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Outdoor Cooking Tips

Step up your campfire cooking with these simple tricks for easy camping meals, outdoor meal prep, make-ahead food ideas.

Whether you’re backpacking in the wilderness, pitching a tent or revving up the RV, outdoor cooking is a huge source of worry. To ensure things go smoothly, planning is absolutely crucial. In fact, with the right set of tips, tricks, and tools, churning out amazing camping food is actually pretty simple. It’s just important to do your homework beforehand.

Today, we’re breaking down the answers to outdoor chefs’ most burning questions. From camping meals, snacks and special recipes to cookware, prep work and more, we’ve got all the pointers you need to become a Michelin-star camper in no time.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack your Carbon Steel Frying Pan. It’s sure to come in handy!

camping cookware

Photo: Mark Spooner

Which tool is best for the great outdoors?

When packing for your trip, utility and practicality are of utmost importance. Even if you’re hauling a camper, space is limited, so bringing along the entire kitchen is just not possible. Instead, opt for your most versatile cookware.

We recommend bringing a high quality carbon steel pan, preferably in a larger 12” variety. So, why is carbon steel the best for outdoor cooking?

  • It heats quickly and consistently
  • It’s easy to season and clean
  • It’s naturally nonstick, unlike stainless steel
  • It’s lighter than cast iron, but just as versatile
  • It’s induction, gas, oven and open-flame safe

What’s the best way to cook while camping?

Sometimes you’re limited to the nature of your campsite. If you’re truly vacationing ‘off the grid,’ then you’ll have to build a campfire and cook food over an open flame (Have you read our article on How to Build a Fire While Camping?).

However, if you have the luxury of modern appliances, why not take advantage? Consider bringing along a simple gas burner, induction cooktop or portable stove. These essentials come in a wide range of sizes and are available at a variety of price points

So, which is best—induction, gas or open flame? Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Open Flame (Campfire)

Pros

  • Smoky barbecue flavor (from charcoal or wood)
  • True 'authentic' outdoor cooking
  • Versatile recipe options
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Lengthy setup
  • Safety factors
  • Slow, sometimes inconsistent heating

Gas (Burner Cooktop or Portable Camping Stove)

Pros

  • Better heat control
  • Immediate cooking results
  • Can use when it's raining
  • Easier to clean

Cons

  • Need to buy butane or propane (and bring along!)
  • Bulky to carry
  • Can be expensive

Induction (Cooktop)

Pros

  • Super energy efficient
  • Great for 'glamping' (clean)
  • Small and portable
  • Safe, fast performance

Cons

  • No smoky flavor
  • Requires compatible cookware
  • Needs electrical or generator hookup

The verdict

Despite today’s many options, we still recommend a good old-fashioned campfire. To enjoy the great outdoors is to give up some of life’s conveniences. In this case, the opportunity to ‘unplug’ also imparts that signature smoky flavor associated with outdoor cooking. As always, flavor is king!

What are some easy camping recipes?

When cooking outside, planning is so important. At home, it’s easy to reach for the spice rack or for some fancy cooking utensil. But once you’ve pitched camp, supplies are limited. To execute a solid recipe, there are some vital points to remember:

  • Plan ahead. You don’t want to start a recipe before realizing you forgot the olive oil, milk, butter or some other key ingredient.
  • Keep it simple. To make life easy, choose recipes with fewer ingredients and fewer cooking steps.
  • Freeze before. Whether you’re cooking steaks, chicken, burgers or bacon, freeze everything beforehand. By the time you reach camp, they will have had ample time to thaw.

What are some make-ahead camping foods?

We’ve already mentioned that prep-work is the most important aspect of camp food. So, what should you bring completely pre-made, and what kinds of dishes require beforehand prepping? The answer is—the more, the better!

The fact is, camping is about enjoying nature, family, friends and good food. Nobody wants to slave over a hot campfire the entire time. So, the more you can accomplish at home, the more time you’ll have to let loose later.

Here are some tips and tricks for make-ahead camping snacks and more.

  • Fetch some foil. If you didn’t notice, nearly half of the recipes featured above require you to stuff food into convenient little foil packs. Aluminum foil makes it easy to keep portions separate and ensures even cooking. The foil barrier also protects ingredients from burning or falling into the pit.
  • Chop ahead. Whether you’re planning a cool chicken fajita skillet or serving up some yummy vegetable kebobs, it’s best to slice and chop everything beforehand. At home, you can enjoy the safety of a cutting board, a quality chef’s knife, and plenty of space to spread out and work.
  • Squeeze your condiments. When shopping, make sure to buy ketchup, mayo, mustard and other essential sauces and toppings in those handy squeeze bottles. This saves you a world of cleanup compared to the twist-off jars.
  • Put spices in a pill organizer. Face it—you don’t need the entire shaker of oregano! Still, seasoning is important to good cooking (even outside). When planning your meals, place a sprinkle of your necessary herbs and spices into each pill compartment. You can also use a contact case or some other small container.
  • Measure all ingredients exactly. Once again, camping means cutbacks! Carrying a measuring cup is just not conducive to exploring the wilderness. So be strategic, and have everything measured out in advance.
  • Choose some premade meals. You don’t have to prepare every meal over a campfire or cooktop. In fact, it’s likely you won’t be able to, as a fire (or appliance) needs constant supervision. If you’re out hiking or enjoying the lake, opt for a no-cook snack to hold you over. Ideas include lunchmeat sandwiches, trail mix and sweet yogurt parfaits.
  • Plan to prep hard! When designing your weekend (or weeklong) menu, choose recipes that are easy to knock out onsite. Complete the heavy lifting at home, and friends and family will be eating good no matter what mother nature throws your way. 

Camping has never been so culinary! Come back soon for more Made In meal-prep tips.

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