Growing up, I learned to love summer camping trips. And while it was cool to sleep in a tent and go on day hikes, the best part was always night time, when we’d sit around the fire. There would be s’mores and stories and songs. And there would be beef stew for dinner, simmered on the fire or camp stove for hours while we sat together among the trees.
When people think about camping food, they often think of hot dogs or pb&j or those prepackaged dehydrated meals. But my parents used to load up the car with the right gear and that opened up all kinds of possibilities for hot breakfasts and dinners. And there’s nothing better than a really good meal eaten in the slight chill of a summer evening outdoors.
So how do you make the eats on your next camping trip truly spectacular? Here’s what you’ll need.
1. A camp stove
Sure, you can do a lot of your cooking over the fire, but a camp stove is good for food that requires greater temperature control and less attention. Boil water in the morning for hot drinks or oatmeal. Cook meals on it at night. A camp stove is also great for campsites where you’re not allowed to make a fire.
2. An over-the-fire grill
For those times when you’re cooking over the fire instead of on a camp stove, an over-the-fire grill is super useful. Many car camping sites come with fire pits and grates that you can use to cook over the fire, but for times when there’s no grate provided or the grate is disgustingly filthy (it happens!) it’s good to be prepared.
3. A good press coffee maker
Mornings in the woods are early mornings. The sun wakes you up, and then it’s a hike to the outhouse and the wall of the tent is damp with dew and then you’re just awake for good. That’s why you’ll want coffee—and you might as well make the good kind.
4. A cooler
A cooler is the tool that lets you eat good, fresh food instead of the dehydrated stuff. Save those packets for backpacking trips, when you won’t want to lug extra equipment with you, and invest in a good cooler for car camping. You can swap out the ice every day to keep your groceries nice and cold.
5. A headlamp
A headlamp might not seem like a cooking tool, but in the woods, I can assure you that it’s a chef’s best friend. Once it gets dark, you’ll want to be able to see what you’re doing, whether you’re chopping vegetables, grabbing food from the cooler, or stirring a pot on the camp stove. A headlamp is the best way to do it hands-free, no matter how much you move around the campsite.
6. A pocket knife
You’ll get a lot of mileage out of a pocket knife, even if it’s not the kind that has multiple blades and a million different tools. All you need is a sharp blade to sharpen marshmallow sticks or cut meat and veggies, a can opener, and a corkscrew. Trust me, you’ll be glad you have it.
7. Aluminum foil
If you’re going to cook over the fire, foil is your friend. Cook chicken or fish and veggies in packets over the fire to make each person their own individually-portioned meal. Make banana boats by wrapping bananas stuffed with marshmallows, chocolate, and other delicious additions in foil and setting them by the fire to melt. Wrap any leftovers from your meals in foil as well and stick ‘em in the cooler.