Tips for Stellar Campside Cooking

There is no denying that even a hot dog or mac and cheese can taste amazing when you’re camping, but you don’t have to rely on simple or packaged food just because you are cooking in nature. According to Linda Ly, author of The New Camp Cookbook: Gourmet Grub for Campers, Road Trippers, and Adventurers, you can make wonderfully healthy meals with fresh produce and meats in about the same time that it takes to make them at home. We spoke with Ly to find out her top tricks for making camp cooking a breeze.

CL: When planning your camping trip menu, what are the most important factors to consider?

LL: I try to find multiple uses for ingredients so that I don’t have too many leftovers in the cooler. For example, adding cilantro to breakfast scrambles, lunch tacos and dinner stews, or using up sour cream as a topping on omelets and a dip for vegetables. And I always bring a ready-made dinner for the first night that can be eaten as-is or only needs to be reheated. After a day of driving, unpacking, organizing and setting up base camp, it’s nice to unwind by the fire and dive right into dinner.

CL: What are some of your best hacks for packing food and keeping it cool?

LL: I like the dual-cooler system for packing food: drinks in one, and everything else in another. Since the drink cooler tends to be opened the most, keeping your meats in a separate cooler helps preserve the ice. It’s also super convenient to simply carry your drink cooler down to the river (or wherever you’re lounging for the day) without having to haul the rest of the food with you.

CL: What are some ways to simplify your menu?

LL: My number-one tip for making camp cooking simple is to have a mix of cold and hot meals. Sandwiches, wraps and salads are easy meals to put together for lunch, and they’re easy to transport, since people are often out and about during the day. Keep your more involved recipes for dinnertime when everyone is back at camp and able to help with prep.

CL: Are there specific ingredients that you have found to be don’t-leave-home-without-them camping foods?

LL: The one ingredient that I bring on every single camping trip is eggs! They’re inexpensive, easy to cook, packed with protein, and they work for any meal of the day.

CL: What is your favorite camping breakfast, lunch and dinner?

LL: Since I’m not an early riser, my favorite breakfast is whatever someone else has made by the time I emerge from my tent! For lunch, I like the versatility of wraps that use leftover meats or vegetables from the previous night’s meal; and for dinner, nothing beats the sounds and smells of a sizzling steak on the grill. Not to mention, grilling cuts down considerably on the amount of dishes you have to do at night!

CL: What is the single best piece of outdoor cooking equipment to invest in?

LL: I think a sturdy, well-seasoned cast-iron pan is one of the best pieces you can invest in, and it’s inexpensive as well. You can use it on a camp stove, on a grill or over a fire. It can take a lot of abuse in camp too!

CL: What is the best meal you have ever eaten in nature?

LL: It’s hard to pick a favorite meal, as so often the meals are part of the full experience of being out in nature with friends and family. But I’ll say that I love a good Korean BBQ night in camp because of the camaraderie of clinking beers, grilling around a fire, and having everyone help themselves to a spread of food. We’ve done Korean BBQ in a number of places, but one of the most scenic has been our camp on Raisin Lake in Yosemite National Park. Just seeing the gorgeous glow of sunset on the mountains and the reflections in the lake, coupled with delicious food and good company—it’s definitely one of my most memorable meals.

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