Cooking when camping


Cooking set-up on a camping trip

While camping may be traditionally associated with eating beans and pasta, it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right knowledge, cooking while camping can be far from dull or repetitive. It all comes down to proper preparation, and that includes those of you who are planning to cook outdoors on a firepit or portable stove, as well as anyone who will be preparing their dinners inside a small caravan or camper with limited cooking equipment or space.

With the right equipment and utensils and a simple collection of meal ideas to fall back on, you’ll be well prepared to rustle up plenty of tasty alfresco meals that will keep you full, power your adventures and keep things exciting, no matter whether you’re staying in a tent, camping pod or other accommodation. 

How to prepare for cooking when camping

Properly prep yourself for your camping trip by getting your food in order ahead of time and packing it all effectively.

What food to bring

As a rule, most meals should have a carbohydrate, some protein and a vegetable or fruit source to make sure that you have ample energy for all your activities, plus vitamins and minerals too.

Some great carbohydrate choices that are quick and easy to prepare include potatoes, pasta, couscous, bread and quick-boil rice. 

When it comes to protein sources and vegetables, however, you’ll want to consider first whether you have access to a fridge (such as in a campsite with kitchen facilities or your own campervan or caravan). 

If you do, you won’t have to rule out meat and other foods that must be kept cool, such as chicken, fish, milk and cream. If you don’t have access to a fridge or freezer, protein sources such as tinned tuna, tinned sausages, baked beans and tinned lentils are some useful examples of food that don’t need to be kept cool.

As for snacks, lightweight options include crisps, nuts, granola bars, hard-boiled eggs, popcorn, biscuits, dried fruit and cereal. 

How to keep food fresh when you don't have access to a fridge

When you don’t have access to a fridge, keeping perishable foods fresh can be tricky. However, there are several tricks that can help.

  1. Use a cool box

Some coolboxes (especially thermoelectric models) can keep food cool for as long as two days. Other coolboxes can be packed with ice packs in order to keep food cool for several hours, meaning that it should stay fresh during your journey or in between your shopping trip and your mealtime.

  1. Freeze your food before you leave

If you want to keep perishable food fresh for longer, freeze your goods before you leave. Meat can take up to a day to thaw out, so this extends its life significantly. Just make sure to keep close tabs on its progress so that you cook it straight away after it has thawed out.

  1. Wrap your food in ice packs

If you don’t have a coolbox, you can still keep food cool by wrapping it in ice packs. The food won’t keep for as long as it would in a fridge or a coolbox, but this method will still extend its life slightly.

  1. Try a zeer pot

A zeer pot, also called a pot-in-pot refrigerator, uses evaporation to keep your food cool. They work by placing one smaller clay pot inside another and adding wet sand between the pots. With a wet cloth on top, the process of the water evaporating keeps the inside cool – and your food too. 

The downside is that they can be heavy and bulky, making transportation difficult. If you’re travelling in a caravan or a motorhome, this won’t be much of an issue. However, those travelling by car and staying in a tent or glamping accommodation will need to consider the distance between their car and pitch.

How to pack and store food for your camping trip

A big part of cooking when camping – or staying in a caravan, motorhome or glamping accommodation – is knowing how to store your food and cooking equipment efficiently and safely. 

  1. Measure out your ingredients before you depart

With some careful planning, an easy way to save space in your backpack or other bags is by measuring out your ingredients prior to departure. This includes measuring out small amounts of salt, pepper and other seasonings, as well as chopping up portions of carbohydrates, protein sources and vegetables. 

If you’re staying and travelling in a caravan or motorhome, you may have more space to play with, so this won’t be so important.

  1. Store food in sealed ziplock bags or Tupperware

Ziplock bags or Tupperware can be used to store your exact ingredients securely and prevent food from going stale or spilling out onto your belongings or living areas.

  1. Wrap sharp knives in cling film

As well as being a safety hazard for any prying fingers (which will be especially important for those of you camping with kids), sharp knives can also pierce other food bags or containers, causing spillages. Wrapping them in cling film will keep them safe from causing injury to your hands or other food items. For extra safety, you might want to keep them in a completely separate zippable compartment.

