There are so many things to plan for when camping that setting up a camp kitchen, or cook shack, is often overlooked. That’s a shame, because if you ignore creating a camp kitchen, feeling that cans of beans and wieners on sticks will do, you will miss out on one of the truly great opportunities for experimentation and good food in the great outdoors.
A great cook shack starts with large plastic bins. Keep a dedicated set of kitchen gear in plastic bins with lids. That way, you don’t ever have to worry about what has been packed and what hasn’t. You just have to pull the bins out of the garage or storage room and pack ’em in the car. Keep a list of what is in those bins on your computer, then print the list out each time you go camping and check over your gear.
Cookware the average cook shack for four should have:
1. A stock pot for soups and stews (8 quart is best)
2. Covered saucepans–1.5-, 2- and 3-quart respectively
3. A large skillet with lid.
You don’t have to spend a fortune. Good quality stainless steel pots and pans can be bought cheaply at second-hand stores. They don’t have to match; they don’t even have to be dent-free. They just have to do the job. Stainless steel is great because they last a long time and don’t rust, so if they go in even a tiny bit damp they’re not going to cause a horrendous mess in storage.
The camp kitchen should also have:
4. A set of plastic nesting mixing bowls with lids (these are multi-purpose. You would be amazed at what you do with a bowl and lid when camping.)
5. A set of cooking utensils from the dollar store or second hand store consisting of a spatula (actually I do a lot of cooking and splurged on a really good one), serving spoon, slotted spoon, whisk, tongs and egg flipper. Stainless steel lasts for a good long while, but if you get wooden utensils they are also great–if they break you can just toss ’em in the camp fire.
6. A good set of knives. We have used, for years now, a set of Wiltshire Staysharp knives. They sit in their own knife sharpening sheath, which protects the blade in storage and makes them easier (and safer!) to find when rummaging around in the kitchen bins. We have three sizes but find I use only two, really. I would recommend an 8-inch and a 5-inch knife. That will cover most jobs you need to get done in your camp kitchen.
7. A can opener. Get one of those ones that opens a can, pops bottle lids and has a corkscrew. Saves getting one of each. Splurge a bit and get a good one. Fighting with your processed food just isn’t right when camping.
8. If you don’t like washing dishes, get those cheapo wicker plate holders and paper plates. We love the wicker ones because a lot of paper plates bend like crazy and just try cutting a steak on that. The wicker plates hold them firmly and don’t need washing because all the food is on the paper plate lining it.
9. A set of travel mugs, one per person. The lid keeps hot stuff hot during cold mornings, cold stuff cold during hot afternoons, and bugs out. It also helps keep clothes a little cleaner when Mr. Spilly Pants decides he can drink coffee and fish at the same time.
10. A couple of rolls of paper towel. There is something about paper towels that just makes camping so much easier! I hate to do without it.
11. Two cup towels and a dishcloth, a plastic scrubber and a small bottle of biodegradable dish detergent. When you take them back home, don’t forget to put them back in the bins after you clean them. This is where that checklist I mentioned comes in handiest. Also, put the dish detergent in a small travel bottle or get a small bottle just for camping. If it’s a natural product you will find a lot of uses for it. I once used it for washing my hair when I forgot my shampoo.
12. A cutting board. Those thin plastic roll-up boards are great.
13. A large basin, large enough for washing dishes. It can be used for other things as well. It is surprising how handy these things are. A ten-quart will do from the dollar store. You might want to get two so that you can use one for dishes and one for washing yourself and clothes in.
More cooking stuff:
14. A cheap measuring cup. If you get a four-cup measuring cup you don’t need anything else. Soft plastic is best; the brittle plastic from the dollar store cracks when dropped.
15. A grill! You can get an oven grill from a discarded oven. They are absolutely the best because they are large and heavy-duty. Don’t forget to cool it completely at the end of the trip, then you can place it in a plastic garbage bag in order to keep the soot from getting on everything.
16. Tinfoil. For wrapping up food, cooking it in the campfire, and doing “experiments” with the kids. And of course, a s’mores must-have.
17. A package of medium ziploc bags, because they have so many uses I can’t even count them. Great for mixing and storing sauces, wet foods and leftovers and keeping your child’s rock collection in. Also that weird bait your friend wants to try when fishing, and for marinating food in. Countless uses.
18. A pair of heavy-duty suede gardening gloves. You will be surprised at how often you don them, to take a pot off the grill, turn the foil-wrapped food in the fire, and super-quickly fish that utensil out of the campfire.
There are other things you can take along for your own personal camping experience, but these to my mind are the basics. With these you can whip up meals that will have your family and friends raving about your mad cooking skills when camping!