The Ultimate Camp Kitchen
Cooking and eating under the stars is one of the biggest joys of road life. Here’s the gear we’ve settled on to make it work.
When we bought Artemis, the Airstream, the previous owners proudly declared that they had never cooked inside her. We thought that was ludicrous: Why drive around with a full kitchen and not use it? Since then, we’ve come around, prepping and cooking outside as often as we can
There are a few major disadvantages to cooking inside. The heat can make sleeping uncomfortable on hot nights and odors tend to linger in such a small space. There’s also the hassle of cleaning up grease splatter and food mess. More to the point, if you’re cooking inside, you’re not outside, which was a major motivation for hitting the road in the first place.
In order to cook outside almost nighty, we had to gear up with quality outdoor kitchen ware. First came the perfect grill and, naturally, camp chairs, both of which we procured quickly. Since then, we’ve slowed down on purchases as we weigh our needs and sift through the options. The results are, for us, a small, tightly curated (with the exception of the ice cream medicine ball) selection of things that we love. Here they are.
A table might seem like a simple thing, but it has proved a conundrum. In campgrounds, you already have a picnic table, so a portable secondary feels excessive. However, after too many meals while dry camping of trying to cut elk steaks from precariously lap-balanced plates, we succumbed.
We wanted something nice, easy to set up, simple to stow, and, most of all, stable. After trying quite a few, we went with the SnowPeak Single Action Table Medium ($329), which we like, but don’t yet love. The pros: the bamboo is durable and looks great; it swivels open and closed easily; once erected, it’s as unfaltering as your home table; it has a simple carrying case to protect it. The cons: it’s a bit heavy and bulky; it ain’t cheap; and it's tall. Standing 26 inches, it’s good for eating but sits too high relaxing around before and after meals.
We’re considering trading down for Snow Peak’s low version of this table, or the low round one. The quality and design of all three are impeccable. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works best for the most occasions. Spend some time in the store before you buy to make sure you get it right. Even bring your camp chairs to the store with you, as it’s the only way you’ll know what works.
Dinner in Artemis almost always begins Mad Men style: big and brown. Apart from a full-silver mug, I’ve found nothing better for bourbon than HydroFlask 10-oz Rocks ($30) glass. The insulated stainless steel walls keep ice from melting out and ruining your drink, and the glass just feels good in the hand. It also doubles just fine as a coffee mug in the morning.
After the table, cutlery was the next biggest challenge. I like a good knife when I’m cooking, but I didn’t necessarily want my fine home stuff bouncing around the inside of a drawer. Then I found the Snowpeak Cutting Board Set L ($56). The knife didn’t arrive quite as sharp as my chef’s knife back home, but it was still sharp and has held an edge since I got it re-ground locally. I love the way the knife packs into the backside of the folding, red birch case, which doubles, once paged open, as a cutting board. Smart! Because our drawer space is limited, we also picked up GSI Outdoors’ Pivot Tongs, Spatula, and Spoon ($6 each), serving utensils that are strong as your home stuff in use, but clock-dial in half to take up less room in the cupboard.
Early on, we bought the Lodge 3.2-quart Cast Iron Combo Cooker ($62), a Dutch oven consisting of a nice nesting saucepan and fry pan. It works great, and I wouldn’t trade it. However, we’ve noticed that the cast iron takes a long time to fully heat, which means you’re either burning off a lot of propane or cooking when the pot’s not ready. As a fix, we went to our local Asian market and picked up an inexpensive (think: $26) wok, which heats super fast and cooks super evenly. We use it basically as much as the cast iron, and though I feel as though I should get rid of one or the other, all three pieces fit in their cabinet, so, for now, I’m hanging onto both.
The Food Storage
Because of the bulk and empty space, food storage for leftovers is an issue. I refused to travel with Tupperware for the first year just because of the clutter. Thankfully we found Sea To Summit X-Seal and Go collapsible storage sets. Constructed of silicone sides with hard plastic tops and bottoms, these vessels accordion open and closed and, ingeniously, stow flat inside one another. We got the large set to start, but as these come in all manner of shapes and sizes, our collection is likely to increase.
The Totally Essential Ice Cream Ball
I hate clutter and never would have bought it, but we received the Industrial Rev Softshell Ice Cream Ball ($35) for a Christmas gift this year, and truthfully, I’ve come to love it. Look: it’s bulky, dorky, and fiddly. But, with a little ice and rock salt, as well as some cream, sugar, and flavors, you can whip up some mean ice cream. If you haven’t eaten homemade ice cream while camping, you’re missing out—there’s possibly no greater extravagance in life. Chucking the ball around camp to help dessert set is a good laugh, too. A word of advice, though: If you’re boondocking and water is tight, make sure you’re on the mixing end of the equation and someone else is on clean-up as mopping out the sticky, goopy leftovers is the worst bit.