When we camp, we eat well. I wouldn’t call it gourmet, but it’s healthy (most of the time), balanced, nutritious, and very satisfying. And, we’re constantly trying to change things up. We each have our go-to recipes and our specialties, but we’re always on the hunt for something different. Just like we change our camping locations between beach, mountains, lake, etc., and we change our activities between biking, fishing, canoeing, etc., so we change up our camp menus. It’s all in the spirit of keeping it interesting. None of us like to settle for the same old stuff. All it takes is a little planning, a little culinary ambition, and a good camp kitchen setup, and you, too, can cook like a chef and eat like a king or a queen.
Here’s what I recommend for a good camp kitchen setup:
You need all your cooking essentials organized and stored in one place. A chuck box can be as simple and economical as a large plastic tote or as complex as a hand-crafted wooden box (DIY tutorials are widely available online). Ideally, your chuck box has compartments or smaller containers for your smaller cooking utensils. It should include all the basic things you need from pots and bowls to knives and vegetable peelers. I always pack heavy-duty aluminum foil for making foil packets. It’s fun to lay out a selection of proteins, veggies, spices, and sauces and everyone assembles their own dinner and cooks it over a fire or coals. For a complete list of what my chuck box includes, see my blog post, “Think Inside the Box Part 1-Your Camp Kitchen.”
A reliable stove system is central to every serious camp kitchen. Depending on the amount of packing space in your vehicle, you can decide to go with a compact two-burner system that runs on a one-pound propane canister or you can equip yourself with a larger and more powerful two- or three-burner system that runs on a standard 20-pound propane tank. Generally, you just want to make sure that each burner on the stove you select puts out at least 10,000 BTU/hr, which is the average output of a household stove burner. A number of the larger models that run on standard 20-pound propane tanks will crank out an impressive 30,000 BTU/hr per burner, providing you with an immense range of culinary ability. Many models can also be accessorized with grill boxes and griddles, which make serving up a stack of pancakes or juicy T-bone steaks a simple task.
One or two quality hard-shell coolers will insulate and protect your food from being crushed in a fully packed vehicle. For safe food handling, it’s important that your iced-cooler keep your foods at or below 40°F. If you can, do your prep work before leaving home. Label your sealed bags of pre-chopped veggies and meats specific to each meal, which allows you to start cooking with minimal prep time. If you plan on packing lots of canned and bottled beverages, consider bringing a second beverage-specific cooler. Beverage coolers are opened and closed frequently, which allows chilled air to quickly escape. If your food is stored in a separate cooler that is opened less frequently, your temperature-sensitive foods will stay chilled for a longer period of time. For more cooler packing tips, see my blog posts, “Chillin’ With Your Cooler” and “Think Inside the Box Part 3-Your Camp Refrigerator.”
Just like a cooler, a hard-sided plastic tote will protect your food from being crushed in a fully packed vehicle. It will also protect your food from sun and rain and help keep critters out in the middle of the night. Even if you are just making hamburgers, no one wants a bun that’s been flattened like a pancake. For more Food Tote tips, see my blog post, “Think Inside the Box Part 2-Your Camp Pantry.”
Even if you do the bulk of your prep work at home, you will still need a place to assemble and prepare your meals. A sturdy camp table is a must-have for your camp kitchen. Not only does it provide valuable work space, but you can also use it like a buffet table.
We usually pack a pop up for a cook shelter. It provides shade when it’s sunny and protection from the rain when it is not, which is most of the time! I like to string a small clothesline along one side for washing cloths and drying towels. Sometimes I attach a tarp to one side and stake out the tarp to provide added shade for my coolers.
In my opinion, an outdoor kitchen wouldn’t be complete without at least one cast iron Dutch oven. From casseroles to cakes, a Dutch oven will allow you to bake just about anything you can bake in your oven at home. A Dutch oven gives you the versatility to prepare a much wider range of dishes. Its rugged durability and its ability to evenly distribute heat, allowing you to cover it with charcoal briquettes, position it in hot coals near an open fire, or place it on the stove top, make it a valuable component of your camp kitchen. For more information about what you need to support your Dutch ovens, see my blog post, “The Right Tool for the Right Job.”
So, there you have it. A good camp kitchen setup will go along way toward making every camping trip a successful one.
What’s in your Chuck box?
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