How to Cook a Great Meal in the Backcountry

On our life list of must-learn talents: cook a great meal in the backcountry.

Aug 31, 2010
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

Just like at home, the kitchen should be social: It's where the party is happening. Welcome people in. I make Navajo tacos and have folks help pat out and fry their taco. As for the food, it takes the same amount of time to make something good as it does to make something lame. I like simple but authentic dishes made from scratch: French tortillas for breakfast, which are flour tortillas dredged in egg, milk, and cinnamon and fried on the griddle; taco salad for lunch; and, for supper, feijoada, a take on a Brazilian dish featuring grilled sausage, black beans, rice pilaf, sliced oranges, marinated red onion, and caramelized bananas. I don't leave home without a good spice kit and condiments. They transform the cooking and don't weigh anything. I always pack dried New Mexico red and frozen roasted green chile, sea salt, fresh garlic, fresh ginger, and Thai spices. You know it's a good meal when there are empty plates and they do the dishes—then start asking about the next meal. --AS TOLD TO RYAN KROGH

For Overachievers: Cook over a Fire
The most important part is the wood. If you're on a river trip, you're looking for driftwood. Juniper is great. Or you're looking for acacia. If you're in the mountains, you should be gathering downed and dead wood. (Hardwoods, in general, are best.) Build a little trench, no bigger than two feet long by 10 inches wide. Get a couple of flat rocks to put on either side near one end of the trench. This way you can start a fire and move your coals underneath. The essential cooking item is a little grill to prop up on rocks. It's probably 12 inches by five inches—just to elevate a pot. Make sure your vessel has a bail handle (like on a bucket) that stands up on its own. You won't burn yourself trying to grab it. And bring a few of them that nest into each other. Unlike when cooking on a backpack stove, you're not limited to a one-pot meal.