If you’re staying in a glamping accommodation, caravan or motorhome, you may want to keep knives and other sharp cooking equipment in locked compartments or drawers that are out of reach of pets and children instead.

  1. Pack the food you’ll eat first at the top of your pack

To save you digging around your kit, consider packing the food you’ll need to reach for first at the top of your bag. Bag pockets are also handy for storing easy-to-grab items like salt, pepper, sugar, coffee and tea bags. 

Cooking in a confined space

Cooking on a camping stove in a confined space is one thing you should avoid in a tent, awning, camping pod, caravan, campervan or other space, due to the risk of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Most caravans, motorhomes and campervans are fitted with an electric stove, and these are safe to use as long as proper safety precautions are taken such as keeping clothing and flammable liquids away from the heat and properly turning off the burners after use. 

It’s likely that you may only have one or two burners in a campervan or touring caravan, and when they’re in use, they often take up much of the already limited worktop space. That’s why it’s helpful to chop and prep all of your food in advance for easy cooking.

You should also mind that other family members, especially kids and dogs, don’t attempt to wriggle past while you’re cooking, as there’s a risk they could burn or injure you or themselves.

Cooking outdoors when camping

Whether it’s outside a tent, caravan, motorhome or glamping accommodation, cooking outdoors presents a unique set of challenges, but it’s easy enough to get it right with the right preparation. Those of you who are cooking on a campfire will need to take steps such as avoiding placing food on direct heat and learning how to start and put out the flames properly. 

However, if you’re going to be rustling up your meals on camping stoves outdoors, there are some other tips and precautions you’ll want to bear in mind.

  1. Never cook under a shelter or in a confined area.

Rule number one of cooking outdoors is to avoid any confined spaces – and this doesn’t just include tents, campervans and typical indoor spaces. Shelters, camp kitchens, awnings and similar areas should be avoided because of the risk of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. 

  1. Avoid cooking in high winds or heavy rain when possible.

Light rain or drizzle is more of a nuisance than anything else when cooking outdoors. However, heavier rain can make it tricky to see properly, interfere with any flames and spoil your food. Using a lid can help to combat this. 

It’s high winds you’ll really want to watch though, because these can make starting a gas stove or campfire tricky. The wind can also increase the risk of a fire if a flame catches onto another material. Canister stoves or liquid fuel stoves usually work best in windier conditions.

  1. Cook double the portion.

Cooking outdoors can be a tricky business due to varying weather conditions and the process of preparation and washing up. That’s why it’s always helpful to cook double or triple the portion size to sort out two meals at the same time.

  1. Use any leftover boiled water for your washing up.

If you’ve boiled water earlier on for pasta, rice or another food, this can double up as warm washing-up water at the end of your meal. You could keep it in the same pot and get your washing-up done in one place or transfer it into a larger container or bowl. Just make sure that you leave sufficient time for the water to cool completely before you dip your fingers in.

What to pack for cooking when camping

A few pieces of basic cooking equipment can go a long way on a camping, glamping, caravanning or touring trip, no matter what meals you have in mind – and of course, you’ll need to come prepared with utensils too, if you don’t want to be scraping up leftovers with your hands.

  1. A lightweight pan

If you are planning on frying meat, eggs or other food you will need a lightweight frying pan for your camping stove.

  1. A lightweight pot

When it comes to things like stews, soups, baked beans and oats, or boiling rice and pasta, a lightweight pot is the right piece of kit to have on hand. 

  1. Cooking tongs

One thing you don’t want is burnt fingers, so don’t forget to pack a pair of tongs. They’re often more versatile than a wooden spoon or spatula, as they can be used to flip, prod or dish out food.

  1. Plastic utensils including knives, forks and spoons

Plastic utensils are lighter than their metal counterparts, so having a set of plastic utensils including knives, forks and spoons for all sorts of food is essential. If you’ll be cooking meals like soups, stews and porridge, a larger spoon or wooden spoon may also come in handy when it’s time to ladle out the end product.

