Between s'mores, jaffles, one-pot roasts, damper and the ever-classic marshmallows, it’s no wonder that some people just go camping for the cooking! Read on for our tips on what cooking equipment you will need while out in the wilderness!
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 (much like our ancestors did).
Modern camp cooking equipment makes outdoor cooking even easier. It has been designed to cope with the bumps and knocks that naturally occur in an outdoor environment, and to resist the onslaught of the elements.
What Cooking Equipment Do I Need to Take Camping?
Much like at home, you’ll need equipment to prepare, cook and serve your food. However, depending on your circumstances (if you are hiking rather than car-camping, for example) the methods of cooking your food will change.
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Preparing Your Food While Camping
Safely and hygienically preparing food while camping is a problem many outdoor adventurers face. Bugs, dust, dirt and the elements are all things you will be competing with when you are trying to cook your food. So how do you stop them all?
Coolers and Fridges
Unless you love eating canned beans and peaches for every meal, you will need to take a fridge or cooler with you to preserve your meat, dairy and vegetables hygienically.
Depending on the length of your trip, and whether you are hiking or not, will dictate the type of camping fridge or cooler you will need.
Battery powered fridges can be powered from your vehicle’s battery. However, they tend to have a high consumption rate and will drain your battery quickly unless the vehicle uses solar power or is started every now and again to charge the battery. Battery powered fridges often have a higher capacity than other fridges and coolers. This makes them ideal for 4WDers and car campers who are on longer holidays.
Iceboxes are fridges that use ice to keep their contents cool. They are better suited to shorter trips as the ice will melt and needs to be replenished to keep your food chilled. Smaller iceboxes are used by hikers while larger ones are used by car-campers on shorter trips.
Coolers are generally portable, hand-held soft-bags that feature an insulated lining to keep the contents cold. Ice blocks are commonly used to chill the bag. They are mostly used by day-hikers or those only camping overnight.
Without the right cooking utensils you won’t be able to slice, dice, scoop, grate or handle your food safely while preparing it. The best way to know which utensils you’ll need to bring is to plan your recipes well before you leave. Only bring the utensils you need to save weight and space.
Knives are a must-have for anyone who will be cooking while camping. You will need a high-quality set to cut meat and vegetables, as well as performing other tasks such as cutting your food’s packaging. Avoid using your kitchen knives if possible. Not only will this mean you will have a clean set ready to go when you get home, but your average kitchen knife may not be designed to handle outdoor use and extended exposure to the elements like a camping knife is.
Keep in mind if you are fishing and plan on cooking your catch, you will need scaling and filleting knives to prepare your fish for cooking.
Chopping boards are just as important as your knives as they provide a clean, hygienic surface to cut on. We recommend always taking a chopping board if you're preparing food in the wild, as it will likely be the only 100% sanitary surface you’ll have access to.
BBQ utensils including, prongs, tongs and spatulas allow you to handle your food when cooking on a camp stove or open fire. They are often made from metal and feature heat-resistant handles to keep you safe when reaching towards the flames.
Other camp cooking utensils such as peelers, juicers, can openers and graters may be required in particular camping recipes. If you are hiking, you will unlikely need these extra utensils as they will increase the weight of your pack and take up extra room.
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How to Cook Your Food While Camping
Cooking out in the wilderness is a far more involved experience than cooking at home. You can’t simply put a pot on the fire and hope a timer goes off when it’s done. It instead requires consistent adjustment and checking whether your food is done or not.
When you think of camping, a campfire is probably one of the first things that come to mind. Campfires allow you to cook in a number of ways and provide plenty of room to move your food around the flame. Most campfires are made using a designated space at your campsite or by bringing your own portable fire pit. Be aware of any restrictions including fire bans when setting up your campfire in the warmer months.
If you're not sure how to make one, check out our how-to guide to starting a campfire.
A camp stove allows you to cook your food wherever you are. They are very similar to your stovetop at home and come in many different configurations and types based on your needs.
Liquid fuel and cartridge camp stoves use gas to power the burners. These are typically larger and can feature multiple burners. They are ideal for car-campers due to their large size and that they typically require a gas cylinder or similar to fuel them.
