My family, friends, and I love spending time in the outdoors. Camping has been an activity that we looked forward to every year. For us camping is all about nature, family, and most of all food.
We have been known to have cooking competitions for barbeque, desserts, and a few other categories. Very rarely do we just cook over the fire. I like to set up a full outdoor kitchen equipped with two burners, a gas grill, a charcoal grill, a microwave, a coffee pot, an oven, and a fryer. We come up with some pretty amazing creations every time we get together.
Now that Covid is a part of our lives, camping has become even more important. In the past, road trips and foreign vacations were part of our yearly plans. With several members in our group being considered high risk for Covid, camping has become one of our only opportunities to get everyone together safely.
My son and I have always been four season campers. We have no problem setting up a tent in the snow. Even at four years old, he was camping with me in sub-freezing temperatures. I am actually a wilderness survival specialist, so we often find ways to make our camping experiences more challenging. When I was working to become an Eagle Scout as a child, I remember several camping trips on which my socks were frozen solid.
That being said, having a few tricks and shortcuts to work with food in the wild is always a good idea. I recently took my son camping just the two of us. With him being seven years old, I had to keep one eye on him and one eye on the cooking. Until you have a little one running around an open fire, you don’t realize how important a few food related hacks can be. In this article, I will cover some of the hacks I have picked up over the years on our camping trips.
Bring Spices – There is no need to bring your whole spice cabinet, but spices make a difference. Just bringing a few options in addition to salt and pepper such as paprika, cilantro, or lemon pepper can completely transform a meal. You can add a little to a plastic straw and melt the ends for a disposable package, or you can use a weekly pill organizer for your spices.
Keep a reward at the car – If you are going on any adventures such as hiking, biking, hunting, or fishing it is good to keep a reward at your vehicle. Even if you just have a treat for surviving the camping trip, keep a snack and cold drinks in the vehicle. It may give you a little extra motivation if your adventures get difficult.
Always Bring Rice and Beans – Even if you don’t have them as ingredients in your meal plan, try to incorporate rice and beans into your meals. These can stretch out your meals by adding carbohydrates and protein. When they are dry, rice and beans are lightweight and take up little space. They can also be used to dry out electronics that get wet, or you can fill up a sock and heat it up for a warm heating pad.
Forget the paper plates – I always keep frisbees in my vehicle that I get as free gifts. They work great as dinner plates to avoid creating extra trash. You can play a game of catch after your meal to burn off a few calories.
Save the Bladder from Boxed Wine – If you have a few empty containers from boxed wine, keep the bladders and get rid of the box. Wash it out and refill the bladder with any adult beverage. Then freeze the bladder and add it to your cooler for frosty drinks poured easily from the spout.
Prep Your Food – If you really want to be efficient with your food on a camping trip, you will want to prep everything that you can in advance. You could bring all of the whole ingredients and do the prep work in the wild, but that creates a great deal of extra work. Precook your meats and vegetables and load them in foil packs. These just need to be reaheated in the fire. You can precook eggs and load them in a foil pack, or you can just mix raw eggs and any other ingredients in a plastic bottle and give it a quick scramble when you are ready. Premix pancake batter or cake batter and fill up a plastic bottle for quick and easy pancakes or cupcakes. Pack ice cream cones with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips. Then wrap them in foil. You can just throw them in the fire for a few minutes for easy smores.
Create a Dry Layer in Your Cooler – Often on longer camping trips we load everything into one big cooler. As the ice melts, a pool of cold water forms in the bottom. Certain foods will be ruined if they get wet. Put in your ice packs and drinks first. Then rest a metal grate on top and put the rest of your food on the grate. As long as your cooler stays upright, your food should stay dry.
Popping Corn for a Quick Snack – Hold onto a few empty soda cans and put some popping corn in the bottom. Then add a little cooking oil and throw it in the fire. Once it stops popping, pull out the can and cut it open for a tasty snack.
Freeze Drinking Water – You already know you are going to be dehydrated from all of your outdoor activities, so you will have to bring drinking water. Why not fill up 2 Liter bottles or Gallon jugs and then freeze them. Once added to your cooler, they will act like block ice to keep everything super cold.
Make an Easy Cup of Coffee – You don’t need a coffee maker to get delicious coffee. Add coffee grounds to a filter and staple it shut before you go camping. Then just heat water when you are camping and drop the bundle in for a few minutes to brew a perfect cup of coffee.
Add Flavor in Advance – Anything that you can do at home before you head out camping to improve the flavor of your food is a win. Use marinades or rubs in advance and then throw the whole package in the cooler. Precook sauces and sides if at all possible.
Bring a Floating Cooler – For our group, camping often means floating as well. Whether in the river, in the lake, or in a pool it is nice to have drinks and snacks close by. Nothing is more irritating than having to climb out of the water for a drink, so bring the cooler with you. Use zip ties and pool noodles to create a floating cooler. Just cut the pool noodles to the right size and attach them evenly on all four sides.
Biscuit Dough is your Friend – So many of my favorite childhood camping meals involved cheap tins of crescent or biscuit dough. You can add butter, cinnamon, and sugar and make cinnamon rolls over the fire or wrap them in foil and throw them in the fire. You can add biscuit dough to soup for easy dumplings or across the top of meat and veggies for a quick pot pie. I always have loved frying biscuit dough in hot oil and dusting them with powdered sugar for quick doughnuts. Leave the buns behind and wrap hot dogs in biscuit dough for pigs in a blanket. Of course, biscuits and gravy are a campsite favorite as well.
Open Cans the Easy Way – If you have canned goods you need open and don’t have a can opener, just head to the pavement. Rub the top of the can on a flat slab of concrete such as a sidewalk. Eventually you will wear through the metals that holds the lid in place and it will pop right off.
Make Apple Granola Bombs – This one is really simple. Just cut the cores out of some apples, fill the holes with granola, and wrap them in foil. Bring them on your trip and throw them on the fire for a healthier snack.
Don’t be Afraid to Roast Whole – One of the biggest challenges of cooking outdoors is finding a stable, clean surface on which to chop up vegetables. Why not just throw them on the fire whole? Corn, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and just about every other veggie can be thrown directly on coals if you enjoy a little char flavor. If not, just wrap them in foil first and maybe add a little butter and seasoning.
While I don’t think I can remember a single camping trip that I did not enjoy, some have been better than others. If you have simple shortcuts to make the cooking easier, it can make the entire camping experience more enjoyable. Just take the time to do some planning in advance and use these hacks to have a more enjoyable camping experience next time.