A Note from Jessica:
Growing up, I always thought of camping food as bland, boring meals that were made better by the promise of s’mores at the end. As a young adult, my friends opened my eyes to a whole new world of camping cuisine that was flavorful and delicious, but even now I wouldn’t know where to begin on my own. So I am deeply grateful to guest columnist Diana Molavi (long-time Scramble member) for sharing her thoughts on easy camping recipes and how to plan for success.
Full disclosure – I am a rusty camper! We used to camp all the time before kids. We even spent a month in a tent in Utah, but child rearing imposed a 7 or 8-year hiatus. However, we are getting back into it now, and preparing for a two-week Montana camping trip this summer that will require easy camping recipes, so I’ve begun thinking a lot about what we should eat – it’s a whole different Scramble when you have all the time you need but no kitchen!
General Rules for a Good Camping Recipe
• It’s suited to the equipment you have and how you can store your ingredients (see below).
• It uses only a couple pots or bowls so there is less to wash.
• It has ingredients that cook quickly, if you are cooking on a stove, to conserve propane (for example, angel hair pasta, instant rice, couscous, instant oatmeal and mashed potatoes, canned beans).
• It requires very little cleanup, since washing dishes and surfaces is harder in a campground. Raw chicken and fish are not something you want all over your picnic table!
Your Camping “Kitchen”
First, what are you working with? Will you have a 2-burner stove? Or only a fire pit? Below are some recipes grouped by what cooking equipment is available to you, plus some no-cook options.
Second, can you keep things cold? If you are packing for just a weekend car trip, you can probably keep perishables cold in an ice chest or cooler without too much trouble, even items like raw meat or frozen vegetables. You can also marinate meats and prepare some ingredients in advance. If your trip will be longer, you will need to avoid ingredients that can make you sick if they warm up a little – things like raw fish and chicken, etc. Some ingredients need only to be kept moderately cool, like fresh vegetables, eggs, cheese, butter, and cooked meats. The easy camping recipes below are marked with an* if they require only “cool” ingredients, and ** if they require no refrigeration at all – good for backpackers!
Third, think of non-perishable versions of food you would normally cook with at home. Small cans of evaporated milk can substitute for regular milk. Canned vegetables can stand in for frozen or fresh ones in a stew. Oil can be used instead of butter, and canned chicken, fish, and smoked or hard sausages can substitute for raw meat. Craft stores sell little stacked interlocking plastic jars for small beads and sequins; these are great for taking a tiny portable spice rack with you!
The Scramble recipes below are great examples of easy camping recipes, with some suggestions to adapt them to your campground.
Cooking on a grill or fire pit with a grill surface
GRILLED LIME CHICKEN WITH AVOCADO SALSA
Marinate your chicken in advance in a Ziploc bag. (Watch Aviva’s video on how to prepare it.) On the side, try canned beans heated over the fire with lime and cilantro added.
MEXICAN CHICKEN PACKETS
Foil packet cooking works well on a grill rack close to the coals. (Watch Aviva’s video where she prepares this.) Make the rub and cut the veggies at home in advance; serve with baked sweet potatoes.
STEAK WITH CHIMICHURRI SAUCE and white bean salad. Try grilled pineapple spears or rings on the side.
GRILLED ITALIAN POLENTA WITH FRESH TOMATOES**
Wrap the side vegetables in foil packets and roast directly over the coals.
Going fishing? If you can clean your own fish, you must try…GRILLED TROUT STUFFED WITH FRESH HERBS AND LEMON SLICES
Easy side dishes to make with a fire:
- Fire-baked potatoes, yams, or squash – pierce the vegetable with a skewer several times. Wrap securely in heavy foil and nestle in hot coals for 30-60 minutes, or until soft.
- Baked apples or baby pumpkins – slice off the top, hollow out the seeds, and fill the cavity with a pat of butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Replace top, wrap in heavy foil, and nestle in hot coals for 20 minutes (apples) to 60 minutes (pumpkins).
- Roasted corn on the cob – soak whole unhusked ears in water for 30-60 min; nestle ears around the edge of the fire or on the grill; cook for about 30 minutes.
- Skillet cornbread – a small cast iron skillet can be used to cook a boxed cornbread mix right over the fire if there is a grill rack available.
- Vegetable skewers, grilled broccoli spears, grilled eggplant or Portobello mushrooms – everything tastes good with olive oil and kosher salt!
Cooking on a 2-burner stove (with or without grilling)
(One-pot meals can also be made over the fire if you don’t mind a smoky pot!)
GRILLED QUICKI SOUVLAKI SANDWICH with Greek salad*
Use pre-cooked or soy sausage.
NOT MY MOM’S SLOPPY JOES*
You can brown the meat at home in advance, and heat with pre-diced veggies. Sloppy joes are a time-honored camping tradition! Serve with corn and melon.
FUSILLI WITH SMOKED TROUT AND PLUM TOMATOES*
Smoked fish requires minimal refrigeration. Serve with a bagged salad mix.
RED BEANS AND RICE BURRITOS**
Serve with fresh melon and guacamole.
CHICKEN (OR CHICKEN-LESS)TORTILLA SOUP**
Use canned chicken, and omit the cheese if you don’t have a cooler.
DIVINE EGGPLANT AND CHICKPEAS WITH MINT over couscous**
Omit the feta if you don’t have a cooler. Serve with sliced pears or apples.
Easy side dishes with a camp stove:
- Instant (boxed) mashed potatoes
- Canned corn
- Canned stewed tomatoes with onion and a hint of brown sugar
- Canned black beans with lime and fresh cilantro
- Baked beans (with or without hot dogs!)
- Frozen stir-fry veggies with bottled Asian sauce
- Grits with butter
- Peanut butter on apples
- Garlic bread, toasted over the fire
- Angel hair pasta with butter and Parmesan
SALMON SALAD WITH LEMON AND DILL** on pita
If you can find some small restaurant mayo packets, this needs no refrigeration. Use chopped cucumber or dill pickle relish instead of frozen peas.
VEGGIE DELIGHT SANDWICHES with white beans and watermelon*
Use cream cheese or hummus with this sandwich.
CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD WITH GRAPES*
Use pre-cooked chicken or even canned. Serve with bread and fruit.
PANZANELLA (ITALIAN BREAD SALAD WITH SALAMI)**
Uses day-old bread – perfect! Serve with canned light peaches and cinnamon. Hard salami does not need to be refrigerated.
**Uses no perishable ingredients, no cooler needed
*Uses dairy or cooked meats which require some refrigeration
Do you have favorite easy camping recipes? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Looking for more cooking inspiration, check out The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans to see just how simple getting dinner on the table can be!