You may have seen videos circulating online of people using primitive tools to make gourmet dishes in the wild. They make it look relatively easy as they mash ingredients with a rock and cook on a stone slab over an open fire. But for the 99.9% of the rest of us, the process of making a nice meal while enjoying what nature has to offer can be a much simpler task.
Before deciding what you will be cooking at your campsite, consider what you will have available on-site, how everything will be transported, and how it will be disposed. The most important suggestion: keep it simple.
Many of the dishes you would enjoy at home likely will not be as easy to prepare or keep fresh enough while camping. When we cook at home, we have access to copious amounts of ingredients, appliances, utensils, tabletops, storage, etc. At a campsite, we are limited to what nature provides and what we can transport.
None of this is to say you have to limit yourself to traditional camping fare like burgers, hot dogs, and s’mores. You can still enjoy a nice meal if you are strategic with preparation.
Cold, Cool, Tepid
You won’t have the luxury of electricity (unless you are “glamping”). So, whatever you bring can only be kept cold for as long as ice or cold packs will stay frozen. If you are able to bring a cooler to your campsite (likely not an option if hiking to your campsite), keep the cooler in a shaded area to prolong the life of your ice or cold packs. If you bring food that needs to stay frozen or cold, or spoils quickly, plan to eat that food first. Avoid ice cream and popsicles, as those will result in a messy melted cleanup.
We Are Men, We Build Fire!
If you have a portable grill, that is always a nice option to bring along. Some campsites provide grill stations, but most often they need a thorough cleaning, as they are not well kept and often are exposed to whatever animals, insects, people, and nature leave on them. Better to avoid risking illness.
If utilizing a portable gas grill, check your propane tank before leaving or buy a fresh one. Trying to fire up the grill and finding out there’s no gas can put a serious damper on your trip, and lead to some serious arguments as people get hangry. If you will be utilizing a charcoal grill, bring enough charcoal briquettes for the number of meals you plan to cook. No need to bring a large bag if it’s not necessary.
If you want to have a “roughing it” experience and cook over an open fire, use locally sourced firewood and sticks, especially if traveling to somewhere out-of-state. Transporting firewood from out-of-state or non-local areas is prohibited in some campsites. If gathering wood from around the campsite, make sure it is dry and not green. The wet wood and green sticks will give you a whole lot of smoke and not a lot of fire.
Remember to bring lighter fluid unless you are skilled at creating a fire naturally. Don’t rely on this method if you are not skilled at it.
A tip for using lighter fluid: soak cotton balls in light fluid and stick them to underside and middle of the wood pile. This will allow you to start the flames in areas that will start a nice healthy fire.
A mistake to avoid with lighter fluid: pouring lots of lighter fluid all over the top of the wood. When you cover the wood in lighter fluid and light it, the fluid is what is actually burning, not the wood. So, if you pour lighter fluid on top of the wood and light it, the fluid will burn away and you will be left with unlit wood. Place kindling on the bottom of your fire pit, place larger logs over top the kindling in a way that allows air to flow underneath the logs. Pour a small amount of light fluid on the kindling and light it. This will ignite the smaller pieces of wood, which will then naturally spread to the larger pieces of wood.
Food Prep Like A Pro
Prior to trekking out to the wilderness, prepare your food as much as possible so when it is mealtime, you are just cooking, assembling, and eating. It’s a lot harder to prep you cooking station without counter or table space. And if you prepare your food ahead of time, you won’t need to bring the extra cookware and ingredients.
If cooking up some meats, try marinating them in storage bags or containers overnight before the trip. Tenderize and poke holes in the meat before submerging it in your marinade. This will allow the flavors to get soaked into all of the meat. If using a dry rub to flavor your meats, make sure you thoroughly coat all parts of the meat.
But prep is not limited to meat. If you want to enjoy a well-balanced meal, prepare your vegetable ahead of time as well. Pre-chop your veggies if desired and add any spices that will be used to cook them.
Some people may not consider it, but a nice hot soup or stew can be refreshing when it starts to get cold at night. Place all the ingredients in the cooking vessel ahead of time or in containers to add to the pot. When it’s time to cook, you just have to place the pot on the grill or over the fire. Make sure to use a pot that is appropriate for cooking over an open flame.
Cooking and Serving Tools
One of the biggest mistakes campers make when packing for a trip is forgetting all of the tools needed to cook and eat the food they’ve prepared. Make sure you consider how everything is going to be stirred, flipped, picked up, scooped, passed, and plated or bowled. Of course, you can improvise. You can probably flip and stir with a fork or tongs and don’t necessarily need to bring all of your cooking tools. But it can be pretty hard to consume a liquid with a fork or to eat a chicken breast with a spoon.
Pro Tip: cups can be used for drinking and eating certain foods.
Leave it Tidy… and Keep it Safe
We’ve all heard the adage, leave it better than the way you found it. Well, that rings especially true when enjoying the great outdoors. When we insert ourselves into an ecosystem, we alter how it functions. If we damage the ecosystem with trash and foreign substances, it can throw off the balance and hurt all the wildlife that relies on a balanced ecosystem.
When storing anything that has food in it or has touched food, keep it away from your campsite and out of your vehicle. Wildlife can pick up the scent of food, even if it is in a container in your vehicle and they will try to get into it, even if that means being a little destructive.
Make sure to bring trash bags or use natural biodegradable materials. Take everything with you when you leave. Don’t be “generous” by leaving something behind for the next person. They can bring their own stuff.
But most importantly, enjoy the escape. Cooking while out in nature can be an exceptionally enjoyable experience and great de-stressing activity. Make meals that will enhance the experience and make you feel good about what you accomplished.
Big Daddy's Favorite BBQ Chicken Marinade
If you're looking for a delicious BBQ marinade to make your outdoor meal enhance your camping experience (or make you look like a backyard grill master), look no further than this concoction that will produce a nice moist chicken that is bursting with flavor.
Prep the night before you plan to serve. This recipe is for 6 servings of chicken breasts.
Combine the following ingredients in a bowl:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 c. lemon juice
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. dried rosemary
2 tbs. dijon or spicy brown mustard
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
Set aside some of the marinade for basting.
Poke holes in the chicken breasts to allow marinade to seep into the chicken.
Place the chicken breasts in a large storage bag and pour the marinade over the chicken. Seal the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken. Refrigerate until it is time to cook.
If placing the chicken directly on a grill grate, oil the grates before placing the chicken. Grill the chicken on both sides until cooked all the way through, occasionally basting with the marinade that was set aside.
Any extra marinade can be used as a sauce to pour on top of the chicken when served or to use as a dipping sauce.
Recipe originally published at momontimeout.com.