If I were left to my own devices, camp cooking would involve little more than boiling water for freeze-dried meals and overcooking eggs on a Coleman two-burner. Thank God for my wife, Sarah.
The day before our first backpacking trip together—on my birthday—she told me she’d take care of dinner. She wasn’t interested in my suggestions about the best granola bars and freeze-dried meals; she just told me to trust her. When we showed up in camp the next night, she pulled two foil-wrapped steak filets out of her pack and proceeded to cook one of the best meals I’d ever eaten, then followed it with a blueberry cake she baked in a makeshift Dutch oven.
Camp cooking took on a whole new meaning after that trip, and my wife now has a reputation among our friends as the go-to camp chef—she usually ends up planning meals and cooking for the whole group. Here are seven things you need to cook for a group while camping, according to the best camp chef I know.
Pouch of Chicken
This is indispensable. If there’s one ingredient that will allow you to cook a ton of different meals, it’s a pouch of pre-cooked chicken. Sarah always keeps it on hand at the house specifically for camping trips. It lasts a long time, doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and is great for mixing into things like pasta, rice, and other one-pot dishes. Plus, it’s way cheaper than buying freeze-dried meals for everyone in your group.
Those steaks my wife in the fire for my birthday? Wouldn’t have happened without aluminum foil in which to cook them. Even if you don’t go the steak route, you should always bring some with you, whether you’re car camping or backpacking. You can cook almost anything by wrapping it in foil—fresh fish, veggies, potatoes, cake batter—then setting it in the coals of a fire. Pro-tip: get the heaviest duty stuff you can find.
Cook Set and Utensils
A good, quality cook set will help you immensely. Investing in something like Stanley’s Basecamp Cookset will make cooking for a group in camp and cleaning up afterwards a much better experience. If you’re backpacking, go with something like GSI’s Bugaboo camper set, which comes with just about everything you need for a gourmet backcountry meal. Divvy up the components among your group for the hike.
If you’re car camping, you’ll want to bring a solid grill along with you. I recommend a Coleman 2-Burner Stove before because it’s a beloved classic that works as well as advertised and lasts years, but we also love Eureka’s Gonzo Grill, which heats evenly and holds pots securely. If you’re backpacking, a lightweight stove like MSR’s Pocket Rocket is the way to go.
A good camping spice set is a game changer, and if you keep it in your car camping bin, you’ll never accidentally forget the salt and pepper.
Don’t wait until you get home from a camping trip to clean your dishes. Instead, bring some camp soap with you and do it immediately after you and your group finishes up eating—your cookset will thank you. Plus, the best part of group meals is that you can make whoever didn’t cook do the dishes.
My wife repackages all the ingredients she plans to use in gallon Ziplock bags, which cuts down on weight and adds to marinating time. She also draws measurement lines onto the bags so she can reuse them as measuring cups.
Want to make incredible pasta or mashed potatoes in the backcountry? Don’t bother bringing a carton of milk with you. Go with powdered dry milk instead, which is way easier to pack and doesn’t need to be kept cold.
A Nalgene bottle is an indispensable camp tool not just because it carries water, but because of the measurements on it. If you’re like me and rely on directions rathern than feel, having a Nalgene means you won’t have to bring a separate measuring cup along with you.