged, convenient, and offer ample space. Extra features include a drain plug or a system that allows you to get water out of the cooler quickly, storage pockets, or wheels for transportation. Check out our best coolers for camping to explore a list of our favourites.

Dry Food Containers

Food waste is much more important to manage while camping because of potential wildlife encounters. Make sure to bring containers for the following:

  • Food leftovers
  • Food waste
  • Uncooked ingredients that have scents

Rigid plastic containers are usually the best for food leftovers, but anything resealable or offering some level of odour protection is a plus. The hardiest solution is a bear canister, but in all camping scenarios, do not leave food or food waste in your tent! All smelly items should be in storage containers.

Dishwashing Containers

If you’re camping and plan on cooking big meals, a plastic tub or container for washing dishes is ideal. Options like the IGT Camp Kitchen Starter Set are large but comprehensive. It can handle everything from cooking to food prep, storage, and cleaning, all in one setup.

Why wash dishes? Food residue will harden on your cookware, making it much harder to clean later. Also, food residue carries odours and will attract wildlife. You can dramatically reduce the possibility by cleaning up right after you cook.

Camping Chair

While it’s possible to use rocks and logs, having a camping chair to sink into while you eat your meal is a great part of the outdoor cooking experience. The best camping chairs pack down small and provide ample comfort. Check out our article on Best Camping Chairs to find one that matches your camp décor.

Coffee Maker

For many of us, coffee is a necessity in the morning. Thankfully, there are several solutions for campers that are worth exploring. If you want ultralight and easy, instant coffee packers are the way to go. Alternatively, pour-over solutions like the efficient and sleek VSSL Nest Pour-Over Kit can be a huge game changer for enjoying that first cup of joe in the morning.

Organizing Your Camping Kitchen

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind when setting up your outdoor kitchen.

Layout Considerations for Kitchen Efficiency

  • Flat or semi-flat ground. Make sure you can set up your equipment without it tipping over. Clear the area around your cookstove by getting rid of pinecones, leaves, twigs, and underbrush that may catch fire if your cookstove falls over. Dirt, large, flat rocks, or picnic tables work well to cook on.
  • Where’s the wind? Make sure to set up behind blockers like a slope or use screen shelters.
  • Look above! Setting up a flame underneath a thick canopy is dangerous. Note any hazards above you, including snags or dead trees, and move your setup if they look suspicious.
  • Bring recipes with you and organize your bagged or loose ingredients in a specific order. This way, you can go through the recipe without skipping steps. One idea is to set up your bags in a line or numbering them.
  • Before you start, double-check your setup. Is the cooking station sturdy? Do you have a place to put grease, wrappers, and general trash without it spilling on the ground? Do you have a canopy or windscreen to handle the weather? Are you able to wash your equipment (and hands) efficiently?

Storage Solutions for Small Spaces

  • Before heading out, put your food material into resealable bags or containers. You can reuse them for storage. Original packaging for raw meats or vegetables is usually single-use and creates more trash.
  • Storage solutions that nest inside one another make for easier packing.
  • If backpacking, opt for simple foods or dehydrated meals that only require hot water. This minimizes effort, set-up time, and the amount of trash you create.
  • Bring a few large trash bags with you to throw miscellaneous items into.

Meal Planning and Preparation

Meal Planning in the outdoors comes down to how fancy you want your meals and how far you’re willing to carry supplies to a campsite.

Choosing meals suitable for camping

Backpackers will want simple, lightweight solutions to keep the cooking obligation down. If you have a one-burner stove like a JetBoil, consider dehydrated meals for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast. Tortillas with cheese, peanut butter, or some other spread that won’t spoil are ideal for quick lunches. 

Car campers have more options since you’ll be close to a car. If you’re out with your family or friends, a nice two-burner stove increases your ability to cook creative meals, and a cooler can carry all your raw ingredients. However, the more you cook, the more waste you’ll need to deal with. Don’t forget storage and trash containers!

Prepping ingredients ahead of time

Any prep work you can do before camping gives you an extra advantage. Things you can do beforehand include marinating meats, mixing dry ingredients together, cutting veggies or potatoes, and bringing a good mix of useful spices.  

Cooking techniques for outdoor settings

The weather and wildlife concerns make cooking outdoors a little more intensive. You’ll need to pay attention, so draft your group to help. You can get extra eyes on multiple burners or have someone take charge of dishes. A third can boil water for tea, coffee or any hot beverage. Extra hands can also adjust wind screens or set up a canopy while you cook.

Safety Tips for Camping Cooking

Fire safety precautions

With open flames, there are some easy precautions to consider. As previously mentioned, check above you for snags, dead trees, or low branches that may catch a spark. Make sure to position your kitchen several metres away from your tent. Have a large water container nearby as a fire deterrent if needed.

Food safety guidelines

You can boil water to make it safe for use in cooking. However, water taken from lakes or rivers should NOT be used without filtering, treating, or boiling it. It’s also important to wash your hands with biodegradable hand washing soap before (and after) handling raw foods.

Conclusion

Cooking outdoors can be wonderful with a little planning. When deciding what solution you need, focus on the following items:

  • Weight. Are you carrying cooking gear on your back? If so, lightweight is better. If not, you can bring heavier and more versatile gear.
  • Volume. If you’re camping near a car and cooking for multiple people, a two-burner stove or pocket grill with a prep station offers the best solution for creative meals. 
  • Fire safety. Make sure you cook away from flammable gear and underbrush.
  • Germ safety. Wash your hands before and after handling food.
  • Bring food containers for leftovers and trash bags for food waste and packaging. You don’t want to attract hungry wildlife to your campsite or leave behind any litter.
  • Check the forecast. Wind and rain can ruin a good setup; get a canopy or windscreen to protect your food, and yourself, from poor weather.
  • Don’t forget the rewards. Things like coffee, camp chairs, and hammocks can elevate any camping experience. Check out our picks for 10 Cool Camping Gadgets

There you have it, the essential ingredients to a successful outdoor cooking experience! With these tips and solutions, you’ll be ready to create exceptional outdoor camp meals for you and your group.