When you think of camp cooking, do you picture fragrant homemade chili bubbling over a cast-iron Dutch oven, or sad, half-burned, half-cold hot dogs? Fancy camp cooking isn’t for everyone. Lord knows it’s a pain to drag loads of extra equipment and ingredients to a campground, so you want to keep it simple. But you also don’t have to limit yourself to the predictable things-you-can-put-on-a-stick. And there are some tricks to making it a whole lot easier.
That’s why we tapped into Sunset Magazine‘s new Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors (which includes some fantastic-looking recipes) for some camp cooking tips that could mean the difference between eating a warm, satisfying meal versus eating raw marshmallows while you all sulk in your sleeping bags.
Cooking on a camp stove
After you’ve connected the stove to a fuel source, check that the stove is level. Don’t forget to use the attached windscreens.
Using a campfire grill
- Use enough fuel: Four logs works for a quick grill, but start with six if you’re cooking over an extended period. Keep an extra log burning at the back of the fire ring.
- Plan ahead — it takes 1 to 1-1/2 hours for a fire to burn to low flames plus embers, the ideal stage for cooking.
- Adjust the fire: Spread the fire under the cooking grate, using grilling tongs. As you cook, move logs or add fuel as needed.
High altitude baking tips (above 3,000 feet above sea level)
For quick breads such as biscuits, cornbread, cakes and pancakes, try decreasing baking powder or soda by 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon per teaspoon called for. If that’s not working, cut back on flour by about 2 tablespoons per cup called for.
For yeast breads, you may need less flour, so mix in about two-thirds of what’s called for in the recipe, then check the dough to see whether it looks and feels the way it does at sea level before adding more. Keep an eye on the dough’s rise; yeast doughs rise more quickly — sometimes twice as fast — in the reduced pressure of higher altitudes. Instead of letting dough rise until doubled in volume, let it rise only about a third. That will compensate for its tendency to overexpand as it bakes in the Dutch oven.
Pack bailout foods
Just in case, be ready with a few instant meals (which, fortunately, keep getting better in quality). Before you leave town, hit the grocery store for items to which you simply add boiling water: packs of miso or ramen soup and cups of quinoa and other grain bowls and the like. And swing by an outdoor store for a couple of packaged camp meals. If the camping gods unleash a true downpour, head to the tent for a cold picnic dinner of fancy cheese, salami, crackers and dried fruit. And don’t forget the wine.
How to clean a fresh-caught fish
Make a shallow slit down the length of the belly. Pull out the guts with your fingers, then rinse the fish well. Scale it by scraping from tail to head with a table knife. Rinse again. If the fish is too big for your pan, cut off the head and tail.
Whip cream in camp
If you’re going to the trouble of making dessert, you might as well go all the way and add a big dollop of whipped cream. In a bowl, whisk 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract until thick. For fun or in case you don’t have a whisk, pour all the ingredients into a pint-size or quart-size canning jar or into a cocktail shaker. Attach the lid, and shake-shake-shake until thick.
All tips excerpted from Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors (Oxmoor House, 2016).