Have Campfire, Will Cook
Camp cooking isn't always easy, especially when you're dealing with limited supplies, fickle weather, and lots of hungry mouths to feed.
One thing's for sure, though — no meal will ever taste as good as the one you prepare from scratch over a campfire.
While backcountry camping brings a whole other set of challenges, dozens of national parks across the nation offer front country or roadside campsites with vehicle access, picnic tables, and fire pits. Places like Shenandoah National Park, Big Bend National Park, and Acadia National Park boast some of the best campgrounds in the country.
These sites are great for family camping and open up a lot of possibilities for cooking at your campsite. That being the case, be sure to pack these camp cooking equipment essentials and you'll be ready to learn how to cook over a campfire in no time.
Camp cooking equipment
There's no need to bring your whole kitchen with you. Just decide what you need, and leave the rest behind. A typical camp cookware checklist looks something like this:
- One large frying pan or skillet
- Two pots (one small and one large) with lids
- One spatula, one large serving spoon, and a set of tongs
- Kitchen knife and cutting board
While it's not exactly essential, another great camp cooking tool is a Dutch oven. You can make just about everything in there, from bread and biscuits, to stews and desserts. Bonus points if you bring a percolator for making coffee. Most national park campsites include a fire pit with a built-in grill top. Check ahead of time to see if you need to bring your own grilling surface.
Table settings for your campsite can be pretty simple. Some folks use paper plates and disposable silverware for camping, but another eco- and wallet-friendly option is to bring reusable dishware. Make sure you pack enough for each person to have one:
- Plate and bowl
- Cup (or mug) – avoid glass
- Knife, fork, and spoon
Also, be sure to bring a tablecloth. You never know what's been scampering across that picnic table.
Keeping your food fresh and safe from hungry critters is one of the biggest camping challenges. Unless you're camping in a modern RV with a fridge and icebox, you're going to need to bring a cooler or two as part of your camp cooking equipment. For most camping trips, one large cooler for food and another smaller one for drinks should have you covered. Keep them both well stocked with ice and pack a few sturdy zipper bags for storing leftovers.
Be sure to research what the food storage options will be at your campsite. Some campgrounds will have food storage lockers, while others will encourage you to keep your supplies in the safety of the car – so just be sure to keep in mind the park regulations and the local wildlife. If you're camping in bear country, always upgrade to tough, bear-resistant containers for food. Some national parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Sequoia, have campsites with bear-resistant food lockers, also known as "bear boxes."
Food and drink
OK, this is where you get to have a little fun. What you choose for camp cuisine depends entirely on personal preference and how much food you're willing to pack. Just remember not to overdo it, especially with perishable items like meat and dairy. Expect to shave a day or two off any expiration date when you keep food in a cooler.
Plan your menu in advance so you can make sure there's enough food to keep everybody happy for the duration of your trip. Choose healthy, high-energy food to keep you fueled for all the fun stuff you'll be doing, like hiking, fishing, and kayaking.
Clean drinking water is the one absolute essential. One gallon of water, per person, per day is a good general rule. Check ahead of time to see if your chosen campground has potable water. Even if it does, always bring at least a day's worth of water for emergencies.
Nothing brings family and friends together like camping in one of our national parks, except maybe sitting down to a great meal. With all the right tools, you can do both!