As big of an outdoor enthusiast as I am, I just might be an even bigger food enthusiast. I absolutely love waking up and having a hearty breakfast, spending the day having fun, then settling down with a delicious dinner at night. So, if you’re anything like me, you need to know how to cook while camping.
The good thing here is that you don’t have to be a world-class chef to enjoy a good meal while you’re camping, you just need to be prepared. Like everything else when it comes to camping, preparation is key. And when it comes to my food, I like to be as prepared as possible.
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In this article, you’ll learn about six different ways to cook when camping so you can figure out which method works best for you. Along the way, I’ll share tips from myself and other camping enthusiasts to make it even easier for you. I don’t want any of my readers to go on their next camping trip dreading the basic meals they have to eat!
Here’s everything you need to know about how to cook while camping.
Camping Cooking Essentials: Everything You Need to Cook While Camping
Before we get into the ways you can cook during your camping trip, let’s go over the four main things you need (or need to do) to make camping cooking as easy as pie.
Prepare Your Meals at Home
Before you head out the door on your next camping trip, spend some time figuring out what you’re going to eat during the trip. While you don’t necessarily have to plan out every meal for every single day, getting an idea of what you’re going to eat and when will make it much easier to cook when the time comes.
You might also want to prepare food at home before you go camping. This could be as simple as chopping vegetables or portioning meat, to fully cooking the meals before you go so all you have to do is heat them up once you’re at your campsite.
Preparing some easy camping meals of time is by far the best way to cut down on time and effort while you’re camping. Every camping trip we go on, we make sure to cook at least a few meals ahead of time, which comes in handy if we spend too much time on the trails, are too tired to cook, or just simply don’t feel like it after a long day.
Heat Source to Cook
No matter which camping cooking method below you decide to go with, there’s one thing they all have in common: you need some sort of heat source. To cook pretty much anything while camping, whether you’re cooking raw food or heating up your pre-made meals, you’re going to need some heat.
The heat source you decide to use is the biggest driving factor between the different ways to cook which we’ll go over in detail below. In short, it comes down to using the campfire, boiling water, cooking with a grill (charcoal or firewood), or using an electric stove.
Andrew’s Tip: Always have a backup heat source in mind. Nothing is worse than banking on starting a fire or using an electric grill, only to find out once you arrive that it’s actually not going to work!
Cooler to Keep Food Cold
You also want to make sure you have a cooler that you can use to keep all your food and drinks in while you’re camping. Most foods that you’ll be cooking are going to need to stay cool until it’s time to cook, and a cooler basically acts as your refrigerator during your camping trip.
Andrew’s Tip: Use frozen water bottles (or frozen gallon jugs) instead of ice in your cooler. These will not only keep everything just as cool as regular ice, but they’ll also keep everything dry. Plus, you can drink from the water bottles as they begin to melt!
The last thing you always have to bring with you is some camp cooking gear like eating and grilling utensils. No matter how you decide to go about your campsite cooking, you’re going to need utensils to heat up your food and then also to eat it.
To make this super easy, you can just pick up a set of camping cooking utensils like this option that I personally use. The portable set of utensils comes with pretty much everything you need to cook and eat in a small package, making it versatile and super easy to pack up.
What are the Best Ways to Cook on a Camping Trip?
Now that you’re ready to start cooking, let’s get into the different ways you can cook while camping. I’ve personally used every one of these methods many times, and they all work great. Let’s dive in.
Cook Over the Campfire
When you think about cooking while camping, I’m going to guess the first thing that comes to mind is cooking over the campfire. This is the most common, most natural way to cook while camping, and it really gives you that feeling of pride when you do it.
But it can be tougher than you think to cook over a campfire. First and foremost, you have to actually get a campfire going, which is not as easy as people think. Check out my complete guide on how to start a campfire to help you get started.
Once the fire is going, you’re all set to start cooking. Here are three different ways to cook over a campfire.
Andrew’s Tip: The single most important thing about lighting a campfire is safety, so please make sure you never leave your campfire unattended and always follow campsite rules and regulations!
Cast Iron Cookware
If you’re in a campground, most fire pits come with a grate that’s made just for cooking on. All you really need to make use of this is a cast iron pan or some other cast iron cookware and you’re all set.
Cast iron is great for cooking while camping because it’s durable, it’s versatile, and its even heat distribution is ideal for an application like a campfire where there might not always be a consistent flame or heat source.
When I go camping, I typically bring a cast iron skillet and a griddle, which lets me cook pretty much anything I want. Any decent cast iron will do the trick, but I’ve always used Lodge, which makes just about any type of cast iron cookware you need!
Andrew’s Tip: Preheat your cast iron cookware before you put any food in or on it. The biggest issue people have with cast iron cookware is food sticking to it, which is a surefire sign that it wasn’t hot enough before you started using it!
Use Aluminum Foil Packets
If you listened to my earlier advice and plan on meal prepping ahead of time, then using aluminum foil packets is one of the easiest ways to cook while camping. These are exactly what they sound like: you wrap food in aluminum foil to create a packet of deliciousness. Then you can put these packets right in the fire or right over the heat source so they can cook.
The aluminum foil will protect the food from the direct flame to prevent burning, and it’ll help retain heat inside so that everything starts to cook once it heats up. This type of campfire cooking is great for things like potatoes, vegetables, certain meats, or even heating up something you’ve kept in the cooler.
Cook on a Stick
The last easy way to get your meal ready over a campfire is to cook on a stick. Before we get too far into this, you don’t actually have to use a stick, a pair of tongs or a metal kebab cooking stick/skewer works just as well, without leaving that slightly dirty taste in your mouth.
