Outdoor and Backcountry Cooking

Equip yourself to make it easier to create meals while camping

Our expert, Sara DeLucia, using a canister-type stove. Photo courtesy of Rob Burbank

Even though it’s the time of year for Indian summer and seasonally refreshing temperatures, there’s still time for camp stove cooking. Whether tenting by car, canoe or kayak, or taking a  backcountry trek, enjoy the outdoors with simple, tasty treats cooked while camping.

Car camping and the like provide more options since there’s more room for storage, while hikers and climbers must consider weight and volume in their packs.

Generally, for that outdoor kitchen, you’ll need a stove, fuel, cook set including fry pan, pot with lid, pot grips, spatula or spoon, plates and utensils, suggests Sara DeLucia, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center program manager.

Car campers might bring a five-gallon jug with spigot, while backpackers could enjoy a portable bladder bag. Both are good for cooking, cleaning up and hand washing. Backpackers should also treat their water against bacteria.

“If you are canoe or car camping, bring a plastic tub in which you can wash dishes,” she says. “Otherwise you can wash dishes in one of your cooking pots while backpacking. Be sure to bring a scrubber, a small container of biodegradable soap and a mesh strainer for straining food particles out of dirty dish water.”

Keep your outdoor kitchen site clean. Store food away from animals, never in your tent. If available, store food in a campsite bear box or in a stuff sack hung from a tree. Bring trash bags and containers for waste.

“Designate an area for cooking — away from and downwind of your sleeping area — and another for washing dishes — away from your cooking area, your sleeping area and far away from water sources,” she says.

Also, keep your area dry, hanging a tarp.

And then, enjoy the al fresco kitchen in the great outdoors.


The “2014 Outdoor Camper Report” says 21 percent of adults purchased a camp stove for their first camping trip.

Expert Q&A with Sara DeLucia

As the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center program manager, Sara DeLucia has taught many guests a wealth of outdoor skills including the essentials of cooking while camping. When out with family and friends, DeLucia not only keeps satisfying stomachs in mind, but also safety and being environmentally aware.

Is there a type of stove best suited for car camping and another for the backcountry? For car or canoe camping, I prefer a two-burner propane stove. Again, when car/canoe camping, you can carry a lot more gear and a two-burner stove makes meals much easier. For backpacking or backcountry camping, you’ll want a lighter-weight stove that can boil water quickly. Either a canister-type stove or liquid fuel work well in the backcountry. It is critical that you set up the stove outside at home before bringing it on your trip to make sure that you know how to use it and that it functions properly.

Are one-pot meals best? For backpacking, yes. You’ll want to reduce the number of things you have to carry and, if you can stick to one or two pots, that’s best. That’s not to say you have to have a boring meal though. You can cook your main entrée in one pot, but don’t forget about hors d’oeuvres and dessert. Cheese and crackers while cooking are nice appetizers, and even a nice dark chocolate makes a fine backcountry dessert. For canoe or car camping, don’t limit yourself.

Might some preparation at home, like slicing and packing food items, be a good idea? You’ll definitely want to repackage some food items to reduce the amount of waste that you’ll be carrying on your back. Don’t bring any glass jars into the backcountry, and for things like cooking oil or butter, which you don’t need a lot of, put them in a small, sealed container. You can also pre-mix dry pancake mix or a spice mix for your dinner.

What are some of those quick-cooking staples that turn me from hungry to happy? Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are key to a satisfying meal after a long day of activity. Pasta is a great meal and cooks quickly, but be sure to add proteins like beans, precooked sausage, bacon or vacuum-packed tuna or salmon, as well as fats like butter or cheese.

What are some unusual foods and spices that would surprise friends and family? Hot sauce can be added to many things and adds a spicy dimension to meals; garlic powder is lightweight and packs a lot of flavor; and a small container of maple syrup — this goes great on any breakfast and can be added as sweetener to coffee.

If I want to try cooking over an open flame and want to go beyond s’mores, might you have a tip or two? Unless you are at an established campsite with an iron grill, I wouldn’t attempt cooking over an open flame. It’s very difficult to achieve evenly distributed heat, making part of your food burned and part of it undercooked. When you’re camping, you’re often active during the day, so having a meal that is ready quickly is so important. Plus, you don’t want to eat food that is burned and undercooked. Stick to marshmallows, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can roast a precooked hot dog on a stick.

Have a favorite recipe to share? I’m a big fan of simple meals while camping. One of my favorites and my kids’ is macaroni and cheese with vegetables and precooked chicken sausage. You can ad lib with vegetables or proteins that you like. I’m also a fan of build-your-own burritos. Throw your favorite beans, veggies and cheese into a tortilla, and you’ve got an easy and satisfying meal.

Gear Box

Camp Chef’s Everest two-burner stove is a nice, powerful foundation for pots and pans, allowing you to feed your friends and family rather easily ($121).

Backcountry bound? Jetboil’s MiniMo allows some barebones cooking. The innovative Manchester firm has fine-tuned this one, allowing for some appreciated controls for simmering ($129.95).

GSI Outdoors’ Bugaboo Base Camper small set contains two pots, frying pan, strainer lids, gripper, cutting board and stuff sack ($64.95).


Categories: Outsider