  1. Plastic bowls and plates

Unless you’re planning on eating directly from the pan or using your Tupperware as a bowl, plastic bowls and plates are also key to cooking when camping. You’ll need bowls for any liquid-based food such as stews, soups and porridge, so if you’re trying to save on space, one large plastic bowl can be used for several different types of meals.

  1.  A lightweight chopping knife

A blunt butter knife won’t be much help when you’re chopping up vegetables and meat, so you’ll want to make sure that you bring a lightweight chopping knife that can be used for all the dirty work.

  1. Tin foil

Whether it’s for wrapping up jacket potatoes, lining your camping grill or storing leftovers, tin foil is always good to have on hand.

  1. A portable camping grill

You may want to grill some meat, fish or veg over a firepit. If so, you’ll need a portable grate or grill that can be propped up on the surrounding rocks. If you’re worried about them being too bulky for your space, look for foldable options that are quite compact.

  1. A lighter or matches

If you’re going to be lighting up a campfire to do your cooking, a lighter or pack of matches is an essential item to get the fire started.

  1. Appropriate fuel

Depending on whether your camping stove is powered by gas, liquid fuel, ethanol or another type of fuel, you’ll need an appropriate supply to make sure that you’re not left without heat in the middle of your camping trip. Many types of fuel, such as propane gas, are tricky to find in rural areas so it’s best to show up well prepared.

Simple meal ideas for cooking when camping

  1. Skewers

If you’re cooking on a campfire, meals on skewers are among the easiest things to cook: potatoes, meat, tinned sausages, vegetables, halloumi cheese or even marshmallows can all be cooked on a skewer.

  1. One-pot wonders

Many camping stoves will only have room for one pot at a time, so one-pot meals such as a casserole (try sausage and potato or sweet potato), bean or beef stew or even paella are some great options. 

  1. Cooked breakfast

A cooked breakfast is another one-pot wonder that means less washing up and less hassle. Potatoes, tomatoes, fried eggs, sausages, baked beans and bacon are all great ingredients that work together and can be cooked in one pan.

  1. Egg dishes of all varieties

Eggs are one of the most versatile foods to cook when camping, and a good protein source as well. Try a frittata, omelette or fried eggs – or simply hard-boil them for a snack on the go.

  1. Nachos

Nachos are quick, easy and delicious. You’ll only need a bag of corn chips and the toppings of your choice: you may want to add cheese, tomato, guacamole or cooked chicken. If you use pre-cooked meat, you can always heat it gently on a camping stove or campfire.

  1. Toasted sandwiches

Another quick and easy solution for breakfast, lunch or dinner is the traditional toastie. They can be fried in a pan, so it’s a versatile option too depending upon your equipment. Easy fillings include tuna, cheese, ham or sausages.

  1. Baked foods

Baked foods are easy to rustle up in a campfire or woodburning stove by wrapping them up in foil and placing them in the hot ashes. Jacket potatoes with beans, cheese, tuna, chicken, eggs or any alternative filling are a staple baked camping food. Another option is fish fillets with a dressing of lemon and herbs.

  1. Oats

For an energy-packed breakfast or snack, oats are very versatile and lightweight to pack. Some meal ideas include overnight oats, porridge or oats mixed with yogurt (if you have access to a fridge). Quick-cook porridge pots only require the addition of hot water, making them a great option if you don’t have access to a fridge for storing milk or yogurt.

Cooking in a camping pod

Camping pods are all different, so their facilities will depend on the size, space and whether they have electric access. Many camping pods are kitted out with basic facilities, such as beds, lights, heating and electric sockets. However, this doesn’t usually include cooking facilities.

That means it’s likely that you’ll need to bring your own utensils, cutlery, plates and cooking equipment. The benefit here is that most camping pods have electric access, making electric cooking stoves a great (and lightweight, compact and safe) choice for cooking when you’re staying in a camping pod.

Some camping pods may come with a barbecue outdoors – another great option for sorting alfresco meals. So if your camping pod comes equipped with this option, you might want to leave your camping stove behind. To be safe, we’d always recommend checking exactly what equipment your camping pod has prior to setting off.

With your new knowledge on cooking and camping, you might want to check that your camping checklist is in order and prepare for all eventualities by clueing yourself up on other camping hacks

Browse our guide to camping equipment