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How to Make Delicious Food While Camping Outdoors

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Today's post is from my friend Ryan, at Beyond The Tent! Ryan Cunningham runs the family camping blog www.BeyondTheTent.com. He has 7 kids and loves to get out canoe camping in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. 

After a long day of exploring the outdoors with your family, a delicious meal cooked over the campfire or on a camping stove is sure to hit the spot. 

But preparing camping meals – especially for the entire family – can be intimidating. It certainly takes a little more time and a lot more ingenuity to work with the minimal space, tools, and ingredients you have at the campsite.

That said, cooking the old-fashioned way not only pays off when you take the first bite, but the entire process is actually very enjoyable with just a little know-how. 

Whether you’re cooking for just yourself or the entire family, here are some of the best camp cooking tips and recipes to make delicious food while camping! 

Campfire versus Camp Stove

The first item of consideration is whether to cook over a campfire or a camping stove. 

Personally, I almost never rely solely on a campfire for cooking. I always bring my camping or backpacking stove as backup. Plus, on multi-night trips, cooking solely over the fire can be a real pain. 

Direct heat is my favorite method for campfire cooking. You can wrap individual ingredients in aluminum foil and place on the hot coals. Or, cook directly on a campfire grate just like you would on a backyard grill. 

Another option is to use pots and pans over a campfire. Make sure to let the fire die down to just hot coals before trying this method.

Although cooking on a campfire isn’t as difficult as it sounds (you’ll quickly become a master after just a few tries), using a camp stove comes the closest to cooking at home. It also offers far better temperature control for simmering and the like.

Cooking on a camp stove does require pots and/or pans. Most backpacking stoves have a single burner while car camping stoves usually have two or three burners. Electric, butane, and propane models are available, although propane stoves are most popular.

I like using a backpacking stove to prepare quick, one-pot meals for myself and a camping stove to prepare more complex meals for larger groups of people.

Know that summertime fire restrictions often outlaw campfires in some locations. 

Camp Cooking Supplies 

In addition to a stove or materials for a campfire, you’ll need a few basic cooking tools, at the very least. 

Most of the time, I bring a medium pot, a medium pan, roll of aluminum foil, and a fire grate (if the campsite doesn’t have one). This enables me to cook on my stove or the open fire. 

I prefer to measure out ingredients beforehand and pack them in Ziploc bags. I also bring as little cookware as possible – usually just a cutting board, knife, spatula, and sometimes a can opener.

That said, there’s really no reason not to bring as much cookware as you like when car camping. In fact, more cookware is often ideal for cooking for large families of campers. 

Don’t forget condiments, dishware, utensils, and after-dinner cleanup items! Keep all refrigerated items cool in your camping cooler. 

Some of Our Favorite Camping Meals 

You can cook pretty much anything – or, at least, a somewhat simplified version of anything – while camping. 

After a few camping trips of your own, you’ll quickly perfect the meal preparation process and find out what works for you and what just doesn’t work. 

One of my favorite camping dinners is tacos. I love tacos for camping because you can make them a million different ways. They can be as simple or as complex as you like.

Blackberry Babe’s easy flank steak tacos will take your camping tacos to a whole new level. The recipe can be made entirely on your camping stove but can easily be adapted for campfire grilling if you prefer that cooking method. 

In addition to delicious camping food, you might like to relax with a camp cocktail. Blackberry Babe has an extensive selection of beverage recipes (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic), including easy summer beer with 7-Up that tastes much like a shandy. 

Check out other Blackberry Babe recipes, broken down by breakfast, side dishes, main courses, treats, and appetizers, for even more delicious meals to make for camping.  

Don’t Feel Like Cooking?

Cooking for your entire family while camping can quickly become exhausting. 

To limit time spent preparing meals, try make ahead camping meals. As the name implies, you prepare these meals at home before your trip. Then at the campsite, all you have to do is heat them up – or, better yet, eat them fresh right out of the cooler!  

At Beyond The Tent, we’ve put together a list of the best make ahead camping meals to feed a whole family, including favorites like mason jar parfait, double decker hot ham and cheese foil sandwiches, and kebobs. 

Remember to Plan Ahead – And Double Check Your List!

Plan your menu out ahead of time. 

To create a camping menu, consider how many people you’re cooking for as well as their personal preferences (and any dietary restrictions).

Also consider cooking method (stove or campfire), perishability of ingredients (a cooler helps extend lifespan), and how much variety you want each day. 

Personally, I prefer camping meals that are quick and easy to cook, filling and nutritious (especially if I’ll be hiking, bicycling, or paddling during the day), and, of course, delicious. Easy cleanup is another highlight in my book. 

While nothing is wrong whipping up gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most new campers are better off sticking to somewhat simple dishes for their first few trips.

We recommend creating an ingredients and cooking equipment checklist to add to your camping checklist. Don’t head out for your trip before you double check everything is packed!

Beyond The Tent’s complete camping food list for planning, packing, and cooking is a great place to start.  

Final Thoughts 

Camp cooking gets easier the more you do it. 

Before long, you’ll master the art of cooking with minimal prep space, just a handful of tools, and only the ingredients you packed before leaving. You’ll almost certainly pick up your own tips and tricks to more easily make delicious camping food the entire family will enjoy. 

Now, we’d love to hear from you. 

What are your favorite camping meals to make for your family? Do you have any camp cooking tips to add to our list?

Let us know in the comments below! 

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