Hiking stoves are a simple single-burner design that is connected to a smaller gas canister. They are quite powerful for their size and are small enough to easily fit into a hiking pack. However, the burner is fairly small and is only suitable for a small to medium sized pot or pan.
A camping BBQ is very similar to your one at home. Some feature hot plates, grills and racks and are typically powered by LPG cylinders. These are better suited to car-campers due to their large size and weight.
We reckon cooking your food over a campfire tastes better...
Camp Cooking Appliances
Once you have chosen how you will cook your food, you will need to decide what appliances and gear you will need to take with you. This should be easy, as your chosen recipe should tell you what equipment you need.
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 campfire or on a camp stove. They are perfect for boiling liquids (i.e. for sterilising water) and cooking stews and soups. Their light weight makes them great for hikers making simple meals on the go.
Camp ovens allow you to cook one-pot meals with ease. As the name suggests, they work similarly to your convection oven at home where it uses the heat of the fire to roast the contents. They are typically made from cast iron or spun steel. Their large size and high weight, especially cast iron ones, make them suitable for car campers rather than hikers.
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, and are 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.
Portable coffee makers come in a variety of different styles, allowing you to make your coffee just the way you like it. Smaller filter-style coffee makers or pressurised coffee makers are great for hikers needing their daily dose of espresso, while larger LPG and stovetop coffee makers can make many cups in one pot.
Pots and Pans
From searing steaks to boiling pasta, a pot and pan is likely to be on your essential list of cooking equipment for camping. The size of your pots and pans will be determined by your recipe and the amount of mouths you will be feeding. Obviously, the bigger the group, the more gear you need.
If you are hiking and need an all-encompassing kit that is lightweight and durable, look no further than a cookset. These kits feature all the equipment you need to cook your food, including a small single burner, a pot, pan, tongs and more. These are great for hikers who are cooking for themselves or as a pair.
Fresh outdoor air goes hand-in-hand with a good cup of tea.
What to Serve Your Food With?
Now comes the best part of cooking, eating it. However, taking the fine china from home to use around your campsite might not be a great idea. Camp dining ware is typically made from metal or plastic, making it easy to wash and durable against the elements.
Plates and Bowls
Just because you are camping doesn’t mean you have to be uncivilised. Bowls and plates are used to keep your food away from unsanitary surfaces. They come in a range of materials and styles including plastic, enamel and metal. If you need to save space while hiking, opt for a collapsible silicone bowl that can be easily stored in your pack.
Unless you have planned your meals well ahead of time, it’s not going to be possible to eat everything with your hands. Bringing a range of camping-appropriate cutlery makes eating all the more easy.
Mugs and Cups
You are going to need something to put your hot chocolate or cuppa-soup in. A mug and cup lets you do just that.
Other items you may need
Picnic blankets, tables, chairs, shade domes, [drink holders](/s/drink-holder and good lighting are all things you may need to bring to make your cooking experience more enjoyable. Just always keep the big picture in mind. If it’s going to be hot and sunny, you will want some shade to cook your lunch under. If you are near a beach, you may want something to sit on while you eat.
You’ll need to be properly equipped if you are going to cook a feast like this...
Cookware for Hikers
Saving-space and weight are the two most important aspects to consider when selecting your gear. Opt for lightweight materials such as aluminum or titanium for your gear. You will likely have to forgo fancy cooking appliances such as kettles and jaffle irons. Instead, you will need a more basic setup featuring a camp stove, a pot and pan, some cutlery and a bowl.
Cookware for Car Campers
Since you won’t be carrying all your gear on your back all day, you can afford to ‘splurge out’ with your cooking equipment. This means being able to take appliances such as coffee makers and larger camp stoves that a hiker wouldn’t be able to carry. However, space in your car, caravan or trailer is still limited so you will still need to plan most of your meals ahead of time.
Saving weight and space is crucial when you are hiking.
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. 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.
Check your gear prior to leaving. Inspecting lines, seals and connections on any of your gear that uses gas as fuel may prevent an accident from happening. The easiest way to do this is to use warm soapy water over the area and look for bubbles coming out if there is a leak. The last thing you need is an accident happening when you’re far from help in the middle of the bush.
Like most things to do with camping and the outdoors, use your common sense before cooking to assess the risks of your current situation.
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Got some advice for other camping master chefs? Leave a comment below to join the discussion!