It has been suggested that learning to cook food over an open fire was one of the defining moments in the early development of our species. Cooking raw meat and vegetables not only kills harmful bacteria, but anthropologists and archaeologists believe it may have led to a drastic increase in brain size over time as we boosted our intake of crucial vitamins and minerals that encourage brain growth and performance.
While most of our cooking these days is performed in kitchens, cooking over an open fire while camping in the outdoors is a great way not only to make delicious food, but to share a meal with friends and family in a great atmosphere (and pretty much like our ancestors used to). Modern camp cooking equipment makes outdoor cooking even easier. Cooking equipment is designed to cope with the bumps and knocks that naturally occur in an outdoor environment, and to resist the onslaught of the elements.
Camp Cooking Equipment
Some cooking equipment is designed specifically to work in conjunction with camp stoves or barbecues, while others are heavy duty for resting over the roaring campfire.
The Dinner Set
First up, even if you plan to cook directly over the flames, you are going to need something on which to put that crispy bacon once it’s ready.
Plates, cups, knives, forks, and spoons are all designed to handle the elements. Aluminium and tin are often the material of choice for outdoor dinner sets as they are lightweight yet strong.
Cooking utensils are often made of the same materials as your dinner set helping to keep pack weight down. Tools such as spatulas, slotted spoons and tongs are longer than those you would use in a kitchen so that you can reach further into the fire and keep your hands away from the vicious lick of the flames. Silicon handles help to reduce the transfer of heat from the tip to the handle.
Discover more: get some great recipes for cooking while camping with kids
A great addition to your camp cooking repertoire is the introduction of a pot or a pan, or ideally, both.
A Billie (as they are called in Australia and New Zealand) is one of the most versatile pieces of cooking equipment that you can have. Billie cans are compact, lightweight aluminium pots that have a handle and a lid and are designed to sit directly over a camp fire, on a camp stove. They are perfect for boiling liquids (i.e. for sterilising water), cooking stews and soups. There are so many uses for a Billie we couldn’t name them all here: make sure you don’t leave home without one.
Pans are available in a range of materials for you to choose from based on your intended use. Some are made from lightweight composite materials and feature non-stick or Teflon coatings and removable handles allowing you to place them on the fire, unclip the handle and leave it there until you need to take it out.
Other pans are designed to be hard wearing. Made from cast iron, these heavy duty, heavier pans are perfect if you are predominately cooking over a fire and want something that isn’t going to wear out with extended use.
Read more: kids love camping with Grandma and Grandad
Appliances and Accessories for Camp Cooking
A Dutch oven is a casserole dish designed for the outdoors. They are most commonly crafted from cast iron, ceramic or clay making them ideal for leaving over the fire to cook food long and slow extracting the most amount of flavour from your food. A Dutch oven has a tight fitting lid that seals in heat and moisture making them ideal as makeshift slow cookers: perfect for casseroles and slow braising meat.
Jaffle Irons (Camp Sandwich Press)
Whatever you like to call it, a Jaffle iron takes your sandwich to another level. Jaffle irons aren’t just any toasted sandwich maker…they are designed to crimp the edges of your sandwich creating a perfect pocket of gloriously hot food in the centre. Hold one over an open flame and you’ll have a deliciously smoky grilled cheese sandwich before you can say “that cheese is hot!”
You don’t need a power socket to toast your bread in the morning. Place your bread in the mesh basket over a gas camp stove to enjoy your regular Vegemite toast in the great outdoors. The mesh distributes heat evenly giving you perfectly golden toast every time…so long as you pay attention.
Kettles can be manufactured for the outdoors in a number of ways. Some are designed to be lightweight and work in conjunction with a camp stove or barbecue and are usually constructed from aluminium or titanium. Cast iron options can be used over the fire, perfect for keeping the coffee warm while you read a book and think about a second cup.
A spit enables you to slow roast meat or vegetables to perfection by rotating them over a campfire. A spit can be set up over your fire: two stands sit at either end, the skewer with your chosen food rests between them. By turning a handle at one end, you can provide even distribution of heat to your food slowly roasting it and keeping it from burning.
Explore Outdoria: get the inside scoop on how to choose a great campsite
The modern alternative to cooking over an open flame is to take a cooker with you. There are numerous types of camp stoves available today that range from the very small and compact, right up to larger stoves and barbecues that might need to be transported to your campsite by vehicle.
Camp stoves are powered either by an external power source or by the fire itself. Cast iron stoves stand over the fire and can function as a grill or be used in conjunction with a pan. If you are looking for a compact lightweight option, gas powered camp stoves are the way to go. Gas cookers are powered by compact gas canisters some of which can be refilled and reused. Gas cookers are usually just big enough to provide a flat base for resting a pan or Billie can on top. Make sure you use them on a flat surface and monitor the cooking process at all times, bush fires are often started by unattended cooking in the outdoors.
Barbecues are perfect for outdoor cooking so long as you have the means of getting it to your site. Most barbecues are powered by gas or other propellant fuels. Barbecues work great in conjunction with utensils, pots and pans that are suited to open fire cooking as they produce a lot more heat than gas stoves.
Advice for cooking indoors still applies at the campsite, and in most cases it is even more vital that you keep looking while you’re cooking. Campfires should only be built in areas where open fires are permitted and need to be monitored to make sure that they are not getting out of control or spitting embers in the direction of other campers, or into dry vegetation.
Gas stoves and barbecues should be treated in exactly the same way. And if you have kids with you, make sure they understand not to go to close to the flames and keep an eye on them at all times to ensure an accident doesn’t occur.