Just like Shrek and Fiona did in the first movie, you can just pierce whatever you’re cooking and then hold it over the fire or set it up like a spit system with a couple of holders on each side. This method of cooking is great for things like chicken or steak since you can cook it slowly, or even hot dogs when you want them done quickly.
Use a Jetboil Camping Cooking System
If you’re on a primitive camping trip or you don’t feel like getting a campfire going, a cooking system built specifically with camping in mind is an easy way to cook. The biggest name in the industry is without a doubt Jetboil, and I can’t argue that. I personally use the Jetboil Flash Cooking System myself, and it is super easy to use and works great.
The Jetboil flash is designed to boil up to one liter of water in 100 seconds or less, making it one of the fastest ways to cook while camping. With this hot water, you can quickly heat and eat freeze-dried meals, make a quick cup of coffee, and more. But the cooking system is not only used for heating up water.
Jetboil makes a ton of accessories that work with the Flash cooking system. In short, you can use pretty much any camping skillet, pan, or other cooking surface with the heating element of a Jetboil and get cooking in no time.
With how versatile the Jetboil Flash is, I take it with me on every camping trip no matter if I’m staying in the backcountry or at a campground.
Cook With a Charcoal Grill
While cooking on the campfire might be the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine cooking while camping, using a grill is probably a close second. One of the benefits of camping at an established campground is that many of them have a built-in grill right there at or near your campsite. All you need to do is add some charcoal, wrap the grill grate in foil, and fire it up.
But if there isn’t a grill in place, you can bring along a portable grill like this Cuisinart Charcoal Grill. It’s small and lightweight enough to fit in the back of your vehicle with the rest of your camping gear, and it’s easy to use when you’re ready to get down to business. All you really need for a charcoal grill to work is charcoal, a way to light it, and a set of grilling utensils.
Grab some Kingsford Match Light or another brand of charcoal briquettes and carefully stack them in the grill in a pyramid shape. Using matches or a lighter, light the charcoal and let it burn until the flame goes out. The charcoal should be ashy and hot at this point, and you can level it out and lower the grate of the grill back down.
Depending on what you’re cooking, you can choose to wrap the grill grate in tin foil or just cook right on top of it. Cooking on a charcoal grill is pretty much the same as using a gas or propane grill back at the house, so if you’re used to grilling out, it should all come pretty naturally from here.
Be mindful of dripping any sort of grease or oil directly onto the charcoal, as it can cause them to light back up in an instant. Also keep in mind that the entire grill will get hot since it’s metal and conductive, so be careful not to touch any part of the grill while you’re cooking!
Bring a Portable Electric Grill
While some diehard camping enthusiasts might scoff at this idea, I can personally attest to how great of an idea it is to bring a portable electric grill when you go camping. While this isn’t really a possibility if you’re roughing it on a backcountry camping trip or anything where you have to carry your gear, it’s by far the easiest way to cook if you’re staying in a campground.
Pretty much every time I go camping in a campground, I bring along my Hamilton Beach Electric Grill to cook just about every meal I eat on that trip. Part of the fun of camping might be cooking over an open fire or on a camping stove, but once you’ve done it countless times, just having an easy way to cook a tasty meal like this is all that really counts.
With an electric grill like this, you’ll need to either be staying at a campsite that has electricity, or you need to have something like the Geneverse HomePower ONE solar generator that I highlighted in my list of the best solar power banks for camping. With both burners operating on HIGH heat, this model pulls a whopping 1,400 watts, which is too much for a smaller power bank.
But with a 3-in-1 electric grill, you can choose between using it as a grill, a griddle, or a combination of the two. Both sides are heated and used independently of the other, meaning you can grill up some steaks or chicken on one side while searing your veggies or heating up anything else on the other. It makes campsite cooking an absolute breeze!
Andrew’s Tip: Don’t let what anyone tells you about using an electric stove while camping bother you. I’m not kidding about some diehard enthusiasts scoffing at the idea, but I use mine regularly and it makes it super easy to have a delicious meal as long as there is power available.
What’s the Easiest Way to Cook While Camping?
Picking which of these is the easiest way to cook while camping is always going to be a bit subjective, but I do think a couple of these methods are much easier than the others.
Even though using aluminum foil packets is great for easy camping meals once the fire is going, you need to get the fire going for it to work at all. Without a hot campfire for you to put the foil packets in, nothing is ever going to get cooked. So even though this is arguably the easiest way to cook while camping, it can be tough to get the fire going from time to time.
A surefire way that’s super easy to use – and that will always work no matter what – is to use a camping stove or cooking system like the Jetboil. Now, you won’t be grilling chicken or steaks or anything like that, but a JetBoil is very easy to use, and you’ll have boiling water in no time to cook with. The Jetboil cooking system is not only great for no-cook foods that you add water to, but it’s versatile enough to work with just about all camping stoves.
If you are staying at a campground and have an electric hook-up or a generator on hand, using an electric stove is by far the easiest way to cook just about anything. This is only viable at a campground though, since you won’t have that sort of power while you’re on a backpacking trip or heading out on a primitive camping trip!
In all honestly, all of these methods of cooking while you camp are fairly simple and just require a bit of practice. I’d recommend going on a few camping trips and trying out all of these camp cooking methods to find the one that works best for you while you’re exploring the great outdoors.
- Make sure you pack your cooking utensils, have an idea of which heat source you’ll use, and pack your cooler the right way to keep everything cool without making a mess.
- Using a JetBoil cooking system is the easiest way to cook while camping no matter what the weather is doing, where you’re camping, or if you have power.
- No matter how you go about cooking meals while you camp, keep in mind how important washing dishes is. You don’t want to leave food residue all over your pots and pans that might attract wildlife!
- The biggest key to cooking while camping is prepping before you leave home. Pre-cooked or well-prepped meals make it significantly easier to cook while camping than if you’re starting from scratch at your